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The good book (well, one of them)

I am always amazed at how much people like me (born with advantages, like education and exposure to society’s progress) take for granted when I compare my understanding of the world with someone like Kathy’s. For example, this week, I bought her a dictionary; a Webster’s Youth dictionary, because I didn’t want her wrestling with anything too intimidating. As a non-reader, Kathy didn’t know what a dictionary was. 

We spent the lesson looking up and reading the meanings of words. This exercise challenged her basic spelling skills, organizational skills, and her reading comprehension. I’d give her a word like “tundra” or “allocate” (which she didn’t know) and she would have to find it in the dictionary. This isn’t easy for a person still struggling with the alphabet, who can’t spell well. She has a particularly hard time with spelling because she doesn’t annunciate words correctly, due to her southern, back country upbringing. When she takes a stab at sounding out a word, she is often way off, mixing up “t’s” with “d’s” and confusing other basic sounds. Frustrating problem to tackle.   

I needed to help her find many of the words as we began. After we found them, we would discuss the plural (plurals are something we are learning now – and let me tell you, the rules about adding an “s”, verses an “es”, verses dropping a “y” to add an “ies” are a bitch.) We then would laboriously read the definition – which often included additional words she didn’t know, leading us to the next word challenge.

I wanted her to understand she could refer to a dictionary when she came cross words she was uncertain of and that it would help her spell correctly. We haven’t learned phonetics, so sounding words out by the phonetic spelling is not an option. There is just so much to cover, and I’ve no time to include that sort of academic skill to the list. It just isn’t something that has practical application for an adult, other then learning how to pronounce a random word that is in most cases, uncommon (thus your need to look it up). Besides which, phonetics is confusing. She has a hard enough time remembering the sounds of letters without all the pesky little marks that establish differences in annunciation. We still stumble on the difference between “d” and “b” and “w” and “y”. She remembers one day, then it slips from her mind the next.

Spending a day exploring the dictionary wasn’t as much a drag as it sounds – it was actually kind of fun, like a game. Years of trying to make dance education entertaining taught me to camouflage learning in interesting game-like exercises. I try to introduce what could be droll repetition in ways that are more fun. We actually have a good time in our lessons.

Anyway, we spent an entire lesson on the dictionary. It was harder than introducing her to basic cooking or the newspaper. Dictionaries are BIG, (and very wordy, if I say so myself.)

When Mark and I (unfortunately) inherited FLEX back, there were all kinds of computers in the offices – about four times what we formerly used to run the school. Now, a dance school is not a high tech business, and it sure doesn’t need the glut of technology we found when we were packing the place up– especially when the school’s basic bills are not being paid – but that is another story – don’t get me started. The thing is, since we now had them, wanted or not, we shuffled our computers around at home to make sure everyone was outfitted well to keep up on today’s technology, and then began thinking about the extras. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to do something for someone else, so, we are giving a computer to Kathy next week. See – good things come out of even the worse scenarios.

Kathy is so excited. She wants the computer for her son to do school work, and she thinks she will be able to learn to work it enough to use it for research and to play games herself. She wants to find out what “this internet thing that people sometimes talk about,” is.

Egad – what if she discovers e-bay?  Her husband will never forgive me!

Introducing a new-reader to the computer isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s sort of like teaching someone from outer space, because the individual has no prior knowledge to refer to when explaining things.  Kathy has no clue what a computer does or how it works. She doesn’t know you need programs to make it work. She doesn’t know the feel of a mouse or how to move a cursor, or how to type or save a file. She doesn’t understand what “windows” or “disks” are. She hasn’t even had a bank account, so she doesn’t know how to work a credit card/debit machine in a grocery store. She is a total technology virgin. How often do you meet one of those?

The fact is, a person does need basic computer knowledge to operate in our world today. You can’t even go to the library to check out a book without being able to use a computer. The card catalogue is on line. You take your driver’s test on a computer now, and use it at government offices to make your appointment, etc. Schools put their information on-line for parents now too, and e-mail is a common source of communication. I think a person is at a terrible disadvantage without a computer as a resource. Kathy understanding computers will be a valuable real life application skill. I also think it will be fun for her, so it will promote more home practice.

This morning, I went on E-bay and purchased her the Jump Start and Reader Rabbit programs for levels K-3rd grade. They were only a few dollars each. Great resource.  She likes doing worksheets and such now, even when they are designed for kids, so I have a feeling that she will get excited by Jump Start. And since these programs are designed to help young children learn both computer skills and lessons in reading and writing, I know the games are user friendly for a novice.

We had an extra computer desk and I gave it to Kathy today. She said she will spend the weekend cleaning her bedroom and making a place for the new computer. Mark is clearing it out and re-booting it for her.

Kathy even made an arrangement to get the internet in her home – amazing for someone with limited funds. But then, I’ve read articles about people in third world countries with community internet stations for the village children enabling them to link to the world. I guess the internet isn’t a luxury anymore –it’s a way of life.

So, that is the big Kathy news. She has learned to read enough that she is ready to go on-line. I’m gonna show her the world, one click at a time. Wow.

The downside? I guess it is only a matter of time until I’ll have to watch how I talk about my teaching experiences, because she’ll discover this blog and then she’ll be reading my twist on our endeavors. Not that I’ve ever said anything unkind (or so, I hope) yet, I admit I feel a certain liberty talking openly about her, knowing she isn’t a part of this world. Ah well – that’s the price of progress, I guess. At lease it will be years until she’ll be a fluent enough reader to wade through my prolific meanderings, so for a while, I can continue my literacy reports.

One thing is certain, if you want to learn what you don’t know, start teaching someone what you do know. Teaching is the most efficient way to learn. And the intimate connection made between a student and teacher who share a positive synergy is precious.

You know you are doing the job right when, rather than feeling as if you are enlightening someone, you feel enlightened yourself.


About Ginny East Shaddock

Ginny is the owner of Heartwood Yoga Institute. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga therapist, RCYT & Ayurveda Counselor who loves nature, gardening, and creative arts. She has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and a BA in Business Administration from Eckerd College. She teaches writing and is the creator of the memoir writing program, "Yoga on the Page" combining the teaching of yoga to writing personal stories with integrity, intention, and heart.

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