The following is an introduction to an article I recently wrote for Simon & Schuster's Online Magazine Tips on Life and Love. To read the entire article and find the 8 tips go to Life and Love.
8 Great Ways to Get Teens to Read with You
My 15-year-old daughter and I recently took a summer road trip from New Mexico to California. How did we entertain ourselves for 24 hours on the road? Audio books. We learned Spanish from the Pimsleur program, easily downloadable to my iPhone, and got ahead on required sophomore summer reading by listening to The Grapes of Wrath.
As we traversed through the dessert I was able to point out Needles, Calif., and say, “This is where the Joads stopped to camp along the river. Imagine what it was like traveling in the back of the truck with all those people and no air conditioning.”
At the end of each chapter I would ask my daughter to give me a summary of what happened. At first all she could say was, “Uh, nothing.” It reminded me of many similar dinner conversations when I asked what had happened at school that day and got the exact same response. In her defense, I will say that a lot of pages can pass in The Grapes of Wrath without much happening. An entire chapter is devoted to a turtle crossing the road. A lot of required reading can feel this way to kids (and adults).
Much has been written about the importance of reading books with young children. We all know how important it is for them to decode words and learn vocabulary in the early years. As they mature and learn more complex tasks like comprehension, prediction, and synthesis, we often leave them to their own devices, assuming they are getting this instruction at school—but secondary teachers often don’t teach these skills as directly as we may assume. On numerous occasions I’ve asked my teenage children how the class discussion went over this book or that. Sadly, they often say there was no discussion, just a test.
As a mother, I feel like these teachers are not teaching the truly meaningful skill of how to think. As an author, I fear they are missing the point of what books are all about and how rich and life changing the reading experience can be. As a speech-language pathologist working in the public schools, I know teachers are under tremendous pressure to improve test-taking skills. Their curriculum is often dictated week by week by their department, sometimes leaving little time for meaningful class discussions which, even if attempted, may not go very far because many of the students have not read the “required” reading.
What can a parent do to help? Understanding the required reading selection is only part of the picture. We also want our kids to know how to comprehend a book’s meaning and ultimately to develop a passion for stories. Here are some suggestions I’ve found helpful...