Learning To Read, The Journey of a Late-Reader Homeschooler - Continued
Karen M. Gibson
Throughout the whole process I came to realize that there were some stumbling blocks Charles needed to get beyond if he was ever to succeed at reading. First, he seemed to believe that he wasn’t really reading if he wasn’t sounding out each word. If he read a word easily, he had memorized it and, he didn’t believe that was reading. I did my best to explain to him that this was actually how most people read quickly, by memorizing words. That you only had to sound out words phonetically when you weren’t sure what the word was or how it was pronounced. Gradually he came to accept this as so, but for a long time I am sure it seriously hindered his progress.
Second, I believe Charles was intimidated by the ease in which his siblings were able to read. Charles is a very competitive individual who likes to excel at everything he does. As a result, I think he shied away from the whole reading experience because he saw others being so good at it. If he couldn’t excel at reading, then he would avoid reading. Very rarely, even during the times when he did want to work on his reading skills, would he ever attempt to read anything on his own, away from the “reading lesson” time we would have. Perhaps had he been less worried about not excelling, been a less competitive person, he would have made attempts at reading on his own without worrying about failing.
Third, Charles insisted on reading only material that was of interest to him. For a short stint the old Dick and Jane readers were fine, but not for long. As he got older, those were too juvenile for him. He wanted to read about basketball players, basketball teams, and basketball games. So we read Basketball Digest and library books concerning the various teams — the reading levels of those materials are quite a bit more advanced than your usual beginning readers. As a result, he tended to learn very large words, such as ‘basketball’ and ‘scoreboard’ and ‘spectators,’ by sight rather than sounding them out. And that led to my last discovery.
After a lot of trial and error with various reading books, software, games, and other “learning to read” resources, I finally came to the realization that Charles is very much a whole word learner. We can review phonics rules and letter combination sounds for eternity and he doesn’t seem to retain them. Even today he still tries to insert extra letters — usually ‘r’, ‘t’, or ‘l’ — after the first letter in a word he is not familiar with, no matter what the word. But let him read a word a few times and he’ll have it memorized. I always thought that reading was a combination of phonics and whole word, but again, Charles has proven me wrong.
So, where are we now, five years down the road? Charles is nearing the end of fifth grade (age eleven). He has discovered, through audio books, that there are a lot of books he would enjoy reading on his own. And his desire to read on his own is stronger than ever. We still follow the reading pattern we established early on — I read a book of his choice to him for a while (usually a large factual basketball book), then he reads his book (again, his choice) to me. His reading choice this time is a fairly big book, one that would be considered fifth grade reading level and that is probably a bit beyond his ability at this moment, but it’s the book he wants and he is doing better than I had anticipated. There are big differences this time around, though. Our reading times together are more frequent — sometimes several a day — because Charles insists upon it. And he doesn’t want to quit after only a few minutes — he wants to continue until the chapter is finished. I still have to help him with a lot of words, but he is progressing steadily without experiencing the usual “hitting a plateau” and subsequently quitting. And probably the most noticeable difference of all this time around is that Charles is actually working at reading on his own, even though I don’t think he realizes it. Previously when he indicated he wanted to work on reading, he would only work with me, making no attempts at reading on his own.
Is Charles finally reading? Yes. Is he reading War & Peace? Not hardly! Are we through with working together on reading? No, obviously not. Quite possibly Charles will hit yet another plateau and decide to take a break for a bit. Did I expect this whole “learn to read” process to take five years? Never. No person I had talked with about late readers nor anything I read in all my research ever gave me any indication that we would start and stop so many times. It all sounded so easy — just let the child be and, when he is ready, he will take off on his own. Well, I’m here to say it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s a slow and halting process.
I am pleased, though, with the results so far. Charles seems to be quite excited about finally reading. He’s looking forward to all the research on falcons (his current interest) he’ll be able to do on his own. And he’s enjoying it. Reading is not a drudgery that he learned because he had to, but a new and exciting accomplishment. And that was my ultimate goal — not that he learn to read (I had no doubt that we’d arrive there eventually), but that he enjoy reading.
Author's Note (07/07/08):
At the end of this article I sound quite upbeat that Charles is at least reading. The story does not end there, though. Shortly thereafter, he hit another frustration plateau and ceased all outward efforts at learning to read or even really reading at all. And we continued the same pattern of on-again off-again lessons for three more years. It was not until after Charles's fourteenth birthday and the removal of his badly infected tonsils that he picked up a book (J.K. Rowling's latest Harry Potter release) and read it from beginning to end all on his own. I am not sure if there was some causal effect from the removal of his infected tonsils or whether he had just finally reached the necessary maturity level, but something finally clicked. From then on, he ceased asking for reading assistance and, even though his reading ability was slow and halting, he was reading entirely on his own.
Copyright June 2001
Originally published in the July/August 2001 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)