Yesterday my son wanted to read (as usual) so we sat down with several of his favorite books. I asked him a question about the main character and he answered, then excitedly opened the book to the first page of text. I began to read, then paused to ask another question. He became impatient and stated firmly, “Stop dilly dallying. I WANT to hear the story.” I was taken back for a moment. After all, I am a teacher by trade and part of learning to be an “effective teacher” is knowing how to ask open ended questions and help children make connections while reading texts.
Even though we unschool, I still find myself going back to my old ways. Sure, it is okay for me to ask a genuine question for my information. However, my child just wants to hear the stinkin’ book and I really shouldn’t interrupt his enjoyment of reading. If I interrupt often, he may decide that reading is no longer fun or worthwhile. Truth be told, it really isn’t my right to interrupt a story. I would be irate if someone interrupted my favorite story! Why would it be okay to interrupt his favorite story? It isn’t. It just isn’t.
When I interrupt, even with the best of intentions, I am sabotaging a few things. I am breaking my son’s concentration which reinforces a short attention span rather than allowing a longer attention span to grow. No wonder children have such short attention spans even in upper grades. WE, teachers and parents, interrupt them constantly in order to meet our curriculum standards, our schedule, and our goals. (We also tend to use topics not chosen by students which means they may not be invested in learning the information, but that is a topic for another post.)
When I interrupt, I cause a break in the fluidity of the author’s story. How can a child learn the ebb and flow of a story or chapter without hearing stories, or a chapter, from beginning to end? Yes, we can list the parts of a well written story, but children can and should learn to write their own stories through reading and hearing uninterrupted examples of stories. Plus, the author would have noted any breaks the reader should take when reading the text. Besides, it is a reader’s right to use his imagination to help him understand a story. My questions can throw this creative process off balance.
When I interrupt, I take the fun out of the story. My child will ask me if he has a question. He will let me know how long he wants to look at an illustration and when he is ready to turn a page. It is not my job to interrupt. It is my job to be here to read with him, answer his questions, and discuss the information when he wants to expand his knowledge.
This topic is a difficult one for me, personally. I spent many years teaching canned curriculum easily fall to old habits. (Canned lessons are the curriculum for each subject which is pre-written by a large company. Though I could scaffold lessons to meet the needs of all learners, I still had to follow the topics and standards listed in the lessons.) Going forward, I will work to catch myself before I interrupt a story to ask questions. Yes, my child will learn the conventions of language, reading, and writing. No, I will not interrupt his enjoyment of books in order to teach the topics I prefer to teach. I must trust my child to let me know when he has a question. He will learn organically if I step back from the bossy behaviors which have become my pattern and let it happen.
Yes, I will “stop dilly dallying” and read the story.
*If you want to do this, too, but feel you must also interrupt at times, then please read the book aloud at least once before interrupting the story to practice reading and comprehension strategies.
If you want more information or to attend a reading training session or to get more information, please contact me at the link found here. Let me put my experience to work for you!
Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas