Fathers reading with children

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1 Fathers reading with children Last year, in THE PEM 4.3, Caroline Herlihy reported on her infant school s project to research the use of fathers as reading role models. That project concentrated on reading non-fiction in practical situations. This year, the staff undertook further research, this time looking at fathers reading story books with children. During the academic year , our English coordinator Jennie Mason and I worked in partnership on a project to involve fathers as reading role models, and details of this project were published in The Primary English Magazine Vol 4 No 3. The original project was influenced by the work of Geoff Hannan, a trainer on gender issues, and his ideas about a hierarchy of language development. This hierarchy starts with descriptive language and moves up to reflective and then speculative language. Research has shown that boys and men are reluctant to use, and as a result are less experienced in using, reflective language. However, the ability to reflect, for example in studying literature, is a valued skill in the English curriculum and affects examination success or failure. That first project focused on the descriptive level of language. Initial questionnaires filled in by fathers had shown that this was an area where they had confidence and which they valued as a career skill. We therefore produced activities that would involve fathers/male carers in practical reading activities, e.g. using environmental print, instructions and factual reporting. The project was a great success for the school, the pupils and the fathers. One of the most positive outcomes was the increase in fathers confidence in exploring reading opportunities with their children. In a second phase of the project, which I am now going to describe, we wanted to build on the first phase and develop the range of reading skills worked on with fathers to include reflective use of language. Moving on to children s stories Having tried in the first phase of our project to increase awareness of the reading opportunities in practical situations such as following a recipe or making a selection from a holiday brochure, we now wanted to expand the range of print that children read with their male role models to include stories. The initial idea was to provide reading guides for individual story tides. This strategy had proved successful when group reading had been introduced in the school (four years before the literacy hour), when reading guides had been devised for use by volunteer helpers. These guides had set out ideas for discussion that the adult could use to take the children beyond the decoding of text to the point where they inferred meaning and reflected on what they had read. We wanted to provide brand new books for the project, but this was beyond the funds of our small school (Government funding for books had not been confirmed at that time). I therefore decided to approach Walker Books for assistance, having heard their Chairman, David Lloyd, give an inspirational presentation at the Reading and Language Information Centre. Walker s response was very generous and we were energised by the arrival of a parcel containing over 40 new books. However, our enthusiasm was somewhat tempered as we realised the pressure of time on the practical implementation of our ideas. Group Reading Guidelines for Helpers THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH by John Prater Some things to do before reading the book: u Look at the cover. Ask: What do you think the story is about? Have you ever been to a circus? Can you tell me about the circus? (Try to familiarise the children with the appropriate vocabulary: circus ring, ringmaster, big top, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, etc.) Some questions to ask after reading the book: u Did you enjoy the story? Why? u Do you think that the illustrations helped to tell the story? Why are some of the illustrations in small boxes? Have you seen this sort of layout anywhere else? (comics) u How do you think Harry felt before Wellington went to do his act? u How do you think he felt afterwards? u If you could be in a circus, what sort of performer would you like to be? Why? These are only suggestions to stimulate discussion. The. children may have their own ideas. The Primary English Magazine February

2 Dads Reading Project (first guide) Reading and enjoying stories with your children Name of child Name of book When children read a book, they are developing different skills as they read. In this part of our research, we are looking at skills related to literature, as listed below: Stage one u role play activities pretend games, dressing up u story experience a wide range u ability to predict what will happen next. How will the story end? u using picture cues u gaining information from the cover and title of the book u identifying good and bad characters and actions u understanding that some stories have a beginning, a middle and an end u poetry experience finger rhymes, nursery rhymes, repetition and songs u joining in repeating phrases in a story, and songs and rhymes. Stage two u ability to re-tell familiar stories u memorising, singing or reciting familiar rhymes u acting out stories u sharing and talking about stories u developing empathy What would you do? How do you think she felt? u predicting and justifying Why do you think that will happen? u understanding character motivation Why do you think she did that? u identifying what is pleasing or exciting in a story u expressing preferences What was the best story? u experiencing stories told in different styles, e.g. stories written in an oral style, stories in a letter format, etc. Stage three u studying clusters of books (by the same author or on the same topic) u understanding that there are categories of books u noticing narrative patterns in this story that are common to all stories u empathising What would he say if we asked him how he felt? u responding personally thoughts and feelings about the story u reading to others, sharing books together u experiencing stories that go beyond their own immediate experience u knowing lots of songs and poems by heart and retelling many stories u telling a true story or anecdote about oneself u developing a secure basic vocabulary to talk about books (e.g. author, title, cover, etc) u knowing how to select a suitable reading book when browsing in the book corner or a library u knowing how to look after a book, use a bookmark, replace a book correctly on the shelf. Stage four u learning the art of reading aloud u learning the art of reading to oneself, developing reading stamina u reviewing personal reading habits and preferences u developing the ability to describe characters and their personalities u appreciating and replicating good openings to stories and appreciating suspense in a story u using guesswork to predict a story s outcome, the motivation of characters, etc u being able to comment on the ending of a story u being able to offer alternative endings to a story u understanding and identifying the moral or theme of a story u using literary language relating to styles of books and/or authors The Primary English Magazine February 2000

