Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reading Chat, August 15

Reading is a big topic and a scary one. Attempting to teach a child to read can do damage. Providing an environment in which a child can learn to read naturally can work a miracle.

Below is something Colleen Prieto wrote a while back, and you might also want to read at, sometime before the chat, though the real text is pages 86-93 of The Big Book of Unschooling. If you click that "Big Book" link, you will see a book cover made by Holly Dodd, who learned to read on her own, and a photo of Robbie Prieto, who learned to read on his own, reading The Big Book of Unschooling. How's that for full circle?

[Colleen, on Always Learning, in response to someone who was insisting that labels given in school could be easily overcome as long as someone was “morally grounded” and “forgiving” as an adult… ]
The way I think of that, it doesn't have to do with being "morally grounded" and "forgiving."

My husband grew up going to Catholic school, as the public schools in the inner city where he lived were (in his parents' opinion) too dangerous. The "instruction" he was given in reading was, from his accounts, quite detrimental instead of helpful. The kids in his school were drilled, tested, and forced to follow a phonics program. Phonics never made much sense to him (allowed to learn to read on his own, I'm guessing he'd read like my 8 year old does - from patterns and memorization and not using phonics) and he struggled with reading from the start. He ended up receiving extra 1:1 "remedial reading support instruction" (his school's version of a label was to put you in the "remedial" category). To this day he'll tell me "I really hate reading" and he says it often takes him 2 or 3 times reading through something before he really gets the meaning, which he also credits back to his schools' emphasis on phonics instead of comprehension and understanding.

Contrast this to my son's experiences with reading - where he grew up surrounded by print, words, books, computers, games, etc. He discovered words and reading on his own, based on his own desires and interests. He's 8 now and reads fluently - however he also doesn't hesitate to ask for help when he finds a word he doesn't know. And when he asks for help, my husband and I don't tell him "sound it out" - we tell him what the word is and he usually responds "oh - cool!" and then bounces on to finish whatever he's reading through. There has been no shame, no drills, no tests, and no instruction involved in his relationship with words – and so his relationship is a good one!

I am fairly certain that no amount of forgiveness or ambition could overcome my husband's experience with "reading instruction" and what that experience has done with his interest in and his ability to interact with printed words. His ambition led him to a college degree in engineering and a career that he enjoys - but it did not lead him to a point where all those phonics drills, remedial classes, etc. no longer affect him. If he forgave the teachers and the system for being what they were, would he become a happier, better reader? Nope. But our son benefits from his dad's school experiences, since "I don't want my son to learn to read the way I did!" gives yet more support to our decision to unschool :-)

If you're reading this by e-mail and you need a path to the chatroom, click on the title to get to the blog, which has a tab up to the left with the link and password.

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