Reading silently improves students’ understanding because it helps them concentrate on what they are reading rather than the pronunciation of individual words. They can form mental pictures of the topic being read and discussed, which enhances speed and comprehension.
“I just dread my turn…… sometimes I can hardly breathe…..it is just my worst time…..I sit and hope the lesson will end before I have to read…”, Oliver tells me, describing the geography lessons when each member of his upper primary school class must have a turn to read out aloud from the geography text book. Whether it is in front of the class, or in front of his group, it is the same for this bright, very intelligent but struggling oral reader. Reading aloud in front of others is hugely humiliating….his worst nightmare!
Oliver is a wonderfully intelligent right-brain dominant learner who has struggled with reading from the start and was labelled ‘dyslexic’ in grade 2. He is an example of many creative visual-spatial learners who think in 3D images and not in words. Reading aloud is a huge challenge for them because as they look at the words (symbols) on the page, they have to turn them into pictures in their minds before they can read them aloud. Imagine having to do all that while the rest of the class or group is following! They feel a sense of shame and failure.
Most early reading programmes don’t cater for right-brain dominant learners.
This is one of the major challenges. They are aimed at the left hemisphere which learns best in logical sequence i.e. in little steps, from part to whole. They follow specified sequences of learning. Remember? Phonics, which is taught from part to whole. Isolated words to memorise, sentences, paragraphs and eventually the whole story. This is fine for left-brain, aural, sequential learners but not for right-brain holistic learners whose brains process in a different way, in fact, in exactly the opposite way i.e. from whole to part. These learners need to learn to read using right-brain methods. They must see the whole, the big picture, the goal, the final product before they can make sense of the sequential steps. That is why many of these big-picture thinkers don’t learn to read well and, instead, develop a sense of failure and resistance. By the time they reach grades three and four they really start to struggle and giving them more phonics, more rules and more oral reading doesn’t help much. Instead, they continue to struggle as they move up the grades towards matric.
The good news, however, is that many of these learners can become excellent silent readers when they understand how to change whole words into images and mental pictures as they read.
If a student reads well orally, it doesn’t mean that s/he has a good comprehension of what s/he is reading. That is a fallacy. Yet students’ reading progress is mostly judged by how they read orally.
In the real world...
How many times do people have to read orally without having had time to prepare? And yet in school the emphasis is placed on oral reading.
How many times do students need to read silently with understanding? All the time, throughout their lives and even in every subject in school and tertiary education.
So what can we conclude?
Silent comprehension and critical thinking skills are most important and should be actively taught and practiced across the curriculum at every grade level. Parents, try to create as many opportunities as you can for your children to read silently.
News taken from The Centre for Life-Long Learning Newsletter May/June 2019.