I’m not a literary snob, really I’m not – I’ll take a ‘thumping good read’ over a ‘short-listed for the Booker prize’ any day. Even so, when I began working with a child who hated reading but who said he was prepared to give the Beast Quest books a go, my heart sank. How on earth was I supposed to find anything of merit in Beast Quest?
The book Daniel* chose was Nixa the Death Bringer from the Avantia series. I decided to work on one chapter per one hour session, so I wrote down 10 questions for each one, which left time to read the chapter at the beginning of the session, and to make a prediction at the end as to what was going to happen in the next chapter. And so, with a sense of despair, I started reading it with a pen in my hand to write down questions.
Well…it surprised me!
Obviously I managed to write some retrieval questions – they were the easy ones. I hadn’t expected to be able to come up with much more than that though.
In fact, I was able to write a whole range from technique (Why did the writer use italics for this section? What is the purpose of the ellipsis in the 2nd paragraph), to working out the meaning of difficult words (sliver, stifle, pinnacle), and inference (How is the character feeling at the end of this chapter? What makes you think this?)
There were opportunities for Daniel to give and justify opinions (Do you think the title of this chapter was a good one? Why (not)? Do you think the main character made the right decision at the end of this paragraph? Why (not)?) and also to pick out other people’s view points in the text.
There were chances for him to show his understanding by explaining what various pronouns referred to, some of which referred to things in the last or even last but one sentence.
I found examples of alliteration, similes, homonyms….even anthropomorphism!
As Daniel got quicker at answering the questions and at finding the evidence in the text to support his answers, we started to have a few spare minutes at the end of the sessions where we could look at short snippets from other books and even answer a question or two about them. The result? Daniel realised that not all books are boring…he has even started reading for pleasure at home! Last session he proudly told me that the previous evening, instead of spending all his time playing on his Xbox he had read the first 34 pages of Harry Potter.
I’m really glad I took a gamble on basing reading comprehension tuition around Beast Quest instead of just dismissing it out of hand.
* not his real name