In my very first blog post, I mentioned the kid who told me that I was “torturing” another kid by badgering him to “sound out” words. I have a follow up on this story. Last week I got a graduation invite that read:
“Marty & Kathy,
Not sure you remember Dean from ____________ Elementary, but Marty you made an impact on us & we often think of you. Hope you can stop by and see us.”
So, Kathy and I did stop by. Dean is bigger than I am now. I can no longer remember him as that little 2nd grader. He likes to hunt and fish. His grades were not great, but he graduated with his class. He wants to become a DNR Officer. When I knew him best, he wanted to be a veterinarian.
In all of these years, that family thought that I had helped them. In reality, we helped each other. I could finally tell Dean and his mom how much Dean had helped me. You can see the original post here:
If Dean had not made that sincere remark to me, I would not have been so determined to read the literature on dyslexia and cognitive science. I would not have worked so hard at finding ways to treat learning problems in fun and engaging ways.
As I drove off after the party, I was asking myself who helped whom?
I have never met a child who did not want to learn to read and write. I remember being about 4 years old and trying to draw my mother’s cursive writing. I drew what looked a child’s drawing of the ocean–pointy triangular waves connected across the page. Georgia, Carter, and Brady have favorite books that we read together over and over. Griffin, my 11-year-old, reads each night before bed. Sadly, many children abandon this type of playful enthusiasm following a series of confusing and confidence crushing experiences. The good news is that psychology can lay claim to a real success story: we know how to ensure that nearly everyone learns how to read. We just need to develop the experiences that create the desire to learn.
I can’t stand it when my kids fight with one another. This is the one thing that really gets to me. I want to have a “Waltons” kind of family, right?
Some days the house seems more like “Married With Children”. Incessant bickering and put downs.
I remember one day my oldest, Griffin, did something that really bothered me. He was being so mean to one of the little ones. I wanted to do more than simply tell him to knock it off. I explained to him how I lost my sister, how I missed her and wish I had her back, etc., etc. Then I remembered “The Scarlet Ibis”.
The Scarlet Ibis remains an important short story for me. First, it was the first story I read that made me cry. Mr. Andrews, my 9th grade literature teacher, selected it for the class. I won’t give you the details of the story, because I want you to read it. You can find it here:
Second, it allowed me to show Griffin that there is wisdom in literature, and we can seek stories out to learn about ourselves. We can reflect on the author’s ideas and language and apply the ideas to our own lives.
I read the story to Griffin, and I saw tears well up in his eyes.
I’d like to say that there has been no quarreling in the house ever since, but you wouldn’t believe it. It isn’t true, anyhow. But, I did expose Griffin to a great piece of literature and perhaps planted a seed that may bear more compassion in the future.
I found an excellent commentary on the story that you might like. It may help you to talk about the imagery and symbolism with more depth. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/aX3Qpt
The Waltons is a fiction. We are not perfect and my kids are not angels all the time. It’s just weird when they fight, because I feel the same protective feelings when any of my kids get picked on, even when one of my other kids is doing the “picking on”. I’ll leave you with a photo of the “Fletchers”. I like this photo. The kids look happy. Not quite the Waltons, but as close as I can get today.
I once had a kid accuse me of torturing another kid. Today, I am here to renounce torture.
This is my experience with two little boys that set me on a journey to explore every angle of literacy and learning.
“Mr. Fletcher, you’re torturing him.”
Here’s how it all went down. A few years ago, I was working with children who had been defined as emotionally impaired at an Elementary school in Michigan.
A typical day in that classroom looked like this:
Kid gets in trouble.
Kid gets sent to my room.
I had to figure out and find something “meaningful” for him to do.
Not a problem, really. I always got along well with these boys because I enjoyed them and felt true sympathy for the variety of unfair situations that had placed them in this group.
At this time, I knew nothing about how to teach reading, but I knew that literacy was a big issue at this school.
That day, I had two students at once. Red-headed Blake’s mother had left the family and now his single dad was raising him and his brother alone.
Second grader Dean was sent to me for pushing in line and was struggling through his own emotional issues.
Neither were emotionally impaired–quite the contrary. They were having a natural human reaction to stress and loss. However, this wasn’t the ideal situation to try and share my enthusiasm for reading.
I was trying to get Blake to sound out words in a book but he was having no part of it. The more he resisted, the more I pushed, until Dean turned to me and said, “Mr. Fletcher, you’re torturing him.”
I vividly remember stuttering and stammering a bit in my own defense, but I was caught. The feeling of shame and disappointment in myself was pretty harsh.
I had to admit that I knew nothing about the psychology of reading. Sure, I knew how to read. But I had no idea how to teach it to Blake.
That night I went to the store, bought a few books and started my journey. Later I’ll tell you how I discovered a way to introduce children to reading and how you, as parents, grandparents, teachers and friends, can do it too. Best of all, it won’t cost you a dime!
Links used in story: