I had a chance to spend the entire week with my cute nephew who is 7 years old. His school is highly academic and they usually read 1-2 grades higher than their current grade level. Therefore, the test scores of this school is always at 99% of the nation’s average. Scary? Yes I know! On top of that, my nephew is the youngest in his class because he’s born in October. While other kids already turned 8, he’s still 7. Not only does he need to catch up but his brain is not as developed.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s a 7 year old that knows how to read “Charlotte’s Web.” He’s incredibly bright for his age and if you throw him in a public school system, he’ll probably be number 1 right now. However, because his school is naturally very academic and competitive, he’s falling behind in his reading and comprehension skills. You may say 2nd grade reading on a 4th grade level is definitely not falling behind but his environment is making him lose confidence in his ability to catch up to all the other kids who ARE able to read at the 4th grade level with ease. Is this too much pressure on a child? Not really. They’re used to this fast paced environment since school started. They don’t even know the difference between other public school kids and them so therefore, they don’t feel the “pressure.” They think this is normal. More on that later…
My job this week was to correct his view on his apprehension towards reading and comprehension due to his low test scores. The reason he has low test scores was he left half the test blank. If he didn’t know the “entire” answer, he just didn’t write anything on the page since all questions were open ended. Therefore, his scores were low not because he didn’t understand the stories but because he didn’t know how to answer a “small part” so he left the entire page blank. You may be thinking “just tell him to put anything down and skip and go to the next question.” Easier said than done. If teaching children were that easy, none of us have to read books about parenting anymore right?
I discovered he had a fear of being “wrong” and since every kid’s personalities were different, his fear of being wrong was stronger than others. Therefore, if he can’t get the perfect answer, he’s not going to answer at all. This is a problem with perfectionists. Sometimes perfectionists are the ones who aren’t successful because they’re afraid to try new things since they have a fear of failing. I had to develop an interest for him in reading so that he can voice out his opinions freely without his fearing right or wrong.
I immediately knew (since he’s family) he came from a family where there’s always right and wrong and the adults around him always want to teach him stuff the “right” way. It caused him to think that there’s a right answer for everything. This isn’t true. Most reading comprehension involves the opinion of the readers’ opinions. He didn’t understand this. He’s also always had adults tell him exactly what to do and what to read. As time goes by, he hasn’t developed an interest on academic stuff on his own. If you tell him to pick out a toy, he can because he’s always had the luxury of picking out what he likes but if you tell him to pick out reading, he’s lost because he never had to choose himself before.
Knowing this fact, I took him to a home schooling bookstore where I know they had reading comprehension books with questions for each excerpt. My plan was to let him think that this type of reading is for “fun” and enjoyment. I told him the day prior that we’re going to do something fun tomorrow to increase his interest and anticipation. The day we’re going to buy the books, I said we’re going to pick out something he loves to read and something fun. As soon as we entered the store, he had an “open” mind. He entered the rows of books and I was playful by saying “go forward forward forward, stop, no, forward” and laughed. He then got his eyes on a book of word search puzzles that builds vocabulary. He said, “I like looking for words.” Although we weren’t here for that type of book, I said, “Great! That looks interesting and fun. Why don’t you hang on to that so we can get it.”
I then took him to the reading comprehension section. I started pulling the high books he couldn’t reach off the shelf. I flipped through on of them in front of him and said, “What do you think of this? Do you like the stories in here?” He shook his head. I put that book back. I tried about 5 books and he finally said “This one looks fun!”
Needless to say, I took that book and said we’ll buy it for him. I tried several other books and we finally found another one for him. Now we have the word search and two other reading comprehension books.
When we got home, the first thing he did was take out word search and started doing it. I thought, “Great warm up.” We had our quiet time as I pulled up my own reading while he did his word search. After about 30 minutes, he was done with about 3 of them! He came over and showed me his result and I congratulated him on finishing so much. What an accomplishment.
Then I lightly asked, “Shall we read some fun stories?”
