Friday, April 27, 2012

Guest Post Week 2: Expert Readers

Three Key Things Expert Readers Do That Novice Readers Don’t Do!

Emily A. Swan, Ph.D.

Last week, I talked about What Reading Does for the Mind and I encouraged readers of this blog to read to their children for 30 minutes per day. Well… how did you do?

 Did you do it? Did your kids LOVE it? Did you have fun? I’d love to hear your comments.

If you didn’t do it, or didn’t do so well, guess what? You have another chance! Start Tonight! They won’t be little forever! You only have to read on the days you eat!

This week, I’m going to talk about the difference between an expert reader and a novice reader. There are some distinct differences that are crucial for children’s success in school. I believe if all parents knew these differences it would have an impact on not only parents’ conversations with their children, but also on the way children approach reading!

What is an Expert Reader?

I define an expert reader in terms of what expert readers KNOW and DO: expert readers do different things when they read, compared to novice readers. Expert readers know that there are things they can do to make reading make sense, make reading more interesting, make reading easier… and expert readers DO these things! Expert readers are also strategic. There are several strategies expert readers use before, during, and after they read. This makes such a difference in how much they comprehend, how interested and engaged they are while they are reading, and how much they remember about what they read.

 So, what are these things? I’ll teach you three!

 Three Key Things Expert Readers DO.

1.   Expert Readers ASK QUESTIONS!

What do you WONDER? This is a great question to ask your child! Questioning and wondering about the world means that your child is curious. Curiosity provides a wonderful purpose for reading… any book any topic! Questions are so important and sometimes it’s our questions that get us into a book in the first place.

·         Questions give us a purpose for reading. Where are you going for summer vacation?? Washington, D.C.? France? Lake Powell? What do your children know about where you are going? Do they know how Lake Powell was formed? How many people visit Lake Powell each summer? What makes the water levels change from year to year? All of these kinds of questions are great reasons to READ. Then, wherever you go, you can talk about what you have learned. Your children will remember the vacation so much more because they learned about the place and their experiences there will be deepened because they read about it! (OR because you read to them about it!)

·         Questions are diagnostic tools for thinking. Questions give us, as parents, a window into our child’s thinking. What are they worried about? What does that word mean? Why did that person do that? Who is this character? What do you think is going to happen next? All of these kinds of questions help children THINK. Wondering is the beginning of knowledge. When your child wonders things, and then you help them find the answers to their questions in books, they learn. Learning is fun! It’s a very empowering cycle! Wonder-read-learn!

·         Questioning can be done before, during, and after reading. Sometimes our questions get us into a book; we wonder something so we read for the answer. Other times, we have questions while we are reading. Questioning during reading is also important. Knowing what words mean, questioning what the author is saying, figuring out things that don’t make sense are all things expert readers do. This means readers are thinking and reading isn’t fun unless readers understand. Questioning is the way to keep readers thinking. After reading, sometimes readers have unanswered questions or additional questions. This is great news because then readers are more likely to keep reading additional books to find their answers!

2.   Expert Readers MAKE CONNECTIONS when they read!

We are always looking for ways to make connections. Think about the popularity of Facebook! It’s all about connections. When we read, it is important to make connections to what we already know or think to what we are reading. When we can help children make connections with characters, concepts, places, ideas, facts, pictures, settings, events, or problems and their solutions in books, we help them love reading more.

·         Help your child make personal connections to books they are reading. Help your child connect to people, events, or things in the books you read to things in their personal life: a pet, a friend, an interest, favorite colors, foods, places, or talents that are similar to your child’s.

·         Help your child make connections to other books they read. Help them connect to characters, places, settings, events, problems, topics that are in one story or book you have read, with the book you are currently reading.

·         Help your child make connections to the world. There are universal concepts that authors write about: love, friendship, fear, forgiveness, families, favorite places, humor, special characteristics or features of a topic or idea. Help your child recognize and think about these universal ideas. The more connections you can help your child make, the more interesting books become to them!

 3.   Expert Readers choose books about their INTERESTS! I have had plenty of 4th grade boys tell me that reading is boring. When I ask them what they are reading, many times the titles of the books they are reading ARE boring! (note: Sarah Plain and Tall is NOT the best book for 4th grade boys!) My advice to them: “Why are you reading that book? Choose something you are INTERESTED in reading instead!” Sometimes, kids just need permission to read what they want. Take your children to the library. Find what is interesting to them, it might be non-fiction topics like bugs or frogs or volcanoes. Great! Go to the non-fiction section and check out 30 books on that topic! It’s free! It’s fun! You get to read the books for three weeks! What is better than that? Then take them back and get some more! Life is too short to read boring books. If your kids think reading is boring, they need to find some interests!

In school, oftentimes, teachers assign reading and often assign it without a purpose. So kids do the reading, without much thinking, and it is pretty boring that way. They do the reading because it was assigned (this is called compliance), not because they chose it. But there ARE ways to add personal interest into an assigned reading. Here is a suggestion: When your child is assigned a chapter at school to read, ask them: “What is the teacher’s purpose for having you read this chapter? What is the assignment?” Your child may or may not know this, depending on the teacher. If you know the teacher’s purpose, write it down. THEN, ask your child: “Given this topic and this assignment, what are YOU interested in learning about?” Write this down too. It might even be in the form of a question. Encourage your child to do the reading first for their interest and see how much they can learn. Then, after that first reading, check to see if they also found the answer to the teacher’s purpose. If not, have them then read for the teacher’s purpose. Teaching your child how to find their OWN interests, regardless of whether or not the reading is assigned, is a powerful lesson in autonomy. Even though your child’s interest was not assigned, learning about their own interests FIRST, makes the teacher’s assignment more interesting, relevant, and valuable. Another suggestion when your child’s teacher wants your child to read a chapter and answer the questions at the end of the chapter is this: Have your child read the questions at the end of the chapter FIRST. Have your child choose the question(s) that are most interesting to them. Then have your child read the chapter to answer the “interesting” questions first and then the other ones may be easier to answer. Focusing on your child’s personal interest keeps them engaged; they pay more attention, and as a result, learn more!

Expert Readers versus Novice Readers

The biggest difference between an expert and a novice reader is that novice readers do not understand that they don’t understand! Think about it. They don’t know what they don’t know. Novice readers also don’t know that it is smart to question, make connections, and choose interesting books or find something interesting within the parameters of assigned readings. Novice readers don’t read. They don’t see a purpose, don’t understand the value, and don’t realize that when they read, they are getting SMARTER! But expert readers DO! Expert readers READ!

Action Plan for this week:  Help your child become an expert reader by acting like one! Find out what they WONDER! Help them make CONNECTIONS to what they are reading! Help them figure out what their INTERESTS are and read about them. You can spend your 30 minutes per day focusing on these things and I think it will really make a difference! Try it yourself. Share with your children what you read and why! They’ll love hearing about it!

 Next week: Motivating Kids to Read: What NOT To Do! The things that parents do that undermine children’s motivations to read.

****We are in the the process of producing some useful tools for mothers and others to help kids LOVE reading. If you are interested in receiving these updates, please let us know at We'll keep you informed when our new tools are ready! If you have any questions or comments you can also email Emily! Thanks!!

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