The fifth time around

I am helping a fifth person learn to read!

With Katie, I spent a few days teaching her the short vowel sounds and then told her that if you added an ‘e’ to the end of a short vowel word, it made the vowel sound long.  With that information, she taught herself to read her first book, “What’s Different,” a big colorful DK-ish picture book.  My investment in her literacy:  a couple hours all told.

For Jessica, I followed the same plan with the short and long vowels and then taught her a few key consonant blends.  We practiced sounding out words for a few minutes a day over a month or so, and she proved to me that she was able to read.  Having achieved that skill, she then adamantly refused to read anything at all for almost a year.  You’d have to have known Jessica as a youngster; if it wasn’t her idea, it wasn’t happening.  Then, one day when she was seven, I found her reading in her bedroom.  Now she not only reads books, she writes them!

Teaching Josiah to read gave me gray hairs.   He desperately wanted to read and begged me to teach him.  We tried at age five (his insistence), but it was hopeless.  We tried again at six, and it was even worse.  At age seven, we began tackling Alpha-Phonics, and it was an agonizing year of frustration for both of us.  He couldn’t seem to hear to the different sounds, and he absolutely could NOT remember ANY of it from one day to the next.  Aaarrrggghhh!   Josiah was later diagnosed with dyslexia and an auditory processing disorder, which explained WHY it was so hard for him to learn to read, but which didn’t make that his learning process any smoother.  We just kept slogging along through Alpha Phonics until we both thought we’d lose our minds.  I was DETERMINED to give him a strong phonics foundation, depsite his learning disabilities, and all that work eventually paid off.  It was  “Calvin and Hobbes” that finally pushed him to fluent reading at age eight-and-a-half, and for the next five years, he read aloud to me every school day.  Now he’s a voracious reader, praise God!

Andrew worked like crazy to teach himself to read at age four.  He managed (in extremely slow motion) to get through “Are you My Mother?” at which point I decided to take him through Alpha-Phonics.  He moved through it quite quickly and reads very well.

Now I have my fifth student, E, a 51-year-old man at our church.  He only went through the 6th grade and in his words “failed every grade.”  He can read a bit, but it’s mostly guesswork.  He does know the alphabet, but he was never taught phonics, so the concept that letters stand for SOUNDS is completely foreign to him.  He also has a really hard time hearing or imitating consonant sounds. (Will this be Josiah all over again?!?!?)  He’s lived his whole life functionally illiterate and had accepted the “fact” that he’d never be able to read well.  His wife reads necessary information to him.

I have suspected he couldn’t read since the day I met him and his wife several years ago, but a few weeks ago, when I saw them across the way at church on a Wednesday night, I felt strongly that I was supposed to offer to help him – if he wanted help.  However, I didn’t know him well, and I wasn’t sure how to talk with him about it.  Golly, what do you say?  “Um, I suspect you can’t read and I think God wants me to offer to help you learn?” That’s kind of hard to work into a conversation!

I went home that night without saying anything, but the next morning I happened to be in the van at 11:00 AM.  That’s when Focus on the Family comes on the radio, we can’t pick up that station at our house.  The only place I can hear that station is in the van, and since I am NEVER in the van at 11:00 AM, I hadn’t listened to Focus on the Family in over a year.  That morning, I flipped it on, and here’s what I heard:  Some man was on there, and he was talking about education and reading and how he hadn’t learned to read till he was in his 40s and a lady volunteered to teach him. Now, I can be a little slow on the uptake, but it was as if God had knocked me upside the head with a two by four!  A WHOLE 30-MINUTE PROGRAM on adult illiteracy in America THE VERY DAY after I had felt I was supposed to offer to help E?  Good night alive!  This was obvious even to me!

I was so sure of it that I ordered a new copy of Alpha-Phonics, because I’d given our old one away once Andrew was reading.  I’d surely never need that book again.  With some money thus invested, I got up my nerve to talk to his wife, who confirmed my suspicions, and then I called E.  He was guarded, not because he didn’t want to learn to read better, but because he didn’t think it was possible.  He said he was lazy when it came to school stuff; although he semed to be the type who would be a very hard worker at his job.    I told him I knew I could help him learn to read better (how could ANYBODY be more challenging to teach than Josiah?), but that I totally respected him and was not pressuring him.  If he wanted help, I’d be glad to help.  If not, that was fine, too.

We agreed to meet for thirty minutes before church this evening, and he worked very hard and made great progress.  He understood that we were going to go “back to first grade” and build a solid phonics foundation, and he was fine with that, so we did a lot of short ‘a’ work and sounded out words like dad, man, Sam, and tax.  He recognized tax and said we’d just paid that.  = )  He’s good to meet again next week.

I am cautiously optimistic.  My main challenge right now is to come up with creative ways to help him hear, say, and remember the consonant sounds.  We used the old Campbell’s soup commercial (“Mmm, mmm, good”) for ‘m,’ but if anyone has great ideas for any of the others, please do share.


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