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Reading to learn — It’s not just for kids!

Reading to Learn is Not Just for Kids
International master’s students make the most out of their read-aloud experiences

Yu Zhuang reflects back to her childhood days when she would read the Harry Potter book series, describing it as one of her most memorable reading moments growing up in Beijing, China.

“It was very popular among primary school students there,” she recalls, “and we always looked forward to sharing our favorite characters, topics, and chapters with one another.”

Zhuang, now an adult, never had the opportunity to share that same level of joy and excitement for reading with young children in an educational context beyond her native country prior to enrolling in a graduate-level, non-certification program in TESOL at the Warner School. That changed when she embarked on a class project designed to help international students connect what they have learned from a Warner course, into real-world practice. The course was co-taught by Warner alumna Joy Moss ‘69W (Mas) and doctoral student Shufang Dong.
Warner students reading to kidsThat special connection was made with the Rochester community. Initially, the course instructor and graduate students reached out to branch supervisor and librarian Mary Clare Scheg, who organizes public reading events at Monroe Branch Library.  Scheg then invited the Warner class to read aloud books to the two- and three-year-olds attending these events. And this same group of international master’s students, most of who are from China and have had no prior teaching experience, had the unique opportunity to develop their own lesson plans around these events.

“It was exciting because we had the opportunity to share books and make close connections with the kids,” Zhuang says, “and I learned a lot from them. I would put myself into their shoes and think about what stories I’d enjoy reading at their age.”
Warner student reading to kidsThe library read-aloud events were an opportunity for Warner students to apply some of the knowledge and strategies that they learned from the course to practice. For Yadi Zhang, who also hails from Beijing, the course taught her how to read to children and how to relate better to children’s literature.

“It was our first time reading to very young native children,” she says. “During the course, we learned theories about how to read to kids and how to motivate their deep thinking.”

Warner student reading to kidsTheir goal was to involve kids in every step of the reading process. Several strategies were used to generate the interest of their very young audience and to help kids become good readers at an early age. Special emphasis was placed on the development of questioning and “think-aloud” techniques used as teaching and learning tools. Asking good questions and making predictions about what would happen next in the children’s literature were a few common strategies used among the eight graduate students preparing to teach, while also strengthening their own English skills.

“Their body language showed us that kids were excited about the books,” Zhang explains. “They reacted and jumped out of their seats, and they spoke with us about the pictures in the books.”

There is also the confidence piece.

Zhang and her fellow master’s students found themselves building confidence in their own abilities. They now believe that they can work with younger kids.

“We feel more comfortable reading aloud to young children,” says Zhang, who admits to being very nervous initially. “We realize that we can handle this again in the future.” 
The Warner graduate students also created special activities around these reading events to interact with and help keep children interested. For example, Zhuang made paper birds and Zhang sang and danced to help relax the kids.

“It’s exciting because you feel like you are their teacher,” says Zhang, describing the connections made and relationships formed throughout this experience.