Friday, May 27, 2011

Talking About Books With Children

Yes, I should be working on my graduate classes. They are due (to be postmarked) by Tuesday. Boo's second birthday is Monday, so I'd like to be finished before then, but still, as I proofread these conversations with my kids (that were required for my Motivating Readers class), I couldn't help but smile and want to share them. I wondered, have you talked with your kids about books lately? I don't mean have you had them narrate back the plot to you, or have you asked them to tell you what the deeper meaning was, or to identify the main character, but have you talked with them about how they FEEL about books?
Specifically, how do they feel about the books that you are reading together, and separately? How do they feel about themselves as readers? Is there anything they feel a need to work on? What do they think they are best at doing? Anyway, while most of the answers I got were ones I expected, there were a few that surprised me. I thought I'd share our conversations with you and perhaps spur you on towards having a meaningful conversation of your own with your budding lifelong lovers of reading. Enjoy!

TEX: (age 13): Do you like to read? Yes, of course I like to read! Why? I just do. Tell me one word that describes why you like reading. It's invigorating. Good word, Tex. Do you consider yourself a good reader? Of course. Why? I read a lot, I read fast, I remember what I read. What are you best at doing when you read? I am good at following the plot and keeping track of the characters. I remember them forever. What do you need to work on when you read? I get too engrossed and don't hear you calling me. (grin) Anything else? I skim too much when a part of a book is boring. Is that bad? Maybe. Or maybe it just means that those are books you should abandon until later, or forever. Yeah, that could be true. Usually they are ones I just wind up not liking. It doesn't happen often. What is the value of reading, in your opinion? A better job. Being a more interesting person. Developing a willingness to learn and a love of learning. It's fun. What are your favorite types of books? You know, Sci-fi and Fantasy. Yes, those are some of my favorites, too. We have fun reading those books together, don't we? Are there books you don't like to read? Stuff for school, sometimes. I usually like what you have me read, though. I don't really like some of the biographies you give me (I assign a few biographies/autobiographies a month as part of our history work), but I think I would like to find some that interested me more. Maybe more that are about war? I can help you look for some you will enjoy reading this summer. Your brother, grandfather, and dad like biographies and historical fiction, too, so you should ask them for suggestions, as well. Okay, I will. Thanks for your input, Tex.
Ladybug (age 7): Do you like to read? YES! (sparkling eyes and smile...I am amazed at this response because sometimes she seems to really struggle, though that has not affected her efforts to read). What kind of books do you like to read the most? Princess stories. Fairy Tales. Nature books. My stories I write. Oh, yes, Ladybug, I like all of those books, too. Especially the ones you write and that we all write together. What are you best at with your reading? Spelling, I think. I like it. I always get in the hundred percent club (we're using Big IQ Kids for her spelling program this year). Is there anything you need to work on more? Knowing all the words when I read. Reading faster. Does reading make you happy or nervous? (I thought she'd admit she was nervous sometimes because she acts that way). Happy! I love to read. Reading is fun. Can you tell me what you like most about reading? I like reading about nice animals and people, and I like interesting endings and adventure stories. Are you a good reader? Yes! One day I will read better than Tex! (that's saying a lot...he is notorious for reading FAST and remembering every detail...probably because he re-reads his favorites a dozen times or more.) Thank you, Ladybug. You did a great job.

Cowboy (age 5): Hi, Cowboy. Can you come here and tell me something? Do you like to read? Sometimes (he grins as he is bouncing up and down...I am surprised by this answer because I often find him in a hallway engrossed in a book instead of doing something he's been sent to do like put on his pajamas). When don't you like to read? When I want to play. When it is boring. (I am surprised by this, too. I did not realize he ever thought reading was boring). When is reading boring? When I have to sit and read instead of playing (Oh, I get it now...he'd rather play than read, and I think that's fine at his age). When do you like to read? When it is raining outside. When I am in my fort (bunk bed). Are you a good reader? Yes! I am a good reader. But I like to do things more. What do you like to read? Adventure books and race car books and exciting boy stuff. What is your favorite book? That one about silly pirates! And I like those books the lady reads to you on tape with the books to read along and she talks a lot. (My mom gave us a collection of excellent classic story readers with cassette tapes and the narrator always walks the kids through looking at the cover, predicting the story, introducing the background of the plot, etc. They listen to these sometimes when I need to work with an individual or on a rainy day). Oh, I like those, too. (child still bouncing happily from foot to foot) Do you want to go play now? YES! Bye! (he grins as he runs out of the room).

Bubba (my graduated student...age 19): “When did you know you were a reader?” I asked.

When you stopped telling me I had to read and I kept on reading anyway,” he replied.

Now that says it all.

My analysis of the conversations: I was surprised by some of the responses from my own children/students. I'd have pegged Cowboy as the most eager reader of the three younger children, but his two sisters (I did not type up the interview with my 3 yo as she does not actually read yet) were much more enthusiastic in their responses to reading than he was. He'd rather be outside DOING something than reading, apparently. This is a bit strange to digest, as he is often the one I catch reading during non-assigned reading times, though thinking about it more carefully I realize that the two girls do get immersed in books at odd times throughout the day, too. They are just easier to get back on track when I need them to, and Cowboy is more difficult.

He is also a better reader than Ladybug, at least as far as speed goes. She can decode words more effectively, but is very slow and deliberate. He has a mind like a steel trap and remembers words he's only seen once and if they are reading together, he will jump in before she has a chance, so I've been trying to have them read mostly apart from each other. However, Ladybug still obviously sees herself as a reader, and a good one, and that makes me happy. It means I am doing my job in encouraging her and influencing her towards a love of reading.

I particularly liked the “Five Finger Rule” that was mentioned. Since I taught 8th graders we did not use that technique for that age level (the five-finger rule means that you choose a book, and every time you come across a word you don't know on a page, you hold up a finger. If you get to five fingers, you set the book aside to read later, or ask to have it read aloud to you, and try to find something a bit easier to read on your own this time), and I think I will introduce that practice to Ladybug so she can self-filter some of her book choices more effectively.

Mostly, I've had her read out of our beginning reader suitcase, but I think she wants to move past the “I See Sam” stuff and onto more exciting books. Obviously, so does Cowboy, so Mom (that's me), get a move on! This was a good way for me to see what they needed next. I think I will have to go to my Easy Reader shelf and pull out “exciting” boy books for Cowboy and put them in a bin, and then pull out princess-y, fairly tale, animal books for Ladybug and put them in another bin. Perhaps their reading will just take off over the summer, with the right sort of influence.

UPDATE: I bought a three-tiered container and each of my Three Amigos picked books for the week to put in it. They have done this a few times now, and Ladybug has progressed to reading much longer and more difficult stories with very little help from me...encouragement and belief that she can do it seem to be all she needs.

Tex's responses were pretty much what I expected. He is like me, in that when I was his age, I was stuck in a genre rut and my dad implemented a summer program to move me out of that rut and to expand my horizons (I wrote about this elsewhere). I have been aware of this, and have been gradually introducing different types of books this year, beyond his usually dragon and magic stories.

I will have to work more deliberately next year to move him towards richer books with a more classic feel. One of my plans for this is to have him listen to some of the desired novels on an audio books site ( as he works on other projects. Then I will provide some others for him to actually read, and we will discuss them, since he seems to really enjoy that. You can download copies of the Reading Challenge and the Audio Challenge I presented him with for the summer at my homeschool-for-free site.

I will also arrange for him to go to the library with one of the men I mentioned who can steer him towards some good historical fiction or more reader-friendly biographies. My oldest son, Bubba, would be good at this since I have no doubt he would steer clear of John Adams and head towards something like Killer Angels, which is more likely to capture his brother's interest.

I am glad to see Tex is confident in his abilities as a good reader, but I don't want him to think that reading a lot, reading quickly, and comprehension are the only factors that determine whether he is a good reader. Sure, those skills are good ones to have, especially if you like to go through as many books as Tex does in a month, but at the age of thirteen, he needs to dig a bit deeper and focus on finding the meaning behind the books, and to be able to deduce the message of the author, especially in relation to the context of the book, and to be able to apply it to his own life. I know for a fact that he has seen the connections during his history studies, and by widening his scope of reading this next year to include a greater variety of genres, I think it will not be difficult for him to apply those connections to the books he is reading.

I also see from my conversation with him that we do need to have a talk about the permissibility of abandoning books. I think he's seen me reading through books I didn't like (I often feel I HAVE to read at least the ending of a book I can't seem to get into) and from that he has gotten the idea that dumping a book that is a bad fit isn't okay. Just because I feel a need to read the ending so I can defend my choice of abandonment, does not mean he needs to do so. I'd rather he spent his time on worthwhile and enjoyable books. We will definitely have that discussion soon.

Lee Ann Hildreth's final statement on our class video summarizes what I got out of this lesson and I'd like to share it here:

“I want [the students] to learn about themselves, so while I talk to them about reading and their interests, then they start to think about themselves as readers, and then they can use that information to help them pick books that are going to challenge them to become better readers. And [they will] also pick books that they'll want to read the sequel, and read on, and read the next book in the series...and continue to be lifelong readers.”

I feel that way, too. There is nothing more I'd like than to see my children/students reveling in books and passing on a love of reading to those around them, especially their own families. Books are a gift. Reading is a blessing. We just love books!



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