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Reluctant Readers: Not Unintelligent, Just Not Ready

What is one of the first things homeschooling moms want to teach their children? How to read! Yes! So, Mom is ready, but is Joe? A lot has to happen for a child to be ready to read, and intelligence itself is a minor factor. It’s more about development. Development and intelligence are not the same thing.

We approached teaching my grandson Connor to read with a lot of trepidation. It felt as if this was the first real test as to whether or not he was “smart.” We all want smart kids, right? I mean, we were going to keep loving him, regardless, but how much easier homeschooling would be if he didn’t have learning challenges. How validating it is for us, if our children are “smart.”

Rubbish. It’s rubbish because how quickly and how well a child learns to read is not a direct reflection of his intelligence. Genetics plays a role, but not more than environment and the child’s natural inclinations. And so what anyway? We all have different gifts bestowed on us by our Heavenly Father and super intelligence is not the end-all. Intelligent children (or adults) are not better than less intelligent people. They aren’t happier. They aren’t kinder or braver or more faithful. Sometimes the adult, for all the wrong reasons, puts so much pressure on the child learning to read, that he is set up for failure.

A5726787-A462-4FED-BB34-E1E8E2B899AEHow do I help him get ready?

Relax. Learning to read is going to be one of the most important things your child accomplishes, but he has years to master it. Don’t begin before he is ready. To help him be ready, read aloud to him often. Let him see you reading and enjoying it. Talk, talk, talk about what you are reading. Provide mazes and dot-to-dots to train his eyes to track. Have lots of different types of books throughout the house and don’t be a book gorilla. We want our child to take care of all things, but if accidentally tearing a page sends you into a conniption fit, your child will respond by not wanting to touch the books.

Part of what must happen before he is ready to read is eye development. Those little letters swim around on the page, so expose him to words in large print. He’s not going to be ready until his eyes are. Researchers tell us that eyesight is not fully developed in some children until they are around nine years old, rarely before seven. The ability for both eyes to converge on a single subject is a prerequisite to reading–and no amount of bribing, nagging or discipline will change that. Your child’s reluctance to read can simply be a matter of vision development, but we make it worse when we push for the child to do what he is not ready to do.

Children Learn at Their Own Pace.

One of the blessings of homeschooling is letting our children learn at a pace that works for them. When we wait for the child to develop physically and emotionally, we have fewer problems. It is a myth that children who learn to read “late” do poorly in school. What feeds that myth is the poor attitude children develop when pushed beyond their ability. They begin too early, fail, feel frustrated, sense their parents’ frustration and decide they don’t like to read before they have a chance to learn.

All of this is good news. None of the suggestions for getting your child ready to read are difficult or cumbersome. Remove the pressure and enjoy the journey.

But there’s more coming in the next blog:  Books for Reluctant Readers.

What if the Reluctant Reader is Mom?

You’ve heard it so many times, it has become easy to block out. All the experts say, “Read to your children.”

You nod your head in agreement and hold inside your objections. My toddlers are wriggly and don’t want to sit still while I read. I don’t want to sit still while I read. I can’t do the voices. I don’t have the time. I’ve tried, but she turns the page before I’m done. The only book he wants to listen to is “The Little Blue Truck,” and I can’t face it again. I’m not a reader, and my life isn’t so bad.

Then when your child is older, you sit through the painful experience of him sounding out every word. A five-minute reading takes twenty. You fidget, look away from the page, offer encouragement, suggest Daddy listen this time. You end up “helping” by saying the word for her because you just want it to be over.

Finally, he is in third grade and can read simple books on his own. Hurray! Your job is done. Except it isn’t because he doesn’t like to read. He’d much rather watch television or play a video game. But you know he’s supposed to read, so you push him to do it, feeling a twinge of guilt. Maybe if I were a reader, he’d be one, too.

Argh!

May I offer a tip?

Listen to audio books. Not in place of reading, but to inspire the love of story. Reluctant readers usually have not connected the words on the page with the actual story. Everyone loves story! Begin by listening to part of a great story, while you follow along in the book. Run your finger along with words in the book to show the connection with the audio and the book. Or listen to the book while you’re driving, but read the next chapter from the book at home.

Give the wiggly child something to do with his hands. Paper and crayons. Clay. Legos. Read, but stop regularly, perhaps every paragraph, and say something about the story. Ask the child something. Ask the child to draw or mold or build something related to the story. Ask the child to predict what might happen next.

