If I had known the transformation that was about to occur, I would not have dreaded my required “Kiddy Lit” class in college. Officially, Children’s Literature was a block class which only met for a few weeks. However, the course work included a daunting list of required reading. It was impossible to do the extensive reading during the short course time, so the professor made the reading requirements clear before we left for vacation. I had all summer to do my homework. The list of titles looked overwhelming. I had not been a reader while young; I was still not a strong reader in college. Reading was hard and took me forever. I assumed this was just my destiny. Boy was I wrong. To gain a modicum of success, I began with what I affectionately call Baby Picture Books. As a rising college senior, books with pictures worked for me! I crossed off some titles and moved on up to books with pictures and words. The large font made the words easy to take in. The pictures and easy plots helped me with comprehension. I crossed off a few more titles. Next came the first chapter books. They had fewer pictures, but the font was still large which kept the line length short. The story lines were easy to grasp. I cross off more titles and moved on to children’s books with smaller fonts. When I needed a break from reading, I talked one of my sisters into reading to me. At times we took turns reading out loud to each other on alternating chapters. I  could take you to the exact spot where we lounged in the sun while taking turns reading and listening to the The Little Prince.  By summer’s end I was reading young adult fiction with a fair amount of both speed and comprehension. This was stunning! What had happened? How had Esther-the-struggling-reader become Esther-the-more-competent-and-confident-reader? Reading books way below my grade level developed the necessary skill of automaticity. My eyes had increased their ability to take in multiple words in one eye sweep motion. I had learned to do that skill with comprehension because the books I learned on were simple. Educators often speak of 3 reading levels—independent level, instructional level, and frustration level. Because I had visual processing problems, and because my teachers had always given me reading books where they thought I should be (instead of starting where I actually was)—I had lived my reading life at frustration level.  I was working so hard at figuring out the words that I was not tracking with the meaning of the book at all. Since reading is getting meaning from print—I really was not reading. What I was doing (for years!) was tedious and ineffective. This is a fabulous way to kill a child’s desire to read. I didn’t know starting easy and working my way up was going to speed up my ability to process text effectively. I now realize—both from my experience and from helping so many others through this transformation—that a child reading a hard book often gets lost laboring over lines of rugged terrain. He or she will not develop the skill and automaticity that would come if they first had lots of hours of easy reading. The paved road of large letters, short lines, and easily-grasped concepts helps develop the brain connections we need to read well. Struggling as a reader may be your history, but it does not have to be your destiny.

6 Comments

  1. Susan

    I appreciate this concept so much — it is hopeful and remedial in the most pleasant sort of way. =) I remember years ago a young mom of several children telling me how one of her girls just hadn’t developmentally progressed; it was recognized that the 7 year old youngster had ‘skipped’ some critical skill developments simply because of convenience and ‘survival’ for the busy young mom. What was missing? Floor time for the little one, learning about motor skills, spatial relationships, depth perception, etc., because the little one was plopped into a rolling walker/play seat as a means of containment and safety in the midst of the other children. The remedy: flat out on the floor, learning the skills overlooked or skipped, and playtime, games, whatever to fulfill the necessary floor-time requirement. The result for her was remarkable, and I can see its parallel here with the loveliness of reading. Makes me want to go back and read progressively myself, just for the fun and joy if it! Great post, Esther!

    Reply
    • Esther Wilkison

      You bring up many great points, Susan. Children need LOTS of floor time and crawl time to develop the skills needed for reading and handwriting. Good points!

      Reply
  2. Moses Lewis

    I too have struggled with reading and comprehension. It is amazing to me how quickly the brain can learn.

    Reply
    • Esther Wilkison

      It is indeed amazing! Thanks for sharing, Moses.

      Reply
  3. Uknowme

    This is encouraging! After two bachelors degrees slipped away due to health burn-put from pushing through, college goals were all but lost. However, 4 years later, I have a job I love that needs me to finish my BA degree, or a BA degree. I’m working this summer on this very thing and reading fluency. I’m also dyslexic. I didn’t realize how very dyslexic I am until working at a school for kids with dyslexia. The struggles are real. There will always be those who doubt your ability to improve quickly enough to do the job. With God all things are possible and this was encouraging to me to read. It’s easy to forget I’m not the only one in my position. Knowing we’re to begin is hard.

    Reply
  4. project igi 3

    Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply

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