Cindy Hoisington has worked as a literacy coach for preschool teachers in two Massachusetts cities: Worcester (Project RENEW) and Lowell (Project Leader). In addition to her work for EDC, she also serves as a science advisor to the Emmy Award-winning PBS animated children’s series Curious George.
Hoisington grew up in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. She worked for Head Start for 15 years before joining EDC, where she’s mentored teachers in early childhood literacy and science instruction.
Hoisington knows firsthand the role Head Start can play. “I was a Head Start parent myself—trying to work, go back to school, and raise three kids,” she says. “I understand the stresses and challenges that face low-income families.”
She also understands the challenges teachers face in programs and communities where education resources are scarce, and her efforts have shown promising results.
“The teachers we work with are amazing,” she explains. “They’re open to learning new things and to putting them into practice in their classrooms. It’s gratifying to visit a teacher months later and see their kids enjoying reading and making progress.”
Language/literacy specialist Cindy Hoisington works with teachers in urban Massachusetts preschool programs to bring reading to life. “We don’t want kids to be quiet as they listen to stories,” she says. “We want them to engage in conversations about what’s being read—with their teachers and each other.”
What do you remember about learning to read in school?
When I was little, we read the Dick and Jane books, and the emphasis was on sight reading and decoding words. The vocabulary was very simple. The same words were repeated over and over again. There was no emphasis on finding any kind of compelling meaning in the literature. In retrospect, it seems very elementary compared to what we’re doing now to prepare young children to be successful readers.
How has the approach to early reading instruction changed?
I think we now understand that there’s more to learning to read than decoding print. Building children’s vocabulary and language are very important first steps. New vocabulary can be introduced and discussed during a book reading and then used with children in follow-up conversations. We also strongly emphasize phonological awareness, that is, understanding and appreciating the separate sounds that make up words, apart from their meaning.
What can preschool teachers do to support young readers?
Teachers can introduce young children to books that use more sophisticated language, beyond what they are exposed to in routine conversations. We recommend that teachers display and read a variety of reading materials at different levels of complexity to children: different topics, fiction and nonfiction, as well as books that reflect the multicultural makeup of the classroom and books that support English language learners. We also recommend that books be read in the context of ongoing and meaningful curriculum. This type of curriculum exposes children to groups of related words in context—for example, water words like drip, flow, stream, and trickle—that are used over time and in different classroom settings.
How do teachers encourage youngsters to read?
There are lots of ways that teachers can enrich the environment for early reading. They can put up pictures and photos of children’s daily activities to stimulate conversation. They can post children’s own pictures on topics they have read about, with kids’ commentary used as captions. Words combined with picture cues help kids make meaning from print. We encourage teachers to introduce and use new and challenging vocabulary words throughout the day so children begin to use them in conversations with each other.
What are the challenges for preschool teachers in adopting these techniques?
Teachers sometimes don’t realize the importance of language development to later reading. We’re helping teachers become more aware of this, and more aware of their role in promoting a language-rich classroom. What’s going to make them great readers is having opportunities to talk and write about interesting things, learn and use interesting vocabulary, and get engaged in compelling stories. Having conversations back and forth, for many turns, on a central theme or topic deepens the child’s understanding as teachers invite children to share their thoughts and feelings.
Teachers know that reading to young children is important, but they sometimes aren’t as intentional as they could be about what and how they read to children. If a child loves a story, he or she will want to read it over and over. Deeper understanding comes over multiple readings as children get to know the setting, characters, and the sequence of events in a story. Then they start to speculate and ask questions about characters’ motivations and feelings. They can think and talk about the story concepts. That’s when reading begins to takes flight.
Originally published on October 18, 2010