Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Developing Reading Comprehension

I think Language Arts is a complicated subject to teach children. It focuses on the skills of reading, writing, speaking,  and listening.  This translates to a long list of skills and content to be taught.  I have been contemplating what reading skills to teach and how to them a great deal since the beginning of this past summer.

When students are in kindergarten and first grade, the primary focus of reading instruction is on read alouds and phonics skills.  Beginning reading comprehension is instroduced.  In second grade and then third grade, children are able to read on their own and need to develop comprehension skills and strategies along with vocabulary.  With each year, children must develop the skills that will help them understand what they read on a deeper level.

For phonics instruction, I start with Hooked on Phonics PreK to teach my children the alphabet.  It is one of the few curriculums I've found that really helps parents learn how to "teach" the alphabet.  Then, I start with How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  It uses the DISTAR method which has proven to work very well for both children who struggle with learning to read and for those who it comes easily.  I spoke with the chair of the education program at a local four year college recently and he mentioned DISTAR as being a very effective reading program.  I heartily agreed.  100 Easy Lessons is a wonderful book because it also introduces beginning reading comprehension and the letters are a large size that are easy for children's eyes to focus on.  From the beginning, I also start using the Explode the Code series and start with books A, B, and C.  It is a wonderful phonics/spelling/reading comprehension series that integrates all three skills.  When they finish 100 Easy Lessons, my children do complete the 1st and 2nd grade sets of Hooked on Phonics.  If I didn't, I wouldn't have purchased them.  They rely almost solely on rhyme to teach a child how to read.  For a child who doesn't get rhyme, this reading method would be very difficult--as it was for my oldest daughter.  After HOP, my children read two pages of Phonics Pathways a day.  Phonics Pathways gives children lots of practice breaking apart and sounding out longer words--which is where 100 Easy Lessons leaves off.  This combination of curriculums has worked very well for my children.

Reading comprehension and vocabulary has been on my mind since the beginning of this past summer when I took a Chapter Book Reading Course.  I began to realize that many homeschoolers use book studies for literature.  But, many of these studies contain only questions on the literal level or one level deeper.  Bloom's Taxonomy identifies that there are several levels of understanding that children must develop.  I enjoy doing literature/book studies with my daughters, but I have been pondering how to develop skills for deeper thinking and analysis in my children.

For the past three years, I've been using Harcourt Trophies as my daughter's primary literature curriculum.  I supplement with Evan-Moor's Read and Understand Poetry.  For fourth grade, my daughter is using the two book studies I wrote this summer (for The Door in the Wall and The Secret Garden) along with the EM's Poetry and Harcourt Trophies fourth grade book.  The books studies I wrote follow Bloom's Taxonomy and will challenge her to think deeper about what she is reading.  But, she is struggling.  None of these specifically walk my daughter through to a deeper level of thinking.  So, how do I get her there?

I found a great resource that does all of the work for me.  Sometimes I need that.  I don't have time to develop all of the curriculum I want myself.  The curriculum I found is called Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program.  It is published by Prufrock Press.  I have books 1 and 2.  I am actually going to order Primary Book 1 and begin there with both my daughters.  I have been using Book 1 with the literature group I have been reading.  It has been interesting to see the responses of my daughter and the other children in the group.  We have walked through various passages and the questions in the book for each one.  The questions climb a ladder--to deeper thinking.  I have been extremely impressed with both the passages and questions.  But, I realize that my daughter needs to back up and start with the beginning of the series even though it is written for gifted Kindergarteners and First graders.  I did preview the primary book online.  It follows the same structure as Books 1 and 2.  I am so excited to integrate this series into our reading curriculum.  There are books for children grades K-9.  But, I would encourage you to not be concerned about using a book below your child's grade level.  The questions are very challenging and I noticed from using book 1 that these skills need to be developed bit by bit.

Before I move on, let me describe the books a little more.  Each book contains passages from various types of literature--fiction, poetry, non-fiction...  There is both a pre-test and post-test included in the book.  After each passage, there are a varying number of questions.  When you begin to use one of the books, you may want to explain the questions more thoroughly if your child doesn't understand them.  These questions are meant to be discussed.  I would not recommend handing your child this passage and then expect them to answer the question.  These books to help you scaffold your child's learning.  I always picture a painter's scaffolding in my head when I use that word.  The scaffolding is built along the outside of the building allowing the painter to climb up to a place he couldn't get to otherwise to do work.  So, it is with us.  We help our children up by modeling how to think and spurring on their thinking.  I have been using Book 1 with my literature group and I have been very pleased with our discussions.  The questions have given me the opportunity to explain and practice the skills of generalizing, categorizing, and paraphrasing among others.

Jacob's Ladder is a supplement.  It is not a primary literature program.  You can use it alongside book studies and literature courses to develop the reading comprehension skills children will need as they get older.  I am thankful that the books will cover so many years of my children's education.  This will provide continuity and allows skills to be built on top of one another.

If you have a gifted or very bright child, this series may be an especially good fit for you.  This series was written for gifted and talented students.  I think that homeschoolers often struggle to find resources that will challenge their children academically.  Prufrock Press has a lot of resources for gifted and talented students on their website.  They also specialize in resources for children with special learning needs.  I am excited to find Prufrock Press and the books they are publishing.  I think there is a big need for the books this company is publishing.

I am excited for the conversations and discussions that lie ahead of this year as my children and I dig into reading comprehension in a new way.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Book 1 of the Jacob's Ladder Comprehension Series from Prufrock Press for review.  I purchased the second book myself.

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