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Thursday, 30 August 2012

From January to March, I tutored a handful of middle school boys in an after school program aimed to teach reading strategies. I learned two things:
  1. I'm not a natural teacher, and
  2. If there is a lack of motivation, all the strategies will be futile.
Now, most of these boys were pretty sharp. Towards the end of the program, I would bring word games like Scrabble and Quiddler, and they enjoyed the challenge of finding good words. But these 6th graders (and one 7th grader) struggled with reading out loud, and their ability to comprehend what they read.

The Read-Aloud Handbook

Earlier this year, I finished reading a book that a friend bought me, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease). The main premise of the book is that reading aloud to children (starting at infancy, and continuing through the teenage years) is crucial to their learning and success. The book is full of examples, research, and resources that I found helpful, and that I think you will, too.

While I enjoyed the book, two things bothered me as I read it:
  1. The author reiterates his main principle ("Read to your children.") over and over and over and . . . . Every chapter is a variation on this same theme. But to his credit, I appreciate him sticking to the main point, and his thorough research supported his premise.
  2. His thesis came across as a "formula with a promise" -- that if you do A (read to your children every day), then you will get B (happy, smart children). I fear that parents might read this book and put their hope in a process, instead of the Person of Jesus Christ. Also, what does it mean if you do this and your child does not love reading or do well in school? Is that a cause to lose hope or get discouraged?
Nonetheless, Trelease's research and examples should encourage us to read to our children, and to encourage other parents to do the same. Instructing other parents of these principles is especially important if you are engaging a culture where education is not generally valued and encouraged.

Personal Lessons Learned

Some of the main principles that I gleaned from this book include:
  1. Adults need to set an example.
  2. Quantity over quality.
  3. Screen time is a detriment.
  4. Teach children to focus.


Example Set by Adults

During our summer camp, we had a 30-minute "book club" every day. One change we made this year was requiring that all adults leaders must also read, not use that time to get ready for the next activity (as I wrote about here). And when we had teenager leaders and out of town guests, they had to grab a book and read as well.

Children need to see that we learn by reading. If a teacher (or parent) doesn't have a love for reading, it will be nearly impossible to pass that on to the child.

Quantity over Quality

I was surprised that the author had a general promotion of comic books and other "mindless" literature. I would have imagined that he would heavily favor non-fiction books, and a select few series books.

But there are some advantages of encouraging the quantity (versus quality) of reading, especially for children in elementary school. First, we adults read for pleasure, so why shouldn't our children do the same? Comic books, children's magazines, and similar literature encourages a child to take pleasure in reading. Connecting pleasure and reading is especially important for young boys. Over 200 years ago, author Samuel Johnson penned,

"I am always for getting a boy forward in his learning. . . . I would let him at first read any English book which happens to engage his attention. . . . He'll get better books afterwards."

Second, comic books provide an advantage in that they require the child to decipher the sequence of events. This skill is important in reading comprehension, social studies, problem-solving, science, etc. (Note: Trelease does not encourage a steady diet of comic books, but for this genre to be used as a primer for deeper reading.)

We killed two birds (not literally) during our summer camp by buying two copies of The Action Bible. This Bible-storybook in graphic novel format is attractive to boys, and was read every day. Plus, while we couldn't teach the Bible in our camp, we could make these books available for children to read during our Book Club, so they could learn about the Bible.

Third, reading a variety of literature increases the breadth of knowledge and experience. As this knowledge bank gets larger, he or she will be able to make connections as he continues to read and learn.

More to Come

I'll discuss the next two points (screen time and focusing), on the Mission: Allendale blog tomorrow, since I've seen those issues as front and center in the community that we are living in.


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