Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cracking the Code

Booking through Thursday asks:

I spent the day with my friend’s twins the other day. Twins who are learning to read, sounding out the words, trying to make sense of the stories in their books, and it made me nostalgic for when I learned. I still remember the distinct moment that the concept of reading clicked, with a meglomaniacal realization that, all I needed to do was learn the words and I could read anything in the whole world. (That’s my kind of world domination.)

Do you remember learning to read? What’s your earliest reading memory?

I don’t specifically remember learning to read, I remember wanting to read and then I remember reading.  When I was four years old, in the early 60’s, my parents sent me to a pre-school that taught reading using the I.T.A. system (Initial Teaching Alphabet).  I don’t actually remember much about the system, I just remember going to school with my friend Leslie who lived a couple of blocks away from me.  I was reading pretty darn well by the time I got through that year.  Leslie’s parents decided to keep her in the program and she moved directly into first grade.  My parents decided to send me to the school a few blocks away, to kindergarden where I was told “we don’t read yet, you do that in first grade”.   Actually I don’t remember disliking kindergarden.  It was only half a day so I had plenty of time to read on my own.  I wasn’t socially ready for first grade, I was too shy.  But when I got to first grade I hated it.  Partly because I was reading by then at least at a third grade level so they told me to stop raising my hand and answering questions.  And partly because it was always so HOT in that classroom meant for 30 kids in which 42 kids were crammed.  

What’s funny about today’s BTT question was that just today I was talking to a colleague about learning to read.  I disagree with BTT that it’s a matter of learning words – although it partly is.  It’s a matter of breaking a code.  To learn the words you have to figure out what the coded symbols mean and how they work together.  I was talking with my colleague about how amazing our brains are to look at symbols on a page and understand their meaning. 

The reason this came up was because I had one of those momentary brain glitches where a word that I use all the time suddenly looked wrong.  Not spelled wrong but just completely wrong.   The letters strung together in the order they were in suddenly had no meaning to me. 

I do a lot of writing in my job and sometimes I’ll look at the computer screen and think – that can’t be right.  And then I’ll think I’m going a little bit nuts because I know Iearned that word LONG ago but suddenly the symbols aren’t making any sense to me.  I know what I want to say but the symbols aren’t saying it for me.  Today the word was “first”, a word I use multiple times a day.  It just didn’t look right.  The letters F –I-R-S-T didn’t look like the right symbols to make the word that would mean “first” .  I stared at it for a long time, talking to myself in my head, trying to convince myself that it was right but doubting myself. 

This happens to me every once in a while and I suddenly thought maybe it is something that ONLY happens to me.  So I went next door and asked my neighbor.  It happens to him too.  (And yes I believe him, he wasn’t just trying to make me feel better.)  whew.