I recently encountered an article indicating that school-age children rarely talk with their friends about what they are “free” reading, mostly because they don’t have time in their academic day.
Wait! Really? That’s huge!
This lost conversation represents a lost educational opportunity, seemingly sacrificed on the altar of what apparently passes for instructional efficiency! But it’s not just that teachers generally don’t lead kids to converse about their self-selected books. In the absence of book clubs and such, I don’t think adults do it much either.
The verifiably biggest value multiplier for kids’ reading is in genuine conversation about a book they choose to read: enthusiastic promotion of a favorite book to others, sincere collaborative analysis of literal and inferred meaning from a book that others also read, and relating personal life stories illuminated by the book. The potential positives go on and on.
Reading and talking about it are the most reliably beneficial activities for developing richer vocabulary. Follow-up conversation about reading gives kids a chance to use new vocabulary introduced by the author, explore new ideas and experiences presented in a book, and integrate new insights they encounter in a book. Reading also positively impacts background knowledge, composition ability and spelling.
What’s more educationally beneficial than the above collection of enriched cognitive abilities?
But the larger question for us adults is, “When does anybody talk about what they are reading?”
I am the odd bird that interrupts people lost in a book while we are sitting adjacent in waiting rooms, on buses and in airport lounges, asking what they are reading. That typically leads to a pleasant discussion of their favorite genres and authors, the premise of the book they are holding and whether the reader would recommend it to a nosey stranger. My interruption is totally selfish, of course. I’m shopping for my next read/author/portable adventure. I’ve never had anyone ask me about what I’m reading unless they see me smiling, slapping my book or tablet shut at the end of a satisfying read.
For children, genuine talk about books occurs when parents, who understand the essential role they play in the language development of their young ones, initiate and invite conversations about books enjoyed during daily reading together. This kind of talk lays the foundation for schools to build upon.
A simple turn-and-talk directive at the end of a classroom’s free reading time can be an easy addition to keep this very powerful ball rolling. However, it can’t be added if there is NO free reading time established in the daily schedule.
Teachers NOT instituting a free reading time is like baseball coaches not arranging time for their kids to joyfully play catch without interruption. Follow up discussion in either case can’t be anything but good.
As Richard Allington asked so many years ago, “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?”*…and the “good” is not just good at reading for school work. It includes good at being a reader who carries on post reading conversations that build deep comprehension and solid thinking.
Really now…If they don’t converse much, how they ever gonna get good?!