In today’s digital age of short text messages and tweets, reading is quickly becoming a lost art. Most kids struggle with both reading and understanding long passages because these skills don’t come all that naturally to them. I see this often in my dual jobs as both tutor and mom, and in both roles I’m constantly thinking about ways to help kids learn to think critically about the written word.
My sons, for example, don’t willingly pick up a book for pleasure, and they often have difficulty understanding the subtlety and tone of what they’re reading. And they’re not alone; most of my students have the most difficulty in improving their scores on the critical reading passages of the SAT and ACT exams. Comprehensive reading is a lifelong process, not a skill that can be taught in a mere 10 weeks.
So how do we teach our children to be inferential readers? They go to school, engage in lots of homework and extracurricular activities, and – at least my sons – aren’t exactly jumping for joy at the thought of extra work from mom. And I don’t blame them. However, the Art of Reading is too important to ignore. So I came up with the Sunday night dinner reading ritual.
It works like this: Most Sundays I make a special family meal. Before we sit down, I ask my sons and husband to read a poem or newspaper article that I’ve copied for them. (Often, I take our readings from the New York Times opinion section or other editorials, as opinion pieces promote inferential reading.) These readings – saturated with distinct tonality and an underlying subtext – create lively dinnertime discussion as well as help our children become critical readers. They learn to pick up on sarcasm, cynicism, subjective and objective tones – all of which can change the overall interpretation of a piece. It’s fun to discuss something entirely random at the dinner table, and interesting conversations often ensue. It’s made dinnertime more fun – my kids often forget they’re learning! – and is a nice change of pace from the “How was your day” discussions. I always end our talks with the question, “Do you agree or disagree with this passage and why?” This forces my children to really contemplate the issue that we’ve been talking about, and nurtures their critical thinking skills.
The New York Times editorials are a far cry from Harry Potter stories. The language is often dry, the vocabulary is impressive, and the overall message is in no way relevant to their lives. This is also true of the SAT and ACT readings: Boring, boring, boring! The SAT is not leisure reading. In fact, the SAT is not really about reading at all. Rather, it’s about finding clues to answer the questions.
Yes, I am an SAT tutor, and yes, I’m a mom who may be starting her children’s standardized test preparation early, but I am also promoting the Art of Reading. This is a skill that will serve them for a lifetime. Plus, these Sunday dinners allow me to slow down and truly listen to my children. And that’s a skill that I need to work on!