What Is Shared Reading?

Literacy is a critical skill, one that all children need to master in order to advance in their education. So it is perhaps unsurprising that so much of the emphasis in primary education is on helping students acquire the tools they need in order to engage in life long literacy development.

One of the most common strategies for helping students successfully acquire reading and skills is the method known as “shared reading,” in which a teacher or tutor presents a text to students via a big book or a SMART Board and reads the text aloud while the students follow along. If you remember this method of instruction from your own primary school years, it is probably because this is one of the most tried and true ways for helping children build connections between spoken and written language.     

In this article, we will outline some of the reasons why shared reading is a useful method for teaching literacy, and also discuss particular strategies that can make shared reading even more effective.

Shared Reading Provides an Integrated Approach to Literacy

Learning to read is a unique challenge. For most children, connecting spoken language to written language is not an intuitive thing, and strategies for literacy education need to help students connect the language they speak with a system of signs and symbols that they can learn to use.

One of the reasons why shared reading is so effective is because it integrates direct instruction with practical application. As the teacher leads students through the text, they are able to use a number of different contextual markers (pictures, narrative, the formatting of the page itself) to make sense of how the story they are being told connects to the written language.  

Shared reading is also valuable as a way of introducing students to more complex material that is beyond their normal reading level. Students who struggle to read at all can, with the help of their teacher, work through storybooks and other age-appropriate texts that will push the boundaries of their understanding and help boost their confidence.

By using shared reading in a classroom setting, teachers can:

  • Help students gain an understanding of phonics and phonemic principles.
  • Introduce them to new words
  • Demonstrate strategies for comprehension and decoding, such as guessing meaning from context
  • Reinforce print concepts (like reading from left to right, and the continuity of text from page to page)
  • Help normalize reading activities, and foster an enjoyment and appreciation of written texts

Shared reading is an ideal classroom activity, because it provides teachers with the opportunity to engage the entire class in an exercise that has a clear entertainment component. But shared reading can also be a very helpful practice for a student to engage in on a one-on-one basis at home, either by yourself or with the help of a tutor.

In fact, shared reading is an excellent tutoring tool because it helps model skill acquisition in a safe and non-threatening way. In terms of our education philosophy, what makes us different is that we believe a tutor shouldn’t simply be a private teacher. We believe instead that a tutor should be like a very smart friend who comes alongside your child to help them feel their way through the material at their own pace.  

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Two Strategies that Can Make Shared Reading Even More Effective

While shared reading, as a practice, has been around for a long time, pedagogy experts have invested a lot of time researching ways to make this educational technique as effective as possible, and to integrate it with other strategies for literacy acquisition (you can click here to learn more about the latest literacy research).

They have found that shared reading can be made even more effective when the following strategies are applied:

Spend Time Introducing the Text

Shared reading is all about taking a text that is beyond a child’s reading level and making it approachable. For this reason, teachers generally see better results when they take the time to introduce the text properly and engage children’s curiosity before the reading begins. 

For example, before opening the book, ask students what they think the book will be about based on the cover, and ask them what they already know about the subject. This will prime students to engage intellectual with the content of the story, and helps make challenging new material more approachable. 

Engage Students in the Reading Itself

Once the reading has begun, don’t simply continue through to the end. Pause periodically to ask students about what is happening in the story, and encourage them to make predications about what is going to happen next. When you encounter words the child doesn’t know, ask them to guess what they mean, or to sound them out.

This gives children an opportunity to actively participate in the process, and to apply their own reading skills to deciphering the text (click here to read more about literacy development and other practical reading strategies). Reading is a skill we never really stop developing, so helping children engage their problem-solving faculties in the context of shared reading will provide them with a durable foundation for future learning.

Learning how to read is one of the biggest challenges your child will be faced with in their first years of schooling, and if you want to help them develop the habits of a life long learning, meeting this challenge using scientifically proven methods like shared reading is essential. 

