Reading Aloud Still Rules

As a child I remember sitting enthralled as Dad read to us. Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons, Hound of the Baskervilles... Great books, read at a leisurely pace, opened up the movie theatre of my mind.

Years later, as a teacher, I wondered how I could ever replicate the power of those wonderful reading sessions when my students were fed a diet of digital and online stories through the wizardry of visual media. How could just reading a book to the class hope to compete with Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop? Daniel Levitin, a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University, suggests that teachers don’t need to worry so much. He suggests that, as far as positive effects on cognitive function go, slow trumps fast.

Levitin was interested in what happens to children’s brains when they are exposed to fast-paced stimulation compared to slower, more reflective activities. He cites research with four year old children and what happened to their thinking as they watched nine minutes of ‘Sponge Bob Squarepants’.  This fast-paced cartoon, despite all its whizz-bang novelty, special effects and popular appeal, had a negative impact on the children’s executive thinking function. It was so full of events that were sudden, novel and unfamiliar that the children simply could not process it all. There was no time to really assimilate, think about and make links to the new information. On the other hand, other research suggested that reading or hearing good fiction increased children’s ability to think from other points of view and increase empathy.

Interesting stuff. In this world of sound bites, special effects and constant novelty it is reassuring to hear a message that slow can also be good.  That by encouraging a slower, more reflective pace we are supporting our children to develop greater powers of attention, memory and understanding.  Reading good books aloud still has a secure place in today’s classrooms. Read on!!

Jeremy Bloomfield

Accent Learning – 26 April 2016