Blog: Supporting parents to undertake brilliant book talk

Every teacher and parent knows that reading matters. It matters to our pupils’ language development along with their academic success, whilst mattering because of its tremendous power to offer us pleasure and comfort in what are immensely challenging times.

As most school pupils are now at home, schoolteachers and leaders are busy planning for effective home learning. We know that most schools already encourage parents to read with their children in some way, but additional tips, support, and resources can make a significant difference to making it more effective.1 Positively, research evidence indicates that promoting the development of reading habits with parents is worth our effort.2

We of course recognise that our reading focus will be different for pupils in different age groups. Broadly, it may match the following pattern:

  • In early primary, activities that target reading with an attention to letter sounds and word reading;
  • In later primary, activities that support reading comprehension through shared book reading; and
  • In secondary school, independent reading and strategies that support independent learning.

We know that owning books at home is important, but busy parents could easily miss those seemingly small, but vital opportunities for high-quality interactions. Indeed, it is the to-and-fro of conversational turn-taking when we talk about a book which proves a key ingredient for successful learning.

How can schools then offer parents accessible tips to engage in sustained book talk more effectively?

The EEF guidance report Preparing for Literacy suggests a powerful framework to support sustained shared thinking around all interactions with children, and certainly when sharing a book. Providing parents with a simple recipe for reading together could be the tool which helps them gain confidence in the home learning they are rapidly engaging more with to support their children to learn from home.

The features for sustained shared reading can be distilled and shared with parents:

Take turns to make plans and predictions before reading: ‘I wonder if… what do you think?’ ‘You think… Oh, I thought…’ 

Recap to check ideas and understanding as your child is reading: ‘So, you think that…’ ‘Did you expect…to happen?’ ‘Why do you think that happened?’

Use encouragement and praise to keep children engaged in reading: ‘What brilliant ideas…let’s see what happens.’ ‘You thought so carefully about... What might happen now?’

Share prior knowledge and past experiences that link to what is being read: ‘Have you learnt about…at school?’ ‘Do you remember when we watched…and found out about…’

Tune-in and listen to your child – be curious about their interests: ‘I didn’t know you knew so much about…’ ‘I love reading stories about...with you.’

Of course, we should aim to convey a love of reading too!

This TRUST framework is applicable to anything a child would like to read. It should support parents to understand that with the to-and-fro discussion about a book comes a wealth of opportunities for learning.

Now just isn’t the time to be too anxious about what children are reading. Reading instructions, recipes, and even old baby books, are all valuable. We should try to support parents to not worry about the level or perceived challenge of a book. If they consider that a book isn’t ‘hard’ enough, remind them that sustained talk around picture books for younger children is certainly valuable reading.

Children should be encouraged to return to their favourite stories, given the likely emotional benefits during this tricky time. Indeed, in such uncertain times, children may gain comfort from reading a book they enjoyed as a very young child. Encourage families to borrow ideas from TRUST framework to open the door to lots of healthy discussion, and of course, a love of reading.

See EEF guidance on Preparing for Literacy

Support resources to share with parents

Support resources to share with parents

Resources to share with parents on how to support home routines.

References

1 Education Endowment Foundation (2018). Working with parents to support children’s learning

2 Castro, M., Exposito-Casas, E., Lopez-Martin, E., Lizasoain, L., Navarro-Asencio, E. and Gaviria, J. J. (2015) Parental involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis, Educational Research Review, 14, pp. 33–46.