Modelling behaviour, such as reading, is important in the world of humans as well as in nature. Recently, on a beautiful fall hike through the forest, I saw a young deer with his ears alert, listening for danger. He was foraging around choosing the best leaves, as taught by his mother this summer, but ready for any sounds of danger at the same time. How much is modelled, and how much is a natural instinct born into different animals? We can ask the same question of human practices. Was Wayne Gretsky a great hockey player because his parents had him playing in their back yard rink at age 3? Did that contribute to his passion for hockey? If a child never sees a soccer ball till they are 10 years old, would they be inclined to play soccer? What if an infant never sees a book?

As parents we are always modelling behaviour in front of our children. Studies have shown the importance of reading to your child, also in infancy, and even when they are still in the womb. A baby practices crawling by crawling, and walking by walking, and in the same way, patterns for an interest in reading are developed by babies. Parents who model reading by reading themselves, and reading to their young children are laying the foundation for language ability in the child. 

The more children read, the more they gain in language ability and reading comprehension, the more children learn. Reading thus provides opportunities for children to develop cognitively and linguistically. (Louise Moats, 1999)

As classroom teachers, it is also essential to model reading in a positive light. Students that struggle with reading at a young age face many challenges in our educational system. How can we create a more positive environment for reading? I worked with a student in grade two last year who loved the idea of reading, was always carrying around books, but wasn’t able to recognize the words. After working with him intensively in a one to one therapy setting for one year, he managed to recognize sight words, and before long began to sound out words by himself. He was so motivated and eager to come to the educational therapy session, because he so badly wanted to read like the other kids in his class. After the session I would say “Good work, John,” and he would return without a beat, “Good work, Mrs. Hoogendam”. This made my heart glad. His mother told me that now when he goes to bed, he hides a flashlight under the covers, so he can keep reading. A whole new world has opened up for him! He had the literacy rich home environment, but just couldn’t put the letters together. Once words made sense, and after working hard practicing, he was able to forge ahead in the learning process.

Some of you more experienced teachers probably remember the acronym “USSR” (Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading) (Hunt, 1970,) or SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) McCracken, 1968) or later we called it “DEAR”. (Drop Everything And Read). One of the key features of this was that the teachers read alongside the students, so they are modelling reading. This involves the student choosing a book and reading silently, and they are assured that there are no reports needed on the book. This is purely to encourage the “joy of reading”, and in this way the teacher also shares her joy in reading. When I did this as a teacher of junior grades, I would read junior fiction (which I love reading), and the students were always curious as to what I was reading, and could they borrow it. What an excellent way to introduce new literature to the students.

Modelling is so important! And reading is so important. Whether you use a silent reading program, or whether you bring in an author once a month, or have an authors’ chair for the students, all these are effective modeling opportunities. As a student in grade 7 many years ago, our teacher read aloud every day after lunch. I can remember the reading of “Cue for Treason” to this day, and every time he stopped at the good part! Read aloud in class, from Kindergarten to grade 12! Share your joy of reading, in the educational therapy station, the resource room, the classroom and at home! As the deer longs for water and delicious grass, in the same way we want our students begging for more opportunities to read and be read to. Don’t let your child go to bed without a cuddly lap reading time.

View my last post on Modelling A Positive Outlook.