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    The Reading Project

    September 24, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    A couple years ago, I read on Cindy’s blog that she kept track of each child’s first books read. When they finished reading their first 100, they earned some sort of special outing. I thought this was a great idea. E. was just beginning to read at this time, and so I jumped on my computer and made a cute little chart with 100 of squares on it that each had just enough space for me to jot down the date and title of the book read.

    We started at the very beginning of 2006, and here we are, more than halfway through 2008, and he is almost finished.

    My plan was for E. to read each book aloud to me so that I was sure he was reading properly and also comprehending what he read. This worked well as we began with the very easiest Bob Book in existence, which contains approximately four words arranged in various orders.

    I required, however, that each book be challenging for him. This meant that each book increased a tiny bit in difficulty. {We did hover at a few levels because he needed the reinforcement…and who minds hovering long enough to read all the Frog and Toad Books Arnold Lobel ever wrote?}

    This spring, it got more difficult for E. to get books finished. As he went from Bob Books, to easy readers, and finally to chapter books, I just didn’t have the time to listen to every word. And, frankly, he was anxious to find out what happened. Having to wait for Mom to find time to sit and listen was holding him back.

    So I decided to cut him loose.

    However, I spent most of the summer struggling with how to make sure his reading resulted in actual improvement in his skills. After all, I wasn’t there to correct a word if he read it wrong. It was obvious to me that he was understanding the books. He talked enough about what he was reading that I could see his comprehension of the overall plot was fine. But what about individual words? My hunch was that my son was just like me at that age: understanding enough to enjoy the book, but in such a haste to complete the story that he simply brushed over the occasional confusing word.

    Having him read aloud a couple times recently proved to me that my hunch was right. There were definitely words in his books that he didn’t know.

    What I needed was a way to build his vocabulary. He had already proven that his comprehension would naturally follow.

    I have now given him an assignment to go along with his reading. He is to keep a pad and paper next to him while he reads. When he comes across a word that he doesn’t know, or isn’t completely sure of, he is to write it down. He doesn’t have to stop reading, he just has to pause to write it. At the end of the day he has to bring his list to the dinner table and we will go over them as a family.

    This can become quite amusing when we all try to use them in sentences over dinner.

    So…problem solved. We build vocabulary without interrupting the flow of the reading process too much. We make sure that he’s improving his skills without me having to listen to every single word of every book he’s reading. So far, it works for me!

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  • Reply Stephanie September 29, 2008 at 5:34 am

    One thing I have also learned is that if I am too busy to sit down and read with my son, I have him read to me while I make dinner, or fold laundry…This way I can ensure that he is reading and understanding each word AND I am still getting things done. Not to mention the speaking skills he is gaining.

  • Reply Brandy September 25, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Mrs. Querido, Welcome to Afterthoughts! Stop by any time. 🙂

    Kim, I think it is a good idea to ask him to replace the word with a word he already knows that is similar in meaning. I mean, that makes sense since even the dictionary basically uses other words to define words, right? This would also be a good exercise when I’m trying to help him figure out the words on his own rather than feeding him the answer.

    Lydia, Seriously? Lists of dinosaur names? I would have found that maddening as a little girl! I can safely say that all of my spelling words in public school were fairly normal words that I could use right away.

    One of the things that got me thinking this was was Poetic Knowledge, the book I just can’t stop quoting. I remember the author explained that, in the end, it is authors who teach children to read. Children get drawn into the story. That was why I didn’t want to interrupt his reading too much. At the same time, seeing the word in the context of a sentence is a more natural way of learning the word than using an arbitrary list (not that all lists are necessarily arbitrary). After all, this is how children learn language in the first place: hearing words in context until they intuitively divine their meaning.

    Reading your comment made me think I should be disciplining myself to do the same thing! How easy it would be to use a piece of paper as my bookmark and keep a record of the words I could be learning. I think I will do this with my next book and see how it goes. 🙂

  • Reply Lydia September 25, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I love this idea! I had actually thought of using this method for teaching spelling and vocabulary to children. What is the point of using endless lists of minimally used words just to say we are teaching our children to spell when we can be using real-life words they read and use to help their comprehension and use of them in conversation?

    My mom likes to tell people about how I was given long lists of dinosaur names as spelling words (as in Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Pterodactyl) when I was in 2nd grade at the neighborhood public school. I am NOT making this up! She kind of uses it to illustrate the absurdity of public education, though she herself was a former public school teacher.

    What is so sad is that not even the teacher could spell common English words in her homework assignments and here she was expecting children to learn words that they would probably never use in real life. Now, that being said, if your 2nd grader has a great fascination with dinosaurs and maybe aspires to be a paleontologist, by all means give him spelling words like this but otherwise don’t bother.

    My mom used Spelling Power in our later schooling years. I made it through the entire book and I do occasionally miss some of the more common words but any word that I use often enough I can spell accurately. I can even spell most medical terms accurately because I see them so often as a nurse. I tend to be a sight speller, but I also have a tendency to miss homophones and homonyms.

    But I just love this idea of relating real life incidents to teaching your children to spell and learn vocabulary. BTW, I can certainly relate to your tendency to quickly skim over words one is unfamiliar with in reading a story. I have recently been reading some of Jane Austen’s novels and every now and then I come across a word I have no clue what it means. Do I bother to look it up? Not usually, though I did ask my good friend about their meaning and usage as she is more versed in literature than I and with Jane Austen in particular.

    I wish E. great success with his reading and vocabulary skills. Reading regularly is a wonderful motivator to improve in these areas.

    Thanks for your excellent post too!

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 25, 2008 at 1:15 am

    I was going to keep a list of the books we read together as a family. A chart just for First Son would b a nice addition to that. Of course, I don’t think he’s quite ready to read yet, even though lots of other kids do at his age. I plan to start some structured reading instruction in the next few weeks…just as soon as the boxes are all unpacked.

  • Reply Dominic and Kimberly September 24, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I like what you’re doing! At some point you could take the comprehension a little further by asking him what word would make sense in the place of the word he doesn’t know. Sometimes teachers cover vocab. words and have the students try to fill in the blank to boost comp. Sounds like E. will be capable of doing this on his own. What a fun student!

  • Reply Mrs. Querido September 24, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    That is a great idea! My boys aren’t quite old enough to read yet, but I use vocabulary words in everyday speech and so I get asked often “Mommy what does ______ mean?” Love the idea of using the new word in a sentence 🙂

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