Shared reading has always been one of my favorite components of the balanced literacy classroom. This format is full of instructional possibility and provides a framework for modeling and teaching young readers how reading works. When Don Holdaway (1979) introduced shared reading, he described it as an event that “connects students through shared feelings and shared experience.” If we zoom in on the “shared” aspect of shared reading, we might discover the magic behind this approach and understand why it continues to be a strong foundational component of early reading instruction.
Shared Feelings: Many years ago when I was a new teacher someone introduced me to the idea that shared reading is like “extending the lap experience” for children. This description stuck with me through the years and is always the first to come to mind when I think about shared reading. Perhaps it’s the image of a child being read to on a caregiver’s lap that reminds me of the feelings that shared reading should evoke in a classroom full of young readers. Gathering children together around a large piece of text with the highest level of support from teacher and peers should spark feelings of comfort, community, and confidence. This confidence comes from bridging children closer and closer to independence through the sharing of the reading process.
Shared Experiences: Shared reading is an experience that is built around a common piece of text with a common purpose for reading in mind. After the first shared reading lesson, the text becomes an anchor to return to again and again. Each return offers the opportunity to extend literacy learning while exploring different skills and strategies. Since shared reading is an interactive experience, planning involves motivating readers to notice, to think, to talk, to chant, or to imitate the pattern of the text. The shared reading experience is a natural springboard to interactive writing.
Shared feelings and shared experiences work together to create strong connections throughout this approach. Children connect to each other, to the teacher, and to the text. Together, they are plugged in and invited to actively participate in the reading process. This powerful connection opens the door to exploring concepts of print, sounds and letters, word structure, text features, new vocabulary, reading strategies, etc. The possibilities are endless.