He smiled and nodded his head. He took out one of the reading comprehension books and looked at me as if he didn’t know how to start because he didn’t know whether he should read in silence or we’re reading together. I asked him, “Would you like to read a part and I can read a part so we can switch off?” He smiled and nodded. We read through the first story with ease. With each paragraph, I asked him questions and made expressions. I said, “Oh, so how come Sam felt this? Really? That’s so funny.” Along the way, I would ask him questions and inquire about his thoughts with no pressure. I also gave my own opinions and my own experiences if it related to the story and asked him if he had a similar experience. This is interactive reading. We laughed and talked.
Then came the page with the questions and answer. He did all the vocabulary, synonyms, etc. with ease but when it came to the open ended questions, he stopped. The questions were simply asking for his opinions and he stopped just like he does on his tests at school. I had him read the question out loud and then I asked him “What do you think?” He shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know.” I said, “Hm,… you don’t have any thoughts on why Sam did this? Did he do it because he was happy? Did he do it because he was sad?” After asking enough questions, he came up with an opinion himself. I said “Great! Just write that down then.” He asked me if that’s right. I said, “There’s no right and wrong. It’s your opinion that counts. This question just wants your own thoughts because your thoughts are important.” This removed some fear. We did the rest of the questions like this.
Then I asked him to check his own answers. The answer key of course wrote the answers in different ways but all meaning the same things as he himself have wrote down. At first he said, ” Awww, I got it wrong.” I replied, “Look again, answers will vary in format but do they mean the same thing?” He read the answer key again and slowly figured out the meanings were the same even though they were worded so differently. He looked up with a sparkle in his eyes, “I got the right answer!” I smiled and said, “Even if you got a different answer, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you wrote down what you think and you tried your best. If indeed you did get something wrong, the most important thing is correcting your mistake and moving on and making sure you have voiced your opinion at least because your opinion counts so much.” He looked happy. He immediately turned the page and said, “Let’s do another one!”
The second one was a small struggle as well but was done about 30% faster than the first. After the second was finished, we had now spent about 1.5 hours on reading comprehension with ease. He went back to his word search. 1.5 hours was all it took for him to change his view a little. Did he permanently change? Probably not but after a week, a month, or even a year of practice, would he still be scared? I guarantee you not.
The next morning came. I went and opened up my own book and he came over and said, “What are you doing?” I said I’m reading to learn fun stuff and I asked if he wished to read next to me. He nodded! He took out his reading comprehension book, sat next to me and asked, “Will you read with me?” Of course I said yes. We did another 1.5 hours that morning and this time, without my asking, he answered all the questions on his own as if he were playing a game.
2 days. Such a big difference.
Third day, I wanted to add something on to reading comprehension. I wanted to teach him writing skills and creative writing (another thing he was slower on). I said, “Would you like to help me write a funny story?” He nodded.
We took turns writing one paragraph each to make up a story. I started and then he continued with his thoughts. After about 30 minutes, we hand wrote two entire pages of a short story of our own. After we were done and added “The End,” I asked whether he would like to tell the story to grandpa. Grandpa came over and sat down while he read to him loud and clear. This was the first time grandpa heard his nephew so loud, confident, and clear. He read with expression and changes in tone with each event in the story. Needless to say, it was a pretty exciting experience for me to see him have so much fun and learn at the same time.
He wrote faster and faster as we progressed in the story and learned to spell words he knew how to say but didn’t know how to write yet. As he wrote, he asked me how to spell out words and we would work through the sounds and guess at how to spell each word together. He ended up spelling it out himself. Not once did I ever say, “no, wrong” or “yes, right.” It’s always, “What do you think?” and “Let’s check the dictionary.”
No stress, just fun and lots of learning. He didn’t even realize how much he learned and he did it willingly on his own. He didn’t watch cartoons for 3 whole days. That’s a lot of learning squeezed in for each day. I just hope once he goes home, he doesn’t get bogged down by old habits again and remember to move forward each day by practicing for fun. Of course, it will also depend on how much time his parents are devoted to helping him and whether they establish confidence with him.
Crossing my fingers and wishing the best for him. I love my nephew and I know he can do it with guidance, the type of guidance that encourages creativity.
I gained so much from this experience as I put everything I’ve read from parenting books to good use! It actually worked! So magical…