Reading Detective® is a different sort of reading comprehension program. Instead of focusing on the obvious, asking questions that can easily be answered simply by skimming the text, the critical thinking activities focus on what is not so visible. The activities in the books help children understand more challenging reading concepts such as drawing inferences, making conclusions, determining cause-and-effect, and using context clues to define unknown words. As a result, they are especially effective at developing analysis, synthesis, and vocabulary skills children need for exceptional reading comprehension.
How Do These Work?
Students read and analyze short literature passages and stories that include fiction and nonfiction genres. They then answer multiple-choice and short-response questions, citing sentence "evidence" to support their answers. This encourages students to go beyond simple recall of information, requires them to defend their answers and analyze the passage in greater depth. It also clarifies to the teacher how well they understand what they are reading. Since many questions (such as inference and prediction) are open to interpretation, an important component of the books is teacher/student discussion. Critical Thinking Press has included what they consider to be the best answers based on the evidence, but encourage teachers to accept other answers if they feel their student has made a good case for them. The goal is for students to think about what they read.
The Beginning level (grades 3-4) is divided into seven skill units: inference/conclusion, vocabulary, story elements, main idea/theme, cause/effect, prediction, and a concluding mixed-skills unit. The first six units begin with a lesson to introduce and/or review the skill, include a practice activity, and seven reading passages. The last unit combines all the skills in each story. The reading selections are no longer than a single page and are comprised of non-fiction articles, fictional stories in a variety of styles, and short literature excerpts from award-winning authors.
The A1 level (grades 5-6) includes mixed-skills throughout and provides an introductory lesson for each skill. It is not set up quite the same way as Beginning in specific skills units; instead, the skills lessons are taught in the first segment and the rest of the book is divided into three main sections: literature excerpts, fictional short stories, and non-fiction articles. (Each individual passage contains its own activity page.) The book introduces generalizations and, while generally avoiding asking for figures of speech by name, familiarizes students with similes and metaphors.
The B1 level (grades 7-8) also includes mixed-skills throughout and provides an introductory lesson for each skill. It is organized much like the A1 level, covering the same skills but also adding specific questions about personification, idiom, and analogy; and introducing the literary devices of flashback, foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony.
Teaching Support/Time Involved:
The books include pre-tests, post-tests, lesson guidelines, and answers with detailed evidence. Reading and literary analysis skills are based on grade-level standards. The tests are NOT intended as a diagnostic tool to assess an individual student's reading level, but rather to help determine which skills and lessons to focus on. We suspect that many home school parents will treat these as workbooks, not truly getting the full benefit of the course. We suggest setting aside 15-25 minutes per passage for discussion, so that you can thoroughly engage your student.
The goal of this series—reading a passage and understanding not only the facts presented but also what can be inferred—is an important one. These offer much of the preparation for the teacher, they teach specific skills, and they enable the teacher to more scientifically grade the student's work. In short, they will work and will probably be ideal for many teacher types. They are a little too curricular for our taste, and some of the reading material used is on the silly side, but we didn't see much to complain about. We would suggest also considering Teaching the Classics as a more natural, family-friendly alternative, but understand that it is not quite as teacher-friendly and recognize that the Reading Detective books do a better job focusing on particular skills.
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