Reading Matters: Why children need to read, and keep reading

READ UP: It is important to teach all children, especially those diagnosed with AD/HD, to read developmentally appropriate texts, as reading is a tool for learning.

“I don’t want to read!”
“That’s too long!”
“It’s so difficult!”
“’Wag, boring ‘yan!

These were the common complaints I heard from my students diagnosed with AD/HD in the center where I previously worked in as a reading clinician. Choosing a book for them had always been a struggle. This was especially true when they were already transitioning from reading short story books aloud to silently reading thicker chapter books and textbooks, which contain fewer pictures and more words.

My students tended to totally avoid the task even just upon seeing a novel in my hand, and when asked to at least give it a try. I literally begged and struck a bargain every time I try to convince them to read a material appropriate for their age and grade level. Usually, the sessions ended with either of the two scenarios: them not finishing the books I had chosen, or me delivering a series of lectures on “Why-It’s-Important-to-Read-Novels-and-Graduate-from-Geronimo-Stilton.” All of this changed when I discovered The Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan. What a lifesaver!

Here’s an excerpt from chapter six of the book:

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BOY WONDER: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, featuring Percy Jackson.

“You don’t know anything about me.”
“No?” She raised an eyebrow. “I bet you moved around from school to school. I bet you were kicked out of a lot of them.”
“How—”
“Diagnosed with Dyslexia. Probably AD/HD, too.”
I tried to swallow my embarrassment.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Taken together, it’s almost a sure sign. The letters float off the page when you read, right? That’s because your mind is hardwired for ancient Greek. And the AD/HD—you’re impulsive, can’t sit still in the classroom. That’s your battlefield reflexes. In a real fight, they’d keep you alive. As for the attention problems, that’s because you see too much, Percy, not too little. Your senses are better than a regular mortal’s. Of course the teachers want you medicated. Most of them are monsters. They don’t want you seeing them for what they are.”

AN UNLIKELY HERO
Little by little, through The Lightning Thief series, I was able to encourage my students to read per chapter. Exclamations like, “Parang ako ‘yan, ah!” and “I have a hard time focusing, too!” became common expressions during collaborative reading. They started to associate themselves with the character of Percy Jackson; not as the fearsome demigod, but as a kid who initially  had below average academic performance, low self-esteem, and identity issues.

Gradually, they began to request reading more pages and chapters of the book. They even asked me to read certain pages that contain exciting scenes while they read the rest. When I asked them for the reason behind their requests, they gave this response: “E kasi mas navi-visualize ko sa utak ko ‘pag ikaw yung nagbabasa, at mas naiintindihan ko.” They also started asking questions about difficult words they encountered for the first time, making predictions, and forming judgments. As they began to view reading as an enjoyable activity, they became more amenable to using it as a springboard in acquiring new words, processing texts better by answering questions posed on them, and accomplishing reading-writing connection activities.

Just like their idol Percy Jackson, who initially had a strong aversion to reading, they began to see the relevance of reading and started to take command of their learning. This marked the improvement of their reading skills, since the sure fire way to be good at reading is to keep doing it and to learn strategies along the way.

PROPS TO YOU: Props used by a student in a book talk about E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Photo courtesy of Christine Joy Asas.

WHAT TO READ, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF GENUINE LOVE FOR READING
The main goal of every reading teacher or clinician is to effectively match a reader’s experiences and interests to texts in order to develop genuine love for reading. In return, it will pave the way for improving their reading skills.

Motivating children to read is the key to developing comprehension. Says McLaughlin, “Engaged learners achieve because they want to understand, they possess intrinsic motivation for interacting with text, they use cognitive skills to understand, and they share knowledge by talking with teachers and peers.”

In reading The Lightning Thief, there were still the occasional struggles with the length of the passages required for them to read. After all, they needed to note details within the chapters, and to sustain their attention to be able to process what’s happening. However, because they had an inherent desire to read it, they learned to compromise. They agreed to establish an agreement to identify the number of pages assigned to them during the read-aloud tasks. Noticeably, they became more determined to read as they became more engrossed. They gained more confidence in reading longer parts of the texts, and got to know more about themselves as they saw their hero, Percy Jackson, grow and develop into a person they could all look up to.

How do we know which books would interest the students? Simple. As teachers, we can utilize interest surveys as tools to better understand the profile of our readers, advises Glasswell. It will consequently aid us in determining which reading materials to use for them.

In my practice, I discovered that one of the best indicators in effectively matching students with appropriate texts is how well we know them as individuals—their likes, interests, hobbies, and personalities. I find that they will read voluntarily and habitually if (1) they associate reading books with positive feelings, (2) the stories presented to them are appealing and relevant to their experiences, and (3) the characters chosen by the author are easy to relate with.

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BOARDED UP: Props used by a student for a book talk on The Last Olympian, which won 1st prize in a book talk contest last 2013. Photo courtesy of Christine Joy Asas.

