I have only been a parent of a school-going child for two months now, but I am inheriting an 11-year old boy who has a few learning difficulties. He finds it extremely difficult to memorize, or to extract information from a reading material. While very talented in math and science, he is struggling in social studies, reading and language arts, Spanish, basically everything that requires memorizing and reading comprehension.
We are blessed because he recognizes this issue and he’s willing to put in the effort to get better at this, knowing that he usually gets somewhere between C- and F if he doesn’t get help. However, we also don’t want him to stay up till late at night just to memorize the materials for tomorrow’s tests – something that has consistently happened when he has a memory-based test the next day.
We don’t particularly enjoy staying up late either ….
Upon sharing this with some other parents, apparently this problem is quite common. Generally speaking, most schools don’t teach the children how to read and learn – they just expect the kids to figure it out. Or if the teachers actually teach the kids how to read and memorize (which they do at my son’s school), we can’t expect the teachers to have the time to sit down with each student making sure that they get the idea of what to learn and how.
The task of walking our kids through the process of making reading and memorizing a habit and an easy task falls at home, with the parents.
So below are some of the things that my husband and I share with our son … some of these points he was also told at school:
1. Create an environment that helps kids concentrate. He usually studies at the dining table, with the TV on. Of course he gets easily distracted. Now we require him to study in his room. We also put extra lights in our living room and on his desk – bright light helps people read better. If the kids have younger siblings, try to keep their younger siblings away from them during this period.
2. Teach them how to read. My husband and I are avid readers, and we were blessed to have had teachers who taught us how to read. So among the things we share with our son are:
- That in any reading materials, the main idea of the paragraph is usually the first or last sentence in that paragraph
- That it is faster to read through a passage when he covers the lines below the line he’s reading with a piece of paper. This helps him to focus on the particular line he is reading
- To pay special attention to bold words, words written in different colors, or the side quotes in a textbook
3. Teach them how to extract information from the text. Teaching them to read is rather easy. Empowering them to determine the important points of the text and remember them is much tougher. This is the process that takes time, at which you need to patiently work with your children. Some of the things we are working with him on:
- Scanning for specific keywords. We usually ask him to firstly read questions that are given to him, and then look for specific keywords that will answer those questions. For example, if he is given a question, “How did knowledge and information get spread around in pre-historic time?” He will need to scan the text for “spread”, “pre-historic time” and “knowledge / information” to find the answer
- Creating notes in a graphic format. We told him to make note-taking a habit. We would help him do this by creating empty graphs, tables, organizational charts, for him to fill out with information he extracted from his reading material. Therefore, on the day of test, instead of re-reading one whole book on the way to school, he brings just 1-2 page of cleverly organized notes to refresh his memory. This makes the task much more effective and simpler although it takes work at the beginning. And by teaching him to do this, we are also teaching him to be more structured in his thinking
- Create abbreviations. To help him memorize elements, we encourage him to find abbreviations. For example, when trying to remember that … “archeology is the study of bones, artifacts, ruins and fossils from the past”, we told him he can memorize archeology as the study of BARF (bones, artifacts, ruins and fossils). Before we told him that, he couldn’t remember this definition no matter how many times he’s read it. After we did that, he remembered it instantly, and never forgot it.
We have been working with him on improving his reading and memorizing abilities for two months now, and it has helped brought his memory-based quiz and homework results from C-F to A or B.
But these tips are not yet a habit for him. When we remind him to do it, he will do it and feel good about the results he get. When laziness strikes in, he tries to play down the weight of this quiz / homework and would come back down to somewhere between C and F again.
This is normal for a pre-teen or any kid … you need to continue to patiently remind him/her the benefits of extra effort and the consequences of laziness.
Luckily to us, he genuinely feels bad when he doesn’t do well in tests and homework even though we never scold him for that or dramatize his bad results … which gives us opportunities to continue reminding him that “a bit extra effort at the beginning, and you will feel good about the results in the end”.