TO and WITH – REconsidering Reading

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Me Reading at Tseiiahi

It’s a New Year, a time when many consider new resolutions, intentions and commitments. I would argue it’s also time to REconsider some of our standard practices, like the experiences we can offer to emerging readers when we read TO them and/or WITH them. The differences between these two are important, though perhaps not obvious. Reading TO and WITH kids are as different as talking to and with them.

Both have their places, of course, but they really aren’t substitutions for one another. Consider that if we only talked TO our kids, but not WITH them, we’d miss out on rich conversations, the initiation of potentially powerful inquiries, learning more about each other, and much information about the present situation that could benefit them immediately and in the long run. If we only talk WITH children, the need for immediate clarity, guidance and understanding (and perhaps compliance for the sake of safety or good manners) has no alternative option. Of course, employing either reading to or with is better than bypassing reading to them all together. However developing readers need both.

If we bail on either reading TO or reading WITH kids, we risk stunting their growth in reading comprehension, vocabulary development, writing ability, a ton of valuable background information that can’t be acquired so easily in any other way, and a shared experience that always gives us joy in our teaching and/or parenting.

When we read TO them, along with offering a positive experience with wonderful books, we provide kids insight into what reading is and what it can be, its obvious power and its subtleties. While listening to us read, kiddos can watch our faces, hear our fluent and nuanced vocal inflections in our volume changes, engage with our alterations of vocal pitch and speed and note our important pauses. Reading TO kids provides them with a full view of how reading builds literacy upon the foundations of ever richer language mastery. But only reading TO kids can hold them at arm’s length of full engagement with the text.

Reading WITH kids, on the other hand, (e.g., inviting their questions and observations, offering our own thoughts about other experiences or books, voice pointing on repetitive phrases in predictable books, inviting them to read along, etc.) invites them into a status as active, collaborating, engaged, happy readers. AND of course, only reading WITH them eliminates the riches available through the modeling we offer while reading TO them.

All this is to suggest that regardless of our veteran or novice status as parents and/or teachers, it may be time to commit to REconsider the ways in which we share books with our kids and students.

Happy New Year, everyone!


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12 Responses to “TO and WITH – REconsidering Reading”

  1. Patricia Quink January 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    Happy New Year Mark!

    • Mark Condon January 7, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

      Right back atcha, Patty! All good wishes!

  2. Paula Lee Bright January 7, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

    Such very important points! Thanks for the reminder.

    • Mark Condon January 8, 2016 at 8:06 am #

      Thanks for the feedback, Paula! Always appreciated.

  3. mik January 8, 2016 at 8:37 am #

    Well said Mark! I will try to keep this in mind as I read to the kids. They really love their books…what a wonderful thing that is.

    • Mark Condon January 11, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

      Book lovers grow up to be lifelong readers and thus lifelong learners, Mik.
      I read recently a quotation by Charles Schwab, “A person can succeed at almost anything for which they have unlimited enthusiasm.
      I wish that love of books were part of the assessment that is done to determine reading achievement. Lack of that quality is one of our kids’ barriers to reading well.

  4. Jacquie McTaggart January 11, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Your excellent article reminds me of an “off the cuff” child’s remark that was shared with me a few years ago. I had subbed in a 2nd grade room that day and got a phone call from one of the student’s mothers. “Jacquie, my daughter says you are the BEST sub she’s ever had.” Intrigued, I asked Mom to tell me more. “Well,” she said, “Charlene said you TALKED the read aloud book after lunch rather than READING it.” Say what? I didn’t know what she was talking about. “Oh, you know. You explained what the hard words meant and you told some funny stuff about yourself that was similar to what happened in today’s story.” Mmm. I had done nothing special and nothing that I hadn’t done throughout my very long first grade teaching career, but apparently it appealed to at least one little second grader on one day long ago.

    • Mark Condon January 11, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

      Those are the lovely moments that recharge my teaching batteries, Jacquie. Thanks for sharing WITH us.

  5. Anya Yankelevich January 11, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

    Thank you! Reading together/to/with children is a co-creating act that is probably my favorite part of teaching. 🙂

    • Mark Condon January 12, 2016 at 6:49 am #

      The kids can absolutely tell that you love it. That demonstration of delight in reading for them is another wonderful lesson, Anya. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Annette January 13, 2016 at 7:26 am #

    Thank you for pointing out these important differences! Felling a time crunch, teachers too often read TO children or skip it altogether.
    I also want to encourage teachers to allow kids to talk WITH each other while you (the teacher) are reading WITH your students!

    • Mark Condon January 13, 2016 at 8:17 am #

      What a great point, Annette. The old “Teacher gets every other turn” kind of discussion could be very productively replaced with an actual book discussion among the kids. Thanks for that bit of wisdom!