The Teacher is Talking
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The Teacher is Talking: Operant Conditioning and Teaching Reading

By Leslie Lindsay

My husband and I recently re-learned (ha!) the power of operant conditioning.  You see, my 1st grader isn’t that excited to read.  She struggles a bit, but not for want of trying.  We work with her daily, but we were going about it all wrong.  She needs a “carrot.”  For this kiddo, the carrot was NOT learning to read a book all by herself.  (Why bother with that, when mom and dad read to me every night, anyway?)  Okay, fair enough…

The “carrot,” if you will is candy.  What kid doesn’t respond the sugar-laden treat?!  So, we timed her: “if you can read through all of these flashcards in under a minute, you can pick out a whole theater-sized box of candy from the store.”   YES!!   That was the incentive that got my little rabbit to focus on reading.  I know, it’s a bit “low” in terms of positive, edcationally-focused parenting, but well…you do what you gotta do!

Thank you, B.F. Skinner. 

Here’s what the teacher says about developing  good readers:

1.  Ask questions before reading.  What do you think the book will be about?  What do you think will happen to the charcter, based on the cover?

2.  Ask questions while reading.  Why does the boy look so sad?  What is that mom looking for?

3.  Make predictions.  I think she will win the race…what are your thoughts?

4.  Point to the words and glide your finger along the word.  This will help your child recognize the words in print.   As you point, encourage your child to do so.

5.  Make the connections to your own lives.  That cat reminds me of Joe’s cat.  Hey, I think we have something like that here at home….

6. Visualize and Create Sensory Images.  Close your eyes and picture the story in your head.  Can you see it?  Can you smell the apple pie baking as you read about it?

7.  Make Connections to the Real World.  Did you know that sharks have soo many teeth?  They always grow new ones.  Animals in farms require a farmer to look after them.

8.  If your Child Makes a Mistake Reading…if it doesn’t change the meaning, read on.  If you want to, you can go back to the word later.

9.  If your Child’s Mistake Changes the Meaning…ask, “Does what you just read make sense?”  “Hummm…does that sound right?  Let’s try again.”  Back up and re-read, skip the workd and see if you can figure it out by context or picture clues.  Predict what word makes the most sense.

10.  Ask Questions and Discuss the book After Reading.  What do you think the characters will do now?  Why did she make that choice?  What character would you like to be?

(Above suggestions adapted from The Denver Post, May 7, 1996. “Strategies to Help Your Child Be a Better Reader”)

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