If you want to know more about how you can use shared reading in the home to help your child acquire literacy skills, get in touch with Prep Academy Tutors today to find out how we can provide extra help today.

How to Improve Your Child’s Reading Comprehension

Knowing how to read, and knowing how to understand what you have read, are vital skills. According to a recent study, a shocking twenty-three percent of students who had a below basic reading level in third grade did not graduate high school by age 19. Students who were in the top tercile, on the other hand, not only did better in language arts, they also did better in science and math. 

Clearly, a student’s reading comprehension is strongly correlated with academic success in general, which is why improving your child’s reading skills is essential for preparing them for long-term success not only in academics, but in every area of life. But what is reading comprehension, and how can students cultivate this skill?

Reading vs. Reading Comprehension: Understanding the Difference

By the time they are in middle school, most Canadian children are relatively fluent in reading and writing. Despite recent slippage, Canada still has a relatively high literacy rate when compared to the rest of the world, and it is rare for students to pass through the education system and not emerge with some basic ability to read and write.

But fluency is not the same as comprehension, and a person who can read a text may not necessarily be able to grasp much of what it communicates. Reading comprehension is the cluster of skills that allow a child to work their way through a text and understand both particular details and the bigger picture, and it is essential for doing everything from filling out a form at Service Ontario to composing a university admissions essay.

Reading comprehension is hard to quantify, but it is something that many students struggle with right up to university. And because reading is the bedrock skill on which just about every other aspect of education rests, comprehension is arguably the most important skill a child will acquire in their first decade of schooling.

So how do you help your children become more analytic readers? One of the first things you should do is keep your child reading this summer — the easiest way to help children develop reading comprehension skills, especially at the elementary level, is simply to get them to read as much as possible.

But if your children are already reading regularly, or if you have a hard time getting them to actually engage with what they are reading, there are things you can do help them sharpen their ability to grasp the full meaning of a text.

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4 Strategies for Developing Reading Comprehension

Unlike fluency, reading comprehension isn’t simply about learning to translate the words into writing. That means that when it comes to improving reading comprehension, you need to use a variety of different approaches. Here are four strategies that are proven to be effective. 

  • Engage your children about what they are reading. As cognitive psychologists like Teun A. van Dijk and Walter Kintsch discovered in the 1970s, being able to succinctly restate the main points of a text or story is an essential component of comprehension. By encouraging children and teenagers to talk about what they are reading, you will activate the parts of their brain engaged in processing a text.

In particular, getting them to summarize a book or story they have read is a great way to sharpen the critical faculties on which comprehension relies.

  • Incorporate a range of tools. All-too-often, reading comprehension practice is about little more than answering questions about a text. While questions can be a useful way into a story, and especially for more advanced readers may be an essential way to tease out nuance, for plenty of children, this text-heavy approach is not particularly helpful.

Using diagrams, story maps, and visual images can help students understand the story in a way that makes sense for them. Trying out a variety of different tools also helps children to understand that comprehension is not simply about finding the right answer, but about creating an integrated understanding of what is going on in a given text.   

  • Get tutoring help. Helping students develop their reading comprehension skills is hard to do without one-on-one feedback and support, and in today’s crowded classrooms this is in short supply. The brightest students in the class often lead the way with reading comprehension, and can make slower and more methodical children reticent to speak up if they are afraid that they will expose their ignorance by doing so.

Giving your child the opportunity to work through a text with the help of a tutor who knows how to implement effective pedagogical strategies while also being a friendly and non-judgmental presence can go a long way toward helping develop their understanding and their confidence. If you want to find a local tutor today and you live in the Greater Toronto Area, Prep Academy can connect you with tutors who can help your child develop their reading comprehension skills at home.

  • Make reading social. You can’t make your child enjoy reading, but you can create the conditions in which a love of reading is more likely to bloom. If your children are still quite young, reading to them before bed is a great way to normalize reading and encourage them to view reading as a legitimate form of entertainment, and also gives you the opportunity to make it an interactive experience by asking comprehension questions. If you have older children, reading the same books as them will give you an opportunity to engage them in conversation about what they are reading and what they think about it.

