Saturday, April 10, 2010

Good Reader's Habit #2: Visualize

Whoa -- that's a little mind blowing, isn't it? But it has much to do with today's habit: visualizing as you read. So think of this as an inner eye.

Good readers, remember, are made, not born. Nurture is all, when it comes to reading. No one wakes up one morning, spontaneously able to read. And anyone can learn to read better. Kids are a blank slate here; you can mold their little brains into efficient, competent readers with only a few little tweaks in how you're doing things already.

Visualizing is simply picturing in your mind the events, settings and characters of a story as you read it. It's like showing a little movie in your head. Some kids do this very naturally, but it is easy enough to teach if you don't mind a little weirdness at the outset.

You, the parent, need to "think aloud" for the child and model the process of visualizing. You can't invite them into your head for popcorn and a flick, so you have to speak the movie to them, so they can see how it's done.

Visualizing doesn't become critical until children move away from picture books. In picture books, the visualizing is done for them. Every page visually represents the story for them. You can, however, use picture books to show how the action, characters and settings are reflected in the artwork. "Look, there's Mudge shaking all the water off his coat! Oh, now Henry is really wet!. Henry sure doesn't look happy." or "Oh look, there's the puffy white circle on Henry's hand. That's where the bee stung him. That sure looks like it hurts!" This also teaches kids to look at the pictures for cues and clues about the story. When they begin reading independently, they will naturally look to the pictures to help them comprehend the text.

Later, though, the pictures become few and far between. That's when true visualization has to step in and provide a clear inner picture of what's going on.

When I was reading How to Eat Fried Worms to my 6 year old, we read a scene in which the main character's mother makes a worm sundae. We took a minute to "build" the sundae in our minds -- first the ice cream scoops, then the marshmallow sauce, then the whipped cream, then the cherries on top, and on either end, the plump, fleshy head and tail of a nightcrawler sticking out. My son scrinched up his face and shuddered. It was sooooo gross! He had a very clear, mental image of that sundae, complete with the worm and that is good practice for when he has to picture something more complex, like the encounter between Harry Potter and the giant spiders in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or the "confession" scene from The Scarlet Letter, or the living arrangements inside a Yurt, or the true nastiness of the winter at Valley Forge, or whatever -- the applications are endless.

It feels weird, at first, to stop the reading and talk through a mental image with your child. But it will feel more natural with a little practice. Don't feel like you have to do it for every facet of every book. Choose events or characters or settings that seem important to the story, or particularly colorful and start there. Or if something strikes you as particularly beautiful, try that. Or pick something that's unclear and work on picturing it together -- that's what good readers do when they aren't quite sure about something they've read; they go back and re-visualize it so they've got it clear in their heads. I think it's particularly helpful to take something unclear to you, the parent, and let your child listen to you talk through your visualizing process. It makes the point that everyone runs into reading snags from time to time, and here's one way to get out of them.

Visualizing dovetails nicely with Making Connections; it's easy to say something like "remember when we went to the zoo and the lions were out? I can just picture Aslan stalking around so silently, like that big lion we saw. Remember how big his teeth were? Can you just picture how much bigger Aslan's teeth must be?"

Next Up: Questioning and Predicting

No comments:

Post a Comment