A young student of mine began reading a fun-looking (to me) book called Schooled; I smiled as soon as I saw the peace symbol and tie-dye cover.
Here’s the Amazon synopsis:“Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.”
But of course my fifth grade student was having trouble relating to the book because, unlike me, he knew nothing about flower children, communes or any of the other 60’s era references. He had read the first two chapters on his own and was totally confused and lost.
We re-read them together and I explained the historical background and he wound up loving the book (yes, the 60s and 70s are now “history”! Yipes!).
Similarly, an eleventh grader read the first paragraph of an ACT practice passage, an excerpt from a memoir by an Indian American woman. I found it clear and interesting, but my student had never heard of Calcutta or Bangladesh and he didn’t know several words including “expatriate,” “sovereign,” and “incipient,” so he didn’t get much out of it.
Once we had Googled the places and looked up the word definitions the paragraph made sense to him.
I’ve been reading with students of all ages this summer and I’ve been reminded that the biggest challenge to reading comprehension is not any problems with the skill of reading itself; it’s the lack of background information. Young, inexperienced readers simply don’t know much factual information we adults take for granted, and so they are baffled by much of what they read. No wonder they don’t enjoy reading!
For this reason, it’s important for adults to check in regularly with their kids to make sure they are understanding their summer reading books.
- Ask your child to tell you what they’ve read so far and ask them if they are confused about anything.
- It’s also wonderful to read a chapter aloud to them once in a while, and have them read out loud to you, and discuss the story and fill in any conceptual gaps for them.
Teens also love being read to, and it’s a great way to help them get ready for the SAT or ACT.
- Read some passages out loud and answer the questions together.
- Make sure your teen is reading with an online dictionary available (I recommend www.Vocabulary.com).
- Also make sure that they are looking up facts on line, or asking you, when they don’t understand something they’re reading.
Below please find links to good articles about reading, plus my own tips for how to practice reading comprehension.