While it is never too late to improve reading comprehension, establishing good reading habits and strong analytic skills early provides children with a huge advantage.

If you want to make sure your child’s comprehension abilities don’t flag over the summer, employ these four strategies to make sure they continue to build on their knowledge of reading, and get in touch with Prep Academy Tutors to learn more about how tutoring can help children who are struggling with a broad range of literacy problems.

Gamification and Learning in the Classroom and at Home

One of the perennial challenges every educator faces is getting children engaged in learning. When kids are interested in a subject they learn quickly and voraciously, devouring books, educational films, and webpages related to their interests and sharing the information with anyone who will listen.

Compared to adults, children’s minds are like sponges, soaking up information at every turn; unlike adults, however, they are often undisciplined learners, and the role of the teacher is to channel this raw learning potential toward useful ends.  

If you really want to help your kids excel in school however, you will also need to recognize the limitations every individual teacher faces. With class sizes in Ontario schools set to grow, and with teachers already overburdened with teaching and extra-curricular responsibilities, it can be hard to bring the latest insights from the psychology of learning to bear in the classroom.

For this reason, it is important for parents to ensure that their children are being engaged in learning not only at school, but at home as well. Hiring a tutor who understands new pedagogical tools and methods like gamification and can apply them to one-on-one instruction in the home is one way to keep your child excited about learning outside the regular school day.

Gamification: An Innovative Approach to Student Engagement

It has become increasingly common for schools that want to adopt cutting-edge educational techniques to incorporate tools that utilize aspects of gamification to help engage students in the classroom. When a child comes home talking about how they were learning French with the help of an app-based game, this is gamification in action.

But what is gamification in the classroom and how can it be used to enhance learning? The idea that games can help children learn is anything but new, of course (you can probably remember playing educational games during your own time at school), but one of the things that makes gamification a unique development is the tech aspect. 

Computer games are more popular than ever before, and e-sports has now become one of the biggest segments of the entertainment industry. This means that an entire generation of digital natives has grown up with digital gaming as a central part of their experience. Computer games are popular in part because they are designed to stimulate the reward centres of the brain — levelling up and completing missions gives players a serotonin boost, and makes them feel they have accomplished something. 

Gamification is the strategic use of this pleasurable quality of game playing to encourage particular kinds of learning, like memorizing new information or practicing new skills such as programming or problem solving. Because students are more likely to be interested in learning something like vocabulary memorization if it is presented as a game, gamification has huge implications for knowledge acquisition for learners of all ages.  

Tutoring and Gamification

Gamification obviously has a significant potential to help students who would otherwise struggle to stay interested in their curriculum material, and can fulfill one of the central functions of learning by integrating new information into a child’s understanding of the world. But how can you use gamification to enhance your child’s learning at home?

This is where tutoring comes in. Gamification, properly applied, is about more than simply bringing learning and play together. In order for it to be effective, it needs to take place in the context where there are clear learning objectives. This means having an instructor who is able to integrate gamification into a larger lesson plan. For all the hype that currently exists around this new kind of learning, it is an education tool like any other, and its effectiveness is linked to how carefully it is implemented by knowledgeable teaching staff. 

Having a tutor on hand who is familiar with your child’s school curriculum and understands the larger learning objectives is a one way of ensuring that your child is not only engaged in the learning process, but is also getting the kind of personalized feedback that is essential for learning success.  

There has been a significant amount of academic research into the role that feedback plays in learning, and most experts agree that students learn best when they have a clear sense not only of what their areas of weakness are, but of how they can take concrete steps to improve. Gamification plays an important role in helping students actually learn and integrate new information (for example, learning vocabulary and verb forms in a new language).

But without a tutor who can help evaluate their progress and coach them on how they can overcome their current obstacles, learning can quickly become aimless and counter-productive. For this reason, our tutoring approach is built around matching your child with a tutor who can help them develop their particular areas of weakness, and integrate the information gamification tools are helping them learn into a the broader education framework of their curriculum.

