Emma’s teacher and I have been brainstorming new ways to increase Emma’s reading comprehension. We have tried the standard reading comprehension questions, which, as my friend Ibby pointed out, are typically filled with inconsistencies and problems. We’ve tried the more standard reading comprehension questions such as a story about a boy named Peter who takes a taxi to the airport. He gets on an airplane, buckles his seat belt and the plane takes off. The questions are then, “Who took a taxi?” The answer, obviously is Peter took a taxi. But the second question, “Where was he going?” is tougher to answer because we aren’t given the destination other than he took a taxi to the airplane and that isn’t actually accurate as he took the taxi to the airport, but the airport isn’t part of the story. It tells us he took a taxi and then got onto the airplane where he buckled his seat belt, so Emma answered, “Going to visit Granma in Aspen!” And while this isn’t the answer the creators of the questions were presumably looking for, it demonstrates that Emma certainly understands what the story is about and she is adding her own personal experience to the gaping holes the story provides. In addition, the story has been dumbed down so completely, if we are “presuming competence” then Emma must be going out of her mind with boredom.
So this is the question I come up against almost constantly – how do we make the material interesting and engaging, but not so difficult it becomes frustrating. How do we set Emma up to succeed and not fail without boring her? How do we deal with her resistance to reading and writing? I’ve made some headway by trying to do some playacting and using some of her favorite songs, but reading itself remains difficult for Em and she certainly doesn’t enjoy it. Maybe I am making it too complicated. Maybe I’m over-thinking the whole thing. Maybe it’s better to just present reading material and have her read it silently. Then type questions that she types the answers to. Maybe having her read aloud is causing problems.
What I am seeing over and over is that when she has trouble with a text we make the text easier, but I don’t believe that’s the answer. I’m not sure making it “simpler” is better. My biggest challenge with all of this is that this is not my area of expertise and I have no idea how to proceed. Emma’s teacher continues to try different things, but we haven’t found anything that seems to captivate, motivate or particularly interest her. I have to think about this more. I’ve printed out some of her favorite song lyrics, but there were too many words she couldn’t read and so much slang, I quickly abandoned the idea. I need to find reading material that isn’t so easy it’s boring and not so difficult it makes her frustrated. Looking back over the past year, I can see how well she was doing and how so much of that progress has stopped. I need to revisit those earlier concepts and see if I can find material that will pick up where we left off.