3 u developing the ability to read between the lines u being able to provide an evaluative commentary on a story u being able to compare and contrast stories identifying obvious style features, e.g. fairy stories often have a prince or princess, magic, etc. u enjoying word play, puns, jokes etc. and appreciating rhyme and rhythm in a story. In the next six weeks, you will have the opportunity to enjoy stories with your child and start to analyse some of these skills together. Obviously, it is hard to isolate one reaction to a story but, for the purpose of our research, we would like you to concentrate on the following: Having read the story to you or with you, or listened to you reading, can your child choose a character (this could be a person or animal) and describe how they would feel, what they would do, etc at the end of the book. Now you do the same with a different character. Back up your thoughts with evidence from the book which may be text, picture/s or meaning between the lines. The next time you do this, try to show your child how they can use the story to support their ideas. These skills have been highlighted in the list above. Please remember that the main aim of reading is to enjoy the story and not to analyse it too much! And now the final judgement!... Did you enjoy this story? Is there anything you would like to add? Dads Reading Project (subsequent guide) Reading and enjoying stories with your children Name of child Name of book In the next six weeks, you will have the opportunity to enjoy stories with your child and start to analyse some of these together. Obviously, it is hard to isolate one reaction to a story, but, for the purpose of our research, we would like you to concentrate on the following: Having read the story to you or with you, or listened to you reading, can your child think about the actions in the story. These may be evident in the text, the pictures or both. Decide whether these were good things to do and what influence they had on the rest of the story. What would have happened if the characters had done something different? How would this have changed the story? Talk about whether your child would have done the same or different, and then discuss the effect of what they would have done on the whole story. Encourage your child to include as much detail as they can when they are talking about the book. Back up your thoughts with evidence from the book text, picture/s or meaning between the lines. The next time you do this, try to show your child how they can use the story to support their ideas. Please remember that the main aim of reading is to enjoy the story and not to analyse it too much! And now the final judgement... Did you enjoy this story? Please add anything extra that you have found interesting about this book or the activity The Primary English Magazine February

