On a recent visit to Panera, my husband and I sat near a mother with her young son. She was busy on her cell phone while her son was on his, playing some game that made the most awful, loud noises. She didn’t seem to notice or mind because she was engrossed by her phone. Not only was this inconsiderate, it was sad to witness, as there was no conversation or interaction between the two. We decided it would be best to change our seats away from them. From a distance, I kept watching to see if either one would pick their heads up from their devices and acknowledge each other, but it never happened. Unfortunately, this is not a unique occurrence. We all see cell phones and other devices supplanting face-to-face conversations at every turn. This lack of conversation has not only changed how we communicate with one another, it has had a very real, if not indirect, effect on reading comprehension.
Reading comprehension is actually the understanding of language with an added piece of decoding words. People need to be able to infer meaning and make connections, and that is best developed through conversation. Storytelling has been around for centuries, entertaining children with the spoken word and giving them opportunities to visualize stories. With great descriptive language, characters develop, a setting becomes apparent, and events unravel. Children sat at the edges of their seats waiting for the culmination of the story to see if their predictions were accurate. Not long ago, radio was the vehicle for storytelling, and families would sit together listening to comedies, newscasts, and sporting events, using the spoken words to visualize and piece together stories and information. The family dinner hour was sacred in homes years ago. This was not only a time to break bread, it was a time for families to talk and listen to each other, finding out about school, work, and daily activities.
Talking is the foundation for reading, but, today, very little conversation happens at home or with friends. Adults need to be mindful that they are modeling behavior for their children. By using their phones instead of encouraging talk, it speaks volumes about what is acceptable in restaurants, at the dinner table, and outside. When a screen entertains us 24/7, there is no reason to learn how to listen or speak. Children especially become used to quick snippets of text talk and videos doing all the visualizing for them. The brain is a muscle, and it needs a workout just like the body. It is not surprising that many children have difficulty with reading endurance. Without practice and exercise, they do not have the attention, focus, vocabulary, and stamina required to read and comprehend deeply for long periods of time.
Critical thinking begins with picking our heads up from our phones, connecting with people, and practicing our language skills. Language comprehension must come before reading comprehension, and reading comprehension can never exceed our language comprehension abilities. Let’s put our phones down and talk.
Faith Borkowsky, Owner and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties.
High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island. Read about what we can offer you and your child: http://highfiveliteracy.com.
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