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Class action: comprehension is the key to becoming a competent reader

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:04am

My Year Two son is a good reader. He is already reading chapter books at home, but only gets simple short books sent from school. It's difficult to get him to read his daily school book because he says it's boring. I'm worried he will lose interest.

You need to explain your worries to your son's teacher and your reasons for being concerned. The teacher should then be able to explain how his reading level has been assessed.

It may be the case that he does need to be challenged more, but it is important to remember that the mechanical reading skills of some children can be different from their level of comprehension.

Children enter school with very different levels of exposure to reading

Some students appear to be fluent, able readers. But a closer look reveals they are simply barking at the print, and when questioned about the text, have very little understanding; and it is high level comprehension that is the key to becoming a competent, enthusiastic reader.

Home readers are often used by teachers to reinforce basic skills, and to repeat reading practice which builds up confidence in young children. Bear in mind that your son will be doing different types of reading in school to develop his skills, and also be using reading as a part of other subjects.

Children enter school with very different levels of exposure to reading. Those with older siblings often read earlier as they are exposed to many different kinds of books at an early age, and are driven to compete with their siblings. Some students have been to academically focused kindergartens that push early reading.

But this exposure does not necessarily lead to children becoming great readers. Sometimes it can even have the opposite effect and can simply turn them off reading.

"Reading readiness" is a common term in education, and means exactly that. Children will read when they are ready. There are many external factors which are also relevant.

For example, some children in your son's year group are almost a year older than others, which often gives them a head start in both life experience and confidence. Also, boys tend to be more emotionally immature at this age, so their "readiness" may come a little later.

Even though your son can read to himself it is still vital for you to read to him every day. Enjoy and discuss books together, encouraging him to look carefully at the pictures and make strong and meaningful connections with the text. This will help him to be book wise and develop a high level of comprehension, picking up easily on picture cues.

Make sure you ask probing and open questions such as: "What do you think is happening in the picture?" or "Tell me something new you have learned," or "What was the best part of the story and why?" This precious reading time is usually incredibly rewarding for both children and parents, and helps to build a lifelong love of reading

Be a good reading role model yourself. It is important for boys to see their fathers reading on a regular basis. The subject matter is not as important as the message it gives.

Magazines, publicity material and annual reports will do equally as well as classic literature in this regard.

Help your son to have a good reading routine, and make sure he has a comfortable, quiet place to read to you and to himself. Boys are often drawn to factual books, and this increases their thirst for knowledge and their enthusiasm for reading.

Researching on the computer using child-friendly websites and using different formats such as interactive books may help to inspire your son, and give him a wide range of texts to enjoy.

There is now a full range of audio books available, as well as colourful children's newspapers which are very educational, and will keep him up to date with local and global events.

Do not focus too heavily on your son's mechanical reading level at this point. The most important thing is that your son loves books and that his reading skills, particularly his higher level comprehension, are developing.

If for any reason you feel he is not progressing, then discuss the way forward with his teacher, and ask about how you can further support him effectively at home. Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school