My parents have told me the story of how my brother learned to read many times. At around the age of five, my parents had read his Calvin and Hobbes books to him so many times that he had memorized them. He began to read them out loud, connecting words to pictures from memory. My dad isn’t sure when he stopped reading just from memory, and when he started to be able to actually read, but soon after reading his Calvin and Hobbes books out loud, he started reading Jurassic Park (which was not a book he had memorized). It was then that they knew he could read.
I can picture this sequence vividly. A child memorizes a book, or several, then while reading it to themselves they connect the words they are saying to the words they are seeing, and start to understand the complex patterns of how letter combinations make sounds. It seems incredible that a child could learn this on their own, without any direct instruction, right? Well, not if you consider that they learn to speak in the same way. No one sits in front of a baby, pointing to objects and saying the objects’ names repeatedly until the baby can repeat them itself; and no one continues to do this for several hours a day until the baby is able to memorize and repeat all the objects that the person is pointing at. At least, I hope no one does this.
So, in the words of John Holt, why do we need to “teach” reading, when we don’t “teach” speaking?
I believe that we don’t, and that this story about my brother is proof that we don’t. Although I have heard this story so many times, and it has become a part of my philosophy on learning to read, I had never witnessed it happening until this week. Sometime mid week, I noticed two kids sitting next to each other, reading the book “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket” together. They were flipping through the pages, and accurately saying the sentence that was on each page. But I don’t think they were reading the words, I think that they were reciting them from memory. With the help of Dr. Seuss’s clear pictures, and his rhyming technique that so interests the children in our classroom, they were able to connect sentences from memory to the pages they were looking at. These are the first steps towards learning to read in the way that my brother did. I am so excited to be able to witness this beginning, and to be able to follow these children as they learn to read.