READING READINESS THAT WORKS

By VERA GOODMAN,  B.Ed., M.A.

We can only think with the words that we know.  We learn through using the words we have meaning for to form ideas in our self-talk.  Successful reading and writing depends on sophisticated internal talk and visualization.  Infants and young children who are not engaged in dialogue that builds conceptual understanding and vocabulary are unable to read until this deficit is overcome.  They may be able to figure out the words but if they can’t use them to make sense,  they aren’t reading.

There may well be a critical time in the innocence of childhood when the subconscious becomes aware of the magic of reading to access worlds of experience.  This may explain why children who have been read to from the beginning often learn to read without any formal instruction.  Someone else has ‘made sense’ for them until they could do it for themselves.

The best preparation for reading is to develop imaginative self-talk.  The whole personality is involved in reading.  Heavy emphasis on phonics and memorization impedes the ability of the brain to bring subtle understanding and experience to comprehending text.

The best thing pre-school and early educators can do to prepare children for reading is to build huge experiences around as many topics as possible through music, art, drama and storytelling.  It is the adult’s role to discuss interesting stories and facts from all facets of history and life with young children.

Don’t just read storybooks written for children.  Read and discuss books about significant events, unusual creatures, other cultures, and so on, from adult books.  This is the best way to build the background needed for reading; to create a rich store of words to use in making sense.

Writing is not talk written down.  There are many words that only appear in written form, rarely in everyday conversation.  The only way children can hear the words they need to know to read with understanding is by being read to, with discussion, using reading material that contains lots of expressive words and ideas.

In her work, Nancy Cohen, program coordinator of Children’s Care Connection at the Children’s Hospital in San Diego, sees children being tutored beginning at two years of age, and with homework. She says, “It is more constructive to get help learning within the context of enjoyable activities than a formal setting with flashcards and work sheets.  This trend of tutoring the nation’s tiniest tots is about competition to create the smartest kids in the shortest time.  It is very stressful for children.”

My goal, as a grade one teacher, in the high needs schools I taught in, was to make my students’ time at school the best time of their day and to have them say at year’s end, whether they could read well or not, “I’m a reader.  I’m a valuable person.  I’m going to be OK!”  That’s how we all learned to walk and talk, with confidence that we would succeed and each on our own time schedule.  Allowing children to blossom in their own time is necessary for reading success too.

Young Children in a Precarious Position

Young children are in a precarious position. They don’t know that they don’t know and so are in no position to do anything about it. Yet, they are judged as if they can perform as requested.

There is no research evidence that an early access to formal learning serves the needs of children and a lot of evidence that it can actually do harm. Young children should be given sufficient time, in a developmentally appropriate way, to be ready for academic tasks.
When we create the possibility or reality of failure in the mind of a young child, we introduce illness. Later, we prescribe medicine and treatment without recognizing that the structure of education has often been at the root of the problem. Schools, by their very nature, build in failure. Fear of failure feeds self-talk and is at the heart of reading and learning problems.

You have to keep them in the game. It’s the same as being successful in sports. You can push as much as you like but if they don’t push themselves, it’s a lost cause. High school drop-out rates cost social assistance and criminal justice programs $1.3 billion per year. In 2001 there were 2,944,235 high school drop-outs in Canada. Schools often blame parents. But it’s hard for some parents when schools turn their children into failures so quickly. Struggles over homework and grades also fractures relationships between parents and their children.

Good teaching is open and honest. It engenders excitement and a love of learning. Students respond to beauty and pattern and are naturally curious. Just talk to them! And, more importantly, listen to them! They all have visions of possibilities. Unfortunately, schools often make it impossible to realize these dreams when they don’t meet with curriculum demands.

Human beings have a capacity for art, music and drama. It is  through these experiences that students will reach the highest level of mental functioning possible. We must throw away the existing notion of the arts as frivolous and respect their value and importance. Let’s inject a bit of “lovely madness” into our classrooms.

