THE CURSE OF THE EARLY READER
OK, OK… it’s a slightly overdramatic title, but this is something I’ve actually seen first hand and I REALLY want to point out this problem as I think it’s quite hard to spot and tough to fix if you don’t spot it early on.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I help out with reading in my daughter’s grade 1 and 2 class (it’s a mixed class). I have no formal training other than a few hour-long courses put on by the school. But I do have a love of both reading and children. So far, the experience seems to be going quite well.
But I digress.
The child that causes me the most difficulty at the moment is the little grade one girl that reads the best of all the students in the class (we’ll call her “Jane”).
Jane reads perfectly. She breezes through words like carbon dioxide and diplodocus. I’ve never heard her mispronounce a thing, nor does she ever pause to sort out a word (even I have to pause over diplodocus).
When she first read to me I was completely stunned (and a bit concerned that I hadn’t spent enough time learning with my own daughter *grin*). I said something to the effect that she was a wonderful reader and that her mom must spend a lot of time reading with her at home. Jane said that she didn’t read with her mom that much although she did read to herself once in awhile (but only when her mom made her).
In talking to Jane’s mom while waiting for the kids after school a month or so later, she indicated that she hadn’t spent much time reading with Jane since kindergarten began as Jane had picked it up so quickly. Jane knew how to read before starting school, so they began to work on other skills together. Jane’s mom did indicate that Jane was having a lot of trouble in other areas of her homework … so she was glad she had the extra time to work on things like math instead of having to spend a lot of time on reading.
Math at the school is your basic “If you have one apple and I give you 6 more apples, how many apples do you have?” I was a bit surprised that Jane was having trouble as the “math” in the questions is actually quite easy. It’s reading the sentence and sorting out what you have to do that’s a bit tougher (for most kids anyways).
I didn’t think anything of it (no training, remember), but I do chat with the teachers at recess (coffee time!) and Jane’s name came up. I talked about what an amazing reader she was and her teacher concurred. Then one of us mentioned that it was too bad about all the trouble she was having with math problems. One of the other teachers suddenly looked up and started asking a whole bunch of questions about Jane. We ended up getting together again at lunch hour to talk a bit more.
You see, believe it or not, the point of reading is not actually reading --it’s communication. From novels to newspapers, we’re trying to glean some sort of meaning from what we read. If you think about how you might read a newspaper article, you likely don’t read every single word. You may hop here and there, skip a few boring parts, etc. Your goal is not to “read” the article -- it’s to figure out what the article is saying to you.
In the struggle most children go through to learn to read they figure the communication part out. They look at the pictures, work things out in context and ask questions about how to pronounce unfamiliar words (usually followed by questions about what those words mean). This struggle is as much a part of the lesson as phonics is.
Jane, on the other hand, just read. She didn’t have to go through as much of that struggle so never really learned to put the words together to form a meaning. Once the teacher pointed this out, I payed far more attention to HOW Jane reads. She didn’t laugh at the funny parts or have exclamation in her voice for the exciting parts.
She read a phrase like
dog purple feather flew and rainbow pink the
the same as she would read
Andrew popped an enormous bubble and it splatted all over his teacher’s face.
(I exaggerate a little, but not much!)
The worst thing is that because she can read so well, she hasn't had as much time spent with the various adults in her life working with her on HOW to get meaning out of her reading. We all failed her by saying, “well, you can read now… case closed.”
Jane's skills in understanding the meaning of a book were likely pretty normal when she was age 3 and 4, but her ability to read was so advanced. When she learned to read, people stopped talking over the stories with her so she never learned to tie the meaning to the words.
No matter how well your young children can read, make sure you continue to go over stories with them. You can do this through discussing the book or having them do a short book report (make sure they’ve done more than just draw the cover of the book and write the title!).
When you have your discussions, ask questions that are geared toward detecting problems in understanding or memory, like:
What color was the silly dog?
Why do you think the silly dog picked up the baby bottle?
What do you think happens to the silly dog after the story is over?
I don’t imagine there are all that many "Jane’s" out there. But I’m sure there are lots of children who may have the same problem to a lesser degree. Tasha (my daughter) is one of the better readers in grade 1 (nothing unusual… but, she can make it through a book on her own). I’m now very careful to make sure that the book she’s read has been understood and that the books she chooses are right for her at a reading AND a comprehension level.
A NOTE FROM BLAIR (one of the viewers):
There is a terrific book out called 100 Step to Teach Your Child to Read. It is excellent and I used this last year to teach my daughter.......she loved the book and did not want to move on to her Abeka readers!
...or back to part 3