Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Did You Learn How to Read?

At what point in time can a person be considred literate? Most people would likely claim that they learned how to read in kindergarten or first grade. But if handed a copy of War and Peace most first graders would be very overwelmed. Gaining the ability to read is more of an on-going processes than a one time event. A first grader may be able to read a number of simple words and as a result feel a connection to the literary world, but they aren’t ready to take on The Brother’s Karamozof yet. The good thing for most first graders, is that nobody expects them to tackle classic literature, instead young readers are praised for their new found abilities at every step in their learning process.

But when someone, like me, fails to meet the various steps of literacy at the expected times, the result is a more critical annalysis of the learning process. This is why, I have at times told people that I didn’t learn how to read until I was 20. Because that’s when I became a compotent enough reader to actually sit down and read the classics.

I was diacnosed with dyslexia when I was eight years old. At the time I had difficulty identifiying the twenty six letters in the alphabet and could only read a small handful of extreamly simple words. I read about as well as the standard four year old. For several years after that I told people “I didn’t learn how to read until I was eight”.

Once I was identified as dyslexic I began meeting with a private tutor three times a week, where I was taught to read using the Orton-Gillingham method. After almost 400 hours of instruction, I graduated from tutoring at the age of twelve. At that time, I understood all the rules of English phonics and could carefully sound out most words. My site vocabulary remained quite small and my reading level was similar to that of the average second or third grader. After graduating from tutoring, I began telling people that I didn’t learn how to read until I was twelve.

The problem was that most junior high and high school students read more complicated books than the average second grader. So reading remained extreamly challenging for me. I could read – I just couldn’t read well. It wasn’t until I was a senior in college that got to the point where I could comfortably read the text I was interested in. If I had spent as much time practicing reading as a teenager as I spent learning to read as a child, I may have reached that point more quickly. But listening to audio books was so much easier, I put very little effort towards becoming a proficient reader. For many years I thought of myself as “functionally illiterate” and honestly believed that I would never advance beyond a forth or fifth grade reading level.

Interestingly, it was my desire to write that finally taught me how to read. My site vocabulary grew slowly, and my poor spelling in this blog is evidence of its continuing holes. Because I almost esclusively listened to literature, the only time I ever saw new words was when I wrote them down. In college I gave myself a challenging enough schedule so ensure I wrote numerous papers. I always strived to make my writing reflect my spoken voice, and I often spent up to fifteen minutes figuring out how to spell a word that I said on a regular basis. Putting that much effort into my writing didn’t ensure that I would correctly spell these challenging words the next time I needed to write them, but the next time I had to read them the sounding out process was far less difficult.

By the time I graduated from college, I had read enough of my own writing to gain the confodence to attempt reading actual books. Amazingly, the task wasn’t painful but enjoyable. So when do you think I learned how to read? Was it at the age of eight when I finally learned the alphabet? Or was it at the age of twelve when I learned how to properly sound words out? Or was it at age twenty-one when I first discovered that pleasure reading can in fact be pleasurable? I have taken to telling people I learned how to read when I was twenty. Even if I didn’t start reading for fun on a regular basis until I was twenty-one, I was reading a lot of my own papers at age twenty and probably could have handled a book or two if I’d set down my audio books long enough to read one.

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