Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My "Late" Reader, the Reading Tutor

Betsy has started college* and will soon begin her dream job. Her work-study assignment is (drum roll, please): reading tutor in an elementary school. This is a rich and lovely thing indeed, as this is the girl who was my "late" reader.

I never labeled her "late" -- I am not fond of labels. I did realize that she was learning to read in a way that was very different from how Anne-with-an-e had picked up on it. I realized that God had indeed tricked me into homeschooling and that now I had to actually become a creative teacher. (I realized I needed to deliver a satisfying rant to God before I could get back to business. I delivered the rant.) I worried, I researched, I asked friends.

One day, I heard Betsy label herself. "Anne is the reader. I'm not really the reader in our family." My heart sank. I didn't want any of my children to give up on reading before they'd had a chance to embrace it. I resolved to keep reading aloud to her as often as I could (not that I would ever stop reading aloud....) and I simply kept plugging away, exposing her to various ways of learning, waiting for the quintessential click.

The click came.

Here's a post I wrote a few years ago, about Betsy's reading journey:

On Learning to Read, Part II 
(this post originally ran in 2009):

Last week, I talked about how Anne-with-an-learned to read. I came away from my experience with Anne thinking that "teaching reading" was a snap. The only thing required of me was to read to my child, talk, talk, talk, and point out a few phonetic anomalies.

Then came Betsy. Different child, different brain, different wiring. A brand, new experience. I no longer felt like the SuperMom of Homeschooling. Was I doing something wrong?


Betsy, who is every ounce as sharp as Anne-with-an-e, just processed things differently. Initially, though she loved having me read to her and enjoyed our family read-aloud times as much as Anne did, she was not inclined to watch the page and see what the words looked like. At one point, I noticed that rather than watching the page as I read, as Anne had, Betsy watched me, watched my mouth move as I read. Betsy wanted to hear the story, experience it, be a part of it. She was more auditory and kinesthetic than Anne had been, and so reading came to her in a different way.

With Betsy, I took the more traditional route of phonics rules and reinforcement, but I taught it with games:

  • I made simple board games ("Read the word and move ahead three spaces.")
  • I had her tell me a story -- she narrated it to me orally, I wrote it down, then had her copy it onto pages which she then illustrated. She then read her composition ("Jat's Bat" -- I still remember that the cover she made was decorated with glitter) to me again and again.
  • We found Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Betsy loved it (and so did I.) We read those repeatedly, too, until she was reading them on her own.

This mixed bag of approaches worked, and Betsy began to read, and to love independent reading as much as Anne did. She just had to arrive by a different route, and I had to tune in to what would help her get there.

Today, they are both excellent readers and I don't think anyone would know which of them read "early" and which read "late" (and I'm glad that they didn't have to deal with such labels, which really aren't helpful and can be detrimental.) Though an "early reader" might make things easier on a teacher, the age at which a child reads isn't really important to the child or to her overall journey. She will read when she's ready, and when she's offered the right opportunities to be ready.


Betsy became (and still is) one of the most voracious readers I've ever known. She is also the writer of her own books these days, too. The Jat's Bat legacy lives on. 


*Cue the Hyperventilation-of-Disbelief


Liz said...

My two also came at it from different places. My first memorized a ton of sight words (seemingly without our even noticing), but struggled initially when I tried to do phonics with him. I did a bunch of made up word family stories and then tried again with a different phonics book several months later (when he was already trying to read other books) and it finally clicked, although he would still tell you that he really didn't learn to read phonetically. My daughter was a pure phonics type (she had more trouble learning to read "the" than she did elephant). However, she started independent reading about a year younger than her brother was when he started. My niece and nephew also started at different ages, my nephew was actually sort of late when he really took off. I've been really encouraging my daughter that her daughter is not behind that in fact she's right on track with the rest of them. She's been so math focused that reading hasn't been a real priority for her. She certainly recognizes some words, but isn't all that interested in phonics (although she knows all her upper and lower case letters, even in different typefaces). I've just watched this whole thing play out with so many kids now from the really early readers to the ones that don't read until 11 or 12. What I've seen is that the only ones who seem to be really hampered are the ones who are in school and end up in the special reading classes. The stigma associated with that seems to do more harm than the classes do good. I think also that the problem is that it's sort of like trying to force a kid to learn to walk. Some kids learn to walk at 9 months. Other kids in the same extended family don't start walking until 18 months, while most of the kids in the family start somewhere around a year. If you forced those 18 month olds to do walking practice because they are behind, if you sent them to PT because they aren't walking yet, would that really speed up the process? I honestly don't think it would. I also don't think that trying to force every kid to learn to read at 5 or 6 works either. The only thing it does is make them think that they aren't readers. Good for you for finding ways to help Betsy become a reader and help her to not get locked in a mindset that she couldn't be one. The latest reader I knew didn't take off until he was past 12 and the first thing he read were computer manuals followed by Tom Clancy novels (YUCK! but it enticed him). This was a kid who at 11 took an achievement test and had a reading section that couldn't even be scored because he answered so few of the questions. Yet he reads absolutely fine now and that without special reading classes etc. As a matter of fact at 13 he was in my English lit co-op class and read Edith Hamilton's Introduction to Greek Mythology, Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton mysteries, and several novels. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.

Donna Jannuzzi said...

So often I come to your blog and read something both useful and inspiring. I'm very grateful you posted this today. Especially that link to Jan Brett's phonogram flashcards. Those are lovely, and I think we'll put them to use this year.

Danae said...

This is all so helpful to hear! Thank you!

Karen Edmisten said...

Thanks, Danae!

Donna, thank you! What a kind thing to say. I hope you enjoy the Jan Brett flash cards.

Liz, I loved the variety of ages/results in your stories!