Shared Storybook Reading: Building Young Children's Language and Emergent Literacy Skills

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9781557668004: Shared Storybook Reading: Building Young Children's Language and Emergent Literacy Skills

Reading storybooks with young children is one of the most important things adults can do to support early language and literacy skills. What other fun, engaging interaction can teach children so many critical concepts — including print awareness, vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and social and conversational skills— all at once? Making the most of shared reading is the goal of this practical guide, ideal for early childhood educators in preschool, Head Start, and child care programs. Step-by-step strategies help educators engage, respond to, and teach young children during storybook reading —information they can share with parents to continue the learning at home. Readers will discover how to

  • create a fun and enriching reading atmosphere
  • choose appropriate books, read with expression, and actively engage children
  • use book reading to help children develop in semantics, phonology, syntax, morphology and pragmatics
  • promote children's print awareness and phonological awareness
  • work with children who have developmental delays and behavior challenges
  • motivate reluctant readers
  • work effectively with individual children and small groups
  • support parents in developing their children's language and literacy development

All of the suggested strategies can be adapted for use with any storybook, and many are vividly illustrated with sample scripts that educators can use to guide their own interactions with children. And with the helpful appendices, teachers will have short summaries of strategies for easy reference, a "reading log" to give to parents, answers to parents' frequently asked questions about reading at home, and a glossary of key terms. Loaded with ready-to-use ideas, this guidebook has everything early childhood educators need to turn the fun of shared reading into a powerful learning experience.

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About the Author:


Helen K. Ezell is a speech-language pathologist in the Department of Instruction and Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. She specializes in the study of children's early language development and emergent literacy acquisition. Her research has involved a range of topics, including vocabulary development, print awareness, and reading comprehension. She has published extensively in professional journals and has authored two other books — Guide to Success in Doctoral Study and Faculty Work (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2002) and The Syntax Handbook (co-authored with Laura Justice, Thinking Publications, 2002). Dr. Ezell served as Director of Communication Development for 8 years at Western Center, a Pennsylvania residential facility for individuals with mental retardation, and as Associate Research Scientist for 5 Years with Allegheny-Singer Research Institute before joining the faculty at Ohio University. She currently holds a research position at the University of Pittsburgh with the Pennsylvania Reading First External Evaluation Project.

Laura M. Justice is Assistant Professor of Reading and Communication Disorders at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, Charlottesville. She directs the Preschool Language and Literacy Lab at the University of Virginia, which conducts basic and applied research on preschool literacy and language development, language disorders, parent-implemented early childhood language and literacy interventions, and classroom-based language and literacy programs for at-risk preschoolers. Dr. Justice's cross-disciplinary research has received awards from the International Reading Association (2001 Distinguished Finalist, Dissertation of the Year), the Council for Exceptional Children (2003 Early Career Award, Division for Research), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2004 Editor's Award, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology). She recieved her doctorate in speech and hearing sciences from Ohio University under the mentorship of Dr. Ezell.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Shared Storybook Reading: Building Young Children’s Language and Emergent Literacy Skills, By Helen K. Ezell, Ph.D., & Laura M. Justice, Ph.D., CCC-S.

Copyright © 2005 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

During their preschool years, children must acquire sufficient knowledge of and facility with language for it to be become a useful tool in their formal education. This means that young children not only need to learn language for personal expression and communication with others but also need it to further their learning in an educational setting. Once formal education begins, children will rely on their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, all of which are dependent on an underlying foundation of language competence. Therefore, by helping young children become competent language users, professionals and parents will be building a solid foundation for children’s future learning.

This book provides some ideas and strategies for assisting professionals in developing young children’s language competence through one particular language-rich experience — that of shared reading. Shared reading has been selected because of its unique quality of presenting both oral and written language simultaneously. This permits children to acquire not only oral language abilities but also early print concepts. Recent important research and policy documents, such as the consensus document Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children commissioned by the National Research Council (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998) and the position statement Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children prepared jointly by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1998), emphasize the value of providing children generous access to storybooks and engaging them in high-quality interactive reading. These reports stress the role of storybooks in offering valuable experiences with the vocabulary and grammar of oral language, as well as intensive exposure to the sound and print structure of written language that underlies the alphabetic principle.

This book is intended to serve as a guide and resource for all professionals working with young children and their families, including early interventionists, child care providers, early childhood educators, kindergarten teachers, librarians, literacy coaches, speech language pathologists, special educators, psychologists, social workers, and health care providers. The focus of this book is to help professionals understand the inherent value and versatility of shared reading with young children for building a strong foundation of language and emergent literacy skills. Ultimately, children will apply this foundation to their experiences during the formal reading instruction that occurs in kindergarten and first grade.

DEVELOPING CHILDREN’S LANGUAGE THROUGH SHARED READING

The term shared reading is used throughout this book to describe the interaction that occurs between an adult and a child when reading or looking at a book. This interaction may include one adult and one child, or one or more adults and several children. The interaction may occur in any setting (e.g., a child care center, a preschool classroom, an outpatient clinic, children’s homes). Several different terms are used by experts to describe this interaction, including interactive reading, reading aloud, book sharing, book reading, storybook reading, adult–child storybook reading, and book-reading interaction. All of these terms are interchangeable, essentially focused on giving a name to the important interactions that occur between adults and children when they share a storybook. In this book, the terms book sharing or shared reading are used to emphasize the active involvement and engagement of both the child and the adult in a shared interaction focusing on a book’s words, pictures, and story.

