Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Teaching My Son to Read It Carefully

The meaning of a sentence can change based on one word. If you skim or read sloppily you may miss it and misunderstand. Most of our reading is not imperative or life threatening if we make an error. Especially when reading fiction for entertainment it can be hard to try to get kids to see that it is important to slow down and pay attention to Every. Single. Word. Whether they are reading thoroughly or skimming or missing a word here and there, teachers and parents and homeschool parent-teachers often do not know.

If in your homeschool you do reading comprehension worksheets you are forced to practice reading very carefully. However these same kids sometimes skim or read too carelessly, not just the passage but the question AND THE ANSWERS ALSO.

The first thing kids may do with a multiple choice answer list is pick the first right answer without even reading the rest. Despite the fact that the directions said "pick the most accurate answer" they don't always even read all the answers. Well, let's back up. The student may not even have read the directions because, let's face it, how many times must you read the directions to tell you to "answer these multiple choice questions" or other typically extraneous duplicate statements. Our minds are insulted by the repetition of simple statements so we consciously choose to not read them or maybe our eyes seem to not even notice the directions up there at the top.

It is a shame to know the content but to just mess up on the answer, so the test score does not reflect the reality of what the student knows. On the other hand if the sloppy reading was done on the reading portion they truly didn't comprehend the information 100% accurately! Just one word can change the meaning. Their sloppy reading error can happen in either section of the test.

When the reading passage for a reading comprehension exercise is easy or boring it can be easy to want to fly through it. After thinking the passage was simple, students sometimes try to rush through the question and its answer choices. In so doing they may make errors. They may say "that was so easy" then be surprised they not only didn't score 100% but they may have gotten only half of the answers correct, and failed the test!

In the past I have been largely inspired by Charlotte Mason and her focus on taking in content and letting the mind process it, and reading rich and interesting reading materials and the use of narration to check for understanding. I have also taught to my son's learning styles in the elementary and middle school years, which meant an avoidance of doing 100% workbook learning by themselves and doing more interactive learning. In the earlier years my sons learned much more by listening to me read aloud from higher vocabulary books than their eyes and brain were able to read to themselves silently. But I rarely followed up these intersting learning activities with written multiple choice tests to teach them how to carefully read and to correctly respond to test questions.

By choosing to do what I did in our homeschool it set my kids up to learn a lot of content but not to be skilled in doing reading comprehension worksheets and to not be whizzes at taking written reading tests. My older son is not a natural at this kind of test taking so now he has to change his reading habits and force himself to slow down and take care in reading the passage and to take pains to read those test questions and the selections of answers carefully. This is like learning a new habit rather than just learning a new skill.


Let me pause here to say this:

The converse which I feel compelled to mention is that often the not-natural written test takers of multiple choice questions have high verbal skills and could ace and impress you if they were tested orally by the teacher. They can have actual discussions about the content, not just parrot back facts that were memorized. They also can show that they took in new information and mixed it with what they knew from the past and that they have an understanding of the entire topic (if that is not real learning I don't know what is) versus just knowing what they read in that one passage and that's the end of their knowledge base about that.

The flip side is the kid who flies through a written test with ease and with a high score may find it hard or impossible to ace an oral test, perhaps finding putting words together to summarize too much of a challenge to handle. They may also be so nervous about talking to an adult about it that they appear to know next to nothing, when in fact they really do know something -- but remember -- when being tested what you really know does not count -- all that matters is how you score on the test!

The "natural written test takers" may be best at things like narrowing down answers by using logic and strategy rather than being masters of the content being tested! We don't know which of those correct answers were guesswork! We like to think none were guesses but as the teacher or parent or homeschool parent teacher we really do not know, do we?

The weird thing about American culture and education is we seem to never praise the student with a high verbal ability who can communicate clearly and who can orally discuss content fluently that shows solid comprension. Instead there is an over-focus on easy to grade tests and an accusation that anyone who cannot perform on those tests well is a know nothing idiot, which is just not true.


I was thinking that this blog post is about learning to take tests well but in fact all nonfiction reading and also just reading directions on how to do something is dependent on careful reading of Every. Single. Word. So, the careful reading of the passage part is an important life skill to learn and to make a habit of.

In the real world and in the school game also, the trick is to know when you have to pay attention to Every. Single. Word. and when you can read fast or skim. It is the difference between trying to teach yourself to learn to use a new piece of equipment that you purchased (read it carefully) and when you are reading for pleasure (go ahead and read that magazine article quickly).

My fourteen year old resents having to learn to slow down with reading. I am trying to use my powers of pursuasion to make him realize this is really important for the real world, it's not just something you do in order to take tests well for school evaluations or for college admissions hoop jumping.

Now that my son is a freshman in homeschool high school and he wants to enroll in community college for dual credit he has a real world reason and internal desire to get done what needs to get done. As I've been working with him this week I keep thinking, "I wish I did this sooner" but then I correct my statement to say, "He resisted this in the past as it seemed stupid and that we were doing it just to try to get right answers on an assignment". Now he has a real reason to succeed. I hope his internal motivation provides enough enthusiasm to propel him through the tedium of forcing slowing one's mind down enough to read more slowly and carefully. This is a concerted effort to learn a new skill and it is anything but fun.

I guess for us, this challenge can be summed up as:

"We did alternative learning as we felt it was best at the time. We got away with avoiding doing certain types of typical school activities for many years. Now that I realize my son is not a natural at careful reading and multiple choice written test taking it is a skill that he must master if he is going to fulfill his desire to take community college courses for dual credit for the high school years. He'll need it for further college studies also. It's time to just do this thing."


Robinella said...

I just wanted to say hello. I happened upon your blog and am looking forward to going back and doing some reading.

ChristineMM said...

Hi Robinella, Welcome! Christine