Life is a complex dance. Everyone must constantly adapt to others and to circumstances. How is it possible to give a single, fixed number for what someone knows as we attempt to do on report cards? Labels are cemented in report cards. Parents fail to lobby for change because they have been conditioned and brainwashed by the rituals of schooling they themselves experienced.

Who makes the momentous decisions of what to teach and how? How important is what is left out? Students, who are unable to ‘dance’ with schooling as it is currently structured, are seen as having the problem. Is it possible that it is the school that is out of step? This is the predicament of the student.

Let’s get in step with the realities of the 21st Century.

THREE TIPS TO GET YOUR CHILD READING

How to we get students to read for enjoyment? Three tips that worked for me as a teacher and consultant may help you too.

1. Find a novel that is part of a series that your child will enjoy. No one spends their free time doing something that is not interesting or entertaining. Books face strong competition from the Internet and Social Media. But I was surprised to learn, when I talked to a woman who works in the children and teens section of Chapters, that their biggest increase in sales has been in the teen section. She says it is because there are so many excellent new novels being written in the genre of fantasy, dragons and vampires, the favorite movies of teens.

A good novel is like a soap opera, you can’t wait to find out how it all turns out. The book becomes a constant companion until finished. This spurs readers to read the next novel in the series and they are hooked on reading. So, begin by taking your child to a good bookstore to spend time with a knowledgeable staff member who will help you to find just the right book.

2. Read the first chapter aloud to your child and discuss it. Do this for your adolescent reader as well as for younger children.  The first chapter sets up the characters and theme of the book and makes the reader want to find out more. It would be helpful to read the book yourself so that you and your reader can discuss it together at the end. You will love the dialogue you will have as you view the characters and events through each other’s eyes. It will enable you to step inside your child’s mind and to understand the world from his or her point of view.

I shared Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut with my grandson, Sean, when he was in grade twelve. It is one of my most cherished memories. This was the first time we had important and interesting discussions around such topics as politics, society, religion and death.  I`m sharing Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut with my grandson, Bryce, right now.  What joy!

Another good practice is to talk about the books you are reading yourself to your family. It is good modelling and helps to interest them in reading.

3. Make sure that your child is able to read well because otherwise he or she won’t take the time to read a whole book. I meet adults who read so slowly that they never attempt a novel. How sad! The Making Sense Approach to Reading increases speed and comprehension not just for those who are struggling but for average readers as well. Many adults who have taken The Reading Coach`s Toolkit Online Reading Course to help their children improve their reading discover that their own reading improves as they use the Making Sense Approach to Reading with their child.

Create excitement about books by talking together about them.  Many older students and adults are turned off from reading because they have had to read books they didn`t like for school.  We have to rekindle the fun and joy of reading.

THE STORY CIRCLE MODEL OF EDUCATION™

For the past 150 years, governments in many countries around the world have used the Prussian Model of Education as a model for their school systems. Compulsory attendance, standardized tests, fragmentation of concepts into separate subjects and the State ultimately asserting claim to the child over the rights of the parents was, and still is, the intention.

In the 21st Century we still constrain our children in crowded classrooms, deprived of fresh air, sunlight and exercise. We coerce them into memorizing and regurgitating and then complacently consent to them being labelled FAILURE simply because they didn’t pass an age-graded standardized test.

This is especially devastating for young children who don’t have the ability to know what to do to avoid the FAILURE label that decimates their confidence levels and negatively influences the rest of their lives.

While some students can be molded into the expectations of our outdated education system, just as many drop out, physically or mentally – their gifts and talents underdeveloped and unrecognized. The model has never and will never be suitable for Indigenous children who carry in their DNA a cultural history of learning through oral communication, stories and hands-on experiences with lots of fresh air and exercise.

What is needed is a Revolution, a new model, an alternative way to deliver education that creates successful experiences for all children. We still need a curriculum; we still need to teach reading and writing; but more than ever, we need to create environments where everyone can create success stories.

