News

For better readers listen to children


26 March 2008

We should be encouraging children to read for enjoyment and not dictating particular books, says Dr Alyson Simpson, a senior lecturer and director of the primary bachelor of education program at the University of Sydney.
We should be encouraging children to read for enjoyment and not dictating particular books, says Dr Alyson Simpson, a senior lecturer and director of the primary bachelor of education program at the University of Sydney.

Children's literacy could be hindered by rigid reading lists that order books into age and sex appropriate categories, rather than allowing children to choose books according to their interests and passions, a Sydney researcher says.

We should be encouraging children to read for enjoyment and not dictating particular books, says Dr Alyson Simpson, a senior lecturer and director of the primary bachelor of education program at the University of Sydney.

"We hear about the importance of learning to read more often than we hear of the importance of getting excited about reading" says Dr Simpson, whose new book Reading under the covers: helping children choose books, will be launched tomorrow at Gleebooks.

Dr Simpson - who outlines the findings of interviews and surveys with 100 NSW schoolchildren aged from seven to twelve in the book - is calling on education ministers to return to a more balanced approach to literature in school literacy programs (English).

"We can see the deadening effects of reading programs that encourage young children to start with letters, then move to short words within a controlled vocabulary and eventually (and only when they are 'ready') be given whole passages to read. Significant amounts of research have shown that the effect of using only this kind of staged learning can kill enthusiasm for reading.

"It's true that students need to be functionally literate, but if we want students who will also grow up to be critically literate, then we need to be concerned about creating high levels of curiosity, play and wonder."

It is a mistake to think that children only enjoy and learn from simple language and simple concepts, she said. "Parents, teachers and librarians sometimes limit children's access to only those books that match their reading age rather than their interest level."

Dr Simpson's study found children's favourite story genres included humour, horror, fantasy, suspense and biography. "None of them want the simple, bland, emotionless and predictable."

Jackie French, the well-known children's author interviewed by Dr Simpson for her book, says: "The secret to getting kids to read is to give them books that absorb them. So often poor readers are given … simple books that promptly bore them. (The kids have problems reading - not understanding)."

But while it's important to allow children to follow their interests and likes, many children will still need some adult guidance, Dr Simpson said. "A lot of children may read everything by one particular author but don't know where to go next, so it is the teacher's or parent's role to introduce new books.

"The best school libraries are run by teacher librarians who know the power of recommending the right book to the right child at the right time"

Reading under the covers: helping children choose books, will be launched at 7pm, Thursday 27 March (tomorrow) at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rood Glebe

Tips for teachers and parents

  • Listen to children's interests and needs when finding books for them

  • Teachers can set aside time for children to give reviews of favourite books to their classmates, and use online sites where children can read and write their own book reviews

  • Teachers can involve children in children's choice book awards that operate throughout Australia, where children read, nominate and vote for their favourite titles. (One of the most common comments in thestudy was how much it meant to children to meet personally with authors and illustrators on award days).

  • Look for new book ideas from the winning books

  • Invite authors or illustrators to your school

  • Allow children to bring in a book they are engrossed in at home for quiet reading times at school, rather than forcing them to read set titles

  • Use classroom studies of authors and illustrators to introduce students to new book possibilities

  • Create a special reading area in the classroom with a good supply of engaging books, and hang book posters and book reviews

  • Create booklists ordered by interests, not age and sex


Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100