Reading Aloud = Academic Success + Pleasure

This is about more than reading; this is about academic success, learning to read, and loving to read.  It’s about young children and older children, and what happens along the way.  Here are worrisome statistics and great stories.  You should feel empowered.

Jim Trelease was spot on when he said “Reading is the heart of education.  The knowledge of almost every subject in school flows from reading.  One must be able to read the word problem in math to understand it.  If you cannot read the science or social studies chapter, how do you answer the questions at the end of the chapter?”

Parents tell me all the time about their child’s struggles in school, and it boils down to reading, whether it’s reading the homework assignment or a chapter in assigned reading.  When the parent has to step in to help with homework, it often is because of struggles with reading.  I think of how much more difficult the work must be in the classroom with the expectations of independent work.  I wish those children had been in my classroom when they were younger; I could have helped them and their parents.

Now, let’s back up from reading to reading aloud.  In order to read, and more importantly to want to read, it all starts with parents and family reading aloud to children, every day.

The statistics on reading aloud and its link to academic success in all areas is profound.  If reading is a pleasurable experience, then school work is by far easier.  Every child begins school wanting to learn to read.  In other words, we’ve got 100 percent of enthusiastic kindergarteners when they start school.  The National Report Card found that among fourth-graders, only 54 percent read for pleasure.  Among eighth graders, only 30 percent read for pleasure.  By twelfth grade, only 19 percent read anything for pleasure daily.  Yikes!  What happened?  The better question might be, what did not happen?

The seeds of not only learning to read but loving to read were not planted early.  Reading aloud to children for 30 minutes every day, starting at birth and continuing after they have learned to read, is the single best thing a parent can do to build a reader.  I know this.  When I read aloud in my classroom, it’s the time that children are totally absorbed.  Totally.  A good story, read aloud, is the best learning and pleasure experience I give to children.  It opens the door to questions and discovery.  Here is a great story from The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease that illustrates the power of reading aloud:

We start with the family of Susan and Tad Williams and their two sons, Christopher and David.  Of the four hundred thousand students taking the ACT exam with Christopher back in 2002, only fifty-seven had perfect scores– he was the fifty-eighth.  When word got out that this kid from Russell, Kentucky (population 3,645) had scored a perfect 36, the family was besieged with questions, the most common being “What prep course did he take?  Kaplan?  Princeton Review?”  It turned out to be a course his parents enrolled him in as an infant, a free program, unlike some of the private plans that now cost up to $250 an hour.

In responding to inquiries about Christopher’s prep courses, the Williamses simply told people–including the New York Times–that he hadn’t taken any, that he did no prep work.  That, of course, wasn’t completely true.  His mother and father had been giving him and his younger brother free prep classes all through their childhood, from infancy into adolescence: They read to them for thirty minutes a night, year after year, even after they learned how to read for themselves.

Theirs was a home brimming with books but no TV Guide, Game Cube, or Hooked on Phonics.  Even though Susan Williams was a fourth generation teacher, she offered no home instruction in reading before the boys reached school age.  She and Tad just read to them—sowed the sounds and syllables and endings and blendings of language into the love of books.  Each boy easily learned to read–and loved reading, gobbling books up voraciously.  Besides being a family bonding agent, reading aloud was used not as test prep as much as an “ensurance” policy–it ensured the boys would be ready for whatever came their way in school.

By 2011, David was a University of Louisville graduate working as an engineer and Christopher was pursuing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Duke.  Sometimes Christopher’s early reading experiences surface even in the biochemistry department, like when he remarked to his lunch mates the day after a Duke basketball loss, “I guess there’s no joy in Mudville today.”  None of the other grad students grasped the reference to Ernest Thayer’s classic sports poem.

If that story doesn’t inspire parents and teachers to read, I don’t know what will!

Jim Trelease opens his book with this wonderful quote: “We must take care that the children’s early encounters with reading are painless enough so they will cheerfully return to to the experience now and forever.  But if it’s repeatedly painful, we will end up creating a school-time reader instead of a lifetime reader.”  Beautifully said and hits the nail right on the head.

