Nepal | July 04, 2020

Picture books for early grades: Way to develop reading fluency

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An independent reader possesses reading fluency, which means there is speed, accuracy and balanced reading of the text. Reading fluency refers to the link between the recognition of words while reading and reading comprehension

I don’t know how I introduced myself to the letters of the Nepali Barnamala in childhood. Anyway, I recognised them, but while working on developing reading materials for the early grade children, it dawned on me that letter recognition for them is tough. Even though the children must recognise the alphabets sooner than later, the focus should be on inspiring them to develop their reading skills and reading habit than recognising the letters.

Reading skills and reading habit are the foundation for becoming an independent reader. This is the preliminary condition for being a fluent reader. A child is expected to be an independent reader by the time he completes grade three of primary education. An independent reader is one who can choose and read books based on their interest. They will buy, select, choose and search for books themselves, and they will eventually convey their desire and interest to their parents, guardians, teachers or librarians regarding the type of books and reading materials they want.

An independent reader possesses reading fluency, which means there is speed, accuracy and balanced reading of the text within a certain timeframe. Reading fluency refers to the link between the recognition of words while reading and reading comprehension. If a reader has reading fluency, he can comprehend the text/story with less effort. But when a reader has no fluency, he can’t comprehend the text, because most of his capacity is used in recognising the letters or words, and in so doing, he loses the meaning of the text. It means the reader can’t understand the text. In this way, fluency is the bridge between decoding words and understanding what has been read.

One of the best ways for both parents and teachers in determining how well their children can read is to listen to them while they read out loud. For this, a picture book is one of the best means for reading aloud practice, which helps both fluency and comprehension skills. The illustrations of a picture book help children understand what they are reading and allow young readers to analyse the story. When children are having difficulty, the illustrations can help them figure out the meaning of what they are reading.

It is said that a single illustration can describe more than a thousand words. Psychological research has also proved that not only children, but all humans are attracted to illustrations or pictures and colours. So, a picture book allows children to practise the sounds of a language and be fluent in it. Fluency helps to develop a child’s comprehension skills. Young readers get excited when they can anticipate a forthcoming line, and children learn skills like phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension and fluency.

Picture books are multi-sensory, which aid a child’s growing mind and stimulate the imagination, too. Not only do the children hear the story, they see the illustrations, and smell and touch the pages. Picture books help develop story sense. Children learn the beginning, middle and end of a story and can often relate to age-appropriate issues and conflicts presented in a picture book. In the early grades, wordless picture books are great for developing students’ sense of plot, sequence and storytelling. As students progress, wordless picture books become terrific springboards for talking about imagery, theme and more.

But in today’s digital world, book reading culture has become challenging. Most of the parents complain that their children spend a lot of time on electronic gadgets. The use of such gadgets isn’t wrong in itself, if they use it for searching materials to enhance their knowledge, skills and update information on their field of interest. But most of them are busy with video games, social sites and unnecessary chats. We can’t completely cut off the technology from them, but we must try to lure them into reading books.

International research has shown that reading books is more effective than reading on the screen. So, teachers and parents should spend enough time with them to have them read out loud and then encourage them regularly to read silently at school and at home. Giving children time to read literary books at school not only encourages routine reading of curriculum-based text, but it also encourages them to read self-selected books for pleasure. Teachers and parents should also talk about books, share ideas and give recommendations.

The history of picture books in Nepal is not that long. Some religious stories were published as picture books first. They included the Panchatantra, Hitopadesh, Nitikatha and Tripitaka-based Jatakkatha. In 2003, Room to Read published some picture books in colour in collaboration with Nepalese Society of Children’s Literature (NESCHIL). These books were dispatched to government schools in remote areas of the country. Today there are many private publishers that bring out colorful picture books for children regularly.

For some years, the government provided separate budget for school libraries. If such budget can be used in creating a classroom corner with a shelf for books for early grades 1 to 5 and then a library for other grades, that would be great for developing early grade children’s reading skills and reading habit.

Wagle is quality reading materials officer at Room to Read

A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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