Do you like to dive into your personal library and bring out the book jewels in your preschool classroom? By storytelling, reading aloud in the classroom, and providing pupils with a stimulating book corner, you are already enhancing their reading competencies and motivation. But did you know you can go much further? As a ECE professional, you can lay a strong foundation for a reading policy that starts in preschool up to the sixth grade. In this blog post, we consider five building blocks of a sustainable reading policy. Miss Loubna is a fictitious preschool teacher in a fictitious preschool. However, her practices are based on observations in real Flemish preschools.
A powerful and motivating reading environment
In Miss Loubna’s preschool, various reading materials are given a place. Picture books, search books, counting books, ABC-books, poetry collections, comics, newspapers, multilingual magazines, textless books… The varied reading offer is in line with the different reading interests and the cultural and linguistic background of the preschoolers. In addition, there are a lot of letter materials in the classrooms. All teachers use the same icons as in primary school for the organization of the reading cabinet and book corners.
Through creative activities, texts and stories are brought to life: story tables, colorful posters, self-made feel books, a photo collage, a sound story, a visual dictionary… The preschoolers’ own creations find their way back to the reading corner. After all, children enjoy reading their own texts. An extensive reading offer is not limited to the book corner. Reading materials can also be found in the other play corners. Yet Miss Loubna’s cozy reading corner is a popular spot. Every day, Miss Loubna and her colleagues pass on a little love of reading. They work with books and texts daily: reading, telling, putting a book in the spotlight, and so on.
During the lunch break, you can see several preschoolers reading in the reading garden. There are reading cabinets on the wall. Every Monday, the pupils of the 6th grade are responsible for the bookshop on the playground, where the preschoolers can borrow a book. While children from preschool and primary school read together, rich reading moments arise.
The children not only get acquainted with a wide range of reading materials, they also get to see different reading models. For example, Miss Loubna and her colleagues occasionally switch classes to read or tell a story. On Wednesday, the children and teachers can even ‘book’ Miss Eliza, the school’s principal, for a read-aloud hour. A popular activity!
Effective reading pedagogy
Various materials form a solid basis for class operation. Projects are regularly based on a story and texts are functionally used in all kinds of activities, such as re-enacting a story in the dressing-up corner. In addition, links are also made between reading and writing activities: the children first read some ‘wanted’ posters, before designing a poster of their own; identity cards are studied in order to create and fill in identity cards of the dolls, etc. Children also work with non-fiction books and texts together with the teacher. Their prior knowledge is always activated. What do the preschoolers already know? What else do they want to find out? They actively explore their own learning questions and interests.
By responding to their interests, Miss Loubna enhances the autonomy of the preschoolers. In addition, she also increases their reading motivation by focusing on their personal competencies and sense of belonging to the preschool community. For example, preschoolers with different levels of linguistic competence regularly interact with each other about books and texts. On the basis of the ABC model, Miss Loubna promotes the autonomous reading motivation of the preschoolers: autonomy, belonging, and competence.
In order to strengthen children’s personal listening competencies, Miss Loubna also focuses on effective listening and reading instruction. Listening and/or reading strategies are central at all stages of the reading activity, before, during, and after reading. For example, the preschoolers make predictions, summarize fragments, search for problems and solutions in texts, make connections between the story and their own world. In addition, Miss Loubna pays daily attention to important predictors of children’s decoding skills: sound awareness and letter knowledge.
Monitoring of reading competences and differentiation
As a way to monitor preschoolers’ reading competences, Miss Loubna’s co-teacher, Master Boris, made observation cards focusing on children’s letter knowledge, sound awareness, oral language, interest in reading materials, and invented spelling. General observations of the preschoolers about working memory and concentration are taken into account as well. During reading activities, Master Boris and Miss Loubna also gauge the reading interests of the preschoolers via short reading interviews. In addition, Master Boris and Miss Loubna map out the home literacy environment. For example, during conversations with parents, they try to find out whether reading materials are present at home, whether stories are told, whether parents read to their children, how literate the parents are, or whether siblings experience reading problems.
Because the teacher team has a good view of the reading needs of the preschoolers, they can offer differentiated reading and listening activities. For children ‘at risk’, they pre-teach stories, and sound and letter games. Teachers inform each other about individual preschoolers’ development of reading competencies and give feedback.
A wide reading network
Miss Loubna’s preschool has a solid reading network. The first important partner is the public library. Because the library is quite far from the school, monthly book packages are delivered. In this way, the library contributes to a suitable, varied, and changing reading offer tailored to the project themes of the class. The librarian also helps with the design of the book corners and the display of the reading offer.
In addition, the school cooperates with a local bookstore. Every year, a book fair is organized at school. The more books are purchased by the parents, the more free books end up in classrooms. Under the impetus of a few colleagues, at least one cross-class reading activity is organized annually. Then students and teachers of different classes work together with (grand-)parents and organizations in the neighborhood. The reading team is inspired by the actions of the national book trust and other organizations. Sometimes parents are invited to read aloud, sometimes children go to read in the residential care center nearby, another time an author or narrator comes along. Every year something different, but a party every year! And… the children can help determine what that reading party looks like!
Vision, goals, and action!
Is your school also eager to focus on a sustainable reading policy? Ensuring that all students become good and motivated readers requires teamwork, a thoughtful and targeted approach, and time. You can start by creating a shared vision, and plan concrete goals and actions over time. Make sure there is enough time to make successes visible and most importantly: celebrate reading together!
This blog post was written by Jona Hebbrecht (Odisee University of Applied Sciences, educational bachelor primary education), Iris Vansteelandt (AP University of Applied Sciences, educational bachelor primary education), Marlies Algoet (Odisee University of Applied Sciences, educational bachelor preschool education), Lieve Van Severen (Odisee University of Applied Sciences, educational bachelor preschool education).
The authors conduct practice-oriented research on reading education and are involved in the professionalization project PRO-LEZEN with the support of the Flemish Government.
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