Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Teaching reading - the lost stages

The goal of this post is to encourage parents and teachers to help children learn the stages of reading that often get ignored.

Almost all children go through three stages in learning to read:

1) Recognizing letters - When a young child is first shown printed text what he sees appears to be random lines and curves. With training and practice, over time, the child comes to recognizes letters.

2) Building words - At the next stage of reading the child starts putting letters together to make words. In looking at the word "dog" he is able to see both the individual letters and put them together to make a word. Climbing from the plateau of recognizing letters to building words out of letters is hard work. It takes effort and practice.

3) Getting meaning - Now the child is ready for being entertained or informed as he struggles with books. He can take the individual words "dog" and "run" and read them together to get part of a story.

Some where during the three stage children often catch fire and start reading on their own. They start enjoying reading. Books become doorways into new worlds.

Unfortunately many children are not lead pass these stages.

For example children are rarely taught in any formal or systematic way how to skim a book. They are not taught how to quickly review a book. They miss out knowing how to get the basic ideas from a book and then being able to decide if they want to spend more time with the book. There are a whole set of techniques here, from looking at the table of contents, to reading the book's conclusion, to reviewing the index. Many children stumble around and figure out some of these techniques, but as readers they can end up wasting time. Because they are not taught in a formal way, they may miss some very useful techniques.

Another important way to get the most out of a book is to mark the book up. This includes underlying key points, writing on a page the page numbers where an idea is developed farther, building your own table of contents of the book, turning down the corner of the page, and so on. By using these techniques a reader can process a book at a much deeper level. From Kindergarten to 12th grade children are taught not to mark up the school’s books. Most children in public schools never develop a habit of reading a book with a pencil in hand.

A good book for improving reading ability is How to Read a Book by Mortimer Jerome Adler & Charles Van Doren. I've recently started my oldest daughter with her own copy of this book. I gave her the book and a pencil and had her mark up the preface. Over the next month I’ll have her read the whole book and we’ll talk about the various ideas. She will practice skimming books, and marking books up.

After teaching children the basics of reading, don’t stop. Continue working with them to help them improve their ability to get the most out of their reading. By learning how to be more effective readers children will have skills that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.


Joanne said...

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Mama Squirrel said...

Wow, you're having her do the whole book in a month? That's quite a lot to take on (I'm working through the book with my 13yodd). Our curriculum extends the reading over several years (one section per year).

Henry Cate said...

To Mama Squirrel,

You are right, the whole book in a month is a bit much. Especially if we try to use each skill the book teaches. We'll see how it goes. One of the nice things about homeschooling is the flexibility.

I definitely will work through the first section, with emphasis on work. My daughter and I have read some of it together. I’ve marked up some paragraphs to give her some ideas. And I’ve had her mark up sections.

My daughter does read pretty fast, she read the last Harry Potter in six hours. So after we work on the first section, I’ll have her at least skim the rest of the book. We'll then put it aside and come back to it six months or a year later to do the next section.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...I have been working on building my reading program recently...one of the things I fear completely lacking in the teaching of reading is the teaching of text structure. Good readers read different texts different ways. Yet we continually teach our children to read all texts the same. This is part of my writer's workshop, but, as I note there, reading closely parallels writing.