Monday, July 18, 2016

Pretending to Read and Write! Dyslexia?

Pretending to Read and Write! Sean Taylor the Dyslexic Reading Teacher. 

My first memories of school are feelings of inadequacy and shame,
not memories of joy and curiosity. One of my earliest memories is trying and trying to learn how to write my own four letter name, I remember everyone else in the class seemed to learn the task but I was stuck. I was lost from the start, learning the letter sound and even worse trying to print letters that were dancing all over the page. It was almost impossible for me to write or copy letters because they were reversed, upside down, transposed and illegible by the time my mind tried to decipher them. Most students learned to write their names in kindergarten. In first grade and beyond, I was not able to write my name unless I had an example to copy from, even in second grade and beyond I would focus and concentrate so hard on the shape and the direction the letters were facing, yet I would still transpose or reverse the letters. This constant failure just made me hate school and despise writing. Every time I tried to print, it was a like writing upside down and backwards while looking in a mirror, holding my paper and pencil using my big toes. The big change in my writing came in third grade with the introduction of cursive. Cursive was easier to learn and made more sense in part because it connected all the letters and it used muscle memory.

Worse than learning to print words was the entire reading process and the methods teachers tried to use to fix my illiteracy. I was suffering in silence, spending what seemed like all my time in school focused on reading tasks that made me feel stupid, and was a small death every day.  Letter recognition and phonemic awareness seemed alien and incomprehensible. To me 'p,' 'b,' 'q,' and 'd' were all the same letter. I would focus and concentrate on a letters orientation trying to figures out first what the letter was and then try to make some kind of connection. I resorted to using my auditory memory saying the alphabet in my head until I got the letter I was trying to sound out. The amount of energy and concentration, plus all the extra tricks my brain was trying to use to figure out letters and words made comprehension mute. How do you learn to read using phonics based reading systems or letter recognition if the letters are always changing? You might as well have asked me to sound out Chinese calligraphy.  I just resorted to fake reading, guessing or pretending to sound things out to make my teachers happy. The only respite was SSR because I did not have to pretend to read for awhile. I did learn to listen very carefully so I could memorize some books to pass as if I could actually read, but that only works so long. My writing never advanced passed perfunctory imitation. Even with the examples in front of me, my version was a transposed mess.

If it were admitted that the great object is to
read and enjoy a language, and the stress of
the teaching were placed on the few things
absolutely essential to this result, all might
in their own way arrive there, and rejoice in
its flowers.
Harriet Beecher Stowe

The horror of ability groups and reading circles.

When I was placed into reading groups, I was always in the lowest quartile ability group, or as I joke today, the "milkweed group," or the " vultures" -- never the "roses,” or the "eagles." Inevitably, I was stuck reading with the boy who never bathed and acted like he was operating on two pots of coffee. I would select a chapter book that looked interesting and the teacher would say “That is too difficult for you Sean”. What I heard was, “You’re too stupid to read it, Sean”. I spent most of my reading time looking at picture books or daydreaming-- never reading. By second grade I was feeling even more depressed and worthless. I was eventually diagnosed with a learning disability when I failed to learn to read by the end of third grade. The term dyslexia was used for the acrobatics that the letters were doing on the page that I was instructed to decipher.

Teaching me phonemic awareness and letter recognition was like trying to drive a car from the trunk. Three years of phonics and even more phonics didn't get me very far. Trepidation wasn’t the word I was feeling when initially evaluated for a learning disability but more a sense of relief that my charade was over. Finally, I was going to learn how to read. My happiness died quickly when the reality of more phonics was the prescription. I realized very quickly I was alone in my journey to learn how to read. I just could not make the connections between the sounds and the letters. None of the experts had a clue what to do except more of the same.

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