How Deep is the OCEAN?: What to Read Aloud to Your Independent Reader

June 20, 2018

How Deep is the O.C.E.A.N.?: What to Read Aloud to Your Independent Reader

Part of what makes books so magical is their capacity to satisfy so many of our most fundamental human needs.

By Diana Black

Previously, we covered why and how you should be reading aloud to your school-aged children. Today, let’s talk about what to read to them. Remember, Mia is all about helping to empower kids through their reading choices, and this includes what they read with you as well.

One of your first questions might be, “They get to choose what to read on their own, but do I choose what I read to them?” With very few exceptions, we highly recommend that you collaborate with your child when it comes to choosing readaloud books. While they may need some convincing to give a particular book a chance, chiefly you want them to associate reading with pleasure. Therefore, their opinion should at least be solicited and factored in, if not always deferred to. Doing so conveys respect for their personhood and their agency as a reader.

Obviously and most importantly, you want to choose books your child will enjoy, but there’s more to it than that. When selecting books specifically for reading aloud, it helps to remember the handy acronym, OCEAN (with all due apologies to personality psychologists). To the best of your ability, perhaps with help from Mia, a friend in the know, or a stellar librarian, gauge the book on the following five questions before floating it as a possibility with your child:

Will it…

O: open my child’s mind to new ideas, people, places, eras, etc.?

C: challenge them in some way or make them consider something more deeply?

E: …help them to develop empathy for others and expand their notions of what’s possible? 

A: ask more of them than books they might read on their own?

N: …help to fulfill a need for them?

If you think the answer is yes on at least one dimension, then it’s probably a good choice. Let’s dive in (with all due apologies to pun-haters – you monsters!!):

As suggested in our earlier post, take advantage of the fact that your child can comprehend more when listening than when reading on their own. What you read out loud can be more advanced and sophisticated in terms of vocabulary, plot, themes, and more. If your child can read most picture books independently, reading aloud might be the perfect way to introduce them to chapter books.

One of the key purposes of reading aloud to children of this age is broadening their minds, exposing them to new things and opening their worlds. This means prioritizing books that are diverse on multiple levels. A readaloud can also be more demanding of a child in terms of perspective-taking. Challenge them to empathize with characters who are fundamentally different from them in some way. Is the setting utterly foreign to them? Does the book take place in another era?  Do the characters live in totally different socioeconomic circumstances from your family? Is the main character of a different gender than your child? Are they of a different race or ethnicity? (To understand how books can be valuable means of facilitating interracial understanding and self-esteem, we recommend checking out the work of We Need Diverse Books.) Has your child ever put themselves in the shoes of someone of different ability than themselves? Read diverse books to your child that prompt them to perspective-take, think critically, and increase their capacity for compassion.

Diversity doesn’t only apply to settings, authors, or characters – you can also use reading alound as an opportunity to expose your child to books from diverse genres. Discovering a genre they’re passionate about can ignite a lifelong love of reading. Do kids need to know the actual word “genre”? Maybe not, but understanding the names of book types like “mystery,” “horror,” “fantasy,” and “realistic fiction” comes in handy. It’s far more difficult to define or even articulate literary tastes without such vocabulary, limiting kids’ ability to make informed book choices. Remember, part of Mia’s core mission is to expand kids’ toolkits for understanding their tastes. So read books from multiple genres, taking the time to identify them with labels like “poetry,” “adventure story,” or “biography.” Your child will begin to appreciate the dazzling array of options available to them and, rather than being overwhelmed, can start to hone in on starting points for future selections.

Finally, ask yourself if the book you’re considering for a readaloud could serve to address some unmet need for your child. Will it help them process or recover from an emotionally trying time? Can it help them to feel validated? To find their courage? To navigate a complicated social situation? To see the humor in their circumstances or simply feel less alone? Remember, readalouds are the perfect time to introduce weightier themes and subject matter, capitalizing on the opportunity to talk about and unpack them with your child. That’s the kind of substantive conversation they’ll remember for years to come.

Intellectual needs are also compelling reasons to choose a readaloud: Maybe your child is hungry for more knowledge about a subject, but not quite ready to read more demanding fare independently. Part of what makes books so magical is their capacity to satisfy so many of our most fundamental human needs.

Many parents prize sharing books with our children that we loved when we were kids, and this is undoubtedly a compelling reason to consider a book for reading aloud. Your childhood favorite can be meaningful to both you and your child and give a satisfying sense of continuity. However, if your child rejects a book you’re nostalgic about, try not to take it personally. Maybe you just have different tastes.

Does your child has difficulty sustaining attention during readalouds? Please, don’t give up! Consider a graphic novel or a picture book as a potential “way in” to readalouds, or give your child more say in book selection – you may find they’re more receptive after just a few thoughtful adjustments on your part. When you engage them in discussion, you may also discover that a child who insists on walking around the room or playing with legos is actually deeply engaged with what you are reading. 

Be on the lookout for Mia-recommended books for reading aloud which pass the “O.C.E.A.N.” test swimmingly–yes, another pun, which we hope isn’t salty humor–over the coming weeks. Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter what you and your children’s favorites are and send Mia your questions. She’s here to make sure you don’t feel like you’re in over your head. 

Good luck, and happy readalouds!



