I hope you are enjoying summer vacation with your children in spite of all the challenges.
I am writing to follow up on my last email about keeping your children engaged as young readers. Hopefully you have had some success at establishing routines that involve some level of daily reading as a family. At minimum, try to set aside a few minutes a day when all devices are off and the expectation is that every family member reads a book of his/her own choosing. I hope you use this time as a gift for yourself as well-- when you get to read something of interest---the newspaper, a magazine, a chapter from a novel---anything (except social media)! Just the simple act of reading in front of your children can serve as a role model that will impact your children’s future reading habits.
In my last email, I provided sites where you can purchase leveled readers for your children to practice their own reading. This email will focus on your reading rich, interesting books aloud to your children----something equally important to their growth and development.
The kinds of books you will choose to read to your children will be far more engaging that the ones they can read themselves---so reading aloud to them will build other competencies, such as vocabulary, knowledge of the world, and the ability to apply essential reading comprehension strategies.
In this email, I will outline the reading comprehension strategies employed by proficient readers and how you can model them for your children as you read a loud to them. This is the most powerful way to build a child’s ability to understand what s/he reads---a critical skill that will facilitate his/her success as a student and informed citizen of the future.
While reading, proficient readers:
- Notice when something makes sense and when it doesn’t. This is called self-monitoring. It is essential that children learn that all readers stumble, misread words, skip a line once in a while, daydream or lose attention while reading. If not directly taught to self-monitor, young readers will focus on word reading and not attend to the meaning of the words. They will not notice when they misread something or if they do, they will just keep on going. Comprehension will break down and the reader will not understand or learn from what was read.
What you can do:
When you stumble or make a mistake while reading, stop and say, “Wow, that didn’t sound right. I am going to reread that so it makes sense.”
Once in a while, stop and say, “I think what the author is saying is… That makes sense to me.” Or: “This is a little confusing. I think I will reread it (or read it aloud) to help myself understand it better.”
- Visualize. When reader read, they create images in their minds. When the author describes a character or place, readers imagine them. When authors explain a process or how something works, readers imagine how it would look. Sometimes they make connections to what they know and the place the author describes looks like a place they know or a character takes on the appearance of a person they know. Sometimes readers visualize and “act out” a process in their minds when reading how to do something.
What you can do:
While reading, stop and say, “I am imagining the way the house looks---kind of spooky and dark!” or “Wow, I am picturing that volcano in my mind! The author said it is as tall as the Empire State Building. I am picturing the Empire State Building that we saw in New York City---it was so tall!” Or, "Okay, so I guess you have to turn the dial and then it will start to move..."
- Use background knowledge to make connections. When readers read about a topic or experience, they connect or compare it to something familiar to them. This helps them visualize (as in the Empire State Building example) or empathize. For example, if a character is feeling excited about an upcoming event, the reader might connect to a similar experience and then be more able to understand the character’s feelings. Using background knowledge also helps readers to build on previous understandings. When learning about gravity, a young reader might make connections to hanging from the monkey bars or dropping something from the top of the slide.
What you can do:
While reading about a character’s experience, stop and say, “This reminds me about how I felt… when I got my first puppy. I was so excited and loved it so much!” or “These characters must be so scared! I know I feel afraid when I am lost…” or “This is like when birds make a nest...” Making connections helps readers understand, in a deeper way, what they read.
- Ask questions. While reading, readers wonder all the time. What will happen next? Why did the character do that? How does that work? Where can I find something like that? Is that true? How does this fit with what I know already? Who is that character? Is he important to the story? What will happen next? Where is that country? Could that really happen?
What you can do:
Notice when you are wondering something as you are reading. Say your questions aloud! And then read to “find out” if you are correct, or what the answer is. Young readers are fascinated with the idea that readers wonder as they read----it really promotes their engagement, especially when they want to know the answer! Invite your child to wonder aloud too. Stop at a critical point and ask, "What are you wondering right now?"
- Make inferences. Authors don’t usually tell readers what to think or feel. They provide evidence in the form of characters’ behaviors, dialogue, and circumstances and then rely on the reader to draw a conclusion. Authors also rely on readers to make predictions (a form of inference) about what characters will do or what will happen next in a story.
What you can do:
While reading, notice and point out the “clues” authors provide their readers. Stop and say, “I don’t think this character is telling the truth. I can tell by the way she is stammering and looking away when her mother asks her questions.” Or “I infer that this is going to be a big problem for the town. In the last chapter it said that when you build a new road, you have to…”) Or “I predict that they are going to be friends again. He seems like he is getting nicer and maybe he will forgive him if he apologizes…”
- Determine Importance. While reading, readers have to weed out what is essential to remember and what is background information. Every sentence in a book can’t carry the same weight. But if we don’t teach young readers that fact, they try to memorize everything or give up on the magnitude of the task of giving every piece of information their full attention.
What you can do:
While reading, stop and talk about a paragraph of information. Some readers actually summarize, or try to retell the information in their own words. While reading, say “Wow, there is a lot of information here. I think it’s important to remember that earthquakes happen when something causes pieces of the earth to move or bump against each other. It happens where the pieces touch and that’s called a fault line… little earthquakes happens a lot but we don’t feel them all because the bump is so small…” Readers try to zoom in on important facts---like cause, effect/impact, vocabulary, or turning points in a story or event. Try reading a paragraph or two and then retell it in front of your child as a strategy for synthesizing and remembering what was important in the text.
All of these strategies are used at different times as a read engages with text. They happen naturally for a proficient reader, but need to be modeled for a developing one.
If you have read this entire email, you have completed an abbreviated version of Teaching Reading Comprehension 101! The best thing you can do now is notice when you employ the strategies I described as you are reading. Then do your best to “think aloud” as you read aloud to your children. Don’t overdo it! Just mention the thinking you are doing as you read, and encourage your child to think along with you! If you do this on a regular basis, your child will begin to do it him/herself when reading independently. This will facilitate his/her enjoyment of reading –which in turn, will lead to academic success and a lifelong ability to read and think critically.
If you would like more information about this topic, here is a link to an entire book written for parents:
Stay well, and happy reading!