Monday. We made progress today, but had a sharp reminder of how much still lies ahead.
We started with our usual blending drill. H. is working on words with consonant-clusters or digraphs in the suffix. He is struggling, the jump from ‘win’ to ‘wind’ has brought back his guessing reflexes. Sometimes the consonants are wrong, sometimes the vowels are wrong. Errors cause a reader to lose the sense of a text, and we are making too many of them.
He has lost ground since our last session on Saturday. We are working six days a week, and yesterday was a day off. Students always fall back over the two-day weekends at our clinic, we used to consider Mondays a write-off. Drills need to be practiced every day to gain automaticity.
I have H. practice reading just the vowel sounds from the four-letter words – /ah/, /eh/, etc. That starts to become reliable after a few dozen words. Then we try the full words again. There is definite progress. We turn to reading.
Here I am pleasantly surprised. H. says he has been reading at home, a ‘Wimpy Kids’ that he had previously read with a teacher and knew the story. He read with increased smoothness, confidence, and prosody. And endurance – he read five pages in a row from Goosebumps before letting me take over.
For today, I ask him to be extra careful with 1- and 2-letter words. He tries but he still frequently calls ‘a’ for ‘the’, ‘he’ for ‘i’, ‘me’ for ‘us’, and ‘to’ for ‘and’. I am strict about them today and we discuss why these words are so important for the correct meaning. And like everything else, what we pay attention to gets better.
After a break I try something different, I suggest he read “That’s Funny”, a short graphic novel, on his own. I’m thinking that the graphics will give him extra clues for comprehension, and make the text more enjoyable. We sit close, he contentedly reads his book and I read mine. He is finished in about 20 minutes.
But when I ask him what the graphic novel was about, he came up blank. Nothing. It’s a story about aliens who sent one of their robots to destroy our planet. This robot enrolls in school and become fascinated with humor, which doesn’t exist on the alien world. Some class-clown kids save the world by terrifying the aliens with their comedy. There are knock-knock jokes, puns, and even a joke about mimes. H. didn’t catch ANY of this. He could only tell me the names of the main characters.
We re-read the graphic novel together. He had no trouble with the words (a few were not in his vocabulary, like ‘irony’). With me as his sherpa, he could understood the story and he laughed at the dreadful jokes. He even knew what a mime was. Perhaps his difficulty was lack of experience with the graphic-novel format, how to move from frame to frame, how to integrate the visuals with the text.
But the real issue is that he doesn’t have a meta cognitive executive that says ‘Wait, I don’t understand what’s going on here.” He didn’t understand a word of what he was reading, and assumed that was normal.
Comprehension is just a skill, and we are going to teach it explicitly once word recognition gets easier. But H. is still at the bottom of a very tall stairway, lots of climbing ahead.