Let’s Hear Those Young Readers Out Loud

Today I came across an interesting and surprising fact. Up until the late 1600s or 1700s people only read aloud – for an audience, as a social activity, for amusement, as orators. It wasn’t until advances in printing and moveable type occurred that reading to one’s self became more acceptable and not considered unsociable or downright rude.

In today’s elementary classrooms children reading aloud is the norm. But which is better, silent or oral reading? The simple answer is that they are equally important and there are many developmental processes happening during each type of reading. Let’s look at the benefits of oral reading today.

As parents, we are hopefully used to hearing from teachers that the most important thing we can do for our children is read to them. And this is 100% true. At the same time, children must also have ample time to read out loud. According to Timothy Shanahan, longtime educator, distinguished professor, fluency guru and author, “Oral reading proficiency explains more than 80% of the variation in the reading comprehension of second-graders. What that means is that if you could make all 7-year-olds equal in oral reading fluency (recognizing equal numbers of words, reading with similar speed, pausing equally appropriately), then you would do away with 80% of the differences in comprehension.”  To some researchers, these percentages may seem high. There are other studies with much lower differences in outcomes but with the same conclusion: reading aloud improves comprehension.  

While this is true for students of all ages, it is particularly true for children in grades K-2. One reason is that it’s during read aloud experiences when children learn about expression, prosody, fluency, and intonation, as well as being a time for them to work out phonological processing, word attack skills and comprehension of texts. While more skilled readers may not need as much, or any, work on some of the above mentioned skills, there are studies indicating better comprehension for average or skilled readers in grades K-2 when reading aloud. In other studies, researchers argue that when using more senses (i.e. seeing and hearing words as opposed to only seeing them) our brains remember more.

So, to summarize, your child reading out loud will:

Increase fluency – like practicing a musical instrument or sport, the more your child hears fluent readers and practices reading aloud themselves, the more fluid and expressive a reader she will be.

Enhance comprehension – because reading is still a somewhat new experience for young children and early readers, they benefit from out loud reading so that they can hear when something doesn’t make sense, and can practice monitoring their reading for meaning – a skill which needs to be developed like all the others.

Build vocabulary – oftentimes children will mumble through or skip unfamiliar words. By reading out loud they are more likely to stop when encountering an unfamiliar word and ask what it means. Similarly, the adult listening can engage in conversation about those new words.

Boost confidence – As with the piano player or soccer player or artist, when a child hears himself reading aloud more and more smoothly, tackling text that was previously challenging, confidence and self esteem naturally grow, and this leads to higher motivation to keep reading. It’s a win-win situation!

As children become older and more proficient readers the scales will shift from a stronger emphasis on oral fluency to a stronger emphasis on vocabulary. The end goal is the same: improved comprehension. So keep reading to your children, and remember now and then how important it is for them to read to you at least 10 minutes daily.