by Lois Letchford
"Learning and learning problems dwell in activities and cultural practices rather than in the heads of individual students."
My son Nicholas failed first grade. Entering second grade with a thoughtful teacher was a bonus. Then we traveled from our home in Australia to England for six months, and I'm responsible for his learning life. I, too, failed.
With a blank slate, all night, I tossed and turned, my mind in turmoil. I felt totally responsible for my son's future. Doing nothing was not an option. "What next," thoughts limited my sleep.
During these hours, I recalled two strengths - his ability to see patterns and secondly, to rhyme words. At 2:00 am, I sat at the kitchen table with pen and paper, and scratched out a poem. A simple poem using rhyming words. It won't hurt him, and I was providing some input.
"Nicholas," I began our lessons, "I have a poem for you. I'll read it to you."
And I did. Immediately our classroom transformed. No longer was I asking Nicholas to do something he could not do. The reading was my task. Nicholas listened and recited the poem with me as we read and re-read. We found rhyming words, finding the patterns again and again.
Exhausted, my mother-in-law took over the illustrations. Nicholas giggled.
With one success, I kept writing.
A chance meeting with a parent who described her son as being "dyslexic" introduced me a series of books.
"Wow!" was all I could say as I ogled over the See it, Hear it, Say it, Do it, series.
Book 1: Lesson for short vowels.
Book 2: Consonant Digraphs sh, ch & th with short vowels.
Book 3: Consonant Blends with short vowels.
The simplicity, the breaking of words down to the smallest sounds, taking time to digest this learning was yet another breakthrough. These lessons were multi-sensory, as cut cereal boxes to create "word-puzzles."
The teaching changed, and Nicholas progressed, however, slowly with decoding words.
"Nicholas," I would say, "we have thirty minutes left. What would you like to do now? Word puzzles or read a poem?"
"Read a poem," he would answer, grinning.
Writing poems took over my thinking. With so much writing, the "oo" sounds provided further ideas.
Words such as took, look and book, entertained me.
Captain Cook had a notion,
there was a gap in the map in the great big ocean.
He took a look, without the help of any book,
hoping to find a quiet little nook.
This poem excited Nicholas as we began to explore the world of Captain Cook.
Nicholas's excitement was palpable as he drooled over old world maps.
"Who came before Captain Cook?" he asked one day.
"Oh, that's easy," I replied. "That would be Christopher Columbus."
"And who came before Columbus?" he responded.
I was stunned. This question had never entered my mind.
Thus our learning, entered the inquiry phase as we explored the changing maps of the world.
My task was to do the reading, synthesizing the information, and putting words into a short, rhyming poem. The rhyming was critical as he gained both content and phonemic awareness. The poetry also provided manageable chunks of information for Nicholas to engage with this world and ask further questions. Visiting museums and exploring the city complemented and enhanced both our learning.
Nicholas was learning content - way beyond a common interest of a seven-year-old.
At the end of our six-month stay, I had no formal measures for Nicholas' reading growth. I felt I planted a seed - a love of learning and questioning, and I was confident my son did not have a low IQ.
I knew he was efficiently decoding words from the first three books, and we had just started working on long vowel words.
But I knew he was not reading independently.
I felt I had done all within my power to assist his learning, I adapted the teaching, but I knew something was still missing.
At the end of 1995, we returned to Australia, ready to resume our life.
As the car sat in the driveway of our home Nicholas reflected, "There were so many things to see in England."
And with such experiences, Nicholas returned to the classroom.
Never could I have predicted the series of events that impacted our lives.
To be continued....
Lois Letchford is a wife, mother and teacher. She is the published author of Reversed: A Memoir which tells the story of her journey with Nicholas through his struggle learning to read. https://www.amazon.com/Reversed-Memoir-Mrs-Lois-Letchford/dp/1947392042/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2EQGYODR0H34N&keywords=reversed+a+memoir+by+lois+letchford&qid=1581364082&sprefix=Reversed+a+mem%2Caps%2C156&sr=8-1