A model for active reading and tutoring

Learning to read is not unlike learning to play an instrument. Both require time, materials, and instruction. As for time, we know that for both early experiences matter–for readers early experiences with books that come from adult read aloud from an early age and for buddying musicians there’s research that early exposure to music is important. Good books and good music are key ingredients as is good instruction. But what should that instruction look like? Let’s consider the following example of learning to play the violin.

You want to help a child to learn to play violin so you go out and buy a violin for our young musician. Perhaps you find some good music to listen to as well and listen to that together. You buy a beginner violin lesson book and sit down together and provide some instruction to get things going. “Here’s how to hold the violin and bow. Let me show you how to read the music and play the notes.” After our young musician has the basics down you step back and let her practice and grow into a budding virtuoso.

Wait, you say, there’s more to learning to play the violin than a few lessons. Where are the years of lessons and instruction? Of course, learning to play an instrument requires ongoing support in the form of teaching. Reading is no different. We can teach kids the basics but they need practice and ongoing support from teachers and, for some, from tutors. But how much teaching, tutoring and support should we give? What is the right balance in tutoring between tutor and learner? Let’s take a look at Dialogic Reading (DR),  an approach to reading instruction that provides a supportive social context to balance the roles of tutors and learners.

Dialogic Reading

Dialogic Reading is an active, shared-reading approach developed by Zevenbergen and Whitehurst (2003) used with pre-schoolers. While their work focused on beginning readers, Dialogic Reading offers a model for working with older students who struggle in learning to read. DR provides tutors, parents and others working with young or struggling readers scaffolding techniques. These techniques are described using two acronyms–PEER and CROWD–which are explained below.

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The CROWD acronym suggests types of questions or prompts that tutors can use. For example, questions to help the learner recall information (R), more open-ended questions (O) and distancing prompts (D) to generate higher level thinking about the text. The PEER acronym gives tutors a structure for balancing the tutor and learner roles during tutoring. PEER suggests that good tutoring begins with good questions or prompts (P) that give learners a chance to take an active role in the tutoring process. Yes, the tutor evaluates and expands (the two E’s) on the learner’s response, but note that Dialogic Reading doesn’t encourage tutors to jump to correcting learners or feeding them answers. The PEER model suggests that tutors begin with what learner know and can say before providing help, and CROWD gives tutors different kinds of questions or prompts to use to get learners thinking about what they are reading. Dialogic Reading provides for an interactive reading experience.

An Example of Dialogic Reading

The cover of A Bad Case of Stripes, a picture storybook by David Shannon. Let’s look at a brief example of Dialogic Reading. Katrina is tutoring a second-grade student, Sam. The two have just selected the book, A Bad Case of Stripes, by David Shannon (1998). It’s a book that interests Sam–he said it looks like it is funny–and seems to be at his instructional reading level (it’s not too difficult and not too easy).

Katrina: Sam, take a look at the cover of the book. Can you tell me what you think this book will be about? [an open-ended question]

Sam: A girl who gets sick and turns different colors.

Katrina: That’s a good guess. Yes, that’s Camilla and she gets sick and changes colors and they try to figure out what’s wrong with her. [Evaluating and expanding on Sam’s answer]

After a book walk/picture talk of the book, Katrina asks Sam to begin reading the book. She stops Sam periodically to ask questions and prompt him for an answer.

Katrina: When Camilla’s mother ran in the room and saw her for the first time, she said, “Oh my heavens! You’re completely covered with ______!” [Completion prompt]

Sam: Stripes! 

Katrina: Yes. Camilla’s supposed to go to school. What do you think she’ll do?” [Wh- prompt]

Sam: I guess she’ll have to go but she might get laughed at. 

Katrina: Let’s see what happens. Turn the page and keep reading. 

This is just a snippet of what Dialogic Reading can look like. Notice that because it is an interactive form of reading, it may take more time to read the book. That’s okay! You can work through the book over a few tutoring sessions or read only part of it if you need to move on to another book. Be sure to find a “just right” book–one that’s not too easy or too difficult but one that the learner needs some support. You know it’s a just right book if the student makes some mistakes but also understands most of what is going on in the book.

Benefits of Dialogic Reading

Research suggests that Dialogic Reading and active models of reading like it promote vocabulary growth and increased comprehension with struggling readers and English language learners. It can make reading and tutoring a more active process and help tutors to lead with questions and prompts and avoid jumping in right away to correct mistakes.

Want to know more about Dialogic Reading? Here are some resources you might find helpful:

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About bluegrassjb

I am an academic with a love for language, literacy and learning. The focus of my work is on student success at the K-12 and college levels. Outside of my professional interests I enjoy travel, photography and antiquing with my partner and wife. We like to hit the road in our travel trailer with the dogs and when they can join us, our kids.
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