The other day, I had a bright second grade boy tell me that school is boring. I asked why he felt bored at school. He went on to say, “All we do is read. We have to read at impact time, we read at guided reading time, and we read at …”
I was so shocked by his words – I can’t even remember the third item he listed. He used those exact words: impact time (a time when teachers work with “low” students) and guided reading (a time when the teacher works with small groups). So the other students are involved in free choice reading. Before I begin, I am a teacher who believes in free choice reading. Do I believe in volume reading?
Free choice reading – so what’s wrong with that? The school is encouraging reading by free choice; kids select the books they want to read - good. Nothing wrong with that. But what if this is their only choice? Kids are involved in free choice reading at various times during the day with no other choices available. The goal is to increase the amount of words or books read.
So what’s the problem with reading lots of books and a focus on volume? We know that the more students read – the better they get and the more they learn. What’s the big deal?
Comprehension is the big deal. Kids may be reading lots of words and books, but are they understanding what they are reading? When I worked with students who needed help with reading achievement or who were English Language Learners, I made sure to do two things: build background knowledge & vocabulary. Children need experiences, activities, and direct instruction about events and topics to increase a relationship with stories and books that build understanding. Vocabulary is crucial in reading. If children do not understand the words in a story, they lose meaning. So in order to increase achievement in reading – it is not volume that is the most important; it is building background knowledge and vocabulary and building a relationship between subject matter and books or building a love of reading which only comes with understanding or relating to the characters in a book.
How do we develop comprehension skills? One way is to provide children with experiences and activities. I can do this through centers, discussions, speakers, trips, or direct instruction. We might hear about a volcano that happened in Hawaii. We may watch a video of a volcano from National Geographic. We will learn vocabulary surrounding volcanoes like lava, ash… We might make our own volcano during science instruction. We will read and write about volcanoes. Some students in learning about volcanoes will decide they want to read more about volcanoes or might select a fiction book about volcanoes.
During center time, I might have an activity. Along with the activity there is reading involved. A question to be answered may be included so I may determine understanding. Kids may work together in case some need help.
During discussion, a child may have a question. Instead of answering the question, I may suggest the child find the answer. I might provide books based on the question asked. I will check in with the student, ask questions – ask them to provide journal entries showing what they have learned. Read Alouds with discussion and close reading are other ways to help children build reading comprehension skills.
Our goal is to set up an environment and activities that lead to reading achievement that includes reading comprehension. While free time reading can be a component of center time or the reading block, we can also provide opportunities that build background knowledge. Just selecting books and reading for volume does not guarantee that children understand. Reading is more than volume.
We understand that kids may be bored with school from time to time. But our question is how can we build a love of reading? Reading, just like a love for others, comes from understanding. Without understanding there is no relationship.