Language-savvy parents are not only more likely to have children with higher reading scores but are also more attentive when kids read out loud to them, according to a study. Young children learning to read and write English often need to identify patterns in words to be able to read and spell them, said researchers from Concordia University in Canada.
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.”
Parents who understand such language complexity—known as reading-related knowledge—are able to spot the difficulties and explain them, researchers said.
They also tend to pass on those skills when they listen to their children read, which in turn helps reading development.
The study, published in the Journal of Research in Reading, found 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.
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,” said Aviva Segal from Concordia University.
“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,” Segal said.
The results confirmed that parents with higher reading-related knowledge offered more praise and less criticism to their children than those 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 said.
“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,” Segal said.
The learning was not all one-way, Segal noted.
She said there were incidents 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 realised 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 said.
“So, through these exchanges, parents might have been increasing their own reading-related knowledge based on what their children were displaying,” said Segal.
The study has significant classroom implications as well.
“Reading-related knowledge is an important tool that many schools of education gloss over,” said Sandra Martin-Chang, associate professor at Concordia University.
“This can lead teachers to provide negative feedback and criticism, which can cause self-doubt in children and discourage them from taking risks,” said 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 said.