Children are like flowers that need prepared, nutrient-rich soil in order to be healthy. Children need a variety of engaging experiences to choose from in order to develop their uniqueness. The Story Circle Model of Education was created to teach curriculum in a way that focuses on children’s strengths rather than on their weaknesses. Like flowers, children don’t bloom at the same time or in the same season. Why can’t we accept this?

The Story Circle Model of Education is based on creating stories around academic concepts. Humans communicate through story and the brain stores information best in story form. The Story Circle Model of Education uses Music, Art, Drama and Technology to create the stories so, ultimately, the model is both a brain-friendly and a people-friendly system.

The Story Circle classroom offers a rich environment where K-12 students are encouraged to investigate themes in science, history and mathematics… as they create stories around the concepts to be learned. Confidence and self-worth are built into every task. Vocabulary knowledge, without which reading comprehension is impossible, is emphasized as students learn about creations, cultures, critters and climates around the world. Standards and expectations are maintained but diversity is encouraged rather than conformity insisted upon.

For the past fifty years I have researched, studied and dreamed of being able to share The Story Circle Model of Education with the world where millions of children have been, and still are, disadvantaged by our current educational model. Conformity, control, standardized tests and homework have not served their needs and never will.

We invite all educational leaders to The Vera Goodman Academy of Learning located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains – Calgary, Alberta, Canada – to discover how The Story Circle Model of Education can change the education experience so that all children have an opportunity to grow up to be happy, successful, contributing members of our world.

What is your story?

Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions known to mankind. It is still the most common form of socialization. Recently we were gathered with a group of friends after a fowl supper. As usual, stories began to be swapped.

Stu is a fine storyteller who is able to build humorous, entertaining stories. Marcel was new to this particular circle of people but was a match for Stu and loved to embellish his history by telling engaging tales. He sat back for a few stories and then could hold out no longer. He leaned forward and said, “Say, you’ve been talking too long, let me tell a few.”

Until the 15th century, with the invention of the printing press, communication was oral. Children were considered to be adults at seven years of age when it was believed they had attained full control of oral language. Little difference existed between adults and children. The advent of the written word released people from the immediate and local. It gave them new things to talk about and new tools with which to think.

All of this changed the face of childhood. For the young to become successful adults, reading became very important. Schools sprang up. Success in life became dependent on the ability to read.

Shakespeare said that life’s a stage and all of us are actors. We all live in an improvisational drama that is acted out in the moment with whatever characters are present. The advent of school throws the child on to a stage that is very different, has structured conventions, and is extremely judgemental.

Here is Butch’s story. Butch’s eyes glow as he sits by the blazing fire, his mind actively creating the scenes being painted for him by the cowhands who are his heroes

“… and then that dog-goned, Roman-nosed cayuse took forthe tullies and I landed ass-end up in the Canada Thistle.”
“Well, I ain’t never bin throwed!”
“Ya ain’t rid many bad-uns then!”

I met Butch on a trail ride in the Rockies and a few weeks later, he showed up at the school where I was teaching. He became part of an innovative projects class of 23 failing students in grade three. The class was based in storytelling and the fine arts. Butch flourished! He became one of the most reflective students in the group. One day, in the library, he met Abraham Lincoln and a love affair ensued. He would stop me in the hall to tell me his latest story about Abe.
“I should be in grade four, but I failed grade one”, Butch would inform almost everyone. Butch had assumed responsibility for his failure.

The conventions of school and book learning have their own rules. The child who has achieved fluency with these conventions through extensive contact with books in the home is equipped for easy access to reading. But for the child who has experience that is not related to the abstractions of print, it is difficult for him to realize why he can’t be successful.

Most children come to school with confidence that they will learn to read. But their debut on the school platform is the first public and formal evaluation of what the world thinks of them. That is why it is so traumatic for the child who fails. Confidence is a flame that is easily extinguished and difficult to rekindle!

