Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

WBUR-FM’s Sacha Pfeiffer used the occasion of the filing of An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency as an opportunity to talk with Strategies for Children board member Richard Weissbourd about laying the foundation for literacy in a state where 37% of third graders read below grade level. Among children from low-income families, 57% lag in reading.

Weissbourd and Pfeiffer talked about the importance of language development – through talk and reading aloud — as the precursor of literacy. They talked about the importance of strong teachers well versed in reading instruction in early elementary school. Read the story.Listen to the story.

Weissbourd, a lecturer in education at Harvard, is a founder of ReadBoston and WriteBoston. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Q. The “read to your kids” message, I think, is pretty well-circulated. But you’re saying that talking to your kids is as important as reading to your kids?

A. Talking to your kids is absolutely as important as reading to your kids,” Weissbourd tells Pfeiffer. “ It’s a couple of different kinds of talk. Some parents think that they need to read to the kids for 20 minutes a day, and that’s true. But they end up soldiering through the reading, they feel like they have to get through the reading, and reading should be a springboard for conversation. It should be a time to wonder out loud with your kids, to engage in conversation about lots of things in the world that come up in the course of reading. And it’s also in just lots of conversation during the day — it’s when you’re cooking the meal or when you’re taking out the garbage or when you’re giving an infant a bath….

One thing you might want to do is, on the way to the bath, if you have a 3- or 4-year-old, you might say, “Let’s pretend to be an animal” on the way to the bath. You know, “Let’s pretend to be an elephant,” or a bear — whatever animal you want to be. And then you can talk about that animal and what that animal does, or make animal noises. Or, in the bath, you can sing a song with your infant and you can talk about the words in the song or you can tell a story. There are lots of opportunities for those kinds of conversations.

Q. This legislation would also try to make teachers better at teaching kids reading. But for kids who come in below the bar, who come in really behind the curve, how much can a teacher really do at that point?

A. A teacher can do quite a lot. I mean, it’s not that kids are doomed if they enter kindergarten and they have low vocabularies. There’s a lot you can do with kids in the early grades of elementary school. At high-quality elementary schools where kids get three really strong elementary teachers in a row, for example, you see big gains in the number of kids who are reading proficiently. And I think we have to recruit really strong teachers. We have to retain really strong teachers.