Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss

Today is Read Across America Day in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss.

I’m celebrating because the first-grader I’ve been tutoring isn’t a slow reader any more. In his second great leap forward — in November, he suddenly acquired the ability to sound out words — he doubled his reading speed. When the text repeated, he didn’t have to sound out every word laboriously a second, third or fourth time. He just zipped along.

The tutoring program tells us volunteers to praise the children, even giving us a full page of positive things to say. “You’re a super star!” “You’re fantastic!” I’m not capable of doing this and this kid is too sharp to buy it. Mostly, I say “good” when he struggles through a word. And when we discuss the story, I treat him as an intelligent conversant, which he is. This time, I told him how much he’d improved in speed and fluency, suggesting that his practice had paid off.  Pleased, he said “thank you.”

If this boy continues to improve, he’ll move beyond the easy readers, which he finds “boring” to books he might enjoy. (I’m getting sick of Oliver the Pig myself.) He likes “real” things, but the teacher says she has no science books at his level.  Now I have faith that he’ll get there.

About Joanne


  1. Usborne has easy science and history readers. They keep my little ones motivated to learn to read! Sonlight sells them. (They are a homeschool curriculum supplier, http://www.sonlight.com) This ebay listing has a sampling of the kind of book I am talking about: http://cgi.ebay.com/LOT-10-USBORNE-YOUNG-READER-SCIENCE-HISTORY-STORY-BOOKS-/260745566057

    (I don’t work for Sonlight and that is not my ebay store. :))

  2. Congrats Joanne! Savor it.

  3. There are several of those ‘graded’ series (levels 1-3) that have science books – my just-turned-5 year old boy read his first book right before Christmas and it was about how a tadpole turns into a frog. There are dinosaur books (they phonetically do the names), bugs, etc that are pretty popular at our house. I haven’t seen many of these types at the library, though. There is also a fairly new series, ‘The Cat in the Hat knows a lot about that’, that don’t read as easily but have the same sing-song rhymes of the original. These are also hits.

  4. Yay! By the way, specific praise is always more motivating than even the most heartfelt “good job” (or the phrases you mentioned). Kids do better when they know what it is that they succeeded in doing. Thanks for being there for this child, who surely needed you!

  5. Diana Senechal says:

    The boy is fortunate to have a tutor who treats him as an “intelligent conversant” and spares him tacky praise like “You’re a superstar!”

    I suspect praise like “You’re a superstar” has the opposite of the intended effect in many cases. Children pick up on the condescension. They realize they’re not being treated as intelligent people who want to learn.