Search This Blog

Saturday, November 24, 2018

This Book is Too Hard

You've chosen a curriculum, and you've hit a stumbling block- a book that is too hard. Your kids aren't getting it, you hate it, and you think it's obviously too hard for a student of your child's age.  What do you do?

The easiest thing in the world to do is just drop the book.  Put it on a shelf for later. Use it as a doorstop.  Sometimes, the easiest thing in the world is exactly what you need to do at this time for these children.
But you also know in your heart of hearts that sometimes.... it's not.

You may think the kids will get more out of it if you wait, and you're probably right, they will.  I got more out of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult than I ever did as a 12 year old.  But that doesn't mean it was a waste of my time to read it at 12.  I got a lot out of it then.  I read it to my girls when the oldest was just 6.  Did she get as much out of it as she would have if I'd waited until she was 10?  Of course not.  But we never mine all treasure there is to find in a good book in the first reading, whatever age we are.  That's the beauty of good books.

You chose the curriculum for a reason.  So think about those reasons.  Think about the track record that curriculum has with other books.  Perhaps having considered all this, you still think this book will be so challenging to your child that it will be harmful to continue.  Maybe all the reasons that went into choosing that curriculum are also good reasons to go ahead and try the harder book after all, if only you had a little help.  I hope that this post will offer some helps for working through those books.

But you hate it, so what can you do?  In no order whatsoever, here are some ideas:

If you're not liking the book, that can be contagious. It can also alter the way you read aloud and discuss the book, so make sure you're not communicating negative opinions that are getting in the child's way.  Give yourself a shake, smile cheerfully, and read cheerfully.  Don't come between the child and the book has more than one application.

Read slowly.  I'm talking mostly about a book you're reading aloud, of course, and perhaps if you weren't reading it aloud, you should start.  Pause slightly longer than normal after a sentence so your brains have a chance to process and catch up.  If you have any experience with singing, think about how much more slowly you sing a song when you are first learning it.  If you have tried to learn another language, think about how much more slowly you have to hear the words and sentences pronounced to understand them.  If this book is a challenging book because the language and/or ideas are a step up in complexity, think of it as a new language, and give yourselves a slower pace so you can work towards fluency.

Keep in mind too, that children's receptive language is a couple steps above their expressive skills- that is, as we all know, they understand more than they can say. This is especially true when they are quite small, but I think it is also true when they are making a step up in meeting the complexity challenge of a more advanced book. The books themselves will enlarge their vocabularies and enable them to understand more of the other books.  From another Parents' Review:
"the generous supply of tales, prescribed for the younger children, makes reading a delight, creates a desire to understand language, and equips the children with an ever-extending vocabulary, and, by so doing, increases their power of expression when they are called upon to describe what they have read."

DRAW- stick figures are fine.  You and your children can do the drawings- stick figures with brief notes and a couple sketched details for identification. Example:  President Harding, with a teapot and a hill over his head to denote the Teapot Dome scandal; or Hamlet with question marks all around his head to denote his 'to be, or not to be' soliloquy.  Personally, I found the most success when the children themselves draw the stick figures and choose the identification details.  Keep it as a bookmark and briefly review it before you begin each reading.

More Advance Preparation work: One other tip for approaching a harder book is to look it over in advance and look up just two or three words with your children- there may likely be a dozen you think she won't know. Just choose two or three. Look them up first, help her define them in her own words. With one or two of my daughters, I wrote the words and she wrote definitions on an index card.  This is most important with stories like Parables from Nature, where contemporary children may never have heard of a Will o'the Wisp, and it won't be obvious from the context.  However, do not overuse this method. Don't make up a long list and have them write sentences using the words, just identify two or three of the most unfamiliar words.

From a Parents' Review article:
"Do always prepare the passage carefully beforehand, thus making sure that all the explanations and use of background material precede the reading and narration. The teacher should never have to stop in the middle of a paragraph to explain the meaning of a word. Make sure, before you start, that the meanings are known, and write all difficult proper names on the blackboard, leaving them there throughout the lesson. Similarly any map work which may be needed should be done before the reading starts.

Do regulate the length of the passage to be read before narration to the age of the children and the nature of the book. If you are reading a fairy story, you will find that the children will be able to remember a page or even two, if a single incident is described. With a more closely packed book, one or two paragraphs will be sufficient. Older children will, of course, be able to tackle longer passages before narrating, but here too, the same principles should be applied, that the length varies with the nature of the book." (Notes on Narration)

You can also use something that happens in the reading to make a connection- 'Remember when we saw that movie about...? Today we're going to read a different perspective.' Or 'have you ever seen a bear?  Today we'll be reading about somebody who fought with a bear,' or anything, really, to pique interest, salt the oats, hook attention.  Don't be overly elaborate- keep in mind if you oversalt the oats, they are inedible.

It also helps if you begin the reading with one or two sentences about what you read last time- "Where we were?"  'What happened last?" Pause a moment, and if she can't answer, you review the previous reading in one sentence (or refer to the bookmark mentioned previously). Or read a sentence from the previous reading.   It need not be detailed at all- just a sentence or two of context for reminder. Then give a 'wonder,' "I wonder if ...?"

But Don't over-explain: that gives the child the idea that the book is too hard already.  It's also a way to make a child sick of a book before she ever gets to the meat of it.  You know how when somebody tries to explain a complicated game to you before you play, and the explanation is tedious and maddening and confusing and you just want to scream "Let's play already!" Or maybe, "Forget it!  Let's just watch a movie!"
The key is for your remarks to be short, but to stir up just a bit of interest.

When you read:  Read with interest, with expression, and read just so much as can be narrated- this may be a paragraph, it might be what Miss Mason called 'an episode.'  If it is a book that has been a struggle, do not keep reading just because the child is interested- even if it is a book that has never been a struggle- stop while interest is still keen.  This is so important.

The reason is because if you stop while the child is still interested, they want to hear more.  You close the book, but they do not close their thoughts.  They keep thinking about the book, processing it over in their minds, cementing the ideas, and when you come back to it, they come to the text with a sharper appetite.  Reading too long just because they are enjoying it is like giving them lots of snacks before lunch, just because they love them.  It makes them full and less interested in their dinner when it comes.

Again, there will be times when it is necessary to choose a different book. Keep this in mind as you make your selections:

"There is absolutely no avenue to knowledge but knowledge itself, and the schools must begin, not by qualifying the mind to deal with knowledge, but by affording all the best books containing all the sorts of knowledge which these 'Twins,' like everyone else, wanted to know. We have to face two difficulties. We do not believe in children as intellectual persons nor in knowledge as requisite and necessary for intellectual life. " Volume VI

And keep in mind this wise piece of advice:

“If a book is easy and fits nicely into all your language conventions and thought forms, then you probably will not grow much from reading it. It may be entertaining, but not enlarging to your understanding. It’s the hard books that count. Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.”
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (A Touchstone book)

For Additional Study:

Many of the same helps with narration will also help your student work through a more difficult book.

Brandy on why your curriculum ought to include hard, challenging books.

Pages 71-74 of Volume IV of Miss Mason's series (if you can make the time, read pages 60-100)

Volume VI on Literature (it's just four or five pages)

Chapter 15 in Volume III is about schoolbooks and how they make for education. It would be helpful in understanding the principles behind selecting books.  See also chapter 21.

 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal, Buy Now!   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.
  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

No comments:

Post a Comment