Several afternoons a week, I tutor struggling readers.
I’ve worked with one little boy for three years now – and in a progress that has been halting, and at times excruciatingly frustrating, he has slowly, slowly learned the alphabet and basic phonics and a small memory store of “sight” words. Just in the last month or so, he has come close to being able to string enough words together that it is almost reading. (Lots of qualifiers here, still.) Every week, his painful efforts force me to really notice and think about what a mysterious and huge undertaking it is to learn the English written language.
I can’t really remember that lightbulb moment when letters became sounds and sounds became words . . . because for such a very long time, reading has been as natural as breathing to me. And yet, when I am in the act of explaining reading strategies – and okay, that’s another word which doesn’t follow the rule or the pattern – I have to acknowledge that reading is nothing if not laboured.
Ow sounds like mouse, but not like flow – which has the same spelling pattern.
Through sounds the same as threw and thru – but not a word like trough, which has the same spelling pattern, and hardly looks any different . . . especially for a little guy who likes to look at the first letter and then guess all of the rest (because the letters are dancing around).
For goodness sake, even the word READ has two different pronunciations. You’ve got to know the context first, but you can't rely on it entirely. (Isn’t that true of everything?)
Some of us learn to read quite easily, while others – more than you might think – have to overlearn every little thing to reach that magical mastery called automaticity. Automaticity: where there is no gap between the seeing/recognizing/processing/understanding/doing.
I’ve been thinking about overlearning a lot this week.
What have I had to learn, over and over again, and yet I still don’t have that absolute understanding – that mastery? I keep coming up short, and making the same mistakes, time after time.
Here’s a few life lessons that come to mind:
Impatience never helps the process.
It is pointless to speculate too much about the future.
Procrastination rarely (if ever) makes the task easier.
It is fruitless to force a conversation with someone when you know he (mostly he) is not in the right frame-of-mind for the conversation.
Emails and phone calls that aren’t answered promptly will probably never be answered at all.
If you go to bed late you are going to be tired and grumpy the next day.
Too much sugar, especially in the form of raw cookie dough, is never a good idea.
It is not necessary to voice every thought that comes into your head.