9-year-old Hal’s greater fluency at reading means that plots with tension and interest motivate him to read on. His father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, explains.
It has been quite a while since I did any reading with Hal. Several months probably. And when I sat down with him to have a go at his current book, Andrew Cope’s Spy Pups – Treasure Quest, I was immediately struck by some changes in his reading style.
First up Hal’s reading is now more fluent. Spy Pups isn’t super difficult (most sentences are short and the vocabulary isn’t too demanding), but it isn’t super easy either and Hal sailed through a chapter of 11 pages or so in about 15 minutes, at a speed that was new to me. Greater speed also meant greater motivation. In former days Hal’s reading would quite often grind to a halt. He’d come up against a word or phrase that he couldn’t grasp, would have to stop to try to puzzle it out, and any sense of dramatic tension in what we were reading would quickly evaporate. With it would go Hal’s interest in continuing.
This time however, Hal’s speed meant that he could maintain tension and interest. In the chapter we were looking at there was a bit where the Spy Pups, left at home in the cottage because they were too young to go for a walk, were investigating the hero Ollie’s room because he said he’d seen a ghost. Sniffing around in the room they discover some fresh, size ten footprints leading to the wardrobe which is locked. The pups make a kind of canine pyramid and the top pup turns the key to the locked door. This bit of the story happened at the end of a page and I watched with delight as Hal greedily turned the page to find out what was going to be revealed inside the wardrobe. With the old stop/start reading style this would never have happened.
Hal is better with words too. Vocab like ‘burrowing’, ‘ventured’, ‘suspiciously’, ‘providing’ all presented no problem. Others that he didn’t get straightaway like ‘duvet’ he got right immediately the next time they appeared, whereas in the past he would have been likely to get a new word wrong several times over until the penny dropped. In the chapter we read, only the word ‘chorused’ had him baffled completely, the ‘ch’ confusing him because of the pronunciation of ‘church’ and the word being totally unfamiliar.
Interestingly where Hal did make mistakes at times was over simpler, more familiar words. I’ve written before about how he can let his eye glide too quickly. What seems to happen is that the shape of a word makes him think of a similar but different word and he goes with that. An example of this was the sentence ‘Anyway, they could just take a look inside’, which he read as ‘they could just take a took inside’. Even here though he is much quicker at putting these things right, twigging that something isn’t making sense, tracking back to the wrong word and putting it right without any prompting from me.
All in all these changes make for a much more enjoyable reading experience for Hal. It was also much more enjoyable for me as I was hardly having to intervene and not having to cajole Hal into keeping going as I have had to do so often in the past. But will Hal’s new fluency translate into an appetite for reading to himself? Not at the moment I think. Hal may be better at it, but he still regards reading as work. Stories, which of course he loves, are easier acquired from the telly or mum and dad reading them to him. I sometimes wonder if we set up a complete embargo on TV and parental reading whether this might finally goad Hal into reading to himself. I doubt we’d have the willpower to see an idea like that through. But I’d be interested to know if any BfK readers have tried out such desperate measures.
Spy Pups: Treasure Quest by Andrew Cope is published by Puffin (978 0 14 132603 0) at £4.99.