Friday, January 13, 2012

The Meat: Remediating a 'Good' Reader

Words from the
fourth grade
dolch word list

In my last post I promised to tell you how we remediated our son's reading, but first I think an explanation of 'remediating' is in order.  In this case, it means teaching him skills I felt he already should have known.  These skills were taught as though it was the first time through- expectations for progress were put completely on hold until he completed the program. 

Unlike our daughter, our son was a public schooled student from K through part of 3rd grade, so he had plenty of time to learn their methods.  With the exception of really horrible handwriting, he was an A student through the school system.  It came as quite a shock when he came home and I realized how many pieces were missing from his education.  Both he and I were incredibly frustrated by what seems like a waste of his time in the public school system.  Your experience may be different.

With regard to reading, the issues were varied and seemed unconnected at first: he could read above grade level, but he hated it with a passion and would cry when asked.  His comprehension with fiction was incredibly poor (an example: after reading a sentence like this, "The girl in the red bathing suit went to the pool.", he would get caught up in the color of the bathing suit and forget the rest of the sentence.), although it seemed decent with non-fiction.  He would replace words while reading (saying "hopping" instead of "hoping") and changing the entire context of what he was reading.  He hated recounting stories of any sort because he couldn't remember what he had read, even if he had just read it, and even if the reading assignment was short.

I did a websearch for this, and the information I found was little, scattered, and sometimes hard to add together.  Eventually I came to the following conclusion (and I refuse to quantify this with research, because I have none and won't pretend it's definitely true): our son could not hold two pictures in his head simultaneously.  In other words, he couldn't see the picture of the word AND run the 'movie' of the action at the same time.  I had a conversation with my son, and discovered he wasn't running the movie at all.  I did find information that sight readers can have poor comprehension, that they often replace words while reading, and that they often hate reading.  To me, we were dealing with a phonics issue, so we tackled it as such.

For the first few months our son was home, we kept a very light load.  I did not require any reading beyond non-fic worksheets and information I provided.  I attempted to keep him reading books, but he clearly wasn't following, and wasn't engaged in the story at all.  I purchased a number of books I thought he might be interested in (he wasn't), and he got a magazine subscription (which he doesn't read).

Over the summer, he didn't read books (although he did read instructions, etc, on his own).  I forbid him to read when the new school year started- so for all of September and much of October, he did NO reading for me at all.  All assignments were verbal or I read them to him before allowing him to start. We often did oral work rather than written.  Meanwhile, I put him through Blend Phonics.  We played with words on the chalkboard, I would write one letter at a time.  He WAS allowed to guess here- because he thought it was fun, and because it meant he REALLY paid attention to the word once it was all written.  I showed him how even very big, unfamiliar words are easy to read once you know the phonics rules.  And he also learned the link between sounds and spelling- something he had known casually from my direction while in public school, but something he hadn't used on his own.  He read the Blend Phonics readers (these weren't very interesting for my kids, but they were helpful) as the only reading I would allow him to do. 

When the Blend Phonics program was over, we began with Aesop's fables.  I would read the fable one sentence at a time and have him repeat it back to me.  Then I read one fable at a time and asked him to summarize. 
Geronimo Stilton
was the break-out series
for our son
 Then, I had him read me a paragraph from a book.  While he was reading, I wrote down the pertinent details on the chalkboard.  When he was finished reading, he would recount details to me and we would compare the notes on the board to see how he was doing.  The change was remarkable- he understood what he was reading, was able to get the main idea without bogging on the details, and generally just seemed to find reading MUCH easier.

Once I was satisfied with that, we progressed to timed reading.  He was allowed his choice of reading material, and I began the Pizza Hut Book It! program.  For us, it works much better to assign an amount of time for reading rather than a number of pages- he reads far more this way than he would otherwise, and he seems to get much more involved in the story.  Your children may be different.
 We finally hit on a series he likes: Geronimo Stilton.  It is below grade level, but all I care about is that for the first time, he really loved reading.  There is a huge collection of those books, as well, so we won't run out of titles before he gets bored with them.  I also think a big part of reading for pleasure is reading something that is a bit below reading level (I CAN read college textbooks just fine, but I would never do it for fun). 

We are still working on reading as part of daily life- instead of just something you do because Mom or Teacher told you to, but for now he reads without the tears, the anger, the agitation that he had before.  I am under strict orders never to ask what he has read or anything like a comprehension question, but he chooses to give me a run-down of what happened, anyway.  And that shows, better than specific questions, exactly how differently he is reading now from a year ago.

For you, I'm going to provide the following suggestions if you also find yourself remediating or trying to  encourage a reluctant reader.  None of these seemed to work for us, but you may find them valuable:
Varied Genres
Being read to
Non-fiction books only
 Unschooling reading- give kids a chance to develop interest on their own

We didn't try but I contemplated:
Graphic Fiction

Lately my son is allowing me to read books TO him.  This is an entirely new thing for him- I'm not sure why he disliked it so much before, but he is really getting into the different voices I use.  I think it tickles his sense of the ridiculous!  Regardless, most recently he is choosing to read a book that I started, and confessed that the voices he heard in his 'movie' were the ones I had used.  I DO think he has listened to me read before (my daughter LOVES to be read to), but for the first time he is intentionally listening to me read.

Blend phonics reader
I don't necessarily think our journey is over- and I'm not sure if I will succeed in turning him into the bookworm my daughter promises she will be.  But for now, he's reading with great comprehension, little word guessing, and seems to enjoy it.  Lately, he has begun to say, "I'll just finish my chapter," even though technically his time is up.  And that's music to a mom's ears.

Happy Reading!

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