One of the big jumps my children have had to make is from reading books for enjoyment to reading for learning. This is an important issue, especially since I want most of their learning to be both self-directed and gleaned from books. One of the strategies that I have found helps them is to understand what the book is about, what theme, what historical period, what issues etc they will find in the book, and for them to know this before they start reading. Once they have this type of summary they seem to be able to tune their thinking into the learning to be had.

If you can think about the last book you read – why did you read it? What made you choose that particular book? Did it meet your expectations, that is, did you learn what you wanted to learn from it? Now let me ask you – how do you know the answers to all those questions. You have learnt to choose a book for a purpose, you have learnt to read with the expectation that you will learn something. You have learnt to assess whether you learnt or not. These are the skills we need to pass onto our children.

When I give a book to my child to read, I have a reason for them reading it. I may know that it is about a period of history I want them to think about, it maybe about a leader who made wise decisions and I want my son to think about what it takes to be a great leader, it may be about a person who overcame great difficulties and I want my daughter to learn what perseverance looks like. I know these things because I have previewed, scanned, summarised the book. I have also learnt to learn from my reading. I eventually want my child to be able to make these decisions for themselves – it starts off though with being able to find the purpose in a book I have given them.

  • Look at the cover – what does the title and illustrations tell you about this story. Do you have any questions about that?
  • Read the back of the cover – can you see a topic, a theme, a historical event, person, or discovery that this book is about? Do you have any questions about that?

Sometimes the questions need to be answered, sometimes I can defer them to see if the book will give an answer – it depends on the question and on the book.

My son, Joshua, has listed some good summarising/scanning strategies particularly for older students in one of his recent blogs.

Without going through this scanning/thinking process my children just enjoy the story and though there is some benefits in that ultimately I want my children to be thinking readers. I want them to learn about the world and about people as they read. If they are just enjoying the story for the characters and plot in and of themselves they are missing a learning opportunity. When I give them a context and purpose (or they discover it themselves through scanning and previewing) they see more on the written page than just adventure – they see history, science and wisdom. They learn.

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