When Rosemary Crossley was here she spent several hours working with my daughter. One of the many discoveries we made was that Emma can and does read very quickly, but if asked to read out loud, she will stumble and get so caught up in pronunciation I question whether she is able to comprehend what she’s reading at all. I know I have trouble following the story. Yet most schools ask children to read out loud, both as a way to assess what they are capable of, and also to make sure they are at the correct reading level. If a child reads a first grade reader out loud with great difficulty, the impulse is to make the reading material simpler. Except that if this is done with my daughter she will be stuck reading kindergarten and beginning level reading books for the foreseeable future.
I know Emma is able to read much more complicated texts than beginning readers. I know this because I have seen her read with Rosemary and me very quickly. I have witnessed her ability to read, not only faster than I can, but her ability to accurately answer multiple choice questions related to the text with ease when given some resistance. In other words, if she is asked to wait a beat, instead of being allowed to immediately point to an answer, her accuracy goes way up. Without the pause she is just as likely to randomly pick any answer. From Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, “The resistance I provided slowed her down very substantially, and the quality of her output increased as her speed fell. I gave Jan a picture of a cow and asked her to write me a sentence about it. Instead she typed, THIS TYPING IS HARD. I HAVE TO THINK. That was, of course, the aim of the exercise.”
This idea of providing resistance is a tricky one to explain to people. I have had some people say they just cannot understand why this would be necessary. The only way I know of to better explain, is by comparing it to the way many, who are like my daughter, will perseverate on a word, or will rely on favorite scripts. It is not that these scripts have no meaning, it is more that they are often difficult for others to understand. If I hand Emma her iPad and ask her to type me a story, she will most likely write something like, “rollercoaster, kiteflyer, greenride, hurricane harbor, waterslide” which is also in keeping with what she might say out loud.
These words are powerful to her, they hold a great deal of meaning, but to most people, they are seen as gibberish. If this then is used to assess her capabilities she will not be well served. However if I ask her to type me a story and then hold one end of a rod while she holds the other end with her typing hand and types with one finger while I pull her hand back after each letter is typed, she might type, ““One day there was a boy called george. He had been in afight can’t tell you how he got into the fight but he was bruised all over. He fought a lot and his teacher was very angry. The next day he was all purple and his mother said you can’t go to school looking like that. The very clever boy covered himself in flower and his teacher thought he was sick and sent him home. The end.”
Incidentally, that story is one Emma wrote when Rosemary was here working with her and is typical of the sorts of things she can and does type when given the kind of resistance I’ve described. (You can read the entire post I wrote about her session with Rosie, ‘here‘.) However, ask Emma to read out loud a story similar to the one she typed and she will have a great deal of trouble. What she is capable of is far greater than what one might assume from what she verbalizes, whether that means reading out loud or with spontaneous speech. Ask Emma to sing the lyrics of a song, in Greek no less, and she will get much of it right, but that’s a whole other post.
But how does one convince others that this is so? Particularly when many are trained and told that reading out loud is a good indicator of ability. There is surprisingly little written on the topic of the problems with reading out loud for those who have spoken language and word retrieval issues. Again, in Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, she writes, “her reading aloud was bedeviled by the same word-finding problems which affected her spontaneous speech, preventing her reading with any fluency.”
Obviously there needs to be more written about all of this. The closest I have found, other than Rosemary’s book, Speechless, is a blog, The Right Side of Normal, that concentrates on “right brained children”. And on that blog, this post specifically, Silent Reading versus Reading Aloud, which deals with, at least some of what I’m discussing here. If others know of other resources discussing any of this, please do leave me links in the comments section.