MORE REASONS TO READ, AND READ, AND READ
Why is it so important to teach all children, and not only those with AD/HD, to read developmentally appropriate texts, fiction and nonfiction alike? This is because reading is a tool for learning. A student uses it everyday in school to perform a variety of literacy tasks like using reference materials, following directions, and getting information from textbooks, magazines, and newspapers.

As children grow older, the difficulty and the length of the passages that they read become increasingly harder as well. Have you ever wondered why there are students that perform relatively better from kinder to early grades, but start to fail in subjects like social studies and science in higher grades? One possible explanation is that they fail to cope with the demands of reading longer passages in different subjects.

As stated in the Stages of Reading Development by Dr. Jeanne Chall, the goal for reading in the elementary years (Grades 4 to 6) has already shifted from learning how to read to using reading for learning. The purpose of their reading is mainly to get information, to help them understand their lessons, and to remember key concepts in different subject areas. It now becomes very important for teachers to instruct students on using strategies like applying context clues and analyzing word parts, as well as to provide explicit instruction on comprehension skills, like determining the author’s purpose and differentiating fact from opinion.

Likewise, teachers need to expose students to expository and narrative texts to help them deal with their varying structures and their corresponding features. Also, they need opportunities to practice different modes of reading—from listening to read-aloud activities, to shared reading, and eventually, to independent silent reading. These are all necessary steps to ensure academic success which is largely determined by their reading performance.

TIMELINE: A sample output of a student showing the chronological order of the key events presented in the chapter he has read using a timeline. Photo courtesy of Christine Joy Asas.

Reading hones our cognitive skills, too. It is an active and engaging process. It gives children the opportunities to practice thinking skills like making connections, identifying important details, and learning new concepts. To be able to aid students in becoming strategic readers, teachers should help them process texts before, during, and after reading. Using graphic organizers as part of  the reading activity supports this aim as well.

As students become strategic readers, they will also become more intentional in using graphic organizers like venn diagrams, cause-effect charts, and schematic maps. By now, they can already recognize that there are ways to help them comprehend what they read. The use of graphic organizers also provides them an efficient way to synthesize their learning and look at the interrelationships of the ideas in the text at a glance. Likewise, they may serve as an instrument for developing study skills and as guides or prompts for writing.

Reading improves language abilities of children as well. Genuine children’s books are great language models. They are venues for students to listen to how words in a language sound and consequently learn different sentence structures that they may adapt in actual conversations and in writing. Teachers can discuss these stories further by asking questions, giving feedback, scaffolding student responses, and performing creative activities like readers’ theaters to help enrich their expression, advises Kirkland.

Did you know that children’s books have approximately 50 percent more rare words than most primetime adult television shows and adult conversations? This had been demonstrated in the results of the study conducted by Hayes and Arens in 1988. It only goes to show that reading books contribute vastly to vocabulary development. Researches had long established that it is through exposure to printed materials that word learning opportunities mostly occur, according to Cunningham. Hence, if we want our students to acquire more mature words and apply them properly in speech and in writing, we should encourage them to read more books.

HIGH EMPATHY: A reading-writing connection activity as a response to the death of a minor character in the book. Photo courtesy of Christine Joy Asas.

Not only does it enhance the performance of children in school, but reading also helps develop empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. By using stories which show a variety of themes and contexts, they can reflect and imagine how they might feel if they were in a similar situation, and how they would want to be treated in return. We can introduce them to situations that they may not otherwise readily experience in real life. This concept is in line with the results of a study conducted in 2010 by a psychologist named Raymond Mar. He found that reading stories to young children contribute to honing their “theory of mind,“ or mental model of other people’s intentions, according to Paul.

A READING TEACHER’S NOTE
Making a child read books independently is one of the greatest achievement of a reading teacher or clinician. It is because you do not only introduce the child to the wonderful journey of imagining different worlds and cultures, gathering new information, and developing their affect, but most importantly, you enable them to execute relevant literacy tasks which will turn them into well-equipped learners. The key to do this is to engage them in the reading process and to make them love reading by choosing high interest appropriate texts.

This became evident in the life of my Grade 6 student with AD/HD. In his words during his book talk contest for the novel The Last Olympian, the 5th book in The Lightning Thief series: “I really liked reading the book The Last Olympian. My most favorite character in the novel was Percy Jackson. He made me realize that I can improve, not only with my studies, but also in making friends. He already read the nine books in the series and even won an award in the aforementioned event. At present, he continues reading more books and enjoys delivering book talks ever since he joined the book club in his school. CJA

Teacher TinCHRISTINE JOY ASAS is a reading intervention teacher. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines, Diliman with a degree in Special Education. She obtained her reading clinician’s training from the Readability Literacy Improvement Center and practiced there from 2010 to 2014. Currently, she works as a SpEd consultant in Schola Progressio Quezon City Inc. and serves as a teacher trainer for the Literacy Boost Project of Save the Children.

REFERENCES

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