My classroom is brimming with books.  They aren’t stuffed into a basket, they’re on a front-facing shelf.  I read aloud to children twice a day and chapter read for thirty minutes every day.  Children choose to get books from our bookshelf.  They take great pleasure in looking at the pictures, turning the pages, and pointing to the words.  Looking at a book is also my classroom transitional activity.  Children leave my class with a genuine love of books and reading.  They often return to visit, and when I ask what they remember?  Reading, of course!

Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin).


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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7 Responses to Reading Aloud = Academic Success + Pleasure

  1. Lisa besse says:

    Jennie, you know how much I love to read and how much all of my children do as well. My concern is the statistical data you presented, ending with, “by the 12th grade only 19 percent read anything for pleasure.” I think it is misleading and here is why. When can they read? My now 9th graders has at least 5 hours of homework per night, throw in a special project and we are lucky if he joins us for dinner ( yep, still eat dinner together every night!). What I am saying is that school is not providing the opportunity to read. They are crammed into a classroom for 56 minutes, given their assignment, have 2 minutes to get to the next class, 20 minutes for lunch, then back at it, until 1:56pm when the bell rings and there is a mass exodus from the building. Our science teachers no longer teach science, but assign the lesson to the kids to learn and then come in and they do experiments with what they learned.
    Don’t get me wrong, I know school is important, what I am saying is that it is no longer enjoyable. We are like rats running through a maze trying to throw information into these kids so the can regurgitate it onto a test and the school will then get more money because test scores are high. But when you are in this maze, you can’t stop to read a book or even spend 30 minutes on a meal. And for what? Beats me. It just makes me sad!

  2. jlfatgcs says:

    Lisa, you’re right. Although the statistics are accurate, there is a big problem in our schools to compound the issue. They’re not supporting reading, such as SSR, and they are teaching to the tests. It’s a maze to navigate, with little joy. Very sad. The difference is that you planted those early seeds of loving to read, and that has enabled your children to do well in school, even when the schools pathway to deeper learning has lost it’s way.

    • Hi Lisa and Jennie, I might like to add that even if your 9th grader doesn’t read every day for pleasure now, during the high school school-year, chances are, (as I assume he had Jennie in earlier years, and has grown up with your reading as well) he will read for pleasure almost every day when he finds his time open up again (due to a lighter semester, summer vacation, graduation, etc.). I graduated GDRHS in 2008, and can honestly say even I was not among the 19% of daily readers while in high school–though I read when I did find the time, and do read every day now (and find I miss school, and reading is a big part of that). Because of that, no doubt many of Jennie’s students, like myself, will find themselves picking up a book for educational purposes now and again (and that their pleasure reading time will not be all fiction, but nonfiction as well). You might call me a slight outlier, as I have chosen a career in publishing, but I would venture to say that many who remember reading as enjoyable, even after being introduced to periods of lack of time and/or non-enjoyment of reading, will remember it was once fun, and recognize it can be that way again, and seek it out.

  3. mylittlepoppiescaitie says:

    My favorite parenting book, hands down! I give it to all the new parents in my life and blog about it all the time. Thank you for this post. This is such important information.

    • jlfatgcs says:

      You are so right! This is the most important book for parents and teachers. Jim Trelease visited my class before he published the latest edition of his book. I’m so very lucky to included. Check out my November 23rd blog post; you will love it. I have so many stories of the power reading aloud. It really is the best thing I do! And, thank you!

      • mylittlepoppiescaitie says:

        I will do that for sure! Thank you so much. And you’re so lucky to have worked with him!

  4. Thank you for this – it’s sometimes hard to convince parents that what they’re already doing – spending time talking and reading with and to their children – really is enough. There’s such pressure in some social and cultural groups to be doing extra things like worksheets and after-schools skills programs and I often question the need for the these programs and the toll that they take on kids mental health. I once read a great story about Jean Piaget’s first presentation in North America. After he presented his stages of development, the first question from the floor was (paraphrased) “Okay, so how do we make it faster?”. I think it’s a story that speaks volumes about our culture.

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