Monday, August 31, 2009

Reading is Fundamental - commentary

Futurists tell us children today are preparing for jobs that don't yet exist. So how do we prepare our kids for something we know nothing about? We do it by emphasizing skills that are transferable from job to job. Among those skills, reading tops the list. Reading is fundamental, or could we say fun(damental), yet it amazes me how many kids want no part of it. If you are a parent, you would do well to insure that your child reads well and enjoys it. One of my "aha" moments as a young man was that given the right book, I could do anything, whether it was building a boat or figuring the time value of money.

Arkansas is spending millions of dollars on programs to make readers out of our kids. One of the most exciting programs I was privileged to attend was Literacy Lab taught by Ken Stamatis, professor at Harding University. It is a pleasure when I get to substitute for a teacher who has been literacy lab trained. But it is difficult for schools alone to make readers out of kids. They need help from the home.

When children don’t like to read, you can usually trace the problem to the home. Parents, to begin with it is hard to make readers of kids if they never see you read books for pleasure. Fathers, your children need to see you read, especially your sons. It is very difficult to get boys to read because their male role models seldom sit down and read for pleasure. I'm not talking about magazines or professional journals. I'm talking about what the kids call "chapter books" for pleasure reading. (Kids' first books are short and are not divided into chapters. A sign of progress or a badge of honor is when they are reading chapter books.) If you are already a reader or when you become one, the next step is to read to your kids. They will love it and so will you. Dads, if you need some help go to Moms and dads, you will find help at

If you have not yet discovered the books being written for young people, you are in for a real treat. I think the number of books written for our kids and then made into movies underscores that statement: Holes, Hoot, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, Bridge Over Terabithia, Charlotte's Webb, Harry Potter, Fellowship of the Ring, Summer of the Monkeys, and others. Many of the books will not only appeal to your kids, they will hook you as well. If your kids think they are too old to be read to, then read the same books they are reading and discuss them.

There are some things good readers do naturally that you can help your young readers do as you discuss what you are reading. Good readers visualize; they see pictures in their heads. Remember, a good writer is an artist who uses words to create images. Help your young reader see pictures. Tell him what you see and what the writer said to help you see it. Get them to tell you what they see.

Good readers make connections. There are three basic types. One type of connection is a text to self connection where the reader sees something in the story that reminds him of a personal experience. A second type of connection is a text to text connection. This is when something in your book reminds you of something you have read in another book or something you have seen in a movie or on TV, or something you have heard in a song. A third type of connection is a text to world connection. This is when something in your book connects with something you know about in the world at large.

Good readers also make predictions as they read along. They try to figure out where the story is going and how things are going to work out. Stop at appropriate places and ask your child what he thinks is going to happen and tell him what you think might happen.

With this background you now have things to discuss. Ask your student what they're reading this week. If they say “nothing,” have a suggestion ready, something you have read and enjoyed. If they are reading something, ask what kind of pictures they see, what the setting looks like, or what they imagine the characters look like. Ask them what kind of connections they are making or what they predict is going to happen. All of these things improve comprehension and make real readers out of children.

Remember, reading is a learned skill and like other learned skills, you get better at it the more you do it. One of the reasons kids don't like to read is because they are not very good at it. One of the reasons they are not very good at it is because they don't do it. When students would tell me they didn’t like to read because they weren’t very good at it, I would ask how they got good at shooting free throws or hitting home runs. I asked if they told the coach they were not going to shoot at the basket anymore because they were not very good at it and didn’t like to do it. Parents need to help them break this cycle and encourage them until they get good at it. Reading is one of those skills that will transfer to any job, even those that do not yet exist. Students who don't like to read, who won't read, or who are not very good at it are drastically limiting their future. Any job worth taking is going to require good reading skills.

No comments:

Post a Comment