Lauren doesn't often pick up skills by repeated exposure; the most successful programs for her are ones that teach new skills in a direct, sequential manner. Apologia Educational Ministries has a new program that fills our need for direct instruction in reading comprehension and literary analysis skills. Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) teaches an amazing reading comprehension, literature, and vocabulary program that uses a step-by-step approach to teach students to become "expert readers."
The backbone of the program is the 560+ page All-In-One Student Text and Workbook. I love the spiral binding because it makes it easier for Lauren (or me) to write answers in the book, but the large book is a bit unwieldy, especially when we try to take it along to do school in the car or a doctor's office. I plan to have it rebound into smaller volumes so that it will be easier for Lauren to handle.
The book is written directly to the student, but I read most of the lesson material to Lauren so that I could make sure that she was fully grasping the concepts. The program is divided into Units, Modules, and then shorter lessons or activities (no more than three pages in each). A Suggested Daily Schedule gives me an idea of how many lessons to cover per day, but I'm free to choose to stop earlier if we've used up Lauren's attention span before the end of the suggested number of lessons.
Readers in Residence Volume 1 starts by explaining some of the most basic concepts when it comes to discussing literature.For instance, it's easy to assume that every child has automatically figured out the difference between fiction. This text spells out the characteristics of each and then has the child go on a treasure hunt to find examples of each. It also explains the characteristics of different literary genres so that students are prepared to read a book of a particular genre. Again, some students can see a handful of books that are labeled historical fiction and figure out what that particular genre entails. Others need to be clearly told what features make Nancy Drew stories mysteries or Harry Potter books fantasies.
After covering some literary basics, we picked up the first book to study -- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Once again, Readers in Residence started with the basics and moved forward in small steps. Lauren learned how to closely examine the cover of a book to find clues to the story. She also made predictions about what difficulties the characters in the story would face based on the synopsis on the back cover.
Lauren then started reading the book. Her assignment wasn't simply to read the first chapter, though. She read the first chapter with a purpose in mind -- she was looking for clues that showed details about the characters she met in the story. (Note: I sometimes took dictation for her when we were working through the materials so that she would spend more time thinking about the content and less time whining about having to write down long answers.)
After each chapter, the workbook asks a series of comprehension questions. Although some of them were simple fact-based questions, most of them required Lauren to draw conclusions or make inferences based on what she had just read.
For a child that reads easily and automatically analyzes the story as they read, these questions may seem simple or unnecessary. For Lauren, these questions were crucial in teaching her to think critically about what she had read. She also realized that the story was much richer and more enjoyable when she used her thinking skills as she read instead of just breezing through the book.
The Readers in Residence set also includes a 230+ page answer key. We found it helpful to read through the answer key together after completing each activity because we often found ideas that neither Lauren and I had thought of in our discussions.
I'm a huge fan of Readers in Residence because it has given me the tools to teach Lauren to think critically about what she reads and doesn't just assume that she will automatically develop strong comprehension skills. The step-by-step instruction is exactly what she needs.
Lauren says she likes Readers in Residence because it's fun. While she couldn't explain exactly what makes it fun, I suspect she likes the way that the book includes activities such as the genre treasure hunt where she searched through our bookshelves to find examples of each genre. I also suspect that she's discovering that reading is a lot more fun when she gets caught up in the story by really thinking about the characters, what they say, and what they do.
Readers in Residence Volume 1 costs $89 for the two-volume set which includes the All-In-One Student Text and Workbook and the Answer Key. It is recommended for students in fourth grade or higher.