The books we read out loud are the ones that resonate the most within us and are the ones we remember most clearly.
Reading out aloud to children is an effective way of improving literacy and picture books are ideally suited to the task. The whole concept of reading out loud is very familiar to students. Most children understand the notion of a bedtime story or just story time in general and do not view it as a threatening experience. As the text themselves are quite brief and usually accompanied by illustrations, students who have learning needs and or have low literacy, are more likely to participate willingly. Jewett, Wilson & Vanderburg (2011) reminds us that literacy is a dynamic interaction between the reader and the text. Discussion groups can be used to increase the relationship between the two as comprehension of the text increases if there are connections made between real life and the text (Jewett, Wilson & Vanderburg, 2011).
From a pedagogical perspective, there are several benefits to reading out aloud to students of all ages. One reason is that the practice of reading to children (and teenagers), increases fluency and improves comprehension (Winch & Holliday, 2012, p.120; Allington & Gabriel, 2012). This is because the proficient reader models pronunciation, tone and inflexion of the text, allowing the children to piece the visual images, text and sounds together to create a multimodal experience. Other reasons include, increasing vocabulary, improving visual literacy as well as the ability to broach sensitive social issues in a delicate manner. But the greatest benefit that arises from read aloud sessions is the discussion that occurs before, during and afterwards (Allington & Gabriel, 2012; McDonald, 2013). Fisher & Frey (2018) point out that discussions have a very strong influence on student learning as it is based upon the central concept of shared reading or common reading experience (Jewett, Wilson & Vanderburg, 2011).
Discussions can be done as a whole class or small groups, in a book club or literature circle (Fisher & Frey, 2018, p.92). The point of the discussion is to allow students to collaborate with their peers and have a free exchange of ideas in order to critically evaluate the text (Fisher & Frey, 2018, p.92). The role of the teacher and or teacher librarian in these discussions is not to lead the conversation but rather facilitate the collaboration by creating a safe space and implementing strategies that encourage lateral thinking (Fisher & Frey, 2018, p.92).
Good narrative nonfiction picture books are able to give students the same pleasurable experiences and cognitive change as fiction (Kiefer & Wilson, 2010; Morris, 2013). Their use of narrative techniques such as theme, character and plot are cleverly intertwined with factual information to create a format that is appealing and instructive (Morris, 2013; Cornett, 2014, p.151). The picture books listed up above are all cleverly crafted and have the ability to increase cognition in the reader. This cognitive change causes increased self awareness and actualisation within the student (Morris, 2013; Kiefer & Wilson, 2010).
Non fiction picture books are also capable of increasing critical thinking skills. I have previously mentioned the benefit of narrative nonfiction in my book review of “After Auschwitz”, so I will just briefly summarise the following. The interweaving of factual information and prose forces the reader to sieve through the text to determine the critical information. This sieving, analysis and evaluation of text increases critical thinking and promotes good media literacy.
In a world full of medicinal bleach, fake news and click bait, critical thinking and media literacy are important!!
There are many aspects within the role of a teacher librarian. One of these roles is to advocate the role of fiction in the teaching and learning. The reason for this is simple. Fiction, or aka storytelling, is an innate part of being human (Cornett, 2014). It is the simplest and most efficient way humans have of learning about ourselves, our identity, our history, society and language (Cornett, 2014). By implementing narratives and narrative non fiction into the curriculum, educators are increasing the zone of proximal development between the student and the curriculum, which in turn increases engagement with the content (Hashim & VongKulluksn, 2018).
What does this mean for teachers and educators?
It means that there needs to be a more assertive role for narratives in pedagogical practice.
Allington, R., & Gabriel, R. (2014). Every child, every day. Educational Leadership, Volume 69 (6). pp.10-15. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=af8a4fab-9b19-447e-835f-78f39f145c0b%40sdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=73183256&db=ehh
Cornett, C. E. (2014). Integrating the literary arts throughout the curriculum. In Creating meaning through literature and the arts: arts integration for Classroom teachers (5th ed,) (pp144-193) USA
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2018). Raise reading volume through access, choice, discussion, and book talks. Reading Teacher, 72(1), 89-97. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1691
Hashim, A & VongKulluskn, V. (2018). E reader apps and reading engagement: A descriptive case study. Computers and Education, 125, pp.358-375. Retrieved from https://www.journals.elsevier.com/computers-and-education/
Jewett, P. C., Wilson, J. L. & Vanderburg, M.A. (2011). The unifying power of a whole school read. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(6), 415-424. doi:10.1598/JAAL.54.6.3
Keifer, B. & Wilson, M. I. (2010). Nonfiction literature for children: Old Assumptions and new directions. In S. Wolf, , K. Coats, , P. A. Enciso & C. Jenkins (Eds). In Handbook of research on children’s and young adult literature (pp. 290-301). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.
McDonald, L. (2013). A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association PETA.
Morris, R. (2013). Linking learning and literary nonfiction. School Library Monthly, 29(7), 39-40. Retrieved from https://www.slj.com/
Winch, G., & Holliday, M. (2014). Chapter 6 – The reader and the text. In G. Winch, R. Ross Johnston, P. March, L. Ljungdahl & M. Holliday (Eds.) Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (5th ed., pp.109-128). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.