Mia’s Guide to SXSW EDU 2018

March 4, 2018

Mia’s Guide to SXSW EDU 2018

I’m excited to be returning to Austin for SXSW this year. While I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Texas, I volunteered at the very first SXSW Interactive in 1998, and was pleased when the festival added a new segment focused on innovation in education seven years ago. Since then, SXSW EDU has grown dramatically. Just reading through the whole program is a project! Having completed it, I’m delighted that many sessions and events that connect with key issues we’re grabbling with at Mia Learning, particularly AI in education and student agency.

AI in Education

Artificial intelligence is all over SXSW this year. I’m particularly looking forward to AI in Education: Opportunities and Challenges (Wednesday, 3:30-4:30), where top technologists and futurists will discuss what they’re seeing as their work with ed tech companies and schools around the world. The Rise of AI & What It Means for Education Meet Up (Tuesday, 11:00-12:30), hosted by Tom Vander Ark, should be a great opportunity to begin discussing AI’s potential and reality.

The captivating possibilities for supporting learning with AI also raises ethical questions we must engage now. In her keynote, What Have We Wrought? (Wednesday, 9:30-10:30), the always excellent danah boyd will examine the biases from our larger society that are too often reproduced, with a veneer of objectivity, in AI and machine learning. A panel of educators and data experts will grapple with the challenges of Ed Tech & Data Privacy: The Case for Transparency (Tuesday, 12:30-1:30), and Jennifer Galegos will consider what it means for an AI itself to be an ethical educator in the session with my favorite title this year, Letters to a Young AI (Monday, 12:30-12:50).

When I visited Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia last week, principal Chris Lehman expressed his conviction that schools should “use humans to do human things.” I agreed, but both of us found it challenging to define makes an activity distinctively human. Chris settled on things that involve “making meaning.” I’d add things that involve caring relationships. Ensuring students have a close relationship with an adult at school is one of the most powerful things we can do to help through thrive.

In Who Wants to Outsource Relationships? (Monday, 3:00-6:00), leading educational AI researchers and entrepreneurs from Israel and the US will join media literacy expert Rene Hobbs to consider how much of the relational work of education we want to turn over to computers. At Mia Learning, we believe that there’s no substitute for regular discussions about reading with caring adults. We’re committed to making the student-Mia relationship a springboard to deeper engagement with teachers and parents focused on literacy. Mia always augments, never replaces.

One key to counter bias in educational technology is to make sure those designing it start to look more like the people who will use it. The panel Diversity of Ed Tech (Monday, 5:00-6:00) will argue this is the result not of a lack of diverse talent—not a “pipeline problem”—but rather a failure of hiring practices. Even small startups like Mia Learning need focus from the start on building a diverse team. I think we’re doing fairly well so far, and I am committed to making diversity a key HR objective as we grow, learning from innovators such as The Mentor Method.

Learner Agency

Another powerful way to address ethical challenges is to empower learners themselves. Technology can be better designed to address privacy and security concerns, but ultimately the Best Internet Filter is Between A Child’s Ears (Wednesday, 2:00-3:30). We need to help kids develop the critical and creative ability to make good choices for themselves.

Kids’ choices are more likely to shape educational technology when they not only use it but also create it. Among the many sessions on maker spaces, media production, and coding, I’m particularly intrigued by Ann Gadzikowski’s suggestion that even early learners can begin think about machine intelligence design issues in Teaching AI in Kindergarten (Tuesday, 11-11:20). I’m not sure if I’m ready for five-year-olds yet, but I do look forward later this year to helping high school and GED students at the Maya Angelou Schools (where I serve on the board) develop their own AI using some of the same services that power Mia.

Empowering learners is fundamentally about supporting ensuring they have agency over their own learning and support in exercising it well. Student agency require intrinsic motivation to learn. However, many of the attempts to build motivation in educational technology products today are misguided. Elliott Hedman will argue that We’re Doing Gamification Wrong, (Wednesday, 4:00-4:20) likely drawing on the research that shows extrinsic rewards—points, virtual gold stars and the like—actually dampens intrinsic motivation. This is why Barbara Marinak and Linda Gambrell titled their excellent book on motivation to read, No More Reading for Junk.

Standard approaches to assessment, whether high stakes or informal, can also be a motivation killer and need to be radically rethought, as we’ll hear at Ed Tech & the Radical Disruption of Assessments (March 5, 2-3). Our team has resisted adding gamification and assessment features to Mia precisely to avoid such pitfalls. I’m looking forward to hearing about alternatives with which we might experiment.

Better approaches likely involve helping students map their own paths, as 25 Ways to Drive Student Agency Using Goal Setting (Wednesday, 1:00-3:30) will examine, with a renewed focus on the whole child (Promoting Holistic Success for All Students happy hour, Tuesday, 5:30-8:30) and policies that offer flexible pathways, prioritizing and supporting student choice (Personalized learning and Competency Education Meet Up, Wednesday, 2:00-3:00, hosted by iNACOL’s dynamic Susan Patrick). The fruits of such efforts will be showcased on Monday and Tuesday by students themselves at the Learning Expo.

In addition to all the talk about agency at SXSW, I’m also very glad to see opportunities for educators use theirs. To that end, PBS is hosting Choose Your Own Adventure: A PBS EdCamp (Tuesday, 12:00-6:00). EdCamps are peer professional learning events organized by the participants themselves. In my experience, it’s way less chaotic than you might expect, the learning is substantial, and the experience energizing.

Let’s Talk

If you’re going to be in Austin this week, I’d love to chat with you—about any of these issues, about Mia Learning, or about whatever else is on your mind. Tweet (@dcambrid) or email me (darren@mialearning.com), and we can find a time to meet up. I hope to see you at SXSW!