—by Theresa Sandoval, Golden Apple Fellow—
Reading to children at an early age is critical. It sets them up to succeed in life. Reading to children develops their language skills. Reading to children consistently also enhances their knowledge. For example, when children look at or read various genres of books, they are naturally curious and want to know more information about the text. This in turn leads them to a higher level of thinking.
As an elementary educator, I believe that students should be given a variety of different books to read and explore. Nonfiction books are real stories or facts about animals, people, and places. Fiction books are filled with characters, plots, and stories that are invented. When students look at these books, they are developing their imagination and creativity. Alphabet books enable students to identify upper and lower case letters and sounds. This teaches them to be able to make the connection between letters and how words are pronounced.
Because all educators will have ESL learners in their classrooms, it is extremely important to give students choices that reflect different cultures and interests. One of my students had a hard time focusing when reading aloud or in a small group. One day in the library area, I asked him about his book. He said, “ I like cars because my father is a mechanic.” I took him to the school library and had him choose books pertaining to vehicles. He had so many that he couldn’t carry them. I was able to teach him the concepts and skills in order to read by having him select books of his interest.
Storytelling is part of reading. When students can share their prior knowledge or fonts of knowledge, they are able to express themselves. They can bring what they know from their culture, tradition, customs and values. This is taught at home where family members carry on the tradition. One of my students was looking at a guitar book when he approached me and asked if he could bring his guitar that his grandpa had given him. In addition to the guitar, he brought his grandpa. I could see how proud he was. It all began with a book he was looking at and reading. It is important for students to value what they have been taught at home.
Comprehension questions enable students to develop the ability to understand what they read, which has a profound effect on their entire life. Most important, comprehension instruction helps students develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences that lead them to become competent, fluent, and enthusiastic readers. After a read aloud, I ask my students a variety of questions. These might include asking them the main ideas, to compare and contrast something in the story, a discussion of vocabulary words, and sequencing of the story. This helps to expand their knowledge and helps them to become good readers.
Learning to read is so important for student success. Because reading includes so many effective skills, strategies, and techniques, I have only touched on a few of them.