What Counts as Good Shared Reading?

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What’s the best assessment of the educational value of a daily shared reading experience? By shared reading I mean that special kind of reading that happens when two or more people share a book together. This includes the lively (I hope) book transcription by a sufficiently experienced reader that then evokes the sharing of personal reflections about each book’s content from everyone involved. So, back to the question: What’s the best assessment of the educational value of a daily shared reading experience?

A. The number of pages read, or

B. The amount of time spent reading.

To get to the “right” answer, let’s say a child and her caretakers share and discuss five books a day from the day she is born until she enters Kindergarten. That would translate to over 9,000 books read prior to 1st grade. We could keep track of the amount of time spent reading each book, too, and come up with an impressive number of hours spent reading. Sounds like success, doesn’t it? But is piling up numbers what we want? Probably not, so let’s take a different tack.bookclub2

Picture books for small children tend to be pretty short, from as few as one word  to around 20 words per page. With little ones, a single word (“spider” for example) with a rich photograph or illustration could spur a long and lively discussion. Talking about a single illustration or episode that captures a child’s eager attention invites an actual conversation, not just about the book content itself, but about book-inspired personal experience connections that children discover.

Such conversation about a shared book is a critical part of the reading experience not captured by page / time counts and accumulated sums. The participant who animatedly speaks the text aloud provides children with insights into how language, print and books work. Additionally, the caregiver’s on-the-spot and off-the-cuff reflections and wonderings about the book’s illustrations or subject matter offer children a critical insight into the mechanisms and benefits of a personal comprehension of a book. This personal sharing around a book’s content amplifies the all-important WHY—WHY we should read books.

read aloud in classSo, in my view, neither of the commonly used right answers that were offered above are the most productive index for assessing and evaluating the value of a read-together event. While recognizing the simple elegance of a parent’s dedication to reading with their child every day or his focusing upon a certain number of books before lights out every night, those data still won’t serve family or educators well in determining the value of such efforts for the child’s burgeoning literacy. Therefore, I believe the very best metric upon which to focus, regardless of the number of pages turned or time spent reading, is:

C. Depth and breadth of the discussion about each day’s shared books.

Of course there is no simple or straight forward way to count depth or breadth of discussion during an intimate sharing of wonderful stories or content.  That lack of tick marks is probably why nobody in schools uses this kind of testimony as a measure of success. In educators’ zeal to make everything data driven we have forced ourselves to eliminate the outcome we really want from shared reading—thoughtful consideration and deep engagement around every book’s content.

Good teachers and attentive parents can surely tell when the feeling after a read and discuss event is, “Ooo! That was a good one!”

The presence of that type of emotional response should provide solid daily evidence of success. Let’s shoot for assessing that each day.

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