An interesting thought slowly crept into my mind mid mini-lesson last Tuesday. “Goodness,” I thought to myself. “I sure wish somebody had taught me this in fourth grade… or fifth grade… or sixth grade… or ever, for that matter!” I was sharing with my students the seemingly blaringly obvious idea that reading is thinking. In actuality, it isn’t really that obvious and, shockingly, it actually took me until college to figure it out!
In order to teach this idea I always bring in a very difficult college level textbook. This year it happened to be my husband’s statistics textbook from the master’s degree he is currently pursuing. I ask the students if they think I can read the textbook. Of course, they all think I am impossibly brilliant and they are very sure that I can read it. I flip open to a “random” page (okay- so maybe not so random) and start reading. Sure enough, I am able to read every word fluently. Very long and astonishingly difficult words (from a fourth grader’s perspective) such as analytical, correlational, and coefficients roll off my tongue like poetry.
“Wow! That was hard,” a girl in the back shares.
“We knew you could read it!” the group adds enthusiastically.
“Guess what guys? I can’t read this.”
“But… You just did. We heard you!”
“I had no clue what I was just reading. I definitely did not understand that part about ‘distribution to scores in another distribution’ or the part when they were talking about ‘correlation coefficients.'”
I continued, “Whew! That went right over my head! Did that make sense to you guys?”
We all agree that none of us have a clue what the book is referring to. This is when I share with them the first time I actually figured out that I needed to be thinking when I read. Of course, throughout most of my life, until college, I was naturally doing a lot of thinking while I read. Up until that point, no one had really asked me to read something that required me to think really hard. And then, I went to college and I suddenly had a lot of reading to do and a lot of reading to do that really didn’t make much sense to me. In one sociology course, in particular, I can remember feeling rather proud of myself for reading the entire book we were going to be tested on. I even used a highlighter. When the test was returned to me with a much less than satisfactory grade, it finally dawned on me. Sure, I had read the book. I had read every word and highlighted most of them too, but I wasn’t really reading. I wasn’t thinking while I was reading. My mind was on things like what was for dinner in the dining hall, or how long until my roommate stopped snoring, or if my roommate would wake up if I nuked some nachos in the microwave. Obviously, very important things, but my mind was certainly not on the task at hand.
Hopefully, my fourth graders will avoid a similarly unfortunate experience. Not only will they know when they don’t understand something in their reading, but they will have the tools and skills to fix the problem as well. They could stop and reread, Google an idea they are struggling with, or look up a word that doesn’t make sense. Maybe they could even ask someone with more schema in a particular area to share with them a little bit of that knowledge. All good ideas that I wish I had employed before the debacle of the sociology exam. But alas, no one taught me that reading is thinking.