What are the advantages and disadvantages of shared reading?

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Shared reading is an instructional model in which a parent or teacher reads a large picture book aloud with children. In the shared reading method, children are encouraged to "chime in" when they know the words and are engaged with questions such as, "Do you know what happens next?" This instructional method is wonderful for decreasing children's apprehensions about reading and getting them actively involved in reading at a young age. It must, however, be used with discretion in the classroom.


In the shared reading model, a parent or teacher conducts participatory reading with students, usually using a "big book" that has large text and large illustrations. The adult reads the book aloud to the children, and the children are actively involved in the reading, even if they do not yet know how to read. They may chime in at certain parts where the words are predictable, and, once they are more familiar with the story, they may read some of the words.


There are numerous advantages to shared reading. First, it allows children to enjoy a nonthreatening reading environment. Instead of being expected to read by themselves right away, they can enjoy the story. Over time, they will begin to recognise words and phrases and be able to read those phrases confidently by themselves. Shared reading also gives children the advantage of an expert, with that expert being a teacher or parent. Whereas a child learning to read on his own might come across words he does not understand and feel frustrated as a result, a child participating in shared reading can ask an adult questions and thus benefit from the adult's superior knowledge. Shared reading is an excellent way to introduce books that would otherwise be beyond the comprehension of a child if he tried to read it by himself.


There can also be disadvantages to shared reading, particularly in a classroom setting. When the whole class is reading a big book together, without a particular student being called on to read, there is the danger of students being left behind. If a child does not understand what is going on or if she simply mentally "checks out" by daydreaming or not focusing on the shared reading, she may not actually benefit from the activity. Additionally, a student may become frustrated if she is trying to participate -- for example, to produce the next phrase -- but cannot keep up with quicker students. In this case, her anxiety level could rise and, as a result, the shared reading experience could be a negative one rather than a positive learning one. If you sense a student is not fully benefiting from shared reading in the classroom setting, encourage her parents to read with the child at home in a one-on-one environment.


Shared reading can be used successfully for instruction in a home situation or even a classroom situation with a high ratio of students to teachers. At home, shared reading is an excellent way to teach children to read and, even before they are old enough to read, to begin getting them familiar with books, including concepts such as reading from left to right, turning pages and finding cues in the illustrations. But, in the classroom setting, more care must be taken to make sure all students are participating in the shared reading experience. As a teacher does shared reading with his class, he should take note if any student is not paying attention or chiming in with the rest of the class when called upon to read some of the text. Students who are not following the story might follow along better if given a chance to perform individually. For example, you could ask this student, "Johnny, what do you think is going to happen next?"

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