May I offer another tip?

He’s at the sounding-out stage and you’re ready to jump out of your skin. You’ve read silently all ten lines and he’s only on the third word. You’d rather go clean the toilets, but Daddy beat you to it. Read every other line out loud for him. Follow along with your finger and say the words slowly so he can follow you. But you read them. Feel your blood pressure lower? When it’s his turn, you have to go back to listening to him sound out each letter, but you have hope! Your turn is coming!

Gracious Father, we come before you humbly, acknowledging You are our refuge, our deliverer. We depend on your mercy and grace as we ask for wisdom. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who works within us developing patience and joy. We come to you because of Jesus. Amen.

 

 

 

To Read Or Not To Read–Never the Question

 

Are you back to school now that the holidays are over? Do you feel revived and recommitted to your homeschooling journey? Perhaps you added “read more” to your New Year’s resolutions.

Reading. I know you’ve heard the importance of reading stressed over and again, but that’s because it is so very important. I mean Really Important. In the next few weeks we’re going to delve into reading more deeply. Come along with us as we share practical suggestions on how to get more out of your child’s reading time, how to encourage your reluctant reader, and ways to improve comprehension.

We can begin now:

Tip 1: Let your children see you reading–and enjoying it. Don’t enjoy fiction? Don’t have time for books? Find a magazine that caters to your hobbies or special interests. We do our young children a disservice if the only reading they see us do is on a screen. I have an iPad in which there are–dare I say it?–hundreds of books stored. But the screen is not good for developing eye sight of those younger than twelve years old. Our young children need the tactile feel of paper in their hands. When they see you reading a magazine or book, they receive the message that reading is a pleasurable activity. If nothing else pleases you, if there are no magazines, no newspapers, no nonfiction or fiction books you can force yourself to read, then I guess, there is always the Word of God.

Gracious Father, we bow before your throne, giving you honor and glory for who you are. Please see us through the blood of Jesus, our savior, forgive our sins and hear our prayer. Equip us to homeschool our children. Please grant us wisdom, patience and perseverance. Lead us. We come to you because of Jesus. Amen.

Tips for Working with Reluctant Writers

 Tip Four:  Read.

How simple is this concept?  Writing and reading go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Skilled writers are readers.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  An artist learns to draw by first looking at pictures.  An aspiring musician listens to music.  Writers read. 

How can you maximize reading to improve a child’s writing?

Become a reader yourself.  Let your children see you reading-and enjoying it.  This may be the number one thing you can do to inspire a love of reading.

Read aloud regularly.  Make it a part of your family’s lifestyle.  Let the experience evoke “warm fuzzies.”  Cuddle together on the couch.  Make popcorn.  Do whatever it takes to make reading aloud delightful for your family. 

How can you make the most from reading aloud?

  • Stop often and discuss what is going on.  Let the child narrate back the action of the story.  Stop after each major scene to talk about what is happening. Make note of a well-written description or action scene.  Listen and respond to your child’s questions or comments.
  • Don’t make sitting still mandatory.  Let children mold clay as you read.  Or draw pictures.  Or play with Legos.  Or rub your tired feet.  Or wash the dishes.  Or fold clothes.
  • Read with expression.  DO NOT mumble or run words together.
  • Choose books from high quality literature.  You can’t influence a child’s writing for the good if the story being read was poorly written. 
  • If you take turns reading, don’t break at the end of the paragraph or page.  Provide a book for each family member, then stop in the middle of a paragraph-or even better in the middle of a sentence.  This forces everyone to read along, to pay close attention because no one knows when his turn may come.

 Go ahead.  Sit down and enjoy a good book without a trace of guilt.  You’re doing it for the sake of your children!

Tip Three: Validate the Process

Tip Three:      Validate the Process.

We teach that writing is a process, then ask students to follow a five-step procedure.  They’d rather not complete those five steps.  They’d much prefer do it in one step and if all we, as teachers, are interested in is the final product, we’ve provided scarce motivation to follow the five steps (discuss and gather information, write, revise, proofread, publish).

Validate the process by having students turn in ALL the drafts of their assignment, with the “published” copy on top.  It’s a something like the math teacher who insists students “show their work,” rather than just give the answer.

