Friday, December 10, 2010

A big carrot

I've had an eye on Little Guy's reading for a while now. I know he has the ability, but he doesn't pick up books for fun. In our home, that's weird. Everyone here reads. I mean, we have 13 floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled 2-books-deep. And we still don't have enough space for books.

It's possible that Little Guy is a late bloomer. But I've also been watching to see if there's a bit of dyslexia or some kind of eye convergence issue going on. Then again, it could be insecurity, or lack of confidence, or anxiety. 

So yesterday I gave Little Guy a challenge. I handed him a Magic Tree House book, one of the longer, more advanced Merlin Missions, and told him that if he read the entire thing in one day, I'd pay him the outrageous reward of a dollar a chapter. It was okay if he chose to stop reading part way through, but then he'd get only half that amount for each chapter he'd read. (Kids being kids, I've learned that if you want follow-through it's better to make the reward contingent upon completion. Little Guy would be very happy with five dollars, especially if his eyes were tired and he felt like stopping.)

I don't normally do this kind of thing. Snuggler, in fact, was scandalized. But what I wanted to find out was whether Little Guy's reading reluctance was organic or motivational in nature. And the best
way I know to figure that out is with a big carrot. Put a jaw-dropping reward out there, and if a kid who really, really wants the reward still can't do what it takes to get it, you can be pretty sure that he truly can't do it.

Magic Tree House #43: Leprechaun in Late Winter (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))So Little Guy read yesterday. And read. And read. I learned some things, and he learned some things. He figured out that if he couldn't read a word the first or second time, he could sometimes figure it out himself on the third time. I learned that he is a slower reader than I thought. His silent reading goes at about the same pace as his reading aloud. We both learned that his eyes skip words, and sometimes skip lines, and it's hard for him to keep track of where he is.

At about 4pm, when it was time to start getting ready to go to his dress rehearsal for Jack and the Beanstalk, he'd read seven of eleven chapters, at a pace of about 30-40 minutes per chapter. He'd been diligent and focused, and I knew that if he'd been unable to finish it wasn't for lack of trying. So I told him that I would extend the offer through this morning, because he wasn't going to be home in the evening.

He got up this morning, and finished the book. All 114 pages of it. He is feeling very good about himself, and more confident in his reading ability. I am very proud of him for his perseverance. And this evening, after we drop off Dancer to see the Nutcracker she danced in last year, we will go to a Pilones store (where they sell very silly things), and he can splurge on something he'd otherwise never buy.

I'm still not certain what kind of issue we're facing -- I'll have to revisit Mel Levine's The Myth of Laziness -- but I'm pretty sure now that reading is harder for Little Guy than I thought. If we can do something to make it easier for him to read, great. And if all we can do is teach him that if he sticks with it he can do it, that's worth $11 to me.

1 comment:

  1. This seems both wise and compassionate to me. Little Guy is fortunate to have a mom who will work so hard to find both the problem and the solution.