Tuesday, February 2, 2010


A mom contacted me, worried that her eight-year old daughter had not improved in reading, at least according to her latest standardized test results. I was worried, too. This would usually call for a change in my instruction with her. But wait, I am beginning a new unit, one that teaches inferential comprehension, something I knew her daughter needed.
     But I also wanted to know if Kim* was reading at home. I have found that once my students actively tackle challenging books on their own, their reading ability usually soars. So I asked.
     The mom paused. "I don't think Kim's reading any this year," she answered.
     This doesn't surprise me. Students who struggle with reading usually don't read many books -- or any  --  on their own.
     Not good. Kim needs to read for her own skill improvement. For her own growth. For her own pleasure.
     Four years ago I decided to learn how to write fiction. I've come to understand, really understand, how favorite stories are all about the characters. So why do we teachers and parents just ask, "So did you read?"
     I know Kim to be a social creature, very generous with her friendships. Could Kim see books as a place to meet new friends?
     Okay, I know that thought isn't original. Sophisticated readers expect to bond with many of the characters they meet in books. But does this eight-year old? At night, after dinner, with her personality bubbling over and no other girls around...?
     I talked to her mom. "Downplay the word, "reading," I advised. "Just talk about the kids in the books. Maybe bring up a few book characters she -- or the two of you -- have met in the past...?"
     Kim came in the next day, all enthused. And the next day, too. "I like reading now," she tells me. Given the book she's carrying, the first of the Wimpy Kid series (see earlier post), I'm not surprised. That is the magic of Kinney's Greg Heffley.
     Good for you, mom. Whatever you did -- talking to her, finding a character she'd like, worked. And there are three more Wimpy Kid books after this one.
     But I need to keep Kim on my radar for when she's finished Wimpy Kid. There are so many more friends for her to meet.
*Name changed