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The Trouble with Books

Posted Mar 08 2011 8:09am
You may have noticed that last week was Read Across America. And this week is some other reading-encouragement problem. And next week will be another one. And there was one a couple weeks ago. We're a literacy society- specifically, written literacy (as opposed to oral culture), and reading is a highly regarded life skill. Reading, writing, arithmetic. With al the emphasis on this in educational programs, I'm often surprised how little of it my students have when they arrive at college. But that's for a different blog.

Joey reads. There is no ifs, ands, or buts about that. I would go so far as to say he is hyperlexic, reading far above what he can understand. Trying to figure out what he can understand is highly problematic, as he has processing difficulties that make answering questions a huge challenge. I have learned to listen for comprehension in many ways, in many observations, many of which his current teachers have yet to understand or notice. With that kind of difficulty, I'm not too fussed about him having a B on his report card for reading, as those report cards throw him into the general stream, and that means he's above-average/strong even among the whole of his class peers. I'm a little fussed because I don't think it tells me much about his actual reading and comprehension skills, though.

The real problem, however, isn't evaluating what he can do. It is getting him to do it. Joey hates to read.

No, that's not exactly right. Joey hates to read stories.

He loves reading dictionaries. He's had a couple of books he reads, but he reads them a couple times, and then he's done with them- I suppose he has the story memorized in his head, so why read them again? Sometimes I can get him to read a science-fact book. Reading history, narrative, stories? Pulling teeth would be easier.

There are a number of problems with stories, especially fictional stories, that made them not fun for Joey. The whole narrative sequencing thing is trouble. Being able to remember what order events took place so that they make any sort of sense is a challenge. With no reference to reality and immediacy, the story sequence loses meaning.

Joey doesn't connect with most narratives. WHy should he care what Fluffy the Bunny did or said? Why should he care that Sally and Tommy went to the store? The store isn't one that he's ever seen, he's never met Sally or Tommy. Its just a jumble of strangeness with no connection to him or relevance to his life. He sees nothing of interest there.

I don't think Joey is able to form images in his head to see the story unfolding, either. This is something many of us do, as we hear the words of a good book. Most picture books are too abstract for Joey to follow the illustrations, and he takes one glance and has them, so that he spend no time exploring them. The information is recorded and catalogues and done. Using that catalogue to create new pictures is not something his brain seems to do.

The definition of "cold"? Excellent stuff. Useful. Catchy.

We tried mysteries like Encyclopedia Brown, trying to give him connections to characters and a puzzle to solve. We tried Wow Wow Wubbzy books, thinking his favorite character might intrigue him. We've tried science readers, picture books, chapter books, books in a series he caught any interest to at all.

Joey once said that reading hurts. We don't know what that means. Is he in physical pain? Does it hurt his feelings to be nagged about a task he doesn't enjoy, or finds useless?

His teacher was so excited last week when he voluntarily read a book for her, she actually emailed me with the news. A few months ago when he voluntarily read a book at home, I emailed her just as excited. They are email worthy incidents because they are so rare.

I am thinking about getting hold of some encyclopedias for Joey. Not kid ones, real ones. I want to see if he finds them interesting, like his dictionaries. One must remember the goal: we learn to read in order to gain access to knowledge. Not everyone is interested in social relationships and history; some want just the facts, please. If he'll read them, I'm all for it.
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