Simply asking questions from the passage to test comprehension skills is hardly useful in enabling young readers to acquire the skill of critical reading and assimilation. Here is why and five book recommendations that will help your child acquire the necessary reading skills.
Typically comprehension passages are given in almost every grade with a set of direct questions in the exam. How else to test the ability of a child to read and comprehend unseen passages? Looking at it from the perspective of the evaluation, this approach makes perfect sense. But does it help the student in acquiring a skill for long term?
Reading at the workplace:
Irrespective of profession, reading to gather information, to make informed decisions, even to enhance one's abilities, is something that is hard to avoid. Needless to say, proficiency in reading and to be able to understand quickly what the crux of the text is, is an extremely essential skill.
Reading proficiency is expected to be acquired by the time the child comes to upper primary school. From there on the focus moves to the ability to read, assimilate information and analyse it and perhaps even ask questions to find answers. In kindergarten and a significant part of primary school, a story is meant to entertain as well as teach important lessons in values. As children get to grades 3 and 4, stories can slowly move to the next level and offer more than just entertainment or even morals/lessons. Sure, stories must continue to entertain otherwise children will not pick them up. In addition to entertainment, stories at this stage can enable children to develop analytical abilities by making keen observations about the personalities of the characters involved, the plot, the author's choice to take the story in a particular direction and even anticipating what could happen next. These angles get accentuated when stories are read and discussed in small groups. Different readers could have different perspectives and ideas regarding the same story, thus opening up the young minds to multiple possibilities other their own perspectives.
One of the reading groups in the Young Readers' Club chose to read an abridged version of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. When they read about the protagonist resorting to a duel with the King's Musketeers, although dueling was banned in Paris at the time, a few of them raised the futility of the act. "Why duel knowing that it is illegal and one could risk getting caught?" they asked. "Perhaps they get some thrill out of it," one said. Another said, "Remember our hero loves picking fights. The risk of punishment does
not deter him that easily." As they read further they observed how the author chose to include this bizarre event to bring the protagonist closer to the musketeers. Although they found the turn of events odd, they did admit that it was an interesting twist to the story.
Reading to build empathy:
Children's literature today strives to bring forth a vast plethora of stories that successfully deliver on very important experiences. To read about people or fictitious characters in stories placed in a variety of circumstances, to see them navigate through those circumstances, the choices that they make and how they emerge at the end of it all, enables the child to take a step back and see the characters' lives from a broader perspective.
Machher Jhol written by Richa Jha and illustrated by Sumanta Dey is an excellent example in this context. Through this book a child can wander through the streets of Calcutta along with the visually impaired Gopu. Gopu's Baba is sick. Gopu wants his grandma to make Baba's favourite fish curry to make him feel better. But being visually impaired and walking along the busy streets of Calcutta can be very difficult. Will he find his way safely? This heartwarming book will draw any reader into its marvelous story, make the reader want to hold this boy's hand as he goes about his journey being as careful as possible. What must it be like for someone who cannot see? For those of us who can see, we take so much for granted. Gopu teaches us something valuable in this book- showing others empathy and counting one's own blessings.
Books such as Machher Jhol teach us to look from others' perspective. One may argue that what he chose to do was dangerous. But that's seeing only side of the story. What made him take that decision? What did it mean to him? Addressing those questions help fit various pieces of the puzzle and enables the reader to get a better sense of the big picture.
Reading to sort out what is important in the text
At times, texts tend to be very detailed for a variety of reasons. The ability to quickly identify the main points and figuring out the order in which they could be presented is an essential skill to develop. Books such as Anton and Cecil Cats At Sea written by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin allows readers to devour the detailed description of the docks, the cats themselves as well as all the dangerous situations they find themselves in. There are tons of new words in the context of shipping that are waiting to be discovered, making the book a little long read. Yet, the story is entertaining with subtle humor and suspense to keep the reader enthralled till the very end.
Reading this book in a cohort based setting allows the young readers to dissect through the detailed descriptions, make inferences and pull out the main elements from the story that takes it forward with good rigor. Every time we read detailed descriptions we discussed the purpose and tried to visualise the scene and later summarised it in the shortest form possible.
Reading to make real life connections
Stories that are easy to relate to as there are several elements that reminds the readers of something they have seen, heard or felt in their own lives. Book Uncle and Me written by Uma Krishnaswami is one such book that has a little something for almost everyone. A voracious reader would connect with Yasmin who sets a lofty goal to read a book a day for the rest of her life. Her conversations with her best friend help any reader to develop an instant feeling of familiarity. The elections is a subject that children hear about but may not read much about it. The story helps them to connect what they often hear about elections in their own lives.
Reading to become aware, reading to become empowered.
Domestic violence. Matters such as this one sadly is prevalent across the country. As adults we read about it. We discuss it. Should children know about it? A book that shows why it is important for children to be aware is Asha Nehemiah's Behind the Lie. She has handled this sensitive subject with much care keeping in mind that children are going to be reading it. This book not only helps in spreading awareness but also shows the importance of seeking help from a responsible and trustworthy adult, when one witnesses a case of domestic violence, instead of simply accepting it or worse blaming oneself for it.