September 16, 2012

Miriam's New Subject: Reading Comprehension

I added a few new subjects to Miriam's day this year as she is a big 4th grader and all.  One of the subjects is reading comprehension.  At first glance that seems silly as Miriam reads well above her reading level and has no problem comprehending what she reads.  However, I wanted to address two issues with this new subject: test preparedness and critical thinking skills.

Miriam has been doing critical thinking work since Kindergarten, but solving logic puzzles has gotten pretty simple for her.  We continue to bump up the challenge but she understands the process of reading the clues and marking a grid.  (I'm talking here about logic puzzles that have you find a solution based on a few clues.  For example, find 4 people's last names using a grid and clues such as "no person has a last name that is longer than their first name.")  Miriam adores logic puzzles and I think they are valuable so we continue to do them. (We use the Critical Thinking Co's Mind Benders for our logic puzzles.)

However, while that type of logic study is useful it isn't the best way to prepare for the English section of the ACT or multiple choice tests in general.  Well, I guess it is if a person knows to transfer the information.  Never mind everything I just said.  Instead, we'll just say that I wanted more specific practice for the English and science portions of the ACT.  I realize that is many years in Miriam's future, but the sooner you start practicing the better you get and the better scholarship you get.  I used to practice test taking with my public school students and the kids who understood the process, format, and strategies for test taking had such an advantage.

Enter The Critical Thinking Company.  Some days I feel like they should give me a kickback for all the nice things I say about their company.  They don't.  But they should.  :)  I bought Science Detective for 3rd and 4th grade because Miriam hadn't done anything like it before so I wanted her to feel successful and build up to harder problems.  While she reads and comprehends at a much higher level, she doesn't evaluate charts at a higher level or find the sentence that best answers the question at a higher level.  What I'm saying is, I'm glad we didn't buy the 5th and 6th grade book although I debated between the two for quite some time.

Clearly I'm tired because this post feels like it is all over the place.  I apologize.

Let me wrap up.  This workbook contains short passages of non-fiction based on science principles.  The sentences are numbered and the paragraphs are assigned a letter.  Following the passage are a series of questions about the information in the passage.  Most of the questions come in two parts: what is the answer to this question and which sentence best answers the question.  I really like that part because it forces Miriam to evaluate the passage even when she knows the answer already.

So far the passages have all included graphs of various types.  In the question section there are questions that can only be answered by evaluating the graph and for one passage Miriam was required to fill out 3 graphs similar to the one found in the passage.

This book really is a stellar reading comprehension workbook.  It forces Miriam to read carefully, to read the questions carefully and evaluate exactly what is being asked and how and where to find the answers.  It forces her to learn to decipher the purpose and information presented in a variety of graphs.

In short, it does everything I wanted it to do and does it very well.  Plus the passages and number of questions are a perfect and appropriate length for her age--it takes her 15 minutes to complete one passage with questions.  She is assigned two sections per week so she does reading comprehension on Tuesdays and Fridays.  I think it is just the right amount.  As she gets better at it I will probably start having her skip every other passage to get her through the book in one year so she can move to the next book in the series next year.  Then Cowen can use the book and do the passages Miriam skipped when he gets to 4th grade.  :)  I don't see any reason a child would need to do every single page in a book that size unless you did start the child in 3rd grade and expected him to take 2 years to complete the book, or the child really struggled with this type of work and needed the extra practice.

The only other thing I think I should mention is that the Critical Thinking Co markets this as a "core" textbook for science.  Yes, conceivably you could use this book as your science textbook but I wouldn't recommend it.  It doesn't build on itself well and the concepts are not delved into or layered enough to be a stand-alone science curriculum.  Plus, it would be boring.  No experiments.  But that's my opinion, for what it's worth.

Here's the link if you want to "look inside" the book on the Critical Thinking Co's website:

Happy homeschooling!

PS  I'm feeling better.  More stable, happier, less nauseated.  Blessed second trimester.  Thank you so much for all your kind words via emails and comments and for your long-distance hugs.  It really made a difference in my outlook.  I'm so glad I have friends like you.


  1. This post reminded me of something...A ways back I think you posted about using Spectrum books for test taking (specifically to prep for CRTs)? What do you think about those books? I've thought about getting them in the near future (or borrowing them) for my oldest who is a 3rd grader. She's a terrific reader and good at writing, but doesn't like to be asked a lot of questions about her reading -- she has no patience for it. I know that when it comes to reading comprehension, she needs to pay closer attention to the reading and really check for the correct answer for the CRTs. Does Spectrum help with that, as well?? Thank you for your posts on these different test-prep books. I don't know anyone else who thinks too much about learning how to take tests well and be prepared for those tests. I totally understand if it takes awhile to answer my question since you are incredibly busy with your calling and homeschooling -- and being pregnant (sometimes just being pregnant seems to add to the busy-ness!), so no pressure! :)


  2. Lynette, I have used Spectrum test-prep products and think they are really good. They give kids the flavor of "fill-in-the-bubble" and they reading passages are about a variety of things and include fiction and non-fiction. However, if it were me, I would start your daughter out with something more like Science Detective if you want her to pay closer attention to what she is reading (English teachers call that "close reading skills") because you have questions specifically designed to make a child think about how they came to the answer.

    On the other hand, Spectrum would be just fine if you took the time to walk through the questions when she was done and discuss why she chose what she chose.

    When I studied test prep with my students that is what we did; they would take a practice test and then we went through the answers and discussed every single answer option and what made some answers better choices than other answers. It was time consuming but my students really improved dramatically in their test-taking skills.

    Hope the helped!

  3. Very helpful! Thank you, Andrea. :)