Next stop, Comprehension Station

reading-train-1When my eldest son (now in high school) began Prep, he could hardly read the alphabet. The learning-to-read process began in the standard way – ‘golden words’, readers selected from the boxes in the classroom, and lots and lots of practice. And then it all just ‘clicked’- suddenly he couldn’t get enough to read.

He was mad about footy and while some might think that the Herald-Sun’s weekly 92-page AFL lift-out is a little too ‘comprehensive’, my son devoured it – best-on-ground performances by Judd, hamstring issues for Fremantle, off-field antics at Collingwood and poor umpiring decisions in the thirds at Fitzroy Reds – it didn’t matter what it was about, he read it. As well as the footy pages, he was tearing through books at a crazy rate.

Now I love reading – it truly is my favourite thing to do – so I was thrilled that my son had the reading bug. However, as I watched his eyes racing across the pages, I realised that books aren’t like potato chips (i.e. to be consumed as quantity, not quality). You have to savour the words you’re reading… But before savouring them, you have to understand them. I began asking my son about what he’d read. And suddenly the reading train came to a grinding halt. Because reading and comprehension are two different things and each requires a particular set of skills – he could read lots of words but he didn’t necessarily understand them.

So I started asking two questions after my son had finished reading something – firstly, what was it about? Secondly, how did it make him feel? Are these the right sorts of questions to be asking? (I’m not sure – I probably should have asked a teacher to contribute to this post…). Anyway, they’re the things I want to know about books. Basically, if a book makes you feel as happy as a spring lamb, tell me. Because I want to feel as happy as a spring lamb too. Or the opposite – if a book makes you feel as sad as Essendon supporters did after the 1999 pre-lim, tell me (not because I want to feel that sad but so that I can at least imagine).

spring-lamb1999-prelimI was reminded of the importance of comprehension last week when I heard about Fearghas’s book review of Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl . Fearghas, who’s in Grade 4, had his review published in The Guardian and it is brilliant (and the staggering 11,950 shares of his piece haven’t gone unnoticed!). Fearghas tells you just enough about Anne Frank’s story to grab your interest, gives his interpretation of the main messages and then reflects on the parts her story that resonated with him. It’s thoughtful, informative and a really terrific review.

So, while almost 12,000 shares of your thoughts about a book on a major online publication is probably not achievable on a book-by-book basis, asking a few simple questions about your child’s reading is enough to make sure that their reading train is pulling into Comprehension Station.

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