Teaching Reading for Understanding

This blog post was written by Eleane N. McCoy in response to an article published in the Washington Post on April 7, 2014, “Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say”, by Michael S. Rosenwald. Read the full Washington Post article here.

McCoy Eleane 16936 252877068Eleane McCoy is the Primary Team Leader at Immanuel Christian School and is a Ed.D Candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The recent article in the Washington Post drew our attention here at ICS as we continually read and research the best practices for Christian learning.  As I began reading I became acutely aware of how much Claire, the individual highlighted as an example in the article, reminded me of some of the children in our schools today.  As I read further, I realized that she was an adult!  I am quite sure Claire would attest to her instructors in the elementary grades teaching her to read for comprehension rather than just information.  So what changed?

I believe Michael Rosenwald hit the nail on the head, metaphorically speaking, when he stated the concern “that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.” Reading for information was not always looked to as a positive thing!  In the past, we would ask a Reading Specialist to come along side students struggling with comprehension.  Today we are seeing more and more children not able to find the smaller parts of words in reading or spelling. We also see more children coming to us with an amazing ability to pick out words and numbers, but not able to give deeper understanding of the information.  Could technology indeed be the cause?

Today we see our young children carrying handheld “i-Technology” tools some of which are being developed specifically for toddlers.  “This creates early independence,” one might say, but I would argue that it creates a child who lives in his own sphere where little real-world interaction is developed.  It also develops pathways in the brain that are not conducive to reading for understanding.  Reading for understanding takes creative thought and imagination, developed through play and hands-on learning.

A child under the age of six who is actively engaged in play is developing profound thoughts about himself, others and his community. Large and small-body movements as well as using all the senses ignite the brain to create memories that allow deep learning connectors to develop.  However, deep learning can only happen when there is time to explore, create and discover real, three-dimensional objects.  “Touching, pushing, linking, scrolling, and jumping through text” should not become the daily habit of any adult, never mind a young child.  With the rise of childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, we should look for ways to get our kids outside climbing tress, jumping over streams, picking up sticks and building forts after school and on weekends.

Caregivers need to carefully monitor screen time for children until more research has been done that shows the impact of technology on learning, especially in the area of reading and comprehension. If we want our children to be astute learners then let’s keep reading classic literature while exploring the rich language and deep meaning of the stories. As Rosenwald quotes Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, when trying to learn how to recover from screen reading, “I found my ability again to slow down, savor and think.” I am so thankful that ICS continues to preserve what is relevant throughout its curriculum while inspiring students to purposeful living.

If you are seeking the ultimate relationship in life, don’t seek it in things that cannot respond and relate in the way you are meant to. Seek it in the One who said He is the life (John 14:6).

Man, made in the image of God, has a purpose — to be in relationship to God, who is there. Francis Schaeffer