Thursday, October 15, 2009

Helping Independent Readers Think About What They Read

I think this time we are on the "older reader" channel. Those of you with young children, read this too because you'll be here before you know it. I was reading a message from the President of the International Reading Association in Reading Today and was impressed with her comments about comprehension -- understanding what we read in more than just a "can I regurgitate simple facts" approach. She emphasized in her comments that it is most important that our children learn to think logically and deeply about what they read. Elizabeth Drew, an author who has written about Washington personalities in politics, says, "The true test of literature is, I suppose, whether we live more intently for the reading of it."

When was the last time your independent reader was moved by something he or she read? Certainly we don't need to be pressing "heavy-duty classics" on them all the time but reading text that makes us think is important. We need to exercise that "muscle" power in our brains to help our brains reach their potential. That's true for us as adults just as well as children.

How can you help your child learn to think about what he or she reads?

First, be interested. That may mean reading or re-reading the same novel they are in class and talking about it. I remember that when my son was reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I re-read it myself. In turn, it made me want to read more written related to Harper Lee and Truman Capote (they were neighbors as children), especially since I had just seen a movie about Capote's life. I read his novel, In Cold Blood, for the first time and then Harper Lee's autobiography. All those three books together were a great study for me and I learned a lot about these authors and the period of time in which they wrote.

If you can't take time to read an entire novel, read a little at the first and ask your student to keep you up-to-date on what is going on with the story (a TV guide version, if you will, of each chapter). Don't make this a drill or lesson; just have a conversation about an interesting story.

When your student has trouble understanding assigned reading, there are two things you can do: first, read segments with him, stopping every couple of paragraphs or so to talk about the meaning behind the words (that's helpful sometimes with the antiquated language of Shakespeare). Secondly, find other, easier reading materials that help your student build some background knowledge for understanding the story. Sometimes there are simpler versions of Shakespeare's plays that use modern English. Reading it along with the original text can help. Both of these options mean that you have to make some commitment of time. Believe you me, it will be worth it for your student immediately (and it will be good for your brain too!). Beyond these immediate rewards, it will solidify your relationship with your child, something that is important to every parent. They see you investing time with them and it is meaningful.

Be a poser of questions - why is my favorite. If a simple statement is made, ask "why is that true?" or "why did that happen?" or "why did she do that"? Follow up with "would you have done the same?" Great readers are thinking, active, engaged individuals, experiencing the author's intent and drawing from it ideas that can appeal to, enhance and improve our own lives. Questions help us think about what we read.

And that's the true power behind reading, not what is on the page alone but what we take away from the page.

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