I am re-reading Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’, set in Nazi Germany in World War II. It is about a girl who steals books and is fascinated by them, but cannot read too well.
Which got me thinking of the ASER (Annual State of Education Report) test results, which year after year show children in India are simply not reading at the required level. Reading is the most important pathway to learning, and if our children don’t read, they can’t learn.
Which then brought me to techniques for teaching reading more effectively.
Research avers that reading and learning improve if children visualize what they are reading. They not only are able to understand better, they are also able to relate better to the text. But it is not something all children will do automatically. Sometimes, they need to be encouraged and supported in doing this.
The RIDER strategy is used commonly and is of proven value, in helping in visualization. This strategy involves taking the child through a five-stage process:
Reading: Read the sentence.
Imagining: Make a picture in your mind.
Describing: Describe the image
Evaluating: Evaluate your image to see if it fits with the text.
Reading On: Read the next part of the story and do it all again.
How can this be used practically?
The first step would be to choose a text which easily lends itself to visualization. It should be rich in description and/or action. The actual choice of the text would depend on the level and interests of the children, but it should be more or less comprehensible to them, without too many new words.
Then you, the parent or teacher, could read out a few sentences slowly and clearly. Follow this up describing to the child what you see in your mind. Now, read the sentences again, or ask the child to read the sentence out loud. Then ask her to close their eyes and imagine the scene. After a minute or so, ask her to describe what she imagined.
Discuss and help the child evaluate whether the images fit the text. Take care not to judge any image as right or wrong—it is after all the child’s version of the text. However, do point out if there are differences between the image and any facts that are present in the text. This may also be the point at which you can tell them the meanings of words which may not be familiar to all of them.
Then move on to the next passage and do this again. Practice with about three or four such passages. This could be done for 10-15 minutes at a time, beyond which they may lose interest.
As you and the child get used to the technique, extend the exercise to go beyond just visuals. Ask him if he can smell the flowers or grass or garbage described in a scene. Ask him how a curtain or a coat described in story would feel. Or how the sweet that the child in the story is eating, tastes. How the wind sounds. Involve as many senses as possible to help the child imagine the whole scene, almost as if he is experiencing it. Go further. Ask the child to draw the scene as she imagines it.
Such a process of visualization helps children to develop their reading skills at one level, as they give concrete meaning to the words in their minds. At another level, as they listen to you read and hear you share your visualizations, they also develop listening skills.
Even for children who are not fond of reading, such exercises help them develop such an interest because it moves away from just looking at the printed word. A major advantage may come from the fact that children who are not very good with written exercises may be good at imagining, visualizing and verbalizing. They may be good at drawing or acting. When such multiple abilities come into play, more children become actively engaged.
Visualization also helps to develop empathy and emotionally connect with the characters of a story. You can encourage this by asking questions like: ‘What do you think the girl felt when she saw her puppy hurt itself?’
Visualization has different and huge possibilities at different levels, in different subjects. For instance, history can come alive if you use this technique. Kings, queens, life and times of a bygone era, wars—all of these can be visualized in different degrees of elaborateness. Geography too—if you can read out an effective description of a rain forest or cold desert, the students can visualize this, and then also be shown pictures. This would fix it in their minds. Even mathematics—for smaller children, you can ask them to visualize for instance, half or quarter of a dosa or roti, and then show them physically. Getting them to visualize fractions, angles, etc. can help give concreteness to abstract concepts.
So if you have a child in your life, do use the technique. If you know anyone who has a child, do share it. It’s a small act which can make a difference.
Based on a piece done for ‘Teacher Plus’.