Some languages – like English – are tricky to pick up easily.
Young children learning to read and write English often need to identify patterns in words to be able to read and spell them.
For example, knowing the “Magic E” syllable pattern can allow a child to understand why an E at the end of a word like “rate” significantly alters the word’s sound from “rat.”
Also, knowing that the words “one” and “two” are irregularly spelled helps prevent the child from trying to sound out the underlying sounds when seeing the word in print.
Parents who understand such language complexity – what is known as reading-related knowledge – are able to spot the difficulties and explain them.
They also tend to pass on those skills when they listen to their children read, which in turn helps reading development.
These are among the findings of a new study, published in the Journal of Research in Reading, by two researchers from Concordia’s Department of Education.
They report that parents with higher reading-related knowledge are not only more likely to have children with higher reading scores but are also more attentive when those children read out loud to them.
The value of feedback
Seventy sets of six- and seven-year-old children and their parents participated in the study.
The children were administered reading tests and were then provided with reading material at a level just above their performance level.
This extra difficulty was intentional, as it provided opportunities for the parents to step in and lend a hand.
The parents were instructed to help their children as they normally would while their children read to them.
The sessions were videotaped, transcribed and coded for evidence of parents’ verbal and non-verbal feedback.
“We were interested in looking at two forms of feedback,” says Aviva Segal, who co-wrote the paper as part of her now-completed Ph.D. with her supervisor, Sandra Martin-Chang, associate professor of education.
“The first was commenting on how the child was doing, the second was measuring how the parent responded when the child hesitated or made a mistake.”
The results confirmed their beliefs that parents with higher reading-related knowledge offered more praise and less criticism to their children than parents with lower reading-related knowledge.
They also found that parents with a better ear for language tried to explain the relations between graphemes (letters and letter patterns) and phonemes (the smallest sounds of spoken language) to their children more often.
“We found that reading-related knowledge in parents is associated with a good ‘tag-team’ of feedback,” Segal says.
“Parents with higher reading-related knowledge tend to give more praise, which sustains children throughout their learning, while at the same time they more often teach their children critical connections they need in order to read.”
The learning was not all one-way, Segal notes. She says there were incidences when parents appeared to learn something about language while their children made mistakes reading to them.
“The parents sometimes seemed to have an ‘aha!’ moment, when they realized that their children were consistently stumbling on one particular obstacle.
In essence, when they were able to make sense of some of the errors their children were making, parents noted their children’s errors were the result of the language’s trickiness and not the fault of the children,” she reports.
“So, through these exchanges, parents might have been increasing their own reading-related knowledge based on what their children were displaying.”
Lessons for teachers
This study has significant classroom implications as well.
“Reading-related knowledge is an important tool that many schools of education gloss over.
This can lead teachers to provide negative feedback and criticism, which can cause self-doubt in children and discourage them from taking risks,” says Martin-Chang.
“Teachers with high reading-related knowledge are often more positive and better equipped to offer precise feedback to their students.
They have a sense of how hard it is for the child,” she adds.
“Being able to target the right skills while at the same time praising the child’s efforts will make the classroom a more positive setting.
This can be achieved through increasing teachers’ reading-related knowledge, which is a core focus of our training at Concordia.”
Segal and Martin-Chang both believe parents should be encouraged to play with language and to pay attention to its characteristics.
“Have fun with it. Listen to song lyrics with your 7-year-old and figure out what rhymes,” urges Martin-Chang.
“Even at the dinner table, play with words that start with the same sounds. When you do this, be sensitive and positive because these fun bonding interactions can become especially powerful.”
The children and families served in early childhood programs reflect the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of the nation.
The nation’s children all deserve an early childhood education that is responsive to their families, communities, and racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.
For young children to develop and learn optimally, the early childhood professional must be prepared to meet their diverse developmental, cultural, linguistic, and educational needs.
Early childhood educators face the challenge of how best to respond to these needs.
The acquisition of language is essential to children’s cognitive and social development. Regardless of what language children speak, they still develop and learn.
Educators recognize that linguistically and culturally diverse children come to early childhood programs with previously acquired knowledge and learning based upon the language used in their home.
For young children, the language of the home is the language they have used since birth, the language they use to make and establish meaningful communicative relationships, and the language they use to begin to construct their knowledge and test their learning.
The home language is tied to children’s culture, and culture and language communicate traditions, values, and attitudes (Chang 1993).
Parents should be encouraged to use and develop children’s home language; early childhood educators should respect children’s linguistic and cultural backgrounds and their diverse learning styles.
In so doing, adults will enhance children’s learning and development.
Just as children learn and develop at different rates, individual differences exist in how cildren whose home language is not English acquire English.
For example, some children may experience a silent period (of six or more months) while they acquire English; other children may practice their knowledge by mixing or combining languages (for example, “Mi mamá me put on mi coat”); still other children may seem to have acquired English-language skills (appropriate accent, use of vernacular, vocabulary, and grammatical rules) but are not truly proficient; yet some children will quickly acquire English-language proficiency.
Each child’s way of learning a new language should be viewed as acceptable, logical, and part of the ongoing development and learning of any new language.
More information: Aviva Segal et al, ‘What does an O say when there’s no E at the end?’ Parents’ reading‐related knowledge and feedback during child‐to‐parent reading, Journal of Research in Reading (2019). DOI: 10.1111/1467-9817.12272
Provided by Concordia University