Cognitive scientists have known for decades that simply mastering comprehension skills doesn’t ensure that a young student will be able to apply them to whatever texts they’re confronted with on standardized tests and in their studies later in life.
One of those cognitive scientists spoke on the Tuesday panel: Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who writes about the science behind reading comprehension. Willingham explained that whether or not readers understand a text depends far more on how much background knowledge and vocabulary they have relating to the topic than on how much they’ve practiced comprehension skills. That’s because writers leave out a lot of information that they assume readers will know. If they put all the information in, their writing would be tedious.
But if readers can’t supply the missing information, they have a hard time making sense of the text. If students arrive at high school without knowing who won the Civil War, they’ll have a hard time understanding a textbook passage about Reconstruction.
We were low-income growing up. But, we were rich in other things.
The air conditioner wasn’t run in the middle of the day when I was young. We couldn’t afford it. The library was close by, so we spent most summer days there. Supposedly I was reading when I was three.
Later, when we were better off financially, my mother got us encyclopedias so my brother had easy access to information from a young age without having to leave the house.
So, we had easy access to background knowledge and vocabulary.
To help students practice their “skills,” teachers give them texts at their supposed individual reading levels, rather than the level of the grade they’re in.
According to Shanahan, no evidence backs up that practice. In fact, Shanahan said, recent research indicates that students actually learn more from reading texts that are considered too difficult for them—in other words, those with more than a handful of words and concepts a student doesn’t understand. What struggling students need is guidance from a teacher on how to make sense of texts designed for kids at their respective grade levels—the kinds of texts those kids may otherwise see only on standardized tests, when they have to grapple with them on their own.
We were always pushed to read well above our reading level. Growth requires tackling harder challenges. Of course, standardized tests claimed I was reading at a college level by middle school, so I image that was always a challenge.
For Fleur, we have a good library of board books. I have been enjoying the professorial approach of explaining how things work. (The wife long ago detached her retina rolling her eyes at my doing such to her and Galahad.) Now, I have an appreciative audience. Developing her background knowledge and vocabulary is my life’s calling. Hopefully, I can excite her learning about various things.
An unexpected example of entropy is doll clothes. We have a number of nudist dolls.
It seems the dolls tend to lose their clothes. Fleur takes off their clothes. At times, she will ask us to dress them. I think because the motor skills for dressing them have not yet manifested, she needs help. But, she doesn’t often.
So, the dolls go without clothes most of the time. As I write this, I think the doll named Emma has been wearing one of Fleur’s newborn dresses for a while now. She did say Emma was pretty in the dress. Maybe I need to track which dolls go with or without clothes and for how long to determine if there is a pattern. Perhaps, displeasure with the clothes is why all these dolls are going nude.
“54% inspire confidence in their kids by allowing them to do things themselves”… CHECK… It takes longer, but I like Fleur doing it herself and getting the practice, chance to problem solve, and muscle memory. As she develops the skill, the muscle memory takes over and there is more consistency and less issues. Of course, she demands doing more things herself. The challenge is the balance between taking the time and being on time. (Well, the challenge is abandoning MY need to be on time all the time.)
“78% of parents make an effort to celebrate all those little ‘firsts.'” … CHECK… We celebrated many firsts and continue to cheer when she does inconsistent things we want her to do. Right now, that is potty training. When she does it, we celebrate it. The beaming smile she has when we do, suggests to me it is effective as a positive reinforcement, so I think it works in her case. If she didn’t react this way, then I would find something else.
“79% of those surveyed said they encourage their child to think critically and use logic on a daily basis.”… CHECK… Probably jumping the gun on this, but I am already asking questions about how something is similar or different to others to think about categorizations. Last night, we cooked pasta and I cut and scooped a spaghetti squash. Fleur mentioned it, so I asked her what have we recently scooped that looks similar. I answered the Halloween pumpkin and asked why they might have similar seeds and insides: because they are both kinds of winter squash.
This was never my go-to calming song. But, now that Fleur has her own babies (dolls), she sings this to them.
I have taken of late to holding her and singing it to her. Naturally, as this is for fun, at fall, I drop fake her and catch her for the next line. The laughter is the full on belly ones from when she was a baby.
Today, she started singing to her doll and came to ask me to do it. I am so glad we have found this game.
Instead of a child and instead of writing it down, I simply explain concepts completely outside the expertise area of average people. It could be talking about computers, quantum mechanics, government, or in these days the immune system and vaccines and COVID. Putting myself in the context of someone else, what they might know, and especially getting the feedback of what they ask puts me in a better position of better understanding the topic. Especially, coming back and simplifying when I go to explain it again and again.
The iterative nature of the process is really scientific.
My wife mused about ordering some food for Thanksgiving. Galahad said not to. He has been helping with the cooking.
Having never cooked Thanksgiving, he had no idea this meant more than a meat and two sides. A typical meal might be chicken plus a green vegetable and a starchy one. These are typically an hour or so to prepare.
He objected to the broccoli casserole. So mac and cheese was added to compensate. (But that meant two different ones as some of us have special dietary needs.)
He called this a nine course meal. There were six things. We shared working on the various things, so while my wife took the brunt, we all helped. He felt this was all too much.
No worries. Sounds like he will remember for next year to let us order.
We also invited friends over for pie and hanging out on the patio. Fleur gets quiet around people she doesn’t know. Amazing not to hear her constant conversation for so long. Once she hit her playground, she was good.
Project managers enjoy using this phrase. In a meeting, they will throw out what is the plan and seek anyone to challenge it. Hearing none, this phrase gets used to basically say, “Last chance.”
I find myself using this and similar tools on the toddler. When she dons a skeptical look as I try to put on her clothes, I outline the goal and how this less than desired step is part of getting to what she wants to do.
I like that Fleur sees someone with similar traits doing the kind work she is playing at doing. This is about the age where kids start to collect patterns of groupings. Certain kinds of people being shut out of highly desired jobs makes impressions that last a lifetime.
I love that she is being afforded the opportunity to see someone like her doing the work that she pretends to do. And that she enjoys being around this role model so much. It makes me happy we lucked into having this person.
(I put desired in quotes at the start because really she is just role-playing. I dunno there is any real evidence she desires to become a doctor or medical professional. Or if there is any desire now that it will persist strongly enough over the next few decades to make it a reality.)
My wife’s quasi-adopted daughter is another role-model. This time for art. How Fleur lights up when she gets to be around this person is a sight. How I am just an afterthought.