How to Listen to Your Child Read

Posted by Gabrielle Nidus on 1/22/15 12:30 PM

As a reading specialist, I listen to children read throughout the day in order to find out how to best assist them with the complex process of reading. Teachers of reading are taught to notice various aspects of the way children read—from the position children place themselves in to the way they correct themselves when they misread a word.

Here is an example of what I might notice:

It’s after school and I am sitting listening to a child read a story about spiders. I notice that she struggles with the word acrophobia and then crinkles up her face as she reads about how the spider paralyzes his victim. She reminds me about Charlotte’s Web, a book the two of us read several years ago, and then mentions a difference between that spider and the ones she is reading about now. She wonders aloud, “When did spiders get such a creepy reputation?” Reading on, she refers to a map and notes where various spiders live in the world.

When you really listen to a child read, it becomes clear that reading is not simply decoding words on a page.

Parents are often told simply that their child is a good reader or, conversely, that their child is struggling with reading. In either case, this is just the beginning of a much longer conversation. It is important to dive deeper and learn more about your child’s reading, no matter their ability, since the act of making meaning from symbols on a page is such a complex task that draws upon a wide variety of skills.

What To Listen For

Below is a short overview of basic concepts that I think will help you become more familiar with some of the skills teachers notice when they hear children read. You can use it for yourself when you listen to your child read through any text or use it to begin a conversation with your child’s teacher.

Fluency—Many people think of a reader’s fluency as the speed or number of words per minute a person reads, but, in fact, fluency is composed of many more factors. Fluency is defined by a reader’s accuracy, speed, and expression. While teachers are not looking for your child to read like a stage actor, expression indicates understanding. Children who lack fluency may not use punctuation or the meaning of the sentence to guide their pauses or expression in their voice. They may improperly chunk a group of words in a phrase or pause after each word. Sometimes a teacher will describe a child’s reading as choppy or expressionless. This can be a major contributor to a child’s comprehension. Fluency may be influenced by many factors, such as difficulty decoding, lack of sight words, or focus. What to notice about fluency:

  • Does my child read with expression?
  • Does my child pause for punctuation?
  • Does my child group words together in meaningful phrases?
  • Does my child take a long time to get through a text?

Decoding: When teachers talk about a child’s ability to decode, they are speaking about knowledge of letter-sound relationships used to correctly pronounce a word. A child who has a good ability to decode quickly identifies letter sounds and patterns and can quickly recognize familiar words or figure out words that they might not have read before. Children have many strategies for figuring out a word. Some strategies involve sounding out a word in its entirety, and others involve using the context, syntax, or other visual cues to predict what the word will most likely be. What to notice about decoding:

  • Does my child stumble on many words?
  • Does my child sound out words?
  • What strategy is my child using to figure out a word? Is this a successful strategy?

Comprehension: The most important part of reading is understanding. Comprehension has various levels. The first level is literal understanding—demonstrated when children can retell what they have read. Higher-level comprehension includes the ability to make inferences, summarize meaningfully, analyze, and apply what has been learned. When you want to know more about your child’s comprehension, consider these questions:

  • What types of texts does my child seem to struggle with and which come more easily?
  • Does my child need prompting to retell aspects of what she has read?
  • Does my child go beyond what is written and make inferences?
  • Can my child support her thinking with evidence?
  • Can my child support her understanding with reasons?
  • Does my child ask questions?
  • How does the teacher assess my child’s understanding of the text?

Next Steps

No matter what grade your child is in this year, you can always lend your support by listening deeply. Building on what you learn and having conversations about reading with your child's teachers are of utmost importance for them and for you as you to get to know your child better as a reader. So go ahead, next time you read with your child, listen deeply and see what you notice!

Looking for a school for your child?

Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email admissions@lowellschool.org, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: Parenting, Teaching & Learning, Reading and Books

Gabrielle Nidus

Written by Gabrielle Nidus

Gabrielle was Lowell's Literacy Resource Teacher and Language Arts Coordinator 2014-2016. She is the co-author of the book, "The Literacy Coach's Game Plan: Making Teacher Collaboration, Student Learning, and School Improvement a Reality," which is used nationwide for teacher training in school districts and universities.