Dialogic reading explained by author Davide Amante

Here we publish the full text of the interview published by LaRepubblica.it

We interviewed the novelist Davide Amante, to better understand what is ‘dialogic reading’ and how it facilitates and stimulates children to actively participate to the surrounding environment by reading a book.

Davide Amante, can you explain what is dialogic reading?
Dialogic reading is the process of developing a dialogue with the children around the text they are reading. In dealing with reading, the adult often reads the text and the child listens. On the contrary, with dialogical reading, the adult stimulates the child to actively participate to the story and become the “storyteller”.

Is dialogic reading effective?
In my opinion, yes, it is very effective and useful.

What are the origins of dialogic reading?
Dialogic reading is often presented as an innovative and avant-garde tool, even if with a bit of exaggeration. It has been theorized in recent times for example by the Interactive Reading Model by David E. Rumelhart in 1977 and then even more specifically by Grover J. Whitehurst in the early 2000s, with the Stony Brook Reading and Language Project, in an attempt to offer a solution to the lack of dexterity and talent in solving problems, highlighted in particular in the children of the less well-off classes in the United States, who rarely had the opportunity to read books. It is a commendable and important initiative, which has allowed the school to tackle and partly solve this problem.

Is dialogic reading an avant-garde tool?
Dialogic reading is an important tool and should certainly be promoted, especially in Italy and throughout Europe. However it has very ancient origins. For example, in our literary tradition, both in the north and in the south of Italy, it was common for peasant families to gather in the evening around the fire and involve children in oral narration or in reading fairy tales. This reading, from the child’s point of view, was not passively played by listening to adults but on the contrary it consisted of spending the evening reading some pieces and interpreting their meaning together. The children asked questions, dwelt on a detail of the story, proposed an interpretation of the narrated facts. The adults, in turn, responded, widened, approved or discussed the interpretation of the facts advanced by the youngest. And so, often, under the stars and in the heat of the fire, families pushed themselves into unknown territories and ended up creating new oral stories. They were fascinating and stimulating diversions that ended with a return to reading the text. Many of the most beautiful Italian fairy tales were born this way. Just think of the attempt to collect the folk tales that author Italo Calvino had drawn from the various Italian regions. Or even some truthful scenes from the film ‘L’Albero degli Zoccoli’ by Ermanno Olmi, shot in the 1970s. These were none other than what today we call dialogic reading. In America itself, where the term of dialogic reading was first widely used, the native Indian populations did more or less the same thing.

So, although the term “dialogic reading” originated in the United States, it actually pre-existed.
The educational system of the United States has had the great merit of trying to bring the concept of dialogic reading back to a method, which can be used anywhere by the school. In this sense it is certainly at the forefront and is a very effective tool.

Can you explain dialogic reading in detail?
Dialogic reading is based on the consideration that the “way” in which we read to children is at least as much important as the “frequency”. When an adult reads to a child, he often holds the book in his hand and the child listens. Dialogic reading consists of an interaction between adult and child: the adult asks questions to stimulate the children to explore the text at a deeper level and so an active dialogue is established during which definitions of new words and analysis of the parts of the dialogue or narration emerge, as well as the ability to express a child’s own opinion on the story itself. In other words, dialogic reading is a guided reading method that stimulates the child to interpret and criticize.
In the case of younger children, everything revolves around a simple sentence and an illustration, with more grown children, for example, attention is directed to discussing a paragraph just read by the adult and how the concept was treated by the author.

Finally, the function of dialogic reading is to stimulate the child?
Yes, it is an active participation by the child in reading. And it happens thanks to the interaction with the adult. This aspect must be given the right importance because it is, in my opinion, extremely useful for two reasons. The first is that the text, the fable, becomes an aggregator element for the family, which involves everyone with their opinions, thoughts and even digressions on the subject, which in turn are very important because they are based on the experience of each individual family and allows the child to understand that one’s personal experience is comparable with the world, indeed it constitutes the world. The second important reason is that the child learns through the method of dialogic reading to interpret the surrounding world and therefore become intelligent: the word ‘intelligent’ itself originates from the Latin ‘intelligente’ which literally means ‘reading into things’.

Do you consider dialogic reading a complex method for the family?
Not at all. Dialogic reading is very simple. It consists of sitting with the children and dedicating time to them, but based on quality, that is, a written text. Just read and then talk about what you read.

Where is the dialogic reading carried out?
At home above all but it is interesting to see that the method of dialogic reading is beginning to take hold in schools as an educational method. If in the United States it is now acquired as a method, in Italy and Europe it can be defined as still experimental. In this sense it is innovative and it is a good thing. The scholastic method is obviously a little more complex than what we have said here, for example it is implemented through the PEER sequence and the CROWD prompts. But these are technicalities that we can talk about elsewhere, which concern more specifically teachers. Dialogic reading in its essence is simple and direct.

As a novelist, are you involved with dialogic reading?
Well, my main activity is that of the novelist, however yes I do participate to dialogic reading sessions, invited by public or private schools, either in Italian or in English. Reading with children is something exceptional, their understanding of texts is actually very deep.
In the future I would like to partner with an association of some kind and develop a dialogic reading program. I think it would be a great stimulus for children and adults to promote reading.

You are a novelist and we know that you recently wrote The Guardian of the Stars – Anais’ journey with the wind, an international success, for children and adults. Do you consider The Guardian of the Stars a book suitable for dialogic reading and can you give us some indication of which books are most suitable?

Honestly, any text is suitable for dialogic reading because a lot depends on the desire of the adult to start a discussion on the text together with the child. Certainly The Guardian of the Stars – Anais’ journey with the wind is suitable for dialogic reading with children from 8 onwards. The important thing is to turn to authentic texts, written by non-improvised writers, starting from the Little Prince by de Saint Exupery, The Wind among the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, My family and other animals by Gerald Durrel, The old man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway just to say a few.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels