Sunday, 26 April 2009

Reading to reach the dangerous moment

Last Friday while I was conducting some reading assessments with year 8 students one student became teary as she read a passage aloud to me. She and I talked about whether to continue with her reading or not. She decided to continue and was able to successfully read two of the three passages . After reading she answered the follow-up literal questions by just guessing the answer; in one case the question was 'What droned over the water?' . The text reads ' a fly droned over the water' but the student said "a green bird". She said that this was the answer because the story is about a green bird. I thought where do we start with assisting her to read with understanding.

She is an efficient decoder which to use Frank Smith's words, is "barking at print". It's the understanding of what they are reading that is not developed. Graham Greene called this his dangerous moment:

Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives ... I remember distinctly the suddenness with which a key turned in a lock and I found I could read - not just the sentences in a reading book with the syllables coupled together like railway carriages, but a real book. It was paper-covered with the picture of a boy, bound and gagged, dangling at the end of a rope inside a well with the water rising above his waist - and adventure of Dixon Brett, detective. All long summer holiday I kept my secret, as I believed: I did not want anybody to know that I could read. I suppose I half conscientiously realized even then that this was the dangerous moment.

How can we get students the dangerous moment?

I've been reading Maryanne Wolf's book 'Proust and the Squid' which besides having a great title is rich in ideas and an astonishing account of the development of the reading brain. She says the fluency in reading is not a matter of speed but is a matter of being able to utilise all "special knowledge a child has about a word - its letters, letter patterns, meanings, grammatical functions, roots, and endings - fast enough to have time to think and to comprehend... the point of becoming fluent,k therefore, is to read - really read and understand."

The first thing is to get kids to enjoy reading, to want to read so as to get to the 'dangerous moment'. Too often reading for many students is a chore, boring and an activity which involves completion of comprehension worksheets. So we need to assess kids accurately, to get them reading texts at their 'just right' level, to explicitely teach how good readers read, to teach the strategies that good readers use and to creat a sense of joy and wonder and enthusiasm for reading.

No comments: