Vera’s Articles

Letters From a First Grade Teacher
Reading is Just a Game of Golf


Letters From a First Grade Teacher

AN ACTION RESEARCH PROJECT RECORDED IN LETTERS EXCHANGED BY
LaDONNA TOEWS – First Year Grade One Teacher &
VERA GOODMAN – Master’s Student at U of C

This is a series of letters I exchanged with LaDonna who had been my Intern the year before and was now in charge of her first class. We did our research in one of the lowest performing schools in the Calgary Board of Education that had a high ESL population. She used The Little Prince by Ste. Exupery to teach reading to her class in January. I was finishing my master’s degree at the University of Calgary at the time. These letters address many of the issues teachers at all levels face and communicate the joy of opening up learning to children in this way.

January 1, 1987

Dear Vera,

Hi! Did you think I forgotten about you? It really was difficult to find any spare time before Christmas for working on The Little Prince and I did want to have things together before I wrote to you. Well, they are ‘sort of’ together now!

I started working on the unit over the holidays. It was more difficult than I had anticipated. I found that trying to arrange my ideas and activities into a neat, organized package with objectives and skills, etc. was very frustrating. After attempting to do this a number of ways, I discovered the easiest way was simply to go through the novel chapter by chapter and extract the most important and/or predominant concepts or subjects from each. This seems to be working in terms of planning.

Another concern arose after looking at each chapter more closely. Many of the concepts in the novel are quite complex, even for me. Are they too complex for my grade ones? Should I try to tackle them, or approach the book in a more literal/superficial way? For the first nine chapters I thought I’d try a little of both.

Perhaps I should give you a brief breakdown of the main ideas/concepts I intend to cover in each chapter and some of the accompanying activities, besides the regular chapter summaries and vocabulary development.

Pre Study: discuss drawing #1 – have kids guess what it is
Chapter 1: discuss boa constrictors – poem – Boa Constrictor – – draw a picture and
write about boas. Discuss grown-ups (their view versus kids)
Chapter 2: begin to discuss characteristics of the LP. Discuss LP’s sheep (write about magic box, draw the sheep they see – art – clay sheep)
Chapter 3: discuss how the man got to the desert – airplanes – how did LP get there? (write about how either one got there)
Chapter 4: Part 1 – discuss astronomers & what they do/see – talk about LP’s asteroid (kids make paper-mache asteroids to decorate room)
Part 2 – discuss grown-ups – What would you tell them to convince them the LP existed? Would they believe you? Describe LP in journals. Paint a portrait.

This is as far as my planning has gone. I will write you again when I have more.

Another concern I am having is coming up with interesting, imaginative and appropriate writing activities. Is it sufficient for the kids to only be writing in their journals? Don’t they get bored of this? Perhaps I am worrying too much. Janis, the P.E. teacher, is going to do creative dance to space music with them. We are also going to the Planetarium on Tuesday. Are you interested in coming with us?

Well, I should get this off to you. I hope this is the kind of letter you are looking for. If not, please let me know. I am looking forward to your reply.

Sincerely,
LaDonna

January 12, 1987

Dear LaDonna,

I can appreciate how frustrating this is for you to try to organize instruction for The Little Prince. But I’m sure you found the exercise to be of great value. I look forward to seeing how you carry it out so I can learn from you.

There is no doubt this is an extremely complex novel and I don’t really understand it myself after studying it at University and reading it many times. That is the fascination of the book for me. You can take the book at a literal/superficial level or as a metaphor. However, it will surprise you how each child will have insights into it that may teach you different ways to look at it. Your use of both literate and interpretation seems to be a good way to go.

When we are talking with children we never know how many of our ideas they are interpreting and how many of them will appear at a later date as they assimilate it into their experience. The only caution is not to hold them responsible for interpretations. When you relate the book to the concept of the prince as used in other literature, for instance, you are helping to develop a deeper understanding of, not only The Little Prince, but of princes in many other stories. Read other stories to them, both real and fictional, to have them make the comparisons.

Your planning is excellent. I like the way you are letting the kids express the concepts of the story in art activities that build on one another. Michael Polanyi, one of the great thinkers o the 20th century, says that humans, from the very beginning, are endeavouring to make sense of their world. They do this by forming hypotheses from the experiences they encounter. These are then tested against further experience and in this way they build up the pool of tacit knowledge that enables them to function in society.

It seems to me that the way you are approaching the study of The Little Prince will frame this kind of experience for your little ones and that they will achieve some rather sophisticated knowledge about how really good books let us experience things not possible in any other way.

I wouldn’t be too concerned with writing at this stage. Continue with the journals and let them write about The Little Prince if they want to. But as you get into the story, many things to write about will suggest themselves. They can’t write with understanding until they have had time to gain some background. Do lots of oral language activities at the beginning. You might have them dramatize the second chapter with the aviator making up some self-talk that he would engage in when finding himself in such a predicament. Then the surprise that he registers on seeing the prince. You could let several children assume each role.

Talk positively about some good thing that each child does in his rendition. For example, “Look how Billy lets us know that he is sad by bending his head and shoulders down.” “Don’t you think that Betty’s voice sounded like the prince?” How do you think the prince might have sounded?” “Why?” and so on. This will help to establish the idea of conversation in literature and will be of great value when they begin to write. I would basically skip too much writing for the first while. Let them enjoy the story without too much hard work. Give more time to the writing later with descriptions of the planet and conversations with the rose, for instance.

Tape your reading of the story. I suggest that you put each chapter on a different tape, at least for the first few chapters. You remember how they liked to listen to the story again. You could put students on the listening center with a couple of questions to answer. I know you will need a lot of tapes but I think it is worth the investment. Be sure not to show the film The Little Prince until the end of the book as this interferes with their mental picture of him. You could show films on foxes, snakes, planets, etc.

Looking forward to hearing how it’s going,
Vera

January 27, 1987

Dear Vera,

The novel study is moving along fine and I have had, as expected, both good and not so good experiences. For the most part though, I have been pleased.

We are presently on Chapter 8 and I will complete Chapter 9 by Friday. Today we did some work with the vocabulary from Chapters 1 – 7. I was amazed (as was John who was evaluating me) at how well the children remembered the meanings of the words we have discussed. After doing some role play, and talking about the words, each child was given a page with one of the words on it and their job was to illustrate it. It turned our well and I wrote the definition of the word on the illustrated page as they dictated it.

One of the activities we did, which I was extremely happy with (and proud of), came out of Chapter 7. After reading the chapter, we discussed it and got into talking about “The Land of Tears”. Afterwards, the children were to write about what the land of tears was and to tell me all about it. They illustrated their writing with posters. It was some of their best work yet. It did take some coaxing and discussing with some of the kids.

Many art projects have emerged from our study besides the pictures I have mentioned. We painted portraits of The Little Prince which turned out beautifully. We also painted sunsets which was fun. Under each of these pictures we wrote a sentence about the picture. The writing was OK but I feel I could have extended it more – perhaps provided more background and talked about the subject more. I could have saved the writing on The Little Prince until later into the book when the kids know more about him instead of doing it with the painting in Chapter 4.

We also did murals. The class was divided into two. One half did sunsets and the other baobabs. The people who painted the baobabs cut them out and glued them onto the sunset murals which were very effective.

One project we did was each student made an asteroid. They look kind of neat hanging from the ceiling but I wonder if it was worthwhile considering the time they took to make and the huge mess it made each time we worked on them (paper mache!). Some complained about not liking it. Oh well, they may change their minds when they see their lovely asteroids hanging from the ceiling tomorrow.

Despite all the good things that have come out of this study, I have wondered once or twice if I had gotten in over my head. Sometimes it took a lot of discussion before the kids had a clue as to what was going on in the chapter. And it has been a lot of work doing it alone without the help of another class. Occasionally, I felt it would be nice for my kids to watch presentations given by older students or to listen to someone besides myself read the chapter.

I now realize that I didn’t have to worry about the children getting bored with writing in their journals – there is so much to write about. One thing I am worried about though is covering the skills part of LA. Am I doing it? It’s difficult to monitor whether or not the kids are acquiring certain skills when doing a novel study. Any suggestions?

Sincerely,
LaDonna

P.S. Tomorrow we will have our second creative movement class. Janis has come up with some good ideas and music which should work well for some sort of presentation. I am thinking of doing some sort of audio-visual presentation using the children’s art. Any suggestions?

February 5, 1987

Dear LaDonna,

The tone of your letter suggests that you are making remarkable progress with The Little Prince. I am particularly interested in what you are doing with vocabulary. It substantiates my contention that just because children are small, and can’t read for themselves, they don’t have to work with small ideas. Just the opposite! They love to hear big words and to think about life with all of its facets. Your idea of having the kids illustrate the words and printing their definitions for them is excellent. You are showing so much insight into how children learn!

In conversation with a grade five teacher who is doing The Snow Goose right now, she marveled at the depth of discussion that her students engaged in at the end of the book. She said they were so knowledgeable and intense in their observations that the room seemed charged and it gave her goose bumps. One girl said something to the effect that she could not understand a book that her mother would like. One of the strengths of this whole approach is the illumination of the power of a good book, which children can’t yet read, to stimulate a desire to read so they can experience books for themselves.

Louise Rosenblatt distinguished between two kinds of reading: Efferent, reading to acquire information as quickly as possible and Aesthetic, where the whole point is the experience of reading itself; the opportunity for involvement in a personal, aesthetic, dramatic, emotional and intellectual event. I know that some of this happens when we just read a book to the class without working on it. But there is a depth of understanding that comes when we investigate the characters and their interactions. This is so well stated by the ‘fox’ as he strived to establish a friendship with The Little Prince. We must commit time and engage in a sense of indwelling if we are to really understand anyone or anything. But the teacher also must be aware when enough is enough so that we do not make them hate the book because they have to do too much work with it.

The “coaxing and talking” that you had to do with some of the kids and the discussion before some were clued in to the chapter may have been the best unintended outcome of Chapter 7. As I study at university this year, one of the hypothesis that I am anxious to test when I get back to a classroom is that it is the interaction that happens during dialogue about a difficult concept that is responsible for cognitive growth. Vygotsky was quite explicit about this idea. He said that there is what he called a ‘zone of proximal development’ which he defined as:

“The distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.”

I think those children in your class, who had to engage in conversation with you before they could do their work, gained an enormous amount by interacting with you through dialogue. They may well have been the children in your class who are having the most difficulty learning to read. Maybe we have to be able to verbalize and reason orally before we can become successful readers. This is another question I hope to investigate: Is the ability to engage in meaningful discussion a pre-reading skill?

You may be right about saving the writing about The Little Prince. However, there is nothing stopping you from doing it throughout the book and again at the end. I think it would be absolutely fascinating to compare the writing for content and improvement.

I can’t wait to see your art work. From the activities you have outlined, you have done more art work in three weeks than most classes do in a year. I certainly wouldn’t worry about the time spent making the asteroids. I’ll bet if you had taped the conversation while that activity was in progress you would realize the value to their sense of narrative. I have been analyzing dialogue for my Language Arts class and am amazed at how valuable it is and how much I learned about two kids I don’t even know just through doing a formal analysis of their dialogue. Get a tape recorder and set it up when children are engaged in some of the art projects or other group work and then listen to it. You will learn a great deal about your students and about the effects of your teaching too.

I realize how much work it is to do this on your own. You are a remarkable person to even undertake it. It is really helpful to have another class or two, especially at a higher grade doing it with you. Regarding skills, it is always a question of whether or not students are acquiring skills. Don’t you think you would not be asking yourself the same questions regardless of the methods or activities you are using? One thing that always helps me realize the importance of involving children in ‘doing’ is re-reading Frank Smith. At the risk of boring you, I will quote a lengthy passage from his book Writing and the Writer.

“My own recommendation for how writing and reading should be taught is perhaps radical; they should not be taught at all. Not in any formal sense, as subjects. All the busywork, the meaningless drills and exercises, the rote memorization, the irrelevant test, the distracting grades, should go. And in their place, teachers and children together should use language to learn other things. Writing should be used to tell stories and to produce artefacts – books to be published, poems to be recited, songs to be sung, plays to be acted, letters to be delivered, programs to be consulted, newspapers to be distributed, advertisements to be displayed, complaints to be aired, ideas to be shared, worlds to be constructed and explored. Children should learn to write in the same manner they learn to talk, without being aware that they are doing so, in the course of doing other things. Teaching writing should be an incidental matter – teachers showing children what writing can do and helping them to do it themselves.”

I realize that one cannot follow this advice completely because of other pressures in the education system. As you are planning lessons, make a column that lists all the skills that are necessary to accomplish the tasks. You will be amazed to see how much you are ‘covering’ by simply ‘doing’ literacy in the context of good literature. You will also be able to convince the most skeptical critics of the validity of your work.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. I appreciate your taking the time to write to me in what I know is an extremely busy schedule. It is of great value to me!

All the best,
Vera

February 24, 1987

Dear Vera,

Thanks so much for your encouraging and reassuring letter. Looking back on the last 6 weeks, despite all the work, I am glad I tackled The Little Prince. I truly did see the book come alive. I saw the kids reading material I wouldn’t have believed possible and creating murals, collages, pictures, etc. that otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to create. Of course, this was all because they were familiar and interested in the topic and they were experiencing it.

I can now totally concur with your statement that children love to hear big words and after listening closely to some of their comments and conversations, I actually have examples of some of my students using the ‘big’ words that they experienced in real, everyday situations.

One of the words we studied was ‘irritated’. A student was poking at our class hamster with a pencil. Another student heard me ask that this not be done and he shouted out, “He will be irritated if you poke him!”

Another morning, one of my rough, tough, little guys came in with a scratched-up face and told us all about it. A voice chimed out, “Josh had a ‘misfortune’ which was another word we had studied. Wow! I was impressed. My students were not only remembering the words but using them in the correct context! I stopped and thought about what you said about big words while I interned for you. They aren’t scared of big words at all!

The students even began to use the vocabulary they had worked with to describe situations in new chapters. We read Chapter 19 and the kids were recalling what had happened. Melissa said that The Little Prince was up on top of a mountain looking for people. Linda then commented, “The Little Prince is ‘isolated’ up there.”

Just yesterday, during library period, Rick was reading The Tortoise and the Hare. After the part where the hare falls asleep because he was too full to go on, Larry called out, “He was ‘digesting’ his food!” I am continually amazed at what they have learned from The Little Prince and how they relate it to other situations.

Thanks you for sharing the Frank Smith quote with me. I enjoyed it and it supports a lot of things I believe. It also is a relief to hear thinking such as this after having to listen to some people scream “Phonics!” and “Basal Readers” in your ear continuously. I think Smith, like you, would see the worth in doing The Little Prince.

Your suggestion to write in skills used each on my day plan is a worthwhile suggestion and I will try to be faithful to it. I think it will make me feel more comfortable about doing unconventional things, like this study.

I will end this letter by thanking you for being such a help and setting such a good example for me to follow. I truly learned more in my one year as an intern watching you and working with you than I did in all my years of university classes.

Sincerely,
LaDonna.

March 1, 1987

Dear LaDonna,

What a wonderful letter I just received. You gave those kids so much in only six weeks. If every teacher did one study a year like this, students would know how to read and understand a good book and would have a rich repertoire of ideas and vocabulary. I congratulate you as a first year teacher in an exceptionally high needs school for trying it and your principal for letting you do it. That takes a lot of courage.

I remember the day I was there when two little Chinese ESL girls who were just learning English were acting out ‘extinct’ and ‘active’ volcanoes. It was delightful and they obviously knew the meanings very well.

Let’s get together soon to talk about all of this and to discuss how we can get this approach into the hands of others.

With much love and gratitude,
Vera


Reading is Just a Game of Golf

With quotations from the book
Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect By Bob Rotella
Reading comments By Vera Goodman

Jeff, the golf professional at a prestigious golf course, was illiterate. His mother told me that he had been diagnosed ‘dyslexic’ in grade two and put into what I call ‘the medical model’ of education for many years but was still unable to read. I arranged to meet him for coffee to talk about his reading.

Jeff told me his story of the sadness and humiliation he suffered because he couldn’t read. He said that he remembered saying to his mother when he was going into grade four, “Could we just not tell anyone about my reading so I can be a normal kid?” He told me how this handicap had limited his choices in life.

As I talked to him about what good readers do when they read and talking about my approach to reading, he kept interrupting to tell me that was exactly how it is with learning and playing golf. He recommended Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella and I have read it many times since. I found that I could substitute ‘reading’ for ‘golf’ in many passages and it gave me some great metaphors for reading.

Jeff quickly made the shift to ‘making sense’ rather than ‘sounding out’ and read a passage from my book without hesitating. He was overjoyed and couldn’t believe it. Tears filled his eyes and he said it was the first time in his life that he had read anything fluently! Jeff became a reader and never looked back.

A couple of years later, Jeff passed away quite quickly from cancer. I was saddened to hear ‘dyslexic’ mentioned as part of his eulogy. A diagnosis that had labelled him for life could have easily been corrected much earlier.

In this article I have taken a few passages from Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, substituted ‘reading’ for ‘golf’ and then commented on the passage. I recommend that those of you who are golfers read the books that Bob Rotella has written about golf. It is sure to improve your game.

GOLF AS A METAPHOR FOR READING

“My job as a coach of mental (reading) skills is to help players (aspiring readers) go where they might not be able to go on their own, given their old ways of thinking.”

The Making Sense Approach to Reading affects the mind in the same way as looking at a hologram. It changes readers focus from ‘sounding out’ to ‘making sense’, enabling them to read. Some people can’t see the 3-D in a hologram but for those who make the switch, it is impossible to go back to seeing the picture in only the old way again. The picture remains the same just as the symbols in reading do but the viewer and reader use their brains in a different way.

The majority of children will make the switch automatically and become readers. But for those who don’t, reading eludes them and they need someone to show them a new way to approach reading and to coach them until they overcome their old ways of thinking.

“Psychology and psychiatry during this century have helped promote the notion that we are all in some sense victims of insensitive parents, poverty, abuse, or implacable genes. It is therefore someone else’s responsibility. It gives an excuse for our misery and to evade the responsibility for our own lives.”

The explosion in reading and learning disorders has been a windfall for tutoring agencies and publishers of remedial reading programs. These have arisen to prominence since I retired from teaching in 1990. Parents, teachers and students are relieved of responsibility if they find a diagnosis that says there is something wrong with the student’s mind or eyes or something else. Then we can blame nature. We rarely examine the schooling history of students with reading difficulties. Maybe that is where we should start. Somewhere along the line obstacles had been put in their path. In my work I don’t look at weaknesses and I instruct coaches to do the same. We just help them to only focus on making sense.

I remember a girl in grade four I met in a restaurant. She informed me that she couldn’t read well because she ‘had ADD’. I also had a student in grade seven who told me he was a ‘gifted underachiever’. They both had themselves pegged and went about to fulfill the definition!

“Golfers (Parents and teachers) grow up thinking that time spent on practice is automatically time well spent. In golf (reading), working hard does not guarantee success. It can make things worse. Doing the wrong thing in practice can ruin your golfing (reading) mind. To improve you must practice. But the quality of your practice is more important than the quantity.”

I was elated to find this passage in Rotella’s book. It succinctly describes what I believe about learning to read. Practice doesn’t make perfect and practicing the wrong way only makes things worse. Teachers are asking parents to spend 20 minutes a day practicing reading with young children without any knowledge of how to do it. The stories I hear from parents of the struggling readers I work with is that what happens in this time is that their kids learn to hate reading. Not only are they embarrassed before their peers every day at school, but night after night they fail before parents and siblings. This is the worst possible blow to their confidence which is critical to becoming a reader. One parent told me that for her boys it was discouragement. They had given up on the possibility of success and it was a fight to get them to try to read. All of this makes it even harder for the teacher to make progress with the student at school.

“They’ve been to six different pros (tutors) and they can’t understand why they are not improving.”

It is probably safe to say that these instructors focused on the mechanics of golf and they may even have given advice that confused the learner. This is true of reading help too. Jeff had received huge remedial help over his school years but it was all focused on using the mechanics of reading better which was exactly what was standing in his way of becoming a reader. When something isn’t working we have to do something different.

“He needs to find a teacher who recognizes that too much mechanical advice can be harmful.”

Given all that I am talking about in this article, I think that statement is self-evident. Unsuccessful readers need to have coaches who STOP what is happening and show them a different way. Only then will they become readers.

“The challenge lies in thinking this way every day on every shot (piece of reading).”

Struggling readers need the support of a reading coach until they can break the habit of focusing on mechanics rather than on making sense. They also need somebody to build background for the reading if they aren’t familiar with the subject matter and to explain difficult words and concepts.

“If anyone tells me that he wants to lower his handicap to 5 (increase his reading scores) but he can’t find time to practice (read), he’s fooling himself.”

As in golf, or any other sport or endeavor we want to be really good at, we have to spend time honing our skills by engaging in the activity. A kid who aspired to be a hockey player but rarely went to hockey practice wouldn’t last long.

Reading is no exception. The only way to become a really great reader is to do lots of reading in many genres. People only commit a lot of their time to a sport or other activity if they enjoy doing it. So, one of the most important responsibilities of schooling is to instill a love of reading.

According to the ATA Magazine (Jan. 29/13) the percentage of students who enjoy reading has plunged from about 76% in 1998 to 50%. British Columbia. has gone so far as to appoint a special superintendent to do something about these dismal results. My guess is that apart from the fascination with texting and other distractions, the new push to teach reading in Kindergarten to the many children who just aren’t mature but are labelled and graded anyway, builds an early hatred of reading. Forcing parents to practice 20 minutes a day where kids fail every day before their families is also a huge contributing factor.

“A golfer (reader) has to learn to enjoy the process of striving to improve.”

This is one reason why The Making Sense Approach to Reading uses interesting material with big words that is well above the reading level of the learner. The coach is there and able to provide the support needed for successful reading until the learner can do it for himself. You will be amazed at how well struggling readers can read difficult material with just a little help. It is easier to read big words than small ones. Struggling readers often have the trouble with the short words because they don’t have meaning and often aren’t phonetic.

When the subject matter is interesting it encourages learners to try harder and to feel pride when they can read a difficult passage by themselves after they have practiced it a few times with the reading coach.

Learning to love books and reading should be the major focus of work in kindergarten and grade one. We don’t choose to do things that we don’t find enjoyable and neither will children.

When people are given permission to forget about weaknesses they can find their strengths. I read about a high school principal who didn’t allow anyone to talk about weaknesses but only to operate on the strengths students possessed. She was written up in newspapers because she ran a model school with great results.

“There have been untold thousands of instruction books written on golf (reading). Most talk about grip, stance, posture, swing plane, alignment and the rest of the game’s mechanics. But, given the mental side of the game’s importance, far too little has been written on it.”

I’m sure there have been many more books written on reading than on golf. Most of them, and the current programs on reading, focus on phonics instruction. It has become the way of choice not only for beginning reading but also for re-mediating those who have failed to learn to read in the classroom. All of the above do a good job of teaching the mechanics of reading. However, for those who don’t catch on and make the necessary mental shift, too much attention to phonics and strategies becomes the problem and they can’t make the shift from ‘sounding out’ to ‘making sense’ of text which is imperative for reading.

“He cannot think of any details during the execution of a shot if the shot is to come off. He needs to think only of the target.”

“You cannot hit a golf ball (read) consistently well if you think about the mechanics of your swing (reading) as you play (read). You have to learn to focus your mind on your target (making sense) and your preshot routine (knowledge of the subject) rather than on swing (decoding) mechanics.”

This is an especially accurate description of reading.

Good readers read from experience and the knowledge of the subject matter that they bring to the text. We are all illiterate in any text to which we cannot bring some prior knowledge. While it is important to teach the mechanics of reading and the sounds of the letters, when you begin to read you have to let all of that come from your subconscious mind. The mind can’t focus on two things at once so a focus on decoding makes comprehension difficult, sometimes impossible.

“A golfer (reader) who thinks about his swing mechanics (reading strategies) loses whatever grace and rhythm nature has endowed him with.”

While learning to talk, everyone is allowed to follow their own natural progression. But, when they start to learn to read, we often feel it necessary to provide too much structure. It can interfere with the natural stages that would happen if we just created an environment rich in print, oral language activities and with lots of exposure to letters and their sounds. This would make reading accessible to everyone, in their own time.

Why can’t we let people come to reading at their own time just as we do speaking? We don’t teach a sequence of sounds to beginning speakers. We just keep talking and they take what they need to take the next step when they are ready. It is a very rare person who fails to learn to speak even though it may not happen until they are three years old. Who cares when if they end up speaking? Interfering with the timing could result in a big crop of stutterers!

Jeff told me he never tried to teach a person under twelve how to swing.

Jeff said that when he was teaching the swing to kids under twelve he just asked them to watch him and swing. He was afraid that if he told them what to do they would lose their natural swing because everyone swings differently depending on how their bodies are assembled.

“If I hit one bad shot, I started trying to do all things my teacher had been telling me about. Things just got worse and worse. I talked to him a little about how the body and brain works best together when an athlete (reader) simply looks at a target (word or sentence) and reacts to it (makes sense of it) rather than thinking about mechanics.”

“Tom Watson made the big breakthrough in his career after he learned to stop working on his mistakes after a round (reading a passage).”

“When she didn’t win, she got frustrated and critical of herself.”

It doesn’t take young children long to recognize the successful readers in their class and to envy the applause they get. One child said to me mid-way through grade one (in the old days when children were expected to learn to read in grade one!), “I’m dumb, I’m stupid. I hate reading.”

Those who don’t learn to read quickly see themselves as failures. The sad part about this is that they are unaware that they may be younger, may not have had as much exposure to stories and books, are generally slower to mature and many other factors. All they know is that they aren’t keeping up with their peers, pleasing their parents or meeting their own hopes and expectations about school.

I’ll never forget one boy in a high needs school where I served as a consultant. He was so anxious to open his report card in October because he wanted to see how many ‘1’s’ he had. He felt he was a capable lad and was confident that he would learn to read in grade one. Actually, although he was succeeding very well in life, he wasn’t prepared for what he needed to do to succeed in school and did not learn to read in grade one. He became very hard on himself for his failure and experienced a lot of difficulty in school.

“Confidence isn’t something you are born with or something you are given. Your confidence is the sum of all the thoughts you have about yourself as a golfer (reader).”

“Without confidence you can’t perform at your best.”

Childhood is a fragile time. Confidence is a flame that can be extinguished by a little puff of doubt but is difficult to rekindle. Reading is especially subject to the winds of doubt. The kind of self-talk we want to cultivate is, “It’s ok. It’s a little tough, but I can do it!”

“One of the really neat things that comes along when you try this approach is that not only do you become a better golfer (reader), but you learn more about yourself and become a more fulfilled person.”

Reading changes life and our ability to access it fully. The joy and satisfaction that happens when someone learns to read is the reward of primary teachers – that wonderful ‘Aha’ moment when a child recognizes that he or she can read. A spin-off for those who learn The Making Sense Approach to Reading is that their own reading improves dramatically. Just growing up doesn’t automatically make you a fast, efficient reader and many of the adults who I meet read so slowly that they never read for pleasure.

“It would be an individual quest, and sometimes a lonely one.”

This is one of the drawbacks of practicing both golf and reading. Reading is one-on-one with a book. Life is becoming more and more oriented to groups on Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media outlets. There is a constant need to be in touch with as many people as possible through texting. Reading, like golf, requires one to spend a lot of time playing the game to become good. Students have to find pleasure in books before they will spend the time needed to become really good readers. It is vitally important that young children keep the love of reading in their hearts. Anything that destroys this desire to read is an obstacle to becoming a good reader. Reading is an individual quest.

I want to thank Bob Rotella for his insights into how people learn in all their endeavors in life. I hope this experience has been a rewarding one for you.