When I see a child trying to read a book that is beyond reach, Dylan comes to mind. I first met Dylan when he was a second grader. He was a very smart boy and a strong reader–as long as he didn’t have to read the actual words himself.
Of course, reading the actual words is the most obvious part of reading. It’s the way children are judged as reader–by teachers and by themselves! And the sad truth is that the smarter a child is, the harsher that self-judgement can be. This was the case for Dylan, who was acutely aware of his fellow second graders’ reading progress relative to his own. He used one heart-wrenching word to describe himself: “stupid.”
Dylan had a comprehensive literacy evaluation, and it revealed that he was a classic dyslexic. Over time, he did respond to Orton-Gillingham-based instruction to help him “crack the code.” This was a crucial element in bringing about real growth as a reader for Dylan. But perhaps what had the greatest impact initially was looking at pictures of brains. Not ordinary pictures, of course, but fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) pictures of brains during the act of reading. The pictures showed two types of brains: typical readers and dyslexic readers. The differences were obvious–and illuminating. Again because he was so smart, Dylan was able to appreciate that his brain was different in how it processed print. Not stupid, just different. And as he began to make progress in remediation, he started to believe this more and more. Whew.
Of course, he still couldn’t “read” books that were at his level of thinking because his “print skills” had not yet caught up with his “comprehension skills.”
What was the single most important thing Dylan’s parents could do at home? Give him access to books at his level of comprehension. How to do that? By stepping back to an earlier time. By getting back to reading aloud to him.
Dylan’s mom was worried about this. “But if I keep reading to him, how will he develop as a reader? Doesn’t he need practice sounding out the words?”
I understood her question. But I was looking at it from a different perspective. To me, it was more a question of “If you DON’T keep reading to Dylan, how will he develop as a reader?”
Because really, what is the end goal of all reading instruction and experiences? Is it having skill in sounding out words? No, that is just a means to an end.The end goal is to build a reader, a kid who will pick up a book because it brings enjoyment to him. And if we give a child positive experiences and the knowledge base needed for comprehension, we are working toward that goal. That is how we really build a life-long love of reading.
In other words, on a child’s journey as a life-long reader, “print skills” are the entrance ramp, but “comprehension” is the freeway itself. Reading aloud to your child puts him on the freeway, even if his “print skills” have left him stalled on the entrance lamp. (And in Dylan’s case, his O-G tutor would provide specific materials for Dylan to provide practice his “print skill” development. This would allow him to edge forward on the entrance ramp.)
So the next question (hopefully!) is…
How do you choose books to read aloud?
- Let your child’s interests lead the way. If your child shows an interest, try it!
- Try some of the “tried and true” read alouds. One EXCELLENT source is The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It’s now in it’s seventh edition(!), and I have yet to meet a child who was not enraptured by at least one of these stories!
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