I had many questions as I read this article (I didn’t always feel that the many possible variables were being adequately taken into account), but it is still worth hearing the view of these authors:
“Current research suggests that reading storybooks to children is an effective practice for building vocabulary and listening skills; however, it does not provide sufficient support for the development of reading. In terms of “the simple view” (Gough & Tunmer 1986), storybook reading fosters language comprehension but not decoding. In keeping with this literature, our data show that storybook reading significantly and positively correlated with child measures of receptive vocabulary and oral expression. On the other hand, it did not account for the child’s literacy development. This finding is consistent with previous research with both parents and teachers (Al Otaiba 2004; Evans & Shaw 2008; Evans et al. 2000; Hindman et al. 2008; McCutchen et al. 2002a, b; Scarborough & Dobrich 1994; Sénéchal 2006; Sénéchal et al. 1998, 2008).
Reading to children was also associated with children’s increased sound awareness and mathematics ability. It stands to reason that children who are exposed to a wide variety of books (e.g., books that use rhymes or alliteration) might have a stronger foundation for manipulating speech sounds, but the connection between shared storybook reading and mathematics is more elusive. It is possible that the applied nature of the mathematics test may have influenced this relationship. The math test consisted of word-based problems (e.g., if you had three balloons and someone gave you two more, how many balloons would you have?); perhaps children with more experience listening to stories were better equipped to retain and manipulate information when listening to word problems. Alternatively, parents who are more likely to read to their children might also take a more active role in other parenting activities (e.g., playing counting games, or involving the children in measuring while baking) that directly impact the development of arithmetic skills. Such questions would be interesting to pursue in future research. Turning to the performance of the parents, we found that print exposure was highly correlated with cultural knowledge and storybook reading. Previous studies (Stanovich & Cunningham 1993) have suggested that the links between print exposure and cultural knowledge may be causal….”
“Reading for pleasure has shown positive links with vocabulary scores in adults (Martin-Chang & Gould 2008). Likewise, parents who use words that are less common while speaking at home, tend to have children with higher vocabulary scores (Evans et al. 2000). Therefore, parents who read more for pleasure may have better vocabularies and be more inclined to use rare words while interacting with their children.”
“The results of the current investigation provide evidence that the reading-related knowledge of parents has a greater, or more direct, impact on children’s reading abilities than their expressive language skills. As to the direction of this relationship, it is possible that parents with superior knowledge of English word structure are better positioned to maximize the teaching opportunities that occur in the home (such as joint writing and reading activities), or to ensure that these opportunities occur more frequently. Such an account, while speculative, is parsimonious with the literature on teachers’ reading-related knowledge, and thus merits further investigation.”
There are, as the authors acknowledge, plenty of limitations on this study (and some of the potentially strong cultural influences on their data gathering are not discussed). However, they discuss certain practical implications, and this makes a lot of sense to me:
“The simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer 1986) argues that decoding and language comprehension are fundamental to children’s reading because they make independent contributions to reading development. The data reported here suggest that this model can be adapted to be used as a basis for creating effective home literacy practices.”
“Many home-based literacy programs encourage parents to engage in decoding and storybook activities with their children (Jordan et al. 2000). The current investigation has shown that parents vary in how much they know about irregular spelling patterns (phonics knowledge) and the auditory composition of words (phonological awareness). It is likely, then, that parents with increased content knowledge are more effective when helping their children at home. Although this study focused on children with average reading skills, the same logic would hold for students at-risk for reading failure. If poor readers benefit from explicit instruction at school (Ehri et al. 2009; Rupley et al. 2009), it stands to reason that receiving clear and accurate assistance at home would result in comparable gains. Therefore, just as there has been wide spread public support encouraging all parents (not just parents of children at-risk) to read to their children, future work may endorse public awareness campaigns educating parents on the importance of reading-related knowledge. If this were the case, parents could be taught about the component parts of reading-related knowledge through mediums such as parent information nights or informational packages sent from school. Although this mandate might seem onerous, similar programs have been effective for not only promoting storybook reading, but also increasing awareness about homework assistance, conversing with/singing to young children, and internet safety (e.g., Government of Alberta: Education 2011).
Educating parents about the basic properties of phonological awareness and phonics is recommended because, unless taught, reading-related skills are not obvious. Parents who had lower reading-related knowledge scores in our sample were not necessarily poor readers themselves. In fact, we found that parental print exposure and general knowledge were independent of reading-related knowledge (for similar findings, see McCutchen et al. 2002a). This indicates that parents who are well read and knowledgeable about world events do not necessarily have the expertise to support child literacy. This finding converges with the teacher research (Hatcher et al. 2006; McCutchen et al. 2002; Spear-Swerling & Brucker 2004) arguing that the content knowledge required to teach reading is fundamentally different from other instructional skills.
In sum, an overview of the pattern of relationships between parental knowledge and child abilities suggests that parent reading-related knowledge is a specialized skill that holds a unique role in relation to child literacy. Furthermore, it shows that reading-related knowledge is comprised of a distinctive body of expertise that exists independently from parents’ own reading habits and general cultural knowledge. The evidence presented here suggests that acting directly on the reading-related knowledge of parents may be an as-of-yet unexamined strategy in the development of children’s literacy.”
Ref: Megan Ladd & Sandra Martin-Chang & Kyle Levesque (2011) ‘Parents’ reading-related knowledge and children’s reading acquisition’ Ann. of Dyslexia (np – online first copy (most quotes taken from discussion section))
FYI: “Abstract: Teacher reading-related knowledge (phonological awareness and phonics knowledge) predicts student reading, however little is known about the reading-related knowledge of parents. Participants comprised 70 dyads (children from kindergarten and grade 1 and their parents). Parents were administered a questionnaire tapping into reading-related knowledge, print exposure, storybook reading, and general cultural knowledge. Children were tested on measures of letter–word knowledge, sound awareness, receptive vocabulary, oral expression, and mathematical skill. Parent reading-related knowledge showed significant positive links with child letter–word knowledge and sound awareness, but showed no correlations with child measures of mathematical skill or vocabulary. Furthermore, parent reading-related knowledge was not associated with parents’ own print exposure or cultural knowledge, indicating that knowledge about English word structure may be separate from other cognitive skills. Implications are discussed in terms of improving parent reading-related knowledge to promote child literacy.”