When I was in graduate school, working on a M.Ed. in Reading Education, I was exposed to the ideas of Jim Trelease -- author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and a tireless and inspirational promoter of reading aloud. The Big Idea central to Mr. Trelease's philosophy is that we are more likely to do something if we find it pleasurable; ergo, if we can make reading pleasurable, then children (not to mention teenagers and adults) are more likely to do it. There is a logical progression to this equation: the more frequently we read, the better reader we will become. The better reader we become, the more successful we will be at school (and also life -- as books are one of our best sources of emotional/ethical enrichment). There is an enormous wealth of research in the field of education and it mostly boils down to this: the more a child reads, the better.
This week the idea of "reading aloud" has resurfaced as a hot topic and Big Idea.
Tony Little, the retiring Head Master of Eton College, has published a book called An Intelligent Person's Guide to Education and one of his bits of advice to parents is this: read aloud to your teenagers. A recent article in The Times even led with this idea, perhaps because it is so basic and old-fashioned that it seems archaic . . . or revolutionary. At a historical moment when many families are more likely to communicate by text than actual conversation, it is an idea that feels positively 19th century (pre-radio, pre-television, pre-computer, pre-Netflix).
The rationale for reading aloud has always been clear: in the words of Mr. Little, reading aloud "develops listening skills" (which surely are on the wane) and it "fosters a love of literature". Also, when children/teenagers are read aloud to, it kindles their interest. Over and over again, whether in my own home, in the classroom or library, or in Book Clubs, I have seen the truth of this play out. If you read an excerpt from a book, your audience is quite likely to want to continue on with that story. Reading aloud whets the appetite.
My daughters are both avid readers and many of my friends have asked how "I" managed to accomplish this. First of all, I read aloud to my children. Secondly, I surrounded my children with books. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, my children grew up observing me reading. As any parent knows (or should know, at any rate), what we DO is much more important than what we SAY. I truly believe that the best example we can set, if we want our children to be readers, is to read ourselves . . . to them, with them and in front of them.