This book is based on the premise that shared reading is a unique learning context for young children that involves much more than simply looking at pictures. Although one of the most salient features of storybooks is their illustrations, storybooks also provide children with access to a world of sights, sounds, and words that may be quite different from what they experience in their homes, their communities, and their schools. For example, it is through a storybook that a child may first experience the magic of the animal kingdom (e.g., lions, giraffes, camels, snakes, turtles). One popular book, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (1982), provides children from the earliest ages with the names of these and other animals, allowing them to experience vocabulary words that are not likely to arise in their everyday environments. A simple and often delightful text for even very young children, Dear Zoo exposes children to linguistic concepts that will be important as they develop, including the descriptive adjectives grumpy, fierce, scary, and naughty, as well as concepts about how to handle objects (e.g., fragile, heavy). It is hard to believe that a text containing only 31 different words used in 25 short sentences can help children develop such a range of early yet important concepts.

As another example, Jessica Stockham’s Down by the Station (2002) allows children to experience a variety of onomatopoeic words describing the sounds of vehicles — the chuff, chuff, chuff of the train; the brrm, brrm, brrm of the bus; the beep, beep, beep of the taxi; and the nee nor, nee nor, nee nor of the fire engine. Clearly, this storybook provides children with early exposure to the sounds of the world around them, all while sitting on the lap of an adult. Professionals can use this book and its systematic attention to words and sounds as a means for heightening children’s early sensitivities to the sound structure of oral language and for understanding how words represent diverse aspects of their world, including its sounds.

These examples highlight how storybooks provide children with the words they can use to explore both basic and abstract vocabulary concepts. However, books do much more than teach children new vocabulary. Consider some of the language and early literacy opportunities created during shared reading that are described in Table 1.1. Storybooks increase children’s familiarity with the sounds and grammar of their language, expose them to the pragmatic rules that govern the use of language, and provide them with models of how stories and narratives are organized in their culture. At the same time, storybooks teach children fundamental knowledge about how books themselves work and how print is organized, and they provide children with repeated exposure to the alphabet and the way in which letters and sounds map on to one another in an alphabetic language. Not the least important, storybook-reading experiences also provide children with opportunities to build relationships with the adults in their lives. It is within the context of children’s relationships with adults that children’s developing competencies about language and literacy may emerge (Pianta, 2000).

With all of the benefits that storybooks offer, it is important to understand that book sharing is not intended to teach children to read. If reading could be taught so easily, nearly all children would be reading by the time they enter school. Instead, book sharing helps children develop a foundation for learning to read. It is not unlike the foundation that children acquire when they listen to music. Listening builds musical skills and knowledge such as becoming aware of pitch and melody, associating sounds with particular instruments (e.g., piano, violin, drum), recognizing that musical notes can be distinguished from one another and can have different meanings, and being able to repeat a tune or sing a song. However, for nearly all children, learning to read music will require explicit instruction. The same is true for learning to read. Consider next some of the research evidence that describes the influence that shared reading has on developing children’s foundation skills.

Research on Reading Storybooks with Young Children

Hundreds of studies have appeared in scientific journals during the last several decades on how shared reading contributes to the early language and literacy development of young children. This body of research also has reported on how adults can capitalize on these reading interactions to maximize children’s early achievements. Some of the research that provided the impetus for this book has been selected for review in this section and has been organized to consider three major topics:

  1. Key findings regarding language and emergent literacy
  2. How young children’s early shared-reading experiences vary widely
  3. Why the quality of shared reading is important

Key Findings Regarding Language and Emergent Literacy

Research has shown that shared reading with young children may affect several aspects of their language and literacy development. With regard to language skills, the dialogic reading technique developed by Grover Whitehurst and his colleagues (Whitehurst et al., 1988) has demonstrated consistent success in increasing children’s language skills. Dialogic reading involves gradually shifting the storytelling role from the adult reader to the child through various techniques (e.g., open-ended questions, repetition, modeling). Several studies using the dialogic reading technique during shared reading have shown an increase in children’s oral language skills (Arnold, Lonigan, Whitehurst, & Epstein, 1994; Lonigan & Whitehurst, 1998; Valdez-Menchaca & Whitehurst, 1992; Whitehurst, Arnold, et al., 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1988).

A unique aspect of storybooks is how they offer an opportunity to decontextualize language. This means that the events and concepts in storybooks are not restricted to the here and now. Rather, the events may reflect actions, events, and ideas that exist beyond the present — potentially in the past, in the future, or in another world altogether. The events may flow over time (“Once upon a time . . . “) or they may follow a causal chain of events (as in If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff). The events may be placed in the past (“There was an old lady . . . “), in the future (“When I grow up . . . “), and even on another planet (“Far away, in another galaxy . . . “). It is through storybooks that children can experience the eventful forays of a mischievous dog as he discovers chicken coops, ponds, and gardens in Spot’s First Walk by Eric Hill (1981). These experiences go beyond the incidental language and literacy experiences characteristic of the immediate world of young children; they also prepare them for the decontextualized demands that will pervade elementary schooling.

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