Reading is the most important element of a child’s education because it is a precursor to every other subject. Fall short in this one, and one will struggle with other subjects. Yet if a child is not comprehending, he finds himself in much the same predicament. It is no wonder that parents/ educators are in search of answers to this question.
Working with children over the years I have discovered some very useful information:
First of all it is important that a child master some degree of reading before teaching comprehension. Teaching division before addition and subtraction is out of step. Teaching comprehension before teaching some degree of reading is the same. So I teach children to read one or more early reader books (preferably more) before teaching them to understand what they are reading.
For example; I had my first group reading very efficiently only to discover they had no idea what they had just read. So I had them read a few sentences, and then act out the scene described in the book. Permit me to tell you the story.
The group was taking turns reading aloud, “Sam ran. Dan ran.” I replied, “OK, who is going to be Sam, and who is going to be Dan?” It is important to allow them to take the leadership role. Too often adults want to do the work (or give the answer) which subtracts from the learning experience. Two young volunteers excitedly stepped forward…”I’ll be Dan.” I’ll be Sam.”
However when I asked them to act out what they had just read, they looked at me and their pears with a bewildered look. They had no idea what to do. Wanting to create self-confidence, I simply had them read the two sentences again, and encouraged the whole group (not me) to take charge of the needed action to complete the task.
It was more fun to watch them in action. One child stood up, put his hands on the shoulders of one of the actors, gave him a gentle push, and told him to run. We continued in this manner through the whole book.
Young children love this activity because it is geared to their natural tendencies. Have you ever noticed how many hours they spend role playing? This is a natural way for them to learn. So use that natural tendency to teach. We continued to do this activity with several more books. They were eager to participate, and became more and more skilled at it.
Eventually I simply began asking each child to tell me what he had just read. At first they wanted to rely on the role playing, which I gradually weaned them off of. Soon they realized they would be asked the question, and made sure they were prepared to answer successfully. Children naturally want to learn, and succeed as long as we do not squash that natural desire.
Unknowingly, and with good intentions many educators/ parents squash children’s natural desire to learn in the following ways:
1. A very common mistake in the attempt to build self esteem is to make sure the child does not struggle with adversity. We often want our children to have it easier than we did. However studies show that when a child meets adversity, and is able to overcome he/ she develops an amazing degree of inner strength and confidence.
The movie “Rudy”, which is a true story, explains this phenomenon very well. Rudy Ruettiger was a young man who met many obstacles because of his small stature. However those struggles helped him to developed a strength and confidence that made him try and try when others might have given up. Many of his high school classmates who had things much easier often gave up far easier than Rudy. Thus many of them, as adults, did not accomplish as much.
2. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we do not want to continually set children up for failure by expecting them to read adult books before learning to read at their own level. Likewise it is best to have them comfortable with phonics, and some degree of reading before teaching comprehension. Take things in logical steps.
3. This one is most common. Many times we ask a question only to get dead silence. It is so tempting to fill in that time by giving the answer, but far wiser to wait in complete silence. When we do someone usually fills in the silence by giving the answer, or asks a question about what we meant. This teaches them the power to find answers.
4. When a child asks us a question it is all to easy to give them the answer. However if we ask them a seriez of questions that help them discover the answer on his own they learn a great deal more. In ancient times Plato proved an important point along these lines. He was explaining to his colleagues that knowledge comes from within. “Oh no, no, no”, replied his colleagues. They added that a person is not born with knowledge, and it must be given to them.
To prove his point Plato had a 5 year old child brought to the meeting. When the child arrived Plato began asking him questions, but giving no information. At the end of the demonstration of progressive questioning the little boy solved a very complicated algebra problem proving Plato’s statement that knowledge comes from within.
In conclusion, it is our job to show children that the power to learn is within themselves. It is not something we must cram into them. This approach makes one far more successful at teaching.