Saturday, January 24, 2015

Your child is more than a reading level

Congratulations!  You've just been told by your teacher (or maybe you've figured it out yourself) that your young child is reading far beyond their age and grade level.  Lucky you; you get to avoid the anxiety that so many parents experience over their children's reading abilities.

As a parent and a teacher, I have worked with both "early" and "late" readers--and I've found that it's often easier to find good fit reading material for the latter, rather than the former.  So what is a parent or teacher to do when you have a kindergartener or first grader who seems capable of reading at a middle grade level?

Notice I used "seems capable"...because what we observe and assess doesn't always give us the complete picture of our readers. I can name two instances in which I, myself, seemed to be a capable reader, when in fact, I was not.  The first was in third grade, when I spent half a school year in an Italian elementary school until lunchtime.  By the end of the first month, I was capable of following along in round-robin reading exercises, and could even read passages when it came to my turn.  I most often had no clue what I was reading...but everyone else in the room understood perfectly.  I demonstrated this again teaching a good-fit book lesson to second graders today, when I read a passage from a medical journal.  I'm sure I was spot-on (or very close) to correctly pronouncing the words, reading it aloud accurately and fluently...with no comprehension outside a word here or there.

The point is:  just because we can decode the words, and even provide the meanings of words out of context, does not mean we are comprehending and enjoying the text.

I don't know too many primary students reading at middle grade levels who can truly understand and appreciate Harry Potter by Rowling, or even Pilkey's Captain Underpants, for that matter.  They are not the target audience for those books.  Most kids in K-2 don't have the life experience and social savvy to "get" the plot twists, character interaction, and humor that middle grade books hold.

So if you are lucky to have a primary-aged child who is great at decoding and vocabulary, here's what I suggest:
  • Explore fairy and folk tales.  Start with the classics, then introduce the parodies.  Teachers do this in primary classrooms as part of the curriculum, but don't cover them all--there's just too many to explore! Take time to discuss the story elements and underlying lessons.  Dig deep into the stories.  Compare them with each other and their retellings/ parodies.
  • Re-read those stories that seem "below level." Often students will discover words, situations, and illustrations they may not have paid attention to at first, because they were struggling with decoding during that time. Now that the words and understanding come more easily, what else do they notice?  What can they connect with, now that they're older?
  •  Nurture their interests through nonfiction!  We have a large animal books section in our library, because students are interested in and do research projects on animals.  Books on outer space, building LEGO robots, taking care of pets, cookbooks, poetry, geography, biographies...a lot of these texts are written at higher levels, but are meaningful to younger students because the topics exist in their daily lives and self-initiated learning. 
Of course, parents know their children best.  You know what background knowledge your child brings to a book, how emotionally mature he or she is, how capable they are of distinguishing fiction from fact, behavior that we read from behavior we exhibit.  You know your child is more than just a reading level.

And as I tell my students every week in the library--not every book is for every reader, not every reader is for every book.  Let me know if I can help you find a good fit book for your child!  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Neglecting my creative side

Somehow, in the hustle and bustle of the fall semester, my more creative pursuits have fallen by the wayside.  I haven't picked up a crochet hook in over a year, haven't posted on this blog in months (though I have two drafts waiting to be finished and posted).  Even my usual holiday pursuit of baking a gazillion cookies fizzled for the first time in decades; I was lucky to roll out and bake the gingerbread dough that I managed to throw together at some point last month.

One thing that I have been doing pretty steadily is READING.  Reading for work and for personal pleasure.  Reading social media posts, blogs, online articles, holiday cards, and cookbooks. On Facebook, I posted a Christmas book-of-the-day every day from December first through the twenty-fifth, and have continued posting reading-related websites for the Twelve Days of Christmas (which ends tomorrow).  If anyone is reading this post and wants the lists of holiday books and reading websites, just comment below and I'll get them to you.

I've been reviewing how my 2014 played out, and laying plans for 2015.  The lack of creative pursuits stuck out like a sore thumb, so I'm going to work on blogging (and crocheting) more regularly.  I've also resolved to limit my spending to needs, which bodes well for the HUGE pile of to-be-read books that have taken over our coffee table, my nightstand, and in some areas, the floor.  More reading means more material for blog posts--a win-win!

Here are some of the recent books I've read:

Women Food and God:  An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth

Doll Bones  by Holly Black

The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn, as part of The Christmas Chronicles

 On my to-read pile:

Outliers:  The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (I keep restarting this book, need to finish it!)
Open a World of Possible:  Real Stories About the Joy and Power of Reading edited by Lois Bridges

And those are just the tip of the iceberg...I'm sure I'll be reading much more fiction this coming semester as well.  What is your most recent favorite book to recommend?  What's next on your to-read pile?

(Crochet photo courtesy of Liz Lawley.)