THREE TIPS TO GET YOUR CHILD READING NOVELS

How to we get students to read books for enjoyment? Three tips that worked for me as a teacher and parent may help you too.

1. Find a series that your child will enjoy. No one spends free time doing something that is not interesting or entertaining. Books face strong competition from the Internet and Social Media. But I was surprised to learn, when I talked to a woman who works in the children and teens section of Chapters, that their biggest increase in sales has been in the teen section. She says it is because there are so many excellent new novels being written in the genre of fantasy, dragons and vampires, the favorite movies of teens.

A good novel is like a soap opera, you can’t wait to find out how it all turns out. The book becomes a constant companion until finished. This spurs readers to read the next novel in the series and they are hooked on reading. So, begin by taking your child to a good bookstore to spend time with a knowledgeable staff member who will help you to find just the right book.

2. Read the first chapter aloud to your child and discuss it. The first chapter sets up the characters and theme of the book and makes the reader want to find out more. It would even be helpful to read the book yourself so that you can discuss it together at the end. You will love the dialogue you will have as you view the characters and events through each other’s eyes. It will enable you to step inside your child’s mind and understand the world from his or her point of view.

I shared Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut with my grandson, Sean, when he was in grade twelve. It is one of my most cherished memories. It was the first time we had important and interesting discussions around such topics as politics, societal issues, religion and death.

Another good practice is to talk to your family about the books you are reading. It is good modelling and helps to interest them in reading.

3. Make sure that your child is able to read quickly and with comprehension because otherwise he or she won’t take the time to read a whole book. I meet adults who read so slowly that they never attempt a novel. How sad! The Making Sense Approach to Reading increases speed and comprehension not just for those who are struggling but for average readers as well. Many adults who have taken the Simply Read! course to help their children improve their reading find that their own reading improves as they use the Making Sense Approach to Reading to become a reading mentor to a student.

YOU AREN’T ALWAYS AN “A” OR AN “F”

Human diversity is the fuel that runs the world. If we were all capable in the same areas it just wouldn’t work. For the best years of their lives our young are judged, labelled and categorized as Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average and Fail. In the process individual talents and strengths are not valued as school strives to make everyone equal so they can pass the same tests.

No one is an ‘A’ or an ‘F’ in every aspect of life. Superiority is only in the narrow frame of reference which each test addresses. Everyone could find themselves in the top 20% if the testing was set in a context of their experience and talents.

Many people have been able to rise above demeaning labels to show the world the brilliance of their uniqueness. Others believe what they have been told and live life never achieving their potential.

Those in control of education in the early 1800’s chose to listen to Horace Mann and adopted his model of education in the American Constitution. Colonialism has spread it around the world. Mann designed his model based on one made for the Prussian Army. He went to Prussia to “study how to deem the unruly (independent) children into disciplined citizens”. The goal was to create obedient workers, soldiers, civil servants who thought alike about major issues. The primary goal was not intellectual learning but to condition the population for obedience.

To enable this to happen, he campaigned tirelessly for compulsory free education (interestingly, also a major plank in Marx’s Communist Manifesto). He was able to convince people that it was good for them to give their children over to this form of control. While much of what he advocated was valuable for creating a society of people who could work and live together, it was also extremely limiting and controlling. Children were divided into groups by age, ability and often social status because of the financial status of parents.

Many good things have resulted from school, especially the many hard-working, ethical, inspiring teachers who influence children. But teachers are often hampered in their work by the imposition of a tightly controlled, bureaucratic system. A supposedly democratic society accepted a very undemocratic model for education which is now firmly entrenched.

In the 21st century we are desperately in need of flexible, robust, creative thinkers who can solve the massive problems we face. Instead, we are forcing our young to spend their precious time in schools bound by a limited curriculum with a major focus on testing. This creates great obstacles to fostering uniqueness and critical thinking.

