Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fat Rat Pat the Cat

There are two points that are important for you to understand in this wee tale. The first is that I am not and never have been a reading teacher. My wife taught our two sons to read. The second point is that our daughter Captain Chaos is one strong willed and persistent little imp, a trait that she shares with her 40-year-old twin. We are convinced that it was her strong will and persistence that allowed her to fight through her heart defect and emerge healthy on the other side. She survived out of pure petulance.

Six years later, the Captain is the newest addition to our homeschool. Of all the subjects that I teach her each day, reading is by far the most challenging. I do not have the experience of having taught my sons, so there are times when I find myself struggling with reading instruction. My daughter, who is far smarter than she cares to allow anyone to find out, is capable of reading the beginning material in our Hooked on Phonics program. She just doesn’t want to bother working hard. It isn’t uncommon for her to throw out guesses at the letter combinations presented to her. If I show her the letters “AN,” and ask her to pronounce them, she will shout “CAT” or “FAT” or “NAP” with a wicked grin on her face. She pushes and pushes and pushes until my patience is stretched thin. I have discovered that she enjoys seeing whether or not she can make me mad enough to scold her. Only then will she settle down and read all of the words properly.

She does the same thing to her mother.

Yesterday, I sat down in front of our computer with the Captain on my lap. The day before, she read all of her words correctly on one try, without any of her usual games. Yesterday marked the return of difficult girl and her word games. After one or two wild guesses and their accompanying giggles, I flipped the girl over on my lap, gave a swat on the butt, and plopped her back into a seated position. After allowing her a few minutes to regain her composure after a cascade of shocked tears, I asked her if she was ready to try again.

“Yes,” she replied, her pouty lower lip extended.

“Good.” I put the letters “AN” on the computer monitor.

“AN,” she correctly identified.

I showed “CAN.”

“CAN,” she informed me. She quickly read through the next few screens. “FAN, MAN, RAN.” Then Captain Chaos shot me a look only an angry daughter can flash towards her father.

“There! Are you happy now?” she asked.

Six years old.

I’m happy to report that the young lass correctly read all of her remaining letters and words yesterday afternoon. It was a pleasure working with her. In fact, she read so well that I am introducing new letter combinations and words tomorrow. And there was an additional lesson my young reader learned yesterday, beyond “rat” and “cat” and “bat.” She learned that she can continue pushing buttons, but sometimes the old man pushes back.


Papa Bear said...

BB used to pull this trick, but stopped shortly after I graduated him to real books. GL does it no matter what he's reading. I graduated him to real books several years ago, but he got stuck at the "I Can Read" level--never progressed beyond it--so we're back to Phonics Pathways. He's getting it--slowly--but at thirteen, the "You can't teach me anything because I'm already a smartypants" attitude is even worse. Spankings quit working some time ago. Let me know if you find anything else that works.

Kathleen said...

"You're an English teacher. Isn't it easy for you to teach them how to read?" I get that sometimes. And the answer is a big, resounding NO!! As HIGH SCHOOL English teachers, we entered our classrooms with the expectation that all of our students would walk in the door already armed with the skill of reading. If your classroom was anything like mine in GA, there were some who were questionable...but starting at C-A-T with my 4 children has probably been my most frustrating task as well!

Arby said...

@Kathleen...Thank you!

@Papa Bear...I will!

L. said...

Well, Arby, you have my vote. You most definitely did the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons and achieved the right results.

jugglingpaynes said...

Oh goodness. She sounds like my youngest. I'm sorry. :o)

I remember how hard it was to teach my youngest to read. I tried Hooked on Phonics, BOB books, Dr. Seuss, easy readers, knew she must be able to read somewhat, because every once in a while, she would read a subtitle on television or respond to something she saw in a newspaper headline.

On the plus side, she did learn to read, mostly without any help from me. Part of the problem was that she didn't like many of the readers. She considered them "baby" books. Once we found a series that interested her, she seemed to pick up the reading very fast.

Peace and Laughter (and lots of Patience and Luck!)