Paired reading at home

A recent study showed that reading accuracy and comprehension improved after parents were trained to read with their children at home.
Jennifer Overett and David Donald, University of Cape Town, South Africa, studied two fourth-grade classes in an educationally disadvantaged community. Previous research has shown paired reading to have significant positive effects on the development of children’s word recognition and comprehension. However, Overett and Donald wanted to determine if the same effects would be found in communities where parents had experienced such inadequate schooling that they did not believe they could help their children learn.

This study took place in Mitchell’s Plain, a largely working-class community in the Cape Town metropolitan area. Two fourth-grade, English-speaking classes were selected in the same district. There were no significant differences on pre-test reading-accuracy or comprehension levels between the two classes. Reading accuracy for both classes was about one year below average and comprehension was about two years below average.

Reading materials were extremely scarce in this community; 54 percent of the children in the study reported that they had no books at home, and few had more than two books. Forty-nine percent did not belong to the library. The researchers arranged for a donation of books to be shared between the two classes, and both classroom teachers encouraged library membership. Children’s librarians were asked for their support in promoting the goals of the reading program. Library membership in the two classes increased from 51 percent to 72 percent over the period of the study.

Paired reading

Most families in the study were either single-parent households or had both parents working, so scheduling the program and involving other family members required more planning. The training program was run at school on six consecutive Saturday afternoons. The classroom teacher attended all sessions and the principal attended four. All the children in the class, regardless of their reading level, their parents and other family members were invited to attend. Sixty-six percent of the sessions were attended by at least one member of every family.

During the sessions, researchers introduced, explained and modeled the paired reading process, emphasizing mediation skills. Parents observed and practiced these skills with their children using a variety of books, including some from the local library. Special attention was placed on discussing the meaning of the story before, during and after reading. Parents were trained to direct their child’s attention to meaning and context, highlighting features that might go unnoticed; assisting insights into less explicit levels of meaning; and using contextual clues in thinking about and understanding the story. Parents were prompted to use Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why? and How? questions.

The emphasis was on promoting brief, regular, positive and enjoyable interaction around the reading activity. Researchers suggested reading together for a minimum of five minutes a day, five days a week — keeping it short to accommodate parents who had expressed concerns about time pressures. Parents were encouraged to discuss their difficulties and successes with the program leader, principal or teacher.

Students in paired-reading made greater gains

Students in the paired-reading program made significantly greater gains in reading than students in the control class. Students who practiced paired reading at home made three times more pro g ress in both accuracy and comprehension. And despite the fact that attitudes toward reading were more positive in the control classroom prior to the study, the experimental students’ attitudes were significantly more positive than the control students’ by the end of the study.

When the reading program ended, interviews with children in the experimental group revealed that 90 percent of them were reading regularly with a family member and 69 percent were reading with two or more family members. This showed that families were sharing the responsibility of reading with the child. Children reported that they particularly liked getting help with difficult words and enjoyed the praise, nods, encouraging comments and treats from their reading partners. These interviews suggest that more than reading was happening. Positive relationships were being nurtured, and other children in the family were benefiting.

These researchers report that the program’s realistic goals, acceptable and flexible time constraints, and focus on informal, enjoyable interaction were vital to its success. They believe the increased access to books and the regularity of reading contributed to the increased involvement in reading. The principal’s, teacher’s and librarians’ endorsement of the values and aims of the program and the active participation of all in a shared learning experience contributed to its success.

“Paired Reading: Effects of a Parent Involvement Programme in a Disadvantaged Community in South Africa” British Journal of Educational Psychology Volume 68, Number 3, September 1998 pp. 347-356.

Published in ERN December 1998/January 1999 Volume 12 Number 1

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