Experts agree that reading to children is one of the best things parents and teachers can do to boost learning, especially when they are quizzed on the story.
However, researchers have discovered that many instructors fail to ask enough questions — and the ones they do are underestimating kids’ intelligence.
The study, published the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, reveals that as preschool teachers read aloud to children, only 24% of commentary asked kids to talk about story, and the questions they did ask were too easy.
“We don’t want to ask all difficult questions,” says study author Laura Justice, educational psychology professor at Ohio State University. “But we should be coaxing children along cognitively and linguistically by occasionally offering challenging questions.”
Though the study looked only at teacher behaviors, parents should take note as well, Justice says, as previous research has shown most fail to quiz their children at all during reading.
Researchers observed 96 preschool and kindergarten teachers and their students from schools throughout the Midwestern and Southern US. Teachers were recorded while reading the 25-page children’s book “Kingdom of Friends” to one class of students.
In total, researchers logged 5,207 questions from teachers and 3,469 child responses.
About 52% of the questions had dumbed-down questions, such as “Does he look happy?” — to which most children would respond with a single “yes” or “no.” The other 48% consisted of “what,” “why,” and what experts call “how-procedural” questions, which asks children to recall events in the story and analyze their outcomes.
“When the teachers asked these more sophisticated how-procedural questions, the children would give more elaborate and complex answers,” Justice says. “Those are the kind of questions we need more of.”
This will often produce wrong answers, but that’s an important part of learning, according to Justice.
“There should be teachable moments where teachers can help their students learn something new,” she says. “You have a conversation that is conceptually challenging for the child, because that is going to push their development forward.”
Results of the study show that children answered their teachers’ questions correctly 85% of the time — and that’s too good.
“When kids get 85 percent of the questions right, that means the questions the teacher is asking are too easy,” says Justice.
Some experts suggest between 60 and 70% of questions should be easy, but the remaining 30 to 40% should ask children to ponder higher concepts, and encourage them to stretch their imagination.
Justice says an open-ended question such as “How do you think this book will end?” is a good example.
“You can see how a question like that is going to evoke a complex response,” she says. “With some practice and reflection, we can change how we talk with children during shared reading and help them develop stronger language and reading skills.”
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