Parents, keep reading aloud to your children…
Mark Bauerlein is something of a contrarian—but in a good way. He is thoughtful and constructive, not simply reflexive and crabby. He is willing to give voice to controversial research findings that others may avoid. For example, in 2008 he wrote a book arguing that today’s “young Americans are the dumbest generation.”
“No-screen pedagogy” is the methodology in Dr. Bauerlein’s classroom: “No screens, only books, paper, and pencil.” Again, his classroom management is based on research as well as his own careful observations. Yes, it’s counter-cultural—but constructively so. To mention one research finding, “longhand and laptop note-takers performed equally well on factual-recall questions, but on ‘conceptual-application’ questions, ‘laptop participants performed significantly worse than longhand participants.’”
Since 1989, Dr. Bauerlein has taught English at Emory University. More recently, he became senior editor of a leading thought journal, First Things. In this editorial position, he contributes essays and shorter pieces on a variety of topics, but most often he addresses issues related to education.
His short piece on reading to children is worth quoting at length.
Everybody knows how important it is to read to toddlers. Apart from the emotional element, reading out loud every day during the pre-K years sends a child to kindergarten with a significantly larger vocabulary than a child without that experience possesses. And what happens in kindergarten and after is that the gap grows (because of what is called the “Matthew Effect”).
But many parents make the mistake of discontinuing reading when their children learn to read on their own, around ages 6–8. This is a mistake, for two reasons.
One, the emotional reason. As the latest reading poll from Scholastic points out, reported last week, kids want their parents to extend the practice. Fully 83 percent of 6–11-year-olds say they “loved” or “liked a lot” those reading sessions, but only 24 percent of 6–8-year-olds and 17 percent of 9–11-year-olds stated that their parents still conduct them.
And two, the intellectual reason. A child can understand words read aloud more easily than words in a book. A parent’s voice adds tone, cadence, volume, and other non-verbal markers of meaning, elements a child has to create on his own when he reads. This means that a child can understand a more advanced book with more sophisticated words and ideas if he hears it. Reading it by himself would be too stiff a challenge.
So, a child should read on his own, of course, but the read-aloud habit should continue, too.
Dr. Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) was published by Penguin.