Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Too easy" is just right!!!

OK, if there's one thing I think parents really don't understand, it's this. Don't get me wrong...there's no reason parents should understand this. It's completely counterintuitive!
Here's the deal. In America, we have a mythology built up around the value of hard work. No guts, no glory. No pain, no gain. The classic American story describes the poor so-and-so, born into modest circumstances. Nothing came easy, but through hard work and determination, blood, sweat, and tears, this so-and-so became a CEO. Have you heard this one? It's a good story. Hard work IS important.
The problem is, it doesn't work this way with reading. I have a suitcase full of research to back me up on this one, but please don't make me go get it. What it shows is that in order to become better readers children need a lot of time every day reading EASY books. That's right. EASY. In the lower levels, there may be a word or two that children have to grapple with, but starting at about the level of Henry & Mudge books, children should be able to figure out 99% or more of the words without having to slow down too much. That means that when you see your child struggling, something is wrong. The book is too hard. This is not a good thing to see. Children need to read with accuracy and fluency in order to have good comprehension. It should not be a struggle. I like to live by the following rule of thumb: If it sounds like torture, it is.
Why do their books need to be easy, and how are they getting better if they are not working hard? Well, reading is not the same as lifting weights. I mean, reading muscles don't grow by being taxed. Or, more accurately, the reading muscles we need to tax are not the ones involved in decoding (the ones we can see working when a book is too hard), they are the ones used to comprehend (the ones we can't see working when we watch a child reading). If your child can decode a chapter book like Horrible Harry or Junie B. Jones, she can decode almost anything. From this point on, books get more demanding not because they have harder words, but because they have harder concepts, plot structures, settings, character development methods, and themes.
So next time you find yourself thinking your child's book is too easy, think again. Ask her what the book is about, what's going on with the characters, how she feels about it, what she thinks will happen next, what it reminds her of, or anything else you'd ask an adult friend about her book!

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