Children Can Teach Us How to Read
Teaching isn’t just providing their students with information, it’s also listening to the students for information about themselves and how they learn.
One day while doing my volunteer work at a summer literacy program for young girls, I was put in charge of making sure each girl wrote a sentence about the picture they were drawing. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. In fact, this sentence-writing activity was apparently one of the biggest activities of the year that marked each girl’s progress in the literacy program.
Unfortunately, the girls didn’t seem to know the gravity of the situation as much as I did, and getting them to write these sentences served to be quite the challenge.
The first girl I went up to clearly had no interest in the activity. In fact, she was one of the roudier girls in the group, often talking or playing with friends when she was supposed to be listening to instructions. So I took it one step at a time.
First, I asked her what sentence she wanted to say about her drawing which was: “The squirrel is in the tree,”. I then asked her to write down the sentence, to which she refused. I then asked her to just write the first word, the answer to which was still “no”, but I did not give up then. I then told her (very matter-of-factually) that I didn’t know how to write the first word, and that she needed to show me. This, got a much better response.
In using this method, I was able to get her to write most of the words in the sentence (with the exception of “squirrel”, which I could barely spell).
After this, I couldn’t help but wonder: why did this method work? The girl knew how to write the words, but just lacked the motivation. And with good reason, too; what does she care that the program is tracking her progress? She needs to know that there is a reason for her to read and write things; not just because the teacher “says so”.
Teaching children in this manor teaches them that their learning is applicable outside the classroom, and gives them a sense of purpose: a very important thing for children to have. And maybe then, can we as adults learn to see things from a child’s point of view, by letting our children teach us how to read.