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Kathy’s big, fat progress

Kathy is learning to read. Mostly, small easy words, but she’s reading, nevertheless. I’m proud of her, and between you and me, I’m proud of myself too. Teaching someone to read is harder than you imagine. Whoever made up the English language and all the dumb rules involved had to be drunk at the time, I swear.


 


Anyway, she is good at recognizing my flashcards and can read the sentences I type out for her each week. She is doing well on lower-level workbooks too, which are helpful to shake up our routine. But, the other day, I asked her to write some sentences for me and she drew a blank. Even when I suggested she use words that I know she knows, she paused, incapable of pulling the letters out of the back of her mind to match the sounds she was voicing out. I hadn’t realized that teaching someone to read and teaching them to write were two separate things. Oh, I realized it, I guess, yet I didn’t realize how different the two skills are. They are so related, that you just expect one to assimilate the reverse of the skill. Not true. So now, I am putting more emphasis on Kathy’s writing for a while. She has homework of writing sentences for me between each lesson.


 


In Kathy’s world, everything is big and fat. When asked to make up sentences she writes;


There is a big fat man.


I see a big fat cat.


It is not fun to be bit and fat.


The big, fat boy ran.


 


I told her, “Um, Kathy, not every sentence you make up has to be about big, fat stuff. Can you think of a sentence that isn’t about a big, fat man?”


 


She thinks a moment, then says, “That man is not big and fat.”


Ha. Well, at least she has a sense of humor. In that way, we work together very well.


 


Today, I scoured the town seeking forms for Kathy to fill out. I think it’s pretty ambitious to think she will sit down and read Faulkner one day – the goal is to make her functional in our society. So, I went about gathering job applications, credit card applications, memo pads, magazine subscription cards and change of address forms. I also brought envelopes to our lesson. I had her fill out a few of the easier forms. It was instantly obvious that we will need to work a bit longer before she tackles anything that includes more than name, address and phone.


 


We discussed how envelopes are addressed. She is vaguely familiar with this because she does receive mail, even if she can’t read it. (She recognizes bills, of course – don’t we all.) I had her address an envelope to herself and told her to expect me to send it to her with an assignment inside. When she gets it, she’ll have to read what to do, than do it. I also had her address one envelope to me, and her homework is to write me a letter. I suppose I’ll hear all about her big fat life in the letter, but that’s OK. What is important is that she keeps practicing, and hopefully, this will make her feel as if she is developing competency.


 


I also bought her an address book. I showed her how the letters that stick out on the sides are like files, and that you are supposed to put names inside by the first letter of a person’s last name. I had her put my name, address, phone and e-mail in the book. Then, I told her that her homework this month is to fill the book. I want every friend, family member and whomever she encounters, in that book.


Kathy flipped through the pages of that little address book as if it were made of gold. She said, “My mother in law has one of these. I’ve seen one of these books before. It will be neat having one of my own.”


 


I told her that collecting addresses of her acquaintances will be good practice, and in November, I would have a bigger assignment. I will have her make out Christmas cards to everyone in the book. I’ll supply the cards and stamps. She’ll be in charge of the manpower. She got so excited. Warmed my heart.


 


I also bought her a small, purse-size planner and showed her how this works. Kathy has dozens of appointments every week. It’s amazing that she can keep them all straight – she lives in fear of getting in trouble if she forgets something important. She has to attend two AA meetings a week, a doctor’s appointment, two lessons with me, a drug test, periodic court dates etc….. Keeping straight is a full time job for someone in her position.  I told her to fill out every obligation she has, and to flip forward to future months to put in birthdays and anything else she can think of.  I explained that just because she thinks she can remember something, like lunch with a friend, she should still write it down, just to get used to the process of taking notes. I want writing to be a part of her everyday life, as it is for you or me.


She smiled and said, “This is really fun.”


 


Amazing, isn’t it? The things you or I take for granted and consider a pain are considered exciting to someone who has been excluded from everyday participation for a long, long time.


 


Anyway, my lesson was different today – focused on practical application. I am doing all kinds of mental acrobatics to come up with ways to teach some of the hard spelling rules that I can barely explain, much less break down into sensible systems. I don’t know how elementary school teachers do the job so efficiently. I feel inadequate some days, and worry that Kathy won’t learn as much as she should because she is stuck with me, an untrained amateur, as her guide. But we are scooting forward at a pace that works for us.  


 


In the meantime, I spend dead time, like when I am driving around town or waiting at a stop light, brainstorm more reading and writing projects for Kathy. Hey, maybe I’ll get her to fill out a tax return. Ha! It will be the only time in the history of mankind someone does that and thinks it’s fun!  


 


After I posted Kathy’s picture the other day, I thought about my flippant comment about how country people don’t smile. Truthfully, I took six pictures and she scowled in every one. But later, it occurred to me why. You may remember, Kathy has only three teeth. While I am used to this now, I’m sure she is self-conscious about it. I felt horrible when I realized that was probably what was going on. I kept thinking of how I urged her to take a picture with me, and her standing there reluctant as all get-out. No doubt, she was feeling uncomfortable about it, yet she didn’t want to refuse my request. I can be such a stupid dope.  


 


Well, I bought her an address book and a planner as my unspoken apology for the unspoken offense.


 


I was looking at the electronic word games, a hand held Leap-pad thing, today at Wal-Mart to. I wonder if she would use it if I bought her one. She might find it fun and spend an hour or two a day testing herself on spelling and sentence structure etc…That might be a great thing.  I didn’t buy it, because at 90.00, which is the cost of set-up, I want to think about it first. I think there are many things in that price range that Kathy could use, and I have to think about whether or not a leap-pad merits the investment. I may want to hold off and spend whatever money I want to allocate to her in another way. But I must confess, I was itching to pick up that machine just to see it if would make my job go any faster. What kills me is that I just got rid of about three such devices when we moved that Neva had outgrown. Drat.


 


Speaking of which, I have to go pick up Neva.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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