“Children, I said to her. For the first little while, they not exactly human, you don't find?”
Nalo Hopkinson

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lessons From Reading

Image by Pratham Books via Flickr
Children Reading Pratham Books and AksharaIn November I started tutoring first graders in reading through the local library.  Although I had no experience and very little training in teaching young children to read, I wanted to try my hand at it because of my love of books and reading.  Instead of the sweet, lady-like, giggling girls I had in mind, I was assigned two delightfully rambunctious, intelligent boys. They are the kind of boys who regularly squirm out of their seats, run down the hall with untied shoe strings, and walk backwards claiming magical seeing powers.  One of the boys repeatedly asked if I was "gonna give him something good that day."  All I have to give was reading practice, stories, and a occasional little gift such as a pencil or bookmark.  Let's just say he's lucky smacking knuckles with rulers have been outlawed because I was taught by that kind of disciplining.   Also I found it interesting that even though I was there to teach them, they taught me some new things too. 

I know now for a fact that the mind of a child does not work as an adult's does.  During one session we were reading You Are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O'Brien.  We were talking about the book but somehow our conversation sidestepped into this:

C.  "Yeah, I know all about that. Ooooh, I saw it on television. There was a man who went to Pluto and froze to death.
J.  "I know you know that television is playacting.  It is all pretend. The people on television are actors."
C.  "No you don't understand. The man was dead.  I saw him.  He went to Pluto. It was real."
J.  "That's a story like Jack and the Beanstalk or Three Billy Goat's Gruff.  (stories I read to him)  It is a story for you to enjoy and think about, not real."
C Emphatically.  "You don't know what you're talking about. I saw him die and he was on Pluto.  It was real.
J Recognizing Defeat.  "Oh."

I change the subject back to the book.

Then there was the day I was trying to explain why the sun did not heat up the north and south poles.

J.  "It is very cold there and nothing grows. I don't think anyone lives there but scientists."
Ca.  "Everyone knows Santa lives there."
J.  Forgot about him.  "Yeah he lives in the North Pole, but I don't know about anyone else."
Ca with disgust.  "You don't know about the elves?"

I felt inadaquate when I did not understand how to help the boys through a particular reading problem.  Sometimes there would be word on a page and they would correctly sound it out. Then when they came to that same word on another page they did not recognize it.  I suppose that is why it's so important for them to regularly practice reading.

Another thing I noticed is the boys liked that someone tried to tell them the right things to do.  It wasn't anything they said, I could sense that it was true.  They appreciated the fact that someone made them sit up in their chairs, made them keep trying, and thought they were worth the trouble.  I am proud for the children and myself.

And looking forward to next year.
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  1. I *love* this post! How old are these guys? :)

  2. ... forgot to say that you're making me want to recheck volunteer opportunities in my area. I used to do ESL tutoring with adults and teens in the D.C. area, but I've run into some roadblocks re. doing the same here. (Mostly about red tape, not about peoples' needs. It's frustrating and saddening.)

    But *maybe* working with a kid or two would be easier to arrange - and certainly challenging!

    Thanks again for this post, Judaye!

  3. They are both seven years old.

  4. no wonder they believe the story about the guy on Pluto! :)

  5. How delightful that you tutor! It's on my Bucket List, but I have yet to venture down that road. Kudos to you!

  6. Thanks, I think you will get a lot of fun out of it.


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