Sight-Reading

My destiny for of learning was cast in Pocatello, Idaho at Lincoln Elementary School in 1945.

At six years old, I sat in the early months of first grade where I’d been happily learning the sounds and tastes and feel of balls and bananas and baseball bats; how they bounce and taste and are used in real life ways. I loved how my teacher showed us that words can go together in fun, silly ways. All that changed my teacher, Miss Smith, introduced us to Miss Horn. “We are going to help her do an experiment. It’s going to be fun,” I remember her saying brightly, but without smiling.

The experiment was for her master’s thesis to test her hypothesis that sight-reading was better than phonics for teaching reading. We were randomly divided into two groups. I was placed with Miss Horn in her sight-reading group. Uh-oh! I’m convinced that random assignment cast my fate as the slowest reader ever, and by far the worst speller in history.

With my slow reading and few reading comprehension strategies, I felt shame and fell behind the others in my classes. I came to believe I was stupid and for years lost confidence in myself as a learner.

I did not think to pursue reading on my own because it took me forever to get the job done. I was thirty years old before I read an entire book. Articles, booklets, newspapers, magazines, yes. Books, no. I did not allow this to stop me though and began my pursuit of higher education. Hurdles littered my way but I pushed myself to read more, to look up words I didn’t know, and use them in sentences. Some thirty-plus years after high school graduation, with two masters degrees and a PhD in hand, I came to understand that a grade point average is not a mark of intelligence. I also realize that sight-reading forced me to memorize an entire dictionary. Who’s smart now? Some days I’m downright brilliant.

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