Until now Haroun and I have been reading together – typically he reads the right-side pages and I read the left-side. This morning as we settled into the backyard, he announced that he wanted to read to himself. Yes!!!
I asked him to move his lips as he reads, to ‘hear’ the words in his head. It is a trick to force his auditory processing to engage as he reads. I asked him to use his finger to track his place, and to ask if he hit a word he didn’t recognize. I asked if I could set up the video, and share a few minutes of his awesomeness. Then I picked up my own book, and two happy readers settled into their respective books.
I knew this was coming. So after the horrible Hardy Boys Adventure, we have fallen back to Goosebumps which is easier to read silently. (We’ll go back to the ‘Undercover Brothers’ in a few days.)
Haroun still struggles with comprehension. One reason is that Haroun is still a slow and disfluent reader, it is harder to grasp a story that moves slowly. It takes Haroun between 4 and 5 minutes to read a page of Goosebumps. Another reason is that reading is effortful – if Haroun had 100 horsepower, then he might be using 80 of them just to decode the words, leaving only 20 for understanding them. Another reason is he still makes mistakes decoding difficult words, throwing a wrench into the story. Another is familiarity with the conventions of text. Haroun improves in these four key skills almost daily, but Goosebumps is the right level for now.
Other reasons include impoverished vocabulary and world knowledge. Both of those come from reading. But we see progress here too – the hero of this book was trapped with scorpions, and Haroun remembered scorpions from an early Hardy Boys book.
Today we are focused on another key comprehension skill – building a mental model or an internal ‘movie’ of the story. Two techniques to grow that skill are ‘retelling’ and asking questions that are not directly answered in the text. At the end of each page, I have Haroun ‘re-tell’ the events to me, and then I ask a question ((‘how does Robby feel about the events?’). These steps also help Haroun stay engaged in the story and continue to enjoy it.
In the video below (about 2 1/2 minutes), Haroun still needs to refer to the page for re-telling. He was unclear about the third section, so I re-read it for him – I’m certain he got all the words right, but the model didn’t get built until he heard it.
Goosebumps is still a grade-3 book, and the mental model is still simple. Skill at model-building becomes crucial when books start using imagery instead of declaration, around the grade-5 level.
I’m thrilled, and Haroun was glowing with pride. This is a huge milestone, a sweet prize for all our hard work. Haroun is on the cusp of becoming an independent reader. It took a long time, and we are still at the bottom of a very tall ladder. But there is no shortcut to daily intensive intervention, no magic pill. If your child struggles with reading, then it’s time to start working.