Seen and heard

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
With raising literacy standards now a national priority, Caroline Matusiak explains how to teach reading effectively to infants.

Children should be seen and also heard when it comes to reading. The classic phrase "hearing reading" needs to be redefined. Some teachers claim they can hear two or even four children read simultaneously.

I attempted this in response to the traditional infant expectation of hearing children read daily. In fact, such practice results in children being seen, but not heard reading. I was only able to watch lips move, rather than conduct meaningful assessment or interaction.

Parents are led to equate reading with reading aloud to teacher. Children are consequently raced through print to meet such expectations. On these occasions, children are for the most part simply "practising reading". This is not the most efficient use of teacher time.

There is a need to distinguish between practising, assessing and teaching reading. To achieve these separate but interrelated tasks, we need to relinquish the idea that a child needs to recite aloud each word of a book to a teacher. There are more meaningful contexts for practising, such as reading aloud to a friend. Children can practise reading to parents at home, to a parentadult helper in school, to each other or to themselves.

We need to ensure that children see themselves as independent readers, and not dependent on adults. They equally need to take the role of reader, that is read a story to a class or group. For the teacher always to habitually take this role denies their independence as readers.

Group reading, where each child has the same text, provides a supportive way to challenge and extend children's reading repertoire and skills. Children can read together or in turns with the more able supporting others.

Indeed, an adult or able child can lead the reading while others follow in their books. I find that this particularly benefits those children on a shallow diet of simple and often repetitive texts, as it extends their horizons and stimulates their motivation to read. A quiet time can be incorporated, during which the group is encouraged to read on alone and then discuss an extract.

Teaching problem-solving strategies to make sense of print and skills such as phonics is most effective at group or class times when big books or enlarged-print texts are shared. These are a meaningful source of material to develop children's awareness of the need to use sense, sound and syntax, as well as developing the habit of reading on and reading back when the text becomes difficult for them. Enlarged text provides an enjoyable and effective means of "standing back from print" and discussing "words", "sounds" and "letters".

Assessing reading is important and to do that effectively teachers need to not only hear children read but listen. That can only be done successfully with individuals. Quality and not quantity is the key. Quality assessment needs to be given equal status with other classroom activities. This provides crucial information for the child's records and for future planning for teaching reading.

Parents can be invited to make contributions to this process by the inclusion of a notebook with the child's book. This notebook provides an opportunity for dialogue between home and school. Parents are quick to pick up on a child's motivation, as well as areas of weakness or strength.

Teachers need to be seen teaching reading and children need to be seen practising reading. Practising reading can be a 10-minute slot during which everyone reads alone or in turns with a neighbouring child. Remember, above all, that you can hear 32 pupils but you can only listen to one child read at a time.

Caroline Matusiak teaches infants in North Yorkshire

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