Reading, interrupted: How do we do a better job of cultivating young readers?


Let’s be straight: You will never turn a kid into a reader if he does not like to read.

You might get him to read –just to make the grade, avoid punishment or elude embarrassment. He might try to trick you out of reading by making excuses, whining or cheating. As soon as he gets the chance, he will escape. He will never read unless he absolutely has to.

Conversely, it would be just as difficult to convince a passionate reader to stop reading.

The key to become a passionate reader is to enjoy reading.

How do we achieve that? There’s no simple way, but mostly it has to do with how teachers approach reading:

  1. Reading should be easy – you need to understand what the book is whispering. Many children –and adults- can decode the written symbols and translate them into language, but a great deal can’t make sense of complex texts. Reading becomes boring and frustrating.  It’s time to rethink when and how we teach our children to read. Judging by the results, it’s evident that we are teaching to little, to badly and too late.
  2. Reading is not an exercise – children should not do it like a workout or a diet. We read for two reasons only: to attain knowledge or to derive pleasure. Children should read, from the very beginning, for the exact same reasons, and preferably both.
  3. Reading is not a school subject. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011) – and others (Doman, 1971, Norton & Doman, 1982) it is a brain function. Given stimuli and opportunity, all children could be readers. Special needs children will require increased intensity, duration and frequency of stimulation, but they can also learn to read.  If reading is not a school subject, we should question why we teach it at age six, when school begins, and how we teach it: tearing comprehension away by crumbling written language into tiny, meaningless pieces, and then encasing them into teachable units. We would never do that with oral language. And reading is language.
  4. Reading is a choice –not an obligation. That goes not only for the act of reading itself, but for what children actually read. Forget about graded reading lists, but don’t abandon the kid: bookstores and libraries are overwhelming forests for the unexperienced reader. They need guidance to sort their way. Teachers and parents should become personal book curators for each child, for not two of them (books and kids) are alike.
  5. Reading is not the antithesis of play. When we have suggested that tiny children should learn to read, voices have raised to condemn early reading in favor of playtime. But reading is not a chore that robs the child of joyful freedom. Reading is not a punishment. To read or to play? No need to choose, as one does not exclude the other.

For the passionate reader, reading is the greatest game ever invented.

Watch my Teacher Masterclass on Early Reading and Early Childhood Education at the Global Education & Skills Forum, Dubai, March 2016:

References:

Doman, G. (1971) How Brain Injured Children Learn to Read. In “Conference on Child Language” preprints of papers presented at the Conference, Chicago, Illinois, November 22-24, 1971, p. 433-460. Recuperado de http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED060752.pdf

Norton, R., & Doman, G.. (1982). The Gifted Child Fallacy. The Elementary School Journal, 82(3), 249–255. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1001575

Silver, L, y Silver, D. (2011) Guide to Learning Disabilities for Primary Care.   American Academy of Pediatrics. Recuperado de http://ebooks.aappublications.org/content/guide-to-learning-disabilities-for-primary-care

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