Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Secondary Reader Gets Second Chance

My daughter is not as voracious a reader as her brother. Having a titan of a reader for an older brother did not prepare me for the wild and woolly path of the "reluctant reader" (as if a child was fearful of the words on a page) or (another term I dislike) the "emerging reader" (like a worm).  My daughter is all fire and spit and if given the choice between a basketball and a book... well, she's out there shooting hoops. 

Certainly she was a little slower in the phonics department comparatively. She had an outstanding kindergarten teacher who recognized early my daughter's penchant for numbers and encouraged her to read outside of school. As a younger mom who had no problem with her first born son reading in preschool, I figured it would all come in time. Little did I know that a year later, my daughter would still have trouble forming sentences from words.
By the time second grade arrived, I was having meetings with her second grade teacher and my daughter was recommended for remediation or even being "held back".

I remember having an uncomfortable meeting with my school's principal who insisted that I read to my daughter every night. I was dumbfounded at the lecture because that is exactly what I DID do, and have done, and still do. In hindsight, I think it was because my principal felt it was important to stress my responsibility in getting my child to read. At the time I felt hurt and a little betrayed because I felt like someone accused of deliberately preventing my daughter from reading.

Well, I socially and mentally fought back by smiling, agreeing to a two year program in a remediation program offered by the school. I also paid handsomely for a summer enrichment course between second and third grade. I thought this was smart because I didn't want my daughter's records to show a parent who didn't try, didn't commit or didn't care. Being a teacher, I felt oddly inclinded to believe that every move that I  made would somehow color my child's academic history and I was determined that her files would state "strong effort, great parent support, every enrichment option was taken".  Occasionally, teachers have said out loud that certain parents "don't care" or "don't try". I nearly always take offense to this because as a working parent whose life is filled to the absolute brim I don't think the full picture of the parent is always in view.

In any case, my sweetheart emerged from third grade reading "at grade level". I was personally relieved but felt cornered when I was advised "she can do so much better". Criminy. It was a long two year struggle with tears and bitterness and hand holding. Now I felt she wasn't doing well enough still. "Grade level" appeared to be equivalent to "at-risk".  

I felt in my heart that no matter what I never wanted my daughter to hate school, so yes, I never really pushed her beyond "grade level". If she enjoyed a book, I admired her. If she was reading a comic book when other girls were reading Harry Potter's books, so what? I felt strongly (and still do) that I would lose the larger war if my daughter turned against school. So I softened some of the corners for her. I called her remediation class the "helper class". I explained that sometimes books will have harder words and all we have to do is sound them out and no, it's not normal for words to instantly be known to you. Sometimes, yes, you'll have to ask Mommy or we can look it up in a dictionary. Oh, Sally can read bigger books? Well, Sally is a sweet girl and a nice friend. That's good to hear. I like your book, honey. It's so cool to read about tea cups and fairies. What part do you like the best?

My darling son was also very helpful. He clued in early on that his sister needed a little nudge and he was willing to read to her sometimes or share his books with her or have her read to him. What a saint. What a blessing.

I finally came up with a term that I am comfortable with, primarily because I feel it is more accurate than the worm-name or the fear-name. Secondary reader. My daughter CAN read, and she will read and she enjoys reading. But is it her first choice for an activity? No, not really. My son is a Primary reader. If he notices words on a sign, he tends to read them and then walk into a wall. If he picks up a book, his ears close to all sounds, even to a voice calling him to dinner.

This place for reading is just her personality and not in any way (anymore) connected to a developmental stage. I felt so free when I coined the term "Secondary Reader" for myself because it's not punitive and it truly is exactly who she is: play first, read second. I don't think there's anything "delayed" about that at all.
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