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Children learn from shared reading

13 June 2012

Children benefit from being read to aloud. It develops their language and reading skills and also helps them to build knowledge. Myrte Gosen studied the learning process of preschool children during interactive reading aloud sessions (known as shared reading). ‘Young children prove to be capable of astonishing things if teachers allow them to actively participate when they read them stories.’ Gosen will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 21 June 2012.

Gosen decided to take a qualitative approach to her research. She recorded no fewer than 36 reading aloud sessions on video and carefully transcribed these. Her research focused not so much on what individual children learn during reading aloud sessions, but rather on what the interaction between the teacher and the children reveals about the learning process. Gosen: ‘Patterns soon become clear once you start meticulously describing how the teacher and the children react to each other.’ One pattern that Gosen discovered is that children use the same methods to come to explanations and solutions during shared reading, independent of who the teacher is.

Acquiring new knowledge

‘I was amazed at how much young children are capable of,’ says Gosen. ‘Not only do they think of solutions for the situations in the pictures they can see, but they can also go further.’ Picture books then lead to ‘substantive discussions’ on other themes than just the ‘here and now’. This gives children the opportunity to acquire new knowledge – together – on the themes treated in the book. One of the books that was used in reading aloud sessions was Kleine muis zoekt een huis (‘Little mouse looks for a house’). In this story, a mouse is confronted with a problem: he finds an apple that does not fit through his door. Gosen: ‘Children listening to the book being read think of all kinds of solutions; the mouse can widen his hole, eat the apple, or cut it in pieces...’. At the end of the story they can test their own hypothesis against the actual ending. Once the right explanation or solution becomes clear in the story, the children prove able to use this knowledge later on too.

'Unwitting' teacher

It is important that teachers encourage children to think for themselves by refraining from declaring whether the statements or solutions are right or wrong. Gosen: ‘By replying to children’s suggestions with neutral answers like “That’s possible”, children are stimulated to continue thinking about the problem and they can build on each other’s answers. Sometimes the children’s reactions to each other are quite emphatic. They may say “I don’t think that’s right” and then offer their own explanation or solution. Such interaction appears to be a precursor of how adults develop knowledge together in a discussion.’ Teachers need to be aware of the potential of this interaction and consciously ask open questions and refrain from giving feedback too quickly. Books are the perfect aid for this, says Gosen. ‘In many other situations, children do not believe that the teacher does not know the answer. But when you read a book with them they will accept you that you do not know how the story ends either. You can then suggest that you and the children discover what happens together.’

The power of repetition

Picture books are often repetitive by nature. This helps children to develop knowledge by repeatedly applying and testing what they have learned. Teachers can put this phenomenon to good use, Gosen discovered. ‘Stimulate children to try to discover parallels between the pictures or parts of the story, or ask them to think of other solutions.’ Of course this is made easier if the children can see the book clearly during the entire reading session. During Gosen’s experimental sessions, the book was always placed on a book stand so that the children had more time to look at it and think about it.

A journey of discovery at home

Preschoolers can benefit from shared reading at home too, thinks Gosen. ‘Parents might try a different approach to reading aloud to their preschool children. They can interrupt the story now and then to ask their children challenging questions, for example about the problems the main character is confronted with. It helps if you as parent pretend ignorance of the outcome. Then you and your child will really be able to go on a journey of discovery together.’ Gosen thinks this technique will also work with older children. ‘But the combination of picture books and preschool age children has the most potential.’

Curriculum vitae

Myrte Naomi Gosen (Alkmaar, 1984) studied Dutch Language and Culture at the University of Groningen. She will receive her PhD at the Faculty of Arts, where she has been supervised by Prof. C.M. de Glopper and co-supervisor Dr J. Berenst. The title of her thesis is: Tracing learning in interaction. An analysis of shared reading of picture books at kindergarten . Gosen works as a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen. In addition, she is a researcher with the Language Use & Learning department of NHL University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden.

More information

- Myrte Gosen, tel. +31 50 363 58 59

-  Gosen was a guest presenter on the ‘Hoe?Zo! radio show on the benefits of reading aloud .

Last modified:02 February 2018 10.34 a.m.
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