Research School Network: Interactive reading: the power of sharing books Interactive reading: the power of sharing books
Interactive reading: the power of sharing books
Interactive reading: the power of sharing books
by East London Research School
Fliss James is the Director of East London Research School and Assistant Head Teacher at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Newham, London.
Few things are as important as prioritising the development of children’s early communication and language. Communication and language are fundamental to every aspect of young children’s thinking, learning and wellbeing.
Research shows that one of the most powerful ways of developing early communication and language is through interactive reading. Interactive reading offers a wealth of benefits for children’s communication and language development, cognitive skills, early literacy outcomes and relationships with adults. The EEF Early Years Toolkit identifies interactive reading as an approach that is low cost to implement yet typically offers high impact, enhancing young children’s learning by up to seven months.
So, let’s explore what exactly we mean by this approach. The EEF Early Years Evidence Store describes‘interactive reading’ as:
‘The adult engages in considered actions within the context of shared reading (either one to one or with a group) that encourage children to become an active participant in ‘reading’ the book (for example, through engagement with images, text, or questions). Over time, the balance of who ‘reads’ or facilitates discussion about the book being read passes increasingly to the child.’
The key ingredient of interactive reading is how the adult purposefully enables the active participation of the children. It isn’t about reading the book with the children as a captive audience; this approach requires both a shift in mindset for the educator and in the power balance between the adult and child. The more the children participate and interact with the educators, the more their communication and language skills develop.
This then brings us to the question of what does this ‘interaction’ look like?
It involves a conversation about the book: crucially, a back-and-forth conversation led by the child. Conversations are powerful for language development because they enable children to practise language and to receive feedback from adults: talking with rather than to children. To support educators to engage in social, responsive, extended conversations, the team at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre, developed the ShREC Approach. This approach outlines four key evidence-informed strategies to encourage adults to tune into children and follow their lead, sensitively shaping the discussion. The approach is inclusive and can be used with all children.
Who, when and how?
Interactive reading can be on a one to one basis or in a small group. The key thing to remember is that all children benefit from it, especially those facing disadvantage.
We must ensure that children who may not initiate book sharing or who are seen as ‘not ready’ or ‘too young for books’ are regularly engaged in these experiences. It is never too early to introduce interactive reading.
At Sheringham Nursery School, interactive reading is at the heart of our curriculum. We therefore intentionally plan for dedicated, protected time for this activity with all children. This of course comes with challenges, particularly around managing staffing, but the benefits of this approach make it worthwhile.
A key finding from research evidence is that educators are likely to need professional development to use the approach effectively. This therefore requires a significant commitment to and investment in providing effective sustained professional development for our team.
Look out for our next blog in this series to learn more about our process of regular PD and how we use video and professional conversations to analyse the impact of and how to refine our use of the ShREC strategies for effective interactive reading experiences.
The ShREC approach: 4 evidence informed strategies to promote high quality interactions.
Ofsted: Best start in life part 2: the 3 prime areas of learning
Dobinson, K.L. and Dockrell, J.E., 2021. Universal strategies for the improvement of expressive language skills in the primary classroom: A systematic review. First Language, 41(5), pp.527 – 554.
Mathers, S., Malmberg, L.E., Lindorff, A.M. & Gardiner, J. (2022) Early educators’ knowledge of early language pedagogy: How can it be measured and does it matter for child language outcomes? Oxford: University of Oxford.
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