4 A Reading Guide that suited all titles The reading guides for supported group work had been developed gradually, over a year; but now we only had a couple of weeks to devise new guides if we were to complete our project by the end of the summer term. Writing individual guides for 40 titles was impossible; so we decided to develop a generic format that could be applied to all the fiction titles. Characterisation, motivation and plot were obvious areas to cover in the guide. Also important were inferring meaning beyond the literal and responding to the conclusion of a story by speculating on alternative endings. Activities based on these themes, together with a section for evaluation and comment on each book, provided a structure for a short series of guides each of which was a version of the generic one. And finally, as with our previous project, we thought that the fathers would find it useful to have a specific list of skills that we were aiming to develop. The format for the first reading guide to be sent out is shown on page 28, and on page 29 one of the subsequent guides is shown. We then had to decide how to organise the books to suit our age range. We did not believe that it was necessary to match the texts to the children s reading ability these books were for reading with an adult. We had seen the benefits of introducing children to texts that contained challenging vocabulary and ideas, provided that the children were given appropriate support. Eventually, we decided that the content and genre of the books would be the criteria for dividing them into three broad selections for the three year groups. We added a few of our newer library books to ensure that there were sufficient books in each selection. The books were ready to be sent home; all we needed to do now was to enrol some fathers in the scheme. Fortunately, we had booked a visit by David Orme, an author particularly interested in the issue of gender and reading. He led literacy workshops with the children and then gave a talk to parents in the evening. He discussed his own Dads and Lads book (Great title! We wish we had thought of it.), produced for Save the Children. This engaged the parents enthusiasm and as a result 20 per cent of our fathers signed up for our project. Although we had tried to keep the administrative tasks to a minimum, we now found that it did help to have Mrs Long, our volunteer librarian, to implement the scheme by collating returned reading guides and books and distributing new ones. Evaluating the Fathers responses At the end of the six weeks of our project, we were keen to know what the fathers thought of it. So, we sent home the an evaluation sheet. Having learned from our previous research questionnaires, we only gave four options for a response two levels of positive and two levels of negative so that there was no opportunity to waver in the middle ground. The results are shown on page 31. We were very pleased by the evaluation, which overall produced a very positive response. These statistics relate to a small sample of fathers, but we were encouraged by the response to the last three questions. Further analysis of the evaluation will help us as we develop questions for use during literacy hour discussions. Our aim now is to ensure that the benefits of our work continue to enhance the quality of reading experience for all our pupils. Future action It has been exciting (and sometimes exhausting) to develop reading theories into practice. The issue now is to ensure that the enthusiasm and engagement of fathers reading with their children is sustained and incorporated into school policy and practice. Therefore we have decided to implement the following procedures: At the beginning of every spring term, we shall launch a Fathers Reading With Their Children initiative. This will be done via the half-termly individual class newsletters, with a specific action plan for each year group. Reception Class: Having established general guidelines for new parents reading with their children through literacy workshops during the autumn term, a special book will be sent home for fathers to read with their children. Walker Books provided us with two levels from their Reading Together series and we have decided to purchase more of the series to use as focus books. At the beginning of each story, there are some excellent guidelines for parents of young readers, and the book concludes with further follow-up activities. Year One: The practical reading activities developed during the first phase of our project (see The PEM 4.3) will be sent home on a weekly or fortnightly basis in order to develop a deeper understanding of reading skills and raise awareness of the range of reading opportunities at the descriptive level of language. Year Two: We shall refine the reading guides used in the latest project to link with reflective language and reading skills. Again, fathers will be targeted to undertake reading a selection of titles with their children on a weekly basis. Children who are supported in their reading by parents are more likely to become keen, independent readers. We hope that our project will ensure that our parents have the confidence and knowledge to implement the Government s guidelines on reading homework for infant children. Caroline Herlihy is Headteacher of Shalford Infant School,Guildford. She can be contacted at the school which is at Station Row, Shalford, Guildford GU4 8BY The Primary English Magazine February 2000

5 Dads Reading Project We hope that you have enjoyed reading these books with your child(ren). Some may be new, some old favourites, but we have attempted to open up the possibility of extending your child s reading skills by focusing on a discrete area. Would you please complete the evaluation sheet to help us finish this part of the project? Many thanks to all the families that have spent so much time and remained committed to our project. These are the reading skills that we have been emphasising through this phase of the project. Please grade them according to the books read, your reaction and your child s response. Areas of Focus Very Helpful Not Helpful Story experience a wide range 14% 80% 6% Sharing and talking about stories 55% 45% Identifying what is pleasing or exciting in a story 40% 60% Reading to others, sharing books together 25% 69% 6% Experience of stories beyond immediate experience 12% 64% 24% Being able to provide an evaluative commentary about a story 18% 76% 6% Understanding and identifying the moral or theme of a story 6% 88% 6% Identifying good and bad characters and actions 30% 70% Developing empathy What would you do? How do you think she felt? 30% 48% 12% Predicting and justifying Why do you think that will happen? 18% 76% 6% Character motivation Why do think s/he did that? 12% 70% 12% 6% Identifying what is pleasing or exciting in a story 24% 76% Empathy What would he say if we asked him how he felt? 12% 82% 6% Personal response thoughts and feelings about the story 24% 76% Ability to describe characters and their personalities 24% 76% Being able to offer alternative endings to a story 6% 88% 6% Being able to comment upon the ending of a story 18% 82% Using guesswork to predict an outcome in a story, reasons for motivation of characters etc. 24% 70% 6% Having completed this phase, how confident do you feel at reading stories and developing your child s reading skills? 30% 70% Are you more aware of different approaches when reading with your child? 50% 50% The Primary English Magazine February

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