Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Don't Forget to Talk About the Books!

I might be exaggerating a tad, but we seem to be facing a national epidemic of children who can read lots of words and really hard books, but are not thinking about or engaging with their books at all.
It's not enough to be able to say the words.
It's not enough to be able to recall everything the happened in the book.
It's not enough to do some basic inferring (his brother pushed him so I infer that he is upset).
Children have to learn to read with an understanding that authors often communicate information to us without stating it clearly in the words. Furthermore, they need to read with... here comes some educational jargon... responsive and evaluative comprehension.
Let me translate:
Responsive. Listen to your internal mind-voice next time you read something. Or now, since you are reading something right now. Is it talking to you? Is it asking questions about what I might be trying to say? Is it making connections between something I'm saying and something you already knew? Or something you heard somewhere else? Is it thinking about how it talks to you when you read other things, like great fiction or political news? Is it wondering where I'm going with this line of thinking? That voice (Maria Nichols, author of Comprehension Through Conversation, from Heinemann Publishers), refers to this as the raging conversation in the mind. Active minds are busy when we read. This is the source of reading response. NOT, read a chapter and write a summary, like I was taught. In order to help children discover where their own voices and thoughts fit into the reading experience, we need to talk to them a lot about what they are reading and about what you read to or with them. Don't stop reading to or with them just because they seem to have learned how to read, because they'll be learning how to think while they read for a long time still. And don't be afraid to stop from time to time and air your thoughts:
  • Why did he just do that?
  • Ooooh, I wonder how this is going to turn out.
  • Hmmm, I used to think this kid was kind of a pain, but now I see he can be nice, too.
  • This is a big problem. What should she do to fix it?
  • Anything else that is naturally coming up.
Evaluative. This can be as simple as saying whether or not you like something, and why (or why not). Over time, this includes things like listening for a writer's angle (is she trying to make me more conscious of how I treat my friends?), fantasy vs. reality, character development, how much or little empathy a reader has for a character, whether you like, or agree with , how everything turned out, or any other way you might be practicing a little independent thinking. Even the youngest readers are entitled to have opinions! Sometimes we start by asking them what books they love and why. We might also ask them what they think is the most important page or part of a book, and why. With books that have stories (with a problem and solution structure) we might ask if and how the character changed, and if they think it was for the better.
Bottom line- Don't just read books, talk about them.
Don't just talk about what literally happened, talk about what the author might be saying that's NOT in the words. And no matter what, always talk about what you and your child think about it.

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