Requiring each draft to be turned in does several things:  first it keeps the student on track.  If he is accountable for only the final draft, he may procrastinate writing until just before the final draft is due.  If he must “show his work” along the way, then he is more likely to follow all the important steps.

Second, it demonstrates the importance of each step.  A child needs to know that his work matters.  If something he does isn’t even looked at, then he is tempted to expend minimal effort.  Turning in the “back steps” says those steps are worth the effort.

Third, it helps the student see how his work has developed which will provide a foundation for more successful writing assignments.  He will gain confidence that the steps work.

How should the work be turned in?  There is more than one option:

  • You may prefer to see the work as it progresses and set a rigid time frame for each step. 
  • You may choose to let the student compile his work when finished with the “published” copy on top.  Underneath that should come the proofread copy, then the revised copy, the first draft, followed lastly by his notes. 
  • You may favor using a folder or binder where all work is kept and is available for you to check at any time. 
  • If a student uses a computer for his writing, then all drafts can be kept in a file.  The student would use the “save as” feature as he works through the steps.

When students understand the value of what they are doing, they are more likely to invest time, effort, and thought.  Encouraging the development of excellent writers includes not only teaching the writing steps, but understanding motivational issues as well.

 Tip Four coming soon.

Tip Two (For Reluctant Writers)

 

 

Tip Two:  Discuss first.

I remember sitting with a blank piece of paper in front of me, pen in hand, and feeling paralyzed.  There were ideas spinning in my head, but none worthy of a first sentence.  The ideas swam around, without coming close enough that I could reel them in.

This is when a discussion helps.  Hashing over a topic helps complete ideas.  One can verbally stumble-bumble through half-formed thoughts, but through dialogue see them develop into recognizable opinions or concepts.  The conversation should be give-and-take, with free exchange of thoughts and little or no censorship, as in a brainstorming session.

Start by asking who, what, where, when, why and how questions to direct what type information should be researched.  Even when an essay is opinion based, there must be facts behind the beliefs.

Discussing a topic before writing gives reluctant writers a sense that they aren’t all on their own.  It gives gifted writers a jump-start on the direction they may wish to take.  It reduces some of the re-writing.

For the youngest writers, I jot down phrases to remind them of what was discussed.  For a little older student, I’ll suggest he record any key ideas that spark his interest.  For a high school level student, I’ll focus more on an engaging, thought-provoking discussion and let him decide what, if any, notes he wants to take.

The discussion step may require more than one session.  At the onset, the student may not have enough information to participate in a helpful dialogue.  Set him in the right direction by helping him come up with questions to research.

Listen and ask for clarification rather than monopolize the conversation.  Don’t use this step to preach at your child or try to coerce him to agree with you.  The essay is his to write.  Motivate him by being interested in his thoughts.  Challenge him to explain his ideas with an example or illustration.  If his ideas are immature or illogical, don’t rush to point out what is wrong.  These are his ideas, after all, and you are there to help him put them on paper, not dictate what he should think.

Some students will be more interested in your ideas than their own.  Some may be afraid of being “wrong.”  Thinking takes a lot of energy and not every student cares enough about writing to expend much effort.  In the beginning, that’s okay.  Because you are not recording the discussion word for word, he must still write the ideas his own way.  As he matures, he will care more about his own thoughts.

After a great discussion, don’t let your student weasel out of writing the paper.  He may approach you with the idea that since you now know what he thinks, there’s no reason to write the essay, but while understanding his thoughts is a key point, it is not the only point.  Learning to put his idea on paper is as important as the idea itself.

Tip Three is coming soon!

Book Reviews

I am thrilled to begin a new feature on our TLP website offering book reviews not just for children, but for adults, too.  My first review is for The Flower of Grass by James E. Robinson, an introspective work that will appeal to romantics and realists alike for its honest approach, realistic characters, and intriguing plot.

The Flower of Grass by James E. Robinson

After years of waiting, Jessie gave up on her first love, and married a wonderful man who adores her and is worthy of her respect and admiration.  She doesn’t want to hurt him, but is drawn against her will to see John site Allen who has returned after a 16 year absence.  Jessie cries to God for help, but He seems so distant.  After her mother’s death, Jessie flounders, fighting against the loneliness and confusion that have gripped her heart.  Meanwhile it looks as if John is staying in their small town, and avoiding him forever will not be possible.  John has his own demons to fight:  memories of a cruel father, his inability to help his alcoholic brother, and his own guilt over a selfish lifestyle that has hurt too many people.

