Matching Children With Texts: A Study of Parental Knowledge

Antoinette Fornshell
CARR Scholarship Winner, 1999

As a language arts consultant, I have helped countless teachers understand the importance of matching children with books. I have come to realize that as teachers, we look at books differently than the average parents. When choosing books for children, teachers often consider text characteristics such as the following:

  • Size and placement of print
  • Level picture support
  • Spacing between words and lines
  • Language structures and vocabulary Interest of child
  • Etc.

ears ago, it was a novel idea to encourage parents to read aloud to their children. Jim Trelease’ s Read Aloud Handbook brought the idea to the mainstream. Hospitals gave away books to newborns. Authors such as Rosemary Wells have published ”politically correct” books such as Read to Your Bunny, which also help spread the message. Everyone seems to understand the importance of reading aloud to children.

But, what about helping children who are beginning to learn to read? There is research based on Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery program, which has been around for decades and has given educators a new understanding of what children do when they read. Marie Clay tells us that good readers use three sources of information, cueing systems, in harmony when they read. Children need to be strategic in their use of the three sources of information: syntax, meaning and phonics. There are certain characteristics of texts, which support the balanced use of strategies. Most teachers are becoming aware of these and as educators we are now taking a close look at the implications for classroom practices.

Most parents I know through no fault of their own, tell their kids to “sound it out” in 8 an effort to help them work through a book. Teachers realize that this type of help does not encourage kids to use what they know about language (syntax), or the meaning of what they are reading. Parents are bombarded with ads for learning centers, phonics games, and misinformation in the press in response to the “reading wars.” Knowledge about how kids read, based on solid research, is being kept from the public. The average citizen is ten years behind in educational developments. Would you still go to a doctor who was practicing the same way she was ten years ago without regard for the latest research? But, where can parents tum for information?

Publishers “level” texts based on word counts. The current leveling systems do not take into consideration any of the text characteristics, which are so important to beginning readers. I have been teaching teachers to disregard published levels and ‘ consider more meaningful ways to match readers and books. Parents need this information too.

What is it that kids need to be doing in school and at home in order to become excellent readers? They need stamina and they need to be strategic readers. In other words, the more they read material on their level, the better they get. In the classrooms where I work as a staff developer, independent reading has become central to the curriculum. How about at home? Parents say that kids don’t like to read. Perhaps if the children were matched up with appropriately leveled reading material they might feel more successful and, therefore, enjoy it more. The more they like it, the more they’ll do and the better they’ll get.

As a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, I am in the process of choosing a topic for a dissertation study. The CARR scholarship allowed me to develop a pilot study, which will become the basis for my dissertation. I developed a questionnaire in hopes of discovering what parents need to know in order to be more successful when choosing books for children. Educators, publishers, libraries and bookstores may also benefit from this information.

Although my initial study was small, I gained some valuable insights into how some parents choose books for children and what they know about supporting children when they encounter difficulty in reading. I sent 1,054 questionnaires to families in two elementary schools in Ridgefield, Connecticut. One hundred and sixty-seven were returned. My overall impressions from the returned questionnaires were that the parents who responded were a very informed, invested group of parents. The questionnaire was open-ended and was, therefore, limited because the parents who responded don’t necessarily represent a balanced view of the entire population. Also, Ridgefield represents a small percentage of the population of the state of Connecticut. ·In the future, I plan on broadening my study.

The most interesting aspect of the results came about unintentionally. Because I sent the questionnaire to the two different schools, I coded them so that I could compare responses. It’s in the analysis of the different responses that I became aware of some real differences in parent perceptions of reading. I was left with questions for further study. Why did two sets of parents describe “success in reading” so differently from each other? For instance, parents from one school were more apt to describe their children as successful readers because they choose to read and enjoy reading. The parents from the second ·school described success as good grades and high-test scores. Are the schools sending different messages?

This type of questionnaire yielded valuable information about parents’ perceptions of reading and I would recommend that other districts try to gather this information through such a study. In the future I hope to consider how to reach the parents who did 9 not respond. Also, I am working on providing workshops and materials on leveling books based on text characteristics, which support readers for teachers and parents. As reading specialists, we would be wise to consider creating flyers and publications, which provide benchmarks for levels as well as information about success in reading in general. We know a lot about how to support young readers; the parents need this information too.

Research Problem:

A study of parental knowledge regarding matching children with texts, which support reading growth (book choice).

  1. Parents do not know what to look for regarding text characteristics when choosing books to support their children’s reading lives.
  2. Parents do not know how to support readers when they encounter difficulty.
  1. Child(ren)’s age(s) ____
  2. How confident do you feel in your ability to choose books for children? Please explain.
  3. What do you look for when choosing a book for a specific child? (It may help to describe a recent time when you chose a book for a child. Be as specific as you can.)
  4. Where do you get information about book choices?
  5. Is your child a successful reader? (You may consider one or more children.) How do you know?
  6. How do you help your child through difficulty in reading (or learning to read)?