Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Literacy Progress Report

Paddy, age 6.5, is in the silent stage of literacy right now. He has been reading a little almost since he could talk, and a year ago was at the stage where without difficulty he could read the last stories in Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. From what the book said, that would have put him at about 2nd grade level. Still, like most children that age, he didn't find reading particularly easy and often preferred to "graze" through a picture book, relying on me to do the serious cover to cover reading and then using this foundation to continue to graze with more ease of comprehension.

Over this summer, however, his reading patterns have changed. He still likes me to read to him, and I hope that doesn't change for a long time. I still read to his 13 year old brother occasionally and have read "with" a teenager up to the age of 17. We have made it through all the Thornton Burgess books available in the house, and recently I have been reading the Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books to him, and George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin.

The new thing, however, is that he takes several books to bed with him -- often the chapter book I've been reading to him, and often a stack of picture books -- and does what I can only call Sustained Silent Reading for about half an hour to an hour at a time.

It's different from the earlier "book-grazing", because he can actually read ahead in unfamiliar books and tell me what has happened at least in outline form. Formerly he tended to access only already-heard books, and when he tackled unfamiliar ones he would soon come to me to get the big picture by ear.

Also, formerly, he would choose books with fairly big font and lots of picture cues. Now he seems to have the emerging ability to read books with few pictures and quite a lot of fairly small text.

I've seen all my kids go through these stages but at different ages and with different customs depending on personality and other things.

The latest reader of my children, my young athlete, was nine when he started the earlier "book grazing" stage and almost immediately he launched past that into reading fairly heavy books almost at his comprehension level. He hardly spent any time at all in the easy reader stage. Now, as a teenager, he goes through periods of reading 1-3 substantial books per day, interspersed with periods when he does not really read at all, or rereads easy accessible books.

My other early reader, my daughter, followed a pattern not unlike Paddy's, except that from her early days she had an intense desire to tackle difficult books. She had a copy of Romeo and Juliet and a copy of the Hobbit and for several years would "graze" these types of books even while more systematically reading easier books that did not really satisfy her thirst for the more difficult things. It was always hard for her to find a book that would hold her attention and not dismay her with its childishness and only when she was older did her ability and her interest level merge.

Another child did not much care for fiction until he was twelve; before that, he browsed intensely through science and history reference books (Dorling Kindersley, Usborne, Kingfisher) over and over until he had the facts and vocabulary memorized.

Another child spent almost a year in the silent immersion phase, reading all the picture books I had read to him, then reading every other easy book in the house. Only then did he go on to tackle the simpler chapter books.

Aidan is my only non-reader now, having some visual tracking difficulties and attention span issues that make it hard for him to read more than a word here and there. I'm hoping that this year he can make strides. He is without doubt by far the most interested in the pre-literacy content -- the other children all saw letters and words as being vehicles to convey thought, and got past the letter and word-decoding stage as soon as they possibly could -- he delights in the letters and words as things in themselves, and is not in a hurry to get past the word-building stage. I think because his development is delayed, he has stayed longer in the concrete operational level and just as he loves to help me cook in the kitchen and master household chores like laundry and repair, he likes the alphabet and familiar words as objects that he can manipulate.

This is why Montessori ideas have helped him so much, I am guessing. This year I'm going to use some of the Charlotte Mason ideas for spelling and beginning reading. Since he loves repetition and loves rhymes and word games I'm imagining that he'll probably enjoy her approach. Plus, journals about daily events which he dictates to me and then tries to read back seem to be valuable for him both as a record of his thought processes AND a way of getting familiar with common words and sentence patterns.


  1. Thank you for outlining your children's different paths. My oldest is 7 and not interested in reading on his own and I wonder when he will be there. I fight any insecurity on my part about it and just keep up with his phonics and applaud him when he writes in his drawings and such.

  2. Learn how to match reading levels of texts to reading level of your child without time-consuming assessments. Also, learn how much independent reading is needed to make grade to grade progress. Check out How to Choose the Right Book.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!