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If you want to understand how our tutoring services work and learn more about how our educational philosophy, you can explore the information available on our website, or get in touch with us today to book a consultation. And if you want to know about specialized services like SAT/ACT test prep, or want to know how to find a local tutor, you can click here for more information or give us a call today.

The explosive development of new technology over the past two decades has unlocked huge possibilities for enhancing learning experiences. From educational apps like Duolingo to new virtual reality simulators, teachers and parents alike now have access to a wide range of tech-based tools for engaging students in education.

But it is important to remember that technology will never fully replace the personalized feedback and one-on-one instruction that is such an important part of learning. New gamificatied approaches to education will only ever be as effective as the teachers and tutors implementing them.  

3 Literacy Challenges and How You Can Help Your Child Overcome Them

Few skills are as essential for a child’s development and success as literacy. Learning to read and write is one of the foundational building blocks of the modern education system, and students who fall behind in literacy are almost guaranteed to fall behind in most of their other subjects as well. After all, without reading and writing skills, how can children master subjects like history, geography, and social studies, which require strong reading comprehension and the ability to communicate one’s thoughts through writing?

While most parents would consider literacy to be one of the most essential aspects of a primary school education, however, evidence shows that in Canada, literacy is declining.

In 2017, the OECD international surveys of adult skills reported that despite having one of the largest working-age populations with tertiary education in the world, Canada’s literacy rate is dropping. This decline in practical reading and writing abilities among Canadians is a major concern, and speaks to a disconnection between levels of formal education and actual mastery of basic skills.

If you are worried about declining literacy rates and want to ensure that your child has the tools they need to become competent readers and writers, Prep Academy Tutors is here for you — we have extensive experience teaching a wide range of subjects, and will be happy to connect you with a tutor who can meet your child where they are and help them meet their learning objectives.

The good news is that, while learning to read and write is an area that many children struggle with, with these three tips for improving literacy skills and the help of a skilled tutor, it is one that is well within reach of everyone.

1. Ground Literacy in Everyday Tasks

Learning to read and write effectively involves developing a lot of distinct skills, and it is common for educators in the early stages to focus on discrete building blocks of literacy like phonics and the alphabet.

But this focus on formal aspects of language acquisition should be supplemented with exposure to the practical dimension of language-use. Literacy is about more than just knowledge: it is about a capacity to accomplish language-related tasks, and this requires an approach that roots reading and writing in everyday experiences.

One of the things you can do to help your child improve their literacy skills at home is by integrating practical reading and writing skills into the daily routine. For example, having younger children help with practical tasks like making shopping lists and reading recipe directions helps children engage with reading and writing in a way that is directly related to the world around them, and helps to instil a sense of the value of literacy.  

2. Provide Personalized Help

As with any skill, on the path the literacy children are likely to meet regular plateaus. In situations like this, it can be important for them to have access to personalized, one-on-one help to overcome the obstacles they are facing. Unfortunately, this kind of individual attention is often not available in the classroom, which is why children may need extra help at home. 

This can be difficult to do as a parent, and one reason you might want to find a tutor near you is because a tutor can provide the kind of targeted literacy support children who are struggling to get to the next level in their reading and writing.

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3. Make Reading a Part of Life

Like all skills, literacy is something that can only be developed through practice. If a child is struggling with reading comprehension, the most effective way to help them improve is by encouraging them to read more. Unfortunately, according to the latest statistics from First Book Canada, an organization that works with educators and other partners to remove barriers to learning by creating equal access to education for children in need, a staggering twenty-five percent of Canadian households don’t have a single book.

This means that at least one in every four children are trying to develop reading and writing skills without having the basic tool needed to do so — books. And even parents who do read often struggle to pass the habit on to their children.

