Monday, August 1, 2016

Just Because You Can

**Warning- some of you are going to disagree with me and that is a-o-k.**

Reading. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

As a former reading teacher I heard it EVERY year - "I already read that book." My response was always the same, "Well, you haven't read it with me."  Funny how the child(ren) who had already read that book never made a 100 on any assignment - why? Because they didn't truly read the book. They read the words, but they didn't understand the novel on the level it was intended to be understood.

Reading levels tell parent and educators what type of vocabulary to expect, what type of sentence structure to expect, the maturity level of the book, and more.

I know many children read above their grade level. I get it. I taught those kids. I also parent that kid. It is annoying to find books that can challenge a gifted reader.

What is more annoying are the parents that think just because their kid can sound out every word means they should read any book in the store or library. Just because your 8 year old can read on a 5th or 6th grade level, does not mean they should read that book. Yes, their vocabulary is high. Your child is articulate. The books designed for their age group are SO below their ability. I GET IT. The same goes for my oldest. You know what she is reading? Junie B Jones (which I hate), Boxcar Children (which I find boring), some other second grade chapter books, and picture books like Pinkalicious (she still loves them.) She is reading those books independently because the material is appropriate for her.

TOGETHER, while she was in first grade, we read the Ramona series. (4th grade level)

TOGETHER. E1 read pages out loud, we read out loud, E1 read silently. We discussed the book and all the topics that were in that book so she could truly understand the book. We discussed parents losing their job, lost wages, the stress of family changes, and all the other subject matter E1 would have skimmed over had she read alone. We helped her discuss if she was like Ramona or Beezus and why. We talked about the difference between frustration and anger. We discussed how sisters can hate each other but still love each other. We discussed doing the right thing when no one is looking vs being a suck up. We discussed many things.

Since the Ramona series is on a 4th grade reading level and E1 can read all the words with no problem, then E1 should read that level. WRONG. I don't want her reading Number The Stars alone. That book is on a 4th grade reading level, but it is about the Holocaust. I do not think that subject matter is something for an 7 year old to read about alone. Or how about some Judy Blume books? Those are 4th grade reading level. Pretty sure E1 doesn't need to read about getting her period for the first time in the bathroom during school. My kid has enough worries...that doesn't need to be one of them.

This past week I read Wonder. It is an AMAZING book! I am tutoring a 6th grader in reading and this book is required by his middle school. My niece (almost 10, going into 5th grade) saw the book and told me how so many of her friends had read that book a year ago or even in 3rd grade. I was beyond irritated. My sister told me the same thing.

The book is labeled with a 5th grade reading level. E1 asked if she could read the book. My response was, "Yes you CAN read the book, but you will wait to read the book." E1 was pretty annoyed and I don't care. The book is about the trials and tribulations of an incoming Jr. High student who has been home schooled due to his facial deformities. On the surface the book seems to cover social acceptance and bullying.

But, there are much deeper topics. Topics that do not belong in an elementary school brain. For example, the main character's sister states "Countless babies who'll never be born." She says this when discussing being a carrier of the "mutant gene" that deformed her brother. E1, at age 7, does not need to 1) read this sentence and not understand it and 2) read it and then have us discuss what it means. She is 7! Why does she need to know about decisions like that - Decisions about whether or not to have babies based on your genetic history...NO THANKS! This is just ONE example of many mature topics in this book that are perfect for adolescents to discuss, but not perfect for little children to discuss.

I do not believe in censorship. I would much prefer E1 and E2 learn about things through reading vs the television, but I am still the parent and I still decide when is the right time to learn about certain topics.

It is fine if you let your child read books above their grade level....BUT READ IT FIRST! Make sure your child is capable of understanding the entire book and mature enough to read the book.

Or if you are going to have your child read a novel above their grade level/age, then read WITH them so you can discuss the topics, define words they typically would not have known, and check for understanding.

Children learn much more than basic comprehension skills when reading. They learn about cause and effect, predictions, figurative language, imagery, making inferences, theme, author's purpose, plot, character development, point of view, using context clues, and a shit ton more!

My list of what children learn while reading could go on and on and on...I am after all, a former reading teacher.
And if you do not understand one thing I just wrote, don't worry - your kid's teacher does.

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