The Flower of Grass by James E. Robinson is a powerful love story free from the fluff of contrived situations.  The complex characters are portrayed with honesty–no overblown heroine nor degenerate villain.  Rather, the internal conflicts within the heart and soul of flawed characters will resonate with anyone who has suffered from broken promises and dashed dreams.

Tips for Working with Reluctant Writers

Tips for Working with Reluctant Writers

 Tip One:        Provide A Visual Reward

Picture the struggling writer:  He sits at the table, a blank sheet of paper in front of him.  He swings his feet back and forth, taps the pencil on the table, rubs his head and sighs.  Because he is a compliant child, he sincerely tries to do his assignment.  Because he is an energetic child, he wants to get it done so he can do something involving action.

 Thirty minutes later, he is finished.  He has labored the entire time, but those five sentences take up about one fourth of the paper.  Three-fourths of the page is blank, and his sentences appear insignificant against all that emptiness.  A few lines at the top of the page don’t “look” like much; they certainly don’t reflect the effort put forth to get them there.

Discouragement can be reduced by two simple tactics.  First, have him write on a half-piece of paper.  I’m not kidding.  Cut the paper in half.  Use the bottom half for the next assignment if you’re nervous about waste.  As an alternative, use composition books.  The pages are all ready smaller.  A smaller page has less “blankness” to fill.

Second:  double-space.  The title of his assignment should go on the top line.  Next, skip a line, then he should put “by (his name).”  Skip four more lines before beginning the body of his paragraph.  Then the paragraph should have a blank line between each line of writing.

These two strategies, using smaller paper and skipping lines, will provide a visually rewarding product.  Instead of a few lines at the top of a full sheet of paper, the writing is spread out, giving an appearance of more volume.

Tell your writer that you want him to double-space to give room for your comments.  If you give him a half-sheet of paper instead of using a composition book, tell him you are saving paper.  Both are true statements and will not detract from the encouragement this tip can promote.

He will still swing his legs back and forth, tap the table with his pencil and sigh.  But at least when he has done his best, the paper won’t swallow up his effort.  Visually, the words on the page will be more rewarding.

Tip Two coming soon!

Evaluating Writing

Evaluating Writing

As the parent or teacher, you already know to check your students’ writing for quality of content and mechanics.  What else do you look for? 

  • Is the writing concrete? Look for specific words (“farmer” rather than “man”; “raced” rather than “ran”).
  • Is it clear? Are there ambiguities or inconsistencies in thought or expression?
  • Is it concise? Check for unnecessary words (shorten “in the event that” to “if”).
  • Is it gracious? Christian writing should avoid rude or slang terms.
  • Does the writing contain good sentence structure and proper paragraph construction? Look for run-on sentences, subject/predicate agreement; paragraphs with more than one main idea.
  • Do descriptions involve all five senses?
  • Do homepage original stories have a resolution of the conflict in which the main character plays a significant part? Is dialogue age-appropriate?
  • Do essays flow well and express well-thought-out ideas? Are opinions well-stated and backed up with facts and illustrations? It isn’t enough to state an opinion; it must be fleshed-out with solid reasoning and enough information for the reader to fully understand.

Writer’s Planning Form

I added a new, down-loadable “freebie” to help students with their writing projects.  The “Planning Form” can be accessed under the “Free Stuff” button.

Many students like the structure the form provides.  It helps them organize their thoughts and gives direction for the writing process.  The first thing the form requests is a working title.  A working title can help a student focus on what his essay is about and avoid running off in tangents.  One difficulty writers face is choosing a sufficiently narrow subject for their topic; stating a working title helps overcome that.  The Planning Form also helps with self-editing by providing a check list of things to watch for.

Some students find the Planning Form useful, but not all.  A talented writer may not need this tool, but if you are teaching a reluctant student who has trouble getting started and produces sub-par work, the form can help improve his organizational skills and provide a framework for self-editing.

Even more success is achieved when both student and teacher follow the Planning Form.  It puts them on the same page, so to speak.  The student knows specifically what the teacher is looking for, and the teacher has a basis for grading the student’s work.

 I’ve been employing this tool in writing classes for years.  Occasionally students balk at using it, but until their skills improve I usually insist.  Let me know how it works for you.