I.Q. tests, the Bell Curve and many other invented measurements serve to separate the sheep from the goats but they fail to recognize the uniqueness of every individual and the critical importance of fostering the special abilities of every child. School curriculum encompasses only a minute fraction of the knowledge available in the world. Someone, somewhere, has made an arbitrary decision that every child that enters the world needs to learn a fixed body of knowledge. This is currently being cemented in the United States in The Core Curriculum. Do students on the plains of Kansas need to learn exactly the same things as students in Hawaii or New York just so they can pass a common test?

Tests only make sense in a similar, unchanging environment. Standardized tests which control what children learn and how teachers are paid are deadly to creating the kind of thinking that goes beyond the box and makes it possible to have a democracy.

3 TIPS TO GET RELUCTANT READERS TO READ FOR FUN

How to we get students to read books for enjoyment? Three tips that worked for me as a teacher may be helpful for you as a parent or teacher.

#1      Find a series that the student will enjoy. No one spends free time doing something that is not interesting or entertaining. Books face strong competition from the Internet and Social Media. But I was surprised to learn from a woman who works in the children and teens section of Chapters that their biggest increase in sales has been in the teen section. She says it is because there are so many excellent new novels being written in the genre of fantasy, dragons and vampires, the favorite themes of movies for teens.

A good novel is like a soap opera; you can’t wait to find out how it all turns out. The book becomes a constant companion until it is finished. This is why I advise starting young people on the first book of a series. They will want to find out ‘What Next?’ and get hooked on reading the next book. So, begin by taking the student to a good bookstore or to the library where a knowledgeable staff member will help you to find just the right series.

#2      Read the first chapter aloud to your reluctant reader and discuss it. The first chapter sets up the characters and themes of the book and makes the reader curious to find out more. Familiarity with the setting makes reading faster and more enjoyable. It would be even more helpful to read the whole book yourself so that you can discuss it together. You will love the dialogue that will emerge as you view the characters and events through each others eyes.

A good novel allows us to step inside other minds and understand the world from different points of view.  I shared Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut with my grandson, Sean, when he was in grade twelve. It is one of my most cherished memories. This was the first time we had important and interesting discussions around such topics as politics, societal issues, religion and death.

Another good practice is to talk to your family or students about the books you are reading. It is good modelling and helps to interest them in expanding their reading to new genres.

#3      Make sure that the student is able to read well and fairly quickly.  Otherwise, he or she will be unable or unwilling to put in the effort to read a whole book. I meet adults who read so slowly that they never attempt a novel. How sad! The Making Sense Approach to Reading increases speed and comprehension for all readers.   Many parents who have taken the Simply Read Course  to help other children to improve their reading report that their own reading improves as they too begin to use the techniques they have learned.

ARE YOU AS SMART AS A FIFTH GRADER? Take this test to find out . . .

This letter is written with words that would be at a suitable level for a fifth grade reading test. Do you think you could answer questions based on it?

Dear Frances,

I was cooking and just doin’ it to it, hoping to find a flop box or a bean house bull. As I was checking my eyeballs for pinholes, I saw a pigeon. I started to back em up but it was too late. I had to accept the invitation. If I have just paid more attention to the brown bag! We have to avoid taking pictures in the future. I hope you keep the whites on your nose and the reds on your tail.

Have fun, Vera

The dictionary definition of reading is ‘making sense’. Neither you, nor any fifth grader, could ‘read’ this passage even though you could easily figure out all the words. Only a truck driver has the experience to make sense of this passage.

Even the best readers in the world are illiterate, unable to read, any material to which they cannot bring some background of experience.

I will translate the passage for you as a trucker would read it.

Dear Frances,

I was driving along at full speed hoping to find a motel or truck stop. I was sleepy when I saw someone stopped for speeding. I started to slow down but it was too late. I had to accept the ticket. If I had just paid more attention to the unmanned police car! I hope you stay on the road, drive carefully and have a good trip.

