The trouble with learning to read

I have called this blog a “lifelong learner’s” blog because I firmly believe that we are learning something every day of our lives.

What we learn may be something very small or it may be something that can transform the way that we do things for the rest of our lives.

I was asked today about learning to read and I stated that, like so many people out there, I really can’t remember when the letters had sounds that made sense to me and I was able to decode them and make sense of what I was “reading“. Was I taught to read? No… I don’t think so. I did do some repetitive learning of some sounds and sat back as I was told that c-a-t made a cat. I somehow related to this as I quite liked cats and felt it was rather good that the letters made a name of a thing that I knew.

But when did t-h-a-t make sense to me as making a nondescript word which had real power but no image… how does one image “that”? Yet that is a key word in our language and I somehow mastered its use and could sound it out…. when this great breakthrough came about I can’t tell you.

So what is it that got me to read?..well I think it was the desire to do so. I saw my father reading his newspaper (he was never a bookish person but loved reading a paper every day) and I had this feeling inside that if I mastered this skill it would be very useful to me.

When I was at school I had a number of friends who were keen on fishing. I remember once when one of them (a boy called Barry) told me how he had learnt to thread a line on his rod, set the bait and find a good position to fish, he could reel in and re-cast if things weren’t right and he knew the way to read the clouds and test the wind because the weather conditions effected the fish (how I never quite knew or understood).

Barry had found difficulties in learning to read. By the time we were about nine years of age I was far superior as a reader than he was. I was already into quite heavy literature for my age. Barry was not. But he had not had my motivation to learn to decode the letters and work out the strange words like “that” and “but” and “because”.

He was though an ace fisherman and probably became a very very good one. Our paths diverged as we got to eleven and I went to a boy’s Grammar school … mainly because I was into the “reading” thing and Barry went to the local secondary modern school. He very probably never got the feeling for words and reading that I have always had. He probably left school early and maybe got a manual job or worked in a shop somewhere.

I became a teacher and the writer of this “lifelong learning blog”. The words still mean a lot to me and I enjoy playing around with them… but I know that the reason I “learnt” to read was because I really really wanted to. I still cannot cast a line and have never caught more than a tiddler in my local pond which was spooned up in a net at the end of a bamboo stick! To Barry this world of fish, weather, the struggle to land a “whopper” was what made his brain switch on and motivated him to want to master these activities.

This all points to my central contention in this post.We can introduce any number of methods to teach children to read… in the end… they will do so if they really want to. I suspect that, if fishing were ever high on the school’s curriculum list of must learn… I would be one of those who would be struggling…. if he can’t learn by the” cast and say” method try the “dip in the water” method. I suspect that   the fish would be as untroubled by this as the university professors would be at the thought of a child like Barry ever entering their doors.

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3 thoughts on “The trouble with learning to read

  1. Why should reading be a problem if anything you look at can read itself? We have the technology. Would you refuse to give crutches to someone who as a child had polio? My computer can read to me. The CD player in my car can read to me. Once we spot a child with reading issues, how about we give them crutches? That doesn’t mean we stop teaching them how to read. I suspect that if the words being read were highlighted as they are read, it would help a child learn how to read better. I don’t do long division any more as I have a spreadsheet. I don’t write in cursive as I have a keyboard.

    1. You are right that the mechanics of reading can and should be supported by technology. The interest in reading will come from motivation and that is about giving them a reason to want to read or get support for the reading.

    2. Hi Doug,
      Thank you for your comment, You are right that the mechanics of reading can and should be supported by technology. The interest in reading will come from motivation and that is about giving them a reason to want to read or get support for their reading

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