Parents often ask me how they can help their children become better readers. Most parents already know about the importance of reading to and with their children and are thrilled to do so for both the bonding it provides between parent and child and for the research-proven benefits of helping children hear examples of proper inflection, intonation, expression and overall fluency. Many parents are often enlightened to discover that equally important are their conversations with their children before, during, and after reading a piece of text.
When I meet with my second grade students in small guided reading groups, a portion of each lesson is always devoted to direct modeling of active reading and think aloud strategies. Students need to be reminded, and more importantly, shown daily that reading is an active process. They need to see that reading is more than decoding words and stopping at periods. To make sense of what we read, we have to engage with the text actively. Because children cannot see into our adult minds, they often assume comprehension happens simply by reading the words on a page. I remind them that reading is more than decoding the words on a page. Reading is making use of illustrations and text features, wondering and questioning, predicting and inferring, visualizing, reassessing, summarizing, evaluating, and concluding. It involves thinking about our thinking. Reading requires us to be engaged the entire time we are involved with a piece of text. To make meaning of our reading, we must tap into our prior knowledge, consider author's purpose, rely on blurbs, captions, headings, subheadings, context clues, figurative language, text tools like tables of contents, glossaries, diagrams and graphs, maps, forwards, prologues, epilogues, and author's notes. We need to understand italics and dialogue, hyphens and a plethora of rules and purposes for punctuation. The list goes on and on, of course! It takes a great deal of thought, energy, and metacognitive skills to read and read well. I like to remind students and parents that our brains get a big work out when we read, because reading is such an active process. If we could see a picture of what good readers' brains do when they read, we'd see synapses firing rapidly and all kinds activity that proves it is an extremely active process!
For these reasons, it is incredibly beneficial for students to know that we as readers actually do all of these things when we read. That is why whenever I read with my students, I actually stop and and ask questions out loud, jot down notes of words I'm not sure about in front of them (sticky notes are my best friend), questions and predictions I have, inferences I am making, new facts I am learning, and conclusions I am reaching as I read. I draw pictures (nothing too fancy as I am not nearly as talented an artist as my second graders) of the images the author is painting for me through the use of vivid language. Finally, I always share my favorite passages with them so that they can see that I am passionate about reading and writing. Parents can easily do this as well at home or at the library or their favorite bookstore, but where they do it isn't nearly as important as that they do it. As adults, we need to remove the mystery of comprehension and make it accessible and attainable for our children by letting them in on the secret of comprehension….tell your child what you are thinking when you are reading and ask them the same question. Then share why you are thinking what you are thinking and ask them to do the same. Soon, you won't even be able to get a word in edgewise!
For more information and ideas about how to encourage and enhance reading comprehension with think alouds, check out these links about the power of think alouds and have a blast reading with your child. I promise, it will be time well spent.