With so many entertainment options available, from Netflix shows to YouTube to video games to sports and other extracurricular activities, it can be hard to convince children that reading can be an equally rewarding activity, especially if they find reading difficult and uninteresting.

While there are no sure-fire ways to get kids to start reading more, here are a few things parents can do to help encourage children to make reading a regular activity:

Read to Your Child

One of the best ways to normalize reading when your children are young is by reading to them. This will not only help get them interested in stories, but it will also help establish reading as a worthwhile activity. 

Follow their Interests

What a child is reading is less important than the fact that they are reading, so let your child follow their interests when picking reading materials. For example, if they are interested in sports, a biography of an athlete that is appropriate for their reading level may be a good way to get them engaged.

Go to the Library

If your child doesn’t seem interested in any of the reading materials you have recommended, taking them to a library and telling them to pick out five books is a creative way to delegate the exploration to them.

Get them Interested in a Series or Author

plenty of non-readers have been turned on to literature because they fell in love with Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. If your children like these films, use that as a springboard to get them interested in the books.

Ask their Teacher or Tutor for Tips

Teachers and tutors have a lot of experience helping children learn, so asking for their advice on what you can do to encourage literacy in the home is always a good idea. 

Reading and writing are skills that most children will struggle with at one point or another. Indeed, many people will continue to develop as readers and writers throughout their lives, adding new words to their vocabularies and becoming more proficient written communicators.

The most important thing to instil young learners with is an appreciation for the importance of the written word, and the habit of reading for information and pleasure. It might not be possible to turn your child into a voracious reader overnight, but by grounding literacy in everyday tasks, providing personalized help, and encouraging a love of reading to take root, you can prepare your child for a life of continuous learning.   

5 Practical Strategies for Literacy Development

Proficiency in literacy is more important for the well-being of Canadians now than ever before. Some statistics cite over 50% of the population over 16 years of age lack the reading skills necessary for living and working in a modern society [1]. So how can we go about improving this? The strategies below offer a practical approach for parents and teachers alike to promote the growth of literacy in young people.

1) Build Your Understanding of What Effective Literacy Instruction Looks Like:

This is the most important place to start if your goals are to help raise the literacy skills of your child or students. By educating yourself on what literacy means and what it looks like in today’s world, you set yourself up to be able to design and implement effective practices within your classroom or home that have a positive impact on literacy development over time [2]. What this might include is having knowledge and understanding of the curriculum at the level your child is operating at, a basic understanding of childhood development, and some idea of where to find resources that will support your programming. Effective literacy instruction requires you to support connections that are made between things like reading, writing and speaking [2]. You need to be able to respond to the diverse learning styles and readiness of your students and provide fair and measured feedback. If you really want to help your students or children improve their literacy skills, becoming a more educated and capable teacher yourself is the first place to start.

2) Design a Responsive Literacy Learning Environment:

Once you’ve researched and begun to raise your own understanding of what effective literacy instruction looks like you can start to move forward in designing an environment that encourages and responds to the improvement of literacy skills. Ask yourself these questions. What does an ideal environment for the growth of literacy skills look like? How might this change depending on the age and stage of the learner? How can an environment that stimulates inquiry, reflection, dialogue, reading and writing be developed? Again, there is no magic formula for creating this; so much of learning depends on the individual — their needs, interests, and learning styles. With that in mind, there are some things to strive for. An environment where literacy learning thrives will work to foster positive attitudes about learning and literacy development. It allows and encourages the learner to raise questions, express opinions, take risks and explore ideas. And it ensures that their are ample opportunities for reflection, conversation and collaboration to deepen understanding [2]. Think hard about how this would look in your home or classroom and then begin to cultivate that space.

