Updated: Jun 29
I’ve spoken with countless parents and caregivers about what a struggle it is to engage their learner in deeper conversations about what they’re reading. Perhaps this describes a scene in your home: after a read-aloud or an audiobook, you begin to ask you learner some questions to see what they've comprehended. Your learner is up for answering one maybe two questions, but after that it's like pulling teeth or a complete shut down.
If this describes your situation, here are 2 tips for making reading at-home easier and a time of deeper discussion and learning.
As expert adult readers, it's important to bring your learner into the internal dialogue you have with a text as you read. When you share aloud what's going on in your mind and say what you're wondering or thinking about a text, often your learner will jump into that conversation and add their own observations. And, if your learner hasn’t quite picked up on the nuances of the text, questions that model curiosity can show what they should be noticing and help uncover misunderstandings that you can clear up in the moment.
For example, I recently listened to some chapters of Harry Potter with my son and I wanted to see if he understood why Mr. Dursley didn’t want Harry to read the letters that were constantly being delivered to their house by owls. Instead of directly asking, “Why doesn’t Mr. Dursley want Harry to read those letters?” I said, “I’m wondering why Mr. Dursley doesn’t want Harry to read those letters?”
This can also be done by naming what you notice. As I was reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe I stopped mid sentence and shared with my son, “I’m noticing that Lucy is feeling so hurt right now and Edmond doesn’t seem to care.”
In both these instances, I wanted my son to get a glimpse into what was going on in my mind as I was reading the text, so he could follow suit. The more your learner has a rich internal dialogue with a text, the more likely it will be that they will share some of those thoughts with you.
The more your learner has a rich internal dialogue with a text, the more likely it will be that they will share some of those thoughts with you.
Replace Quizzes with Conversation
Many caregivers know they should be focusing on comprehension while reading. And this often means adults stopping to ask learners lots of “who, what, where, why, when” questions. These questions are fine and have their place, but can also interrupt the flow of the book and make the reading less enjoyable. You can improve this experience by inviting conversation instead of creating mini oral quizzes.
Be authentic: Throughout the reading, you will be thinking aloud and sometimes a question is a natural extension of your reading. At the end of a particularly action-packed section you may say, “Wow! A lot just happened on that page. I need a second to think about this. What just happened?!!!” Questions like this throughout the text invites the learner to share what they have understood without feeling tested.
Make it about them: We've all been in conversations that have felt transactional. In those discussions, you get the sense that it's not about you but rather what a person wants from you. And those conversations don't feel great. To avoid having transactional conversations with your learner, focus on them. Comprehension is important, and it's a byproduct of how and what your learner is experiencing, connecting to and processing as they read or listen to a text. So focus on your learner and how they are experiencing, connecting to, and processing the text. Asking questions like, "What does this remind you of?" and "How did the author just make you feel? Because I feel..." can give you insights into how they are experiencing a text, but more than that, give you insights into them.
Share about yourself: Another example of a question that could invite conversation is to point out a particular aspect of the text that is interesting to you. Just as it's important to demonstrate a sincere desire to get to know your learner, it's also important that you demonstrate a sincere desire for you to get to know them. For a fiction book this may look like, "Ah, this lesson this character learned, I learned it the hard way too my freshman year of high-school. Did I tell you about the time when...?" And this works particularly well with non-fiction texts. “Whoah. Let me think about that. What did the author just say used to be recommended to prevent a virus?”
By making some tweaks to the way we request information from our learners, we can really see big changes in our learners' willingness to have deep conversations about what they are reading. Parents and caregivers are uniquely positioned to have meaningful conversations about texts because of our ability to slow down to make our thinking visible, focus on our learner and focus on our relationship with our learner. Families know their learner better than anyone, and with these tools may be able to have longer conversations about what they are thinking while reading.