Have fun, Vera

Now you can read (make sense of) this passage because I have provided the insight into the meaning behind the language  that you need for understanding.

I hope you will choose to learn how to  use The Making Sense Approach to Reading to become an effective coach to all those struggling readers you meet in life who need to read more quickly and with greater understanding.

You can order the Simply Read! course by visiting www.readingwings.com

SEVEN – THE MAGIC AGE

“It lies within us as adults either to turn newborns into monsters by the way we treat them or to let them grow up into feeling – and therefore responsible – human beings.

Alice Miller in Prisoners of Childhood

Frey, the son of Njord the god of the sea, is a very famous god. Frey was given a present when he got his first new tooth at about seven years of age. The dwarfs built him Skilbladner, a ship so big it could carry all the gods and so small that it could be folded and put into Frey’s pocket. This ship is symbolic of the power of words and knowledge. By the time children are seven they have a huge amount of knowledge about life and living.

The Norse believed that children are still playing in the water until they are seven. By then they have developed to a place where they can begin to work with words, to play with concepts, and put them together to understand things. They believed that letters are nothing in themselves but have value only when we have the ability to put them together to make meaning.

They also believed that children need to develop their resonators. Just as the bottom of a musical instrument is created to resonate the sound and to make the music strong, children need to have time to develop the ability to absorb, reflect and magnify the knowledge they receive.  When we push children before they have developed their resonators, Norse mythology says they may become angry trolls. Eventually they want to kill the wise man because they don’t understand his wisdom.

We have people in the world who are trolls; uninformed and angry in varying degrees; living shallow, simple lives uncluttered by big ideas.

A country can choose to raise wise men or trolls depending on how they treat their pre- seven-year-old children. If we don’t allow children time to develop resonance, early education can create hostility and anger. With the new emphasis on accountability and academics in kindergarten, we run the risk of turning some children into trolls.

The resonators are prepared through play.   Wise counsel is given in the document            A Child’s Education in Islam,  by Inam Jaafer Assadig:

“Leave your child to play for seven years.”

“Children are independent until seven years.”

“Children are comfortable until seven years.”

 “Participation of the parent with the child while playing is very necessary. The best way to participate is to converse with the child in ways he understands, i.e.  behave as if you are a kid.”

Nordic countries still believe this.  I back-packed through Sweden and Finland, visiting  schools along the way. I learned that they don’t start formal teaching of reading or math until children are seven. Parents may choose to send their children to school at six, where a rich environment expands their experience and builds inter-personal skills, but it isn’t required. They have top scores on international  tests.

Of course, many children begin to read before seven, which is great. The others will catch up quickly when they bring a lot of experience to their reading. The push to getting children into school earlier is admirable only if educators refrain from giving grades and use play to build core strengths, confidence, and resonance until they are seven. There are enough years left after that to work on formal academics.

H. T. Epstein in Education and the Brain says,

Children exposed to intellectual pressures and inputs for which they have no proper receptive circuitry may learn to reject such inputs; rejection might even result in an inability to take in such inputs later when the circuitry has developed.”

A quote from a 1907 version of Friedrich Froebel’s book, The Education of Man, is as true as it was when he wrote it in 1826.

“We grant space and time to young plants and animals because we know that, in accordance with the laws that live in them, they will develop properly and grow well. Young animals and plants are given rest, and arbitrary interference with their growth is avoided, because it is known that the opposite practice would disturb their pure unfolding and sound development; but, the young human being is looked upon as a piece of wax or a lump of clay which man can mold into what he pleases.”

Froebel  observed that children were ready to read when they got their first tooth – about seven years old. My friend Hanne Seidel, one of the best grade one teachers I am privileged to know, once told me she watched her grade ones and found that Froebel was right. If they were not turned off by too much pressure to learn to read before then, they read easily after they got their first new tooth.

We would do well to listen to Froebel, Hanne, the story of Frey, the wisdom of Islam, and Nordic educators in our treatment of young children.