3) Use a Comprehensive Approach to Reading Instruction:

The key elements included in a comprehensive approach to reading instruction include dedicated time for reading each and every day and the use of strategies that look to build oral language, fluency, comprehension and motivation [1]. Reading and language instruction in children go hand in hand. Language is the link to family, cultural background, and personal experience so modelling proper use of language will help children make connections between what they’re reading and their own lives. In younger children, use a program or mode of instruction that emphasizes phonological processing, or the process of using letter sounds to decode a word they’re reading or spelling [1]. Frequent practice in this regard helps to make reading automatic. Ask your student or child to make connections during reading activities [1]. Summarize, draw inferences, ask about the importance or role of certain characters. Strategies like these will help ensure that reading comprehension is being practiced. Finally, one of the most important factors involved in reading instruction is having motivated learners. Part of building that motivation from a young age involves having them reading a little every day and having resources available to match the age and stage of the reader. By constant reading practice, a child will come to see themselves as a good reader and be more likely to pursue reading on their own [1]. A comprehensive approach to reading will teach young learners to think about reading, monitor their understanding, and help them figure out what they know and need to know to make sense of different texts [1].

4) Model A Strong Literacy Environment:

This is a key factor in raising children who value reading, writing and literacy development. Make sure you engage in activities with young learners such as joint reading, drawing, singing, story telling and role-playing. Set aside time for yourself to read so that young learners see it as something which adults do regularly. Have discussions with them about what they’re reading and ask questions to have them explain and retell in their own words [3]. With older children, play word games, talk about word meanings, make inferences from pictures and have plenty of age-appropriate reading material ready to go. With older students, hold conversations about current events, model healthy internet consumption and talk to them about what that might look like and why. A big part of motivating learners to value literacy development comes from modelling that environment yourself by setting aside time to read and making a point to hold conversations about these ideas.

5) Try These Proven Literacy Strategies:

As students progress through grade levels, the level of reading and writing at which they are expected to perform becomes increasingly more difficult. Successful students are often able to draw upon numerous strategies to help them deal with this. For those who are struggling, one of the common reasons is that they don’t know how or when to effectively apply some of these strategies. Reading and writing strategies are numerous so I’ll only list some of my personal favourites here — the links to these resources are found below. While engaging with a piece of text, have students establish the most and least important information. Give them time to read and re-read the piece and supply them with a “t-chart” (i.e. most important information on the left and least important information on the right). Have the student write down the most and least important information and then discuss why they made these choices [4]. Another one of my personal favourites is the “rapid writing” strategy. This is particularly useful when generating ideas for a longer piece of writing or for responding to a short prompt. Have students write non-stop, as fast as they can on a particular topic for a prescribed amount of time (usually 2-3 minutes). Have them read their piece aloud and see what they’ve gotten down. Discuss how this strategy can be used to begin writing a longer, more polished piece. Alternatively, you can have students use organizers to classify or categorize their writing [5]. Lastly, a reading challenge is a great strategy to engage students and motivate them to practice their reading. One challenge in particular asks students in grades 9 and 10 to complete 16 classic novels by age 16; of course, this can be adopted to suit your students at the age and stage they may be in [6].

There you have it. Five strategies which you can implement to help create a learning environment that is geared towards improving literacy skills in young learners. If you have any strategies which you feel are particularly effective, please feel free to share them below.

Written By Nick Mehring, Owner and Education Director of Prep Academy Tutors of Kitchener-Waterloo

Notes:

[1] Canadian Education Statistics Council, Key Factors to Support Literacy Success in School-Aged Populations, 2009.
[2] Government of Ontario, Paying Attention to Literacy, 2013.
[3] Supporting Your Child’s Literacy Development at Home, National Center on Improving Literacy, Accessed February 14, 2019, https://improvingliteracy.org/brief/supporting-your-childs-literacy-development-home
[4] Government of Ontario, Think Literacy Reading Strategies, 2011, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/studentsuccess/thinkliteracy/files/reading.pdf.
[5] Government of Ontario, Think Literacy Writing Strategies, 2011, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/studentsuccess/thinkliteracy/files/writing.pdf.
[6] Holly Welham, “Ten Ways to Improve Student Literacy,” The Guardian, May 8, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/may/08/ten-ways-improve-student-literacy.