Berlin Parent–Child Reading Program (BEKL)

The Berlin Parent–Child Reading Program is a systematic, family-based intervention program designed to promote specific reading-related skills while nurturing the family reading culture. Findings of a first evaluation study indicate that the program succeeds in enhancing children’s reading skills.
Although the family is considered to be the most important out-of-school context for children’s reading socialization, and although large-scale studies such as PISA have repeatedly found a close link between academic achievement and family background in Germany, most previous systematic reading interventions have been geared toward the classroom setting or intended as small group interventions (e.g., Gold et al., 2004a, 2004b; see also Artelt et al., 2005; Streblow, 2004). The potential of the family context has been left largely untapped. The Berlin Parent–Child Reading Program was developed against this background (McElvany, 2007; McElvany & Artelt, 2007; McElvany, Artelt, & Holler, 2004). Based on empirical and theoretical knowledge about reading literacy support, reading socialization, and the potential of the family context, the program aims to familiarize students with strategies and processes of text comprehension, and thus enhance reading literacy on the long term. To this end, parent–child communication on selected texts is structured by a series of tasks and questions.

The Reading Program

The program consists of 43 parent–child reading sessions, with 3 sessions being scheduled per week for 14 to 15 weeks. At the beginning of each 30-minute session, the dyads decide whether to work on a longer or a shorter text. The program texts cover a broad range of topics and genres and are aimed at the interests of 4th graders. After the child or the parent has read the text aloud, they first discuss whether there was anything in the text (content or vocabulary) that the child did not understand. Three to four comprehension questions then ensure basic understanding, followed by about four questions or tasks designed to trigger in-depth discussion of the text and an elaborated understanding of its content. The final task is usually to summarize the text orally, but can also be a creative task (e.g., to draw a picture illustrating the story).
In contrast to typical homework supervision contexts, parents and children work as equal partners throughout the reading session, taking turns to read aloud, answer questions, perform specific tasks, and provide feedback for their partner. The program thus combines implicit strategy training with guided oral reading and scaffolding elements, using the parent as a reading role model.

Testing the Program’s Implementation and Effectiveness

The implementation and effectiveness of the program have been tested in an evaluation study (McElvany, 2007; McElvany & Artelt, in press; McElvany & Artelt, 2006) with a total of 509 4th graders from 15 Berlin elementary schools. Classmates who did not participate in the reading program (N=393) formed the control group. The evaluation study had a quasi-experimental prepost design, and ran from September 2003 to January 2004.

Findings on the Program’s Effectiveness

The evaluation study confirmed that program participation had positive effects on the prerequisites and subskills of reading literacy. Students who participated in the program showed higher gains in vocabulary over the program period than students in the control group. The program proved particularly effective for the development of reading-related metacognition in weaker readers. However, there were no direct effects on decoding abilities or performance on a standardized reading comprehension test. Beyond its effects on specific skills, the program seemed to enhance the family reading culture. Further analyses of the program’s mid- and long-term effects are planned. Analyses are currently being run to identify mid-term effects of program participation on the development of reading literacy and to determine whether these may be attributable to factors such as the continued application of specific reading strategies or the general enhancement of the family reading culture.

Findings on the Program’s Implementation

The analyses on program implementation show that the participating families implemented the program as intended, but that many families are not prepared to participate in this kind of voluntary reading program in the first place.
Marked differences were found between participating and nonparticipating families. Participating children tended to come from more educated families and were already relatively good readers at baseline. This finding highlights the need to tackle the problem of selective participation, and to ensure that children from less educationally privileged backgrounds are also encouraged to participate.

Further Readings

McElvany, N. (2007). Förderung von Lesekompetenz im Kontext der Familie. Münster: Waxmann.

McElvany, N., & Artelt, C. (2007). Förderung von Lesekompetenz: Überblick über das Berliner Eltern-Kind-Leseprogramm. Berlin: Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung.

McElvany, N., & Artelt, C. (2006). Das Berliner Eltern-Kind-Leseprogramm. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung, 1, 157-159.


Nele McElvany