In British and Australian schools, the practice of sending children home with books so that parents can listen to their children read is widespread. However, some educational researchers are now questioning the benefits of some of these programs. Derek Toomey, Centre for the Study of Community, Education and Social Change, La Trobe University, Bundoora Victoria, Australia, reviews over 40 studies of such programs. Toomey distinguishes between two general types of programs: parent training and parent listening.
Parent listening programs encourage parents to listen to their children read on a regular basis. These programs offer general advice but do not provide any actual training in helping a child improve reading skills.
Although parent listening programs sometimes improve reading performance initially, they do not significantly increase reading achievement except in the case of children who are significantly below average in reading skills. Very poor readers do appear to benefit from simply having their parents listen to them read. Parent training programs, on the other hand, train parents in specific procedures to use while listening to their children read.
This training involves explanation, modeling, observation and correction. A substantial number of parent training programs have shown significant effects on students1 achievement scores. Toomey describes three different parent training programs.
A behavioral approach is the most elaborate, involving extensive training and observation of the parent working with their child. Parents are taught to use praise and tokens to reward successful behavior. Children read aloud individual words and paragraphs containing these words. Finally, after reading silently, they are asked comprehension questions.
Another kind of training program involves a pause-prompt-praise procedure. Here parents are taught to give praise for correct reading behavior and for self-correction of an error. Parents in this program are trained to pause after the child makes an error (to encourage independent behavior) before offering a prompt. The prompts parents learn are meaning-oriented clues to encourage the child to self-correct.
The third and most promising method is paired reading. In paired reading, the parent and child read aloud together. The child signals the parent when he or she feels able to read alone and the parent is trained to immediately stop reading aloud and follow the child1s reading until an error is made, at which point the parent simply begins reading along with the child, modeling the correct word. The emphasis in this program is on the child1s control of the reading — he/she chooses the book to read and decides when to begin independent reading.
This method provides for gradual elimination of parent support. A review of five studies in which students were tested before and after paired reading (involving a total of 99 families and lasting an average of 2.2 months) showed average gains of 15.6 months in reading comprehension and 9.8 months in reading accuracy. In nine other studies, groups of control students were compared with students involved in paired reading.
After 2.7 months, the control groups made an average gain of 4.4 months while the experimental, paired-reading groups averaged a 9.8-month gain. Tests of these students more than four months after the completion of the project revealed that students in paired reading maintained their reading gains.
Perhaps the most significant advantage of parent involvement in children1s reading is that more than 90 percent of children involved reported increased enjoyment from reading, better reading skills and improved relations with parents. A large percentage of parents agreed that their children read more, liked reading better, understood more and were more accurate in their reading.
Repetition is good
Studies also show that schools tended to show significant improvement in paired reading results when the program was repeated a second and third time. Gains leveled off after the third time. Observers reported that better-organized programs that adhered closely to the paired reading method produced greater gains in reading skills.
Higher gains occurred particularly among those children who remembered to signal a change to independent reading and whose parents were able to quickly respond to that signal and to immediately begin simultaneous reading when the child made an error.
One researcher found that some parents have difficulty not making a fuss about errors and that over time, parents tend to revert to more informal reading or silent reading rather than following the paired reading method. Perhaps for this reason, the benefits of paired reading programs seem to derive mostly from the beginning weeks of the program.
Toomey concludes that training parents to read with their children is an extremely cost-effective way of increasing a child’s reading time. Paired reading is clearly the preferred choice among the three methods he describes. That paired reading is simpler, easier to administer, and easier for parents to learn, makes it better suited to public school settings with large numbers of parents.
“Parents Hearing Their Children Read: A Review. Rethinking the Lessons of the Haringey Project”, Educational Research, Volume 35, Number 3, pp. 223-234.
Published in ERN March/April 1994, Volume 7, Number 2.