Sunday, August 13, 2017

Teaching Michael

Teaching Michael
I heard myself make an audible sigh while listening to my seven-year-old son read. He had stumbled over some words and I was getting frustrated. This was the first year that I was attempting to home educate our son after being advised by a well-known child psychologist that it was the best option because of his being diagnosed with severe dyslexia. The Rome Georgia City School system’s answer was to tell me that my son was simply slow, slow, slow and that his father and I needed to understand that he would never learn to read or write or graduate high school and that college was out of the question. His school’s principal told us that we needed a reality check.
Remembering that meeting with that compassionless woman still makes me cringe. That was the moment when Mark and I recognized that we had to advocate for our son to a much higher degree. This principal’s heartless appraisal of our son and his abilities did not match ours. We were experiencing a little boy whose imagination was amazing. His questions regarding sound waves and the workings of television, records, and the radio revealed to us a child who was not slow, slow, slow but one in whom the school system was not willing to invest the time, resources, or effort into discovering how to reach his mind with the intricacies of reading the written word.
Our next step wato find a child psychologist who could evaluate Michael. This search led us to contact Edna Copeland. She and her staff did extensive testing on Michael. Their diagnosis was that he was severely dyslexic in every sphere. He didn’t just see words backwards, as was the common thought, but even the words he heard did not come to him in the order of how they were said. She suggested that I home educate him. My response was not very gracious and with a raised voice I stated, “I am not a hippy. I believe in our education system. I cannot teach him because I do not have a degree in education.” 
Further, I told her that I wanted to force the Rome City School to teach my son. She told us that it was an optionbut fighting the school system would probably take timeand asked if we were willing to waste another year of Michael’s education. I was still unconvinced that I could teach my son. Her gentle words gave me the courage to try.“Mrs. Baskin, I can see that you love your son. No one in that school system cares about him and his future as much as you and your husband do. I know you will find a way to teach him.” Mark was all on board with this home schooling adventure but I wasn’t convinced. Reluctantly, I went forward with a plan to teach him for one year and then to have his reading evaluated to see if he was making progress.
Thus began a new chapter in our lives. This was in 1991 before the days of being able to research quickly with the stroke of a key. I began to study dyslexia, reading books and educational articles at our local library. I talked with all the educators that I knew. If we were going to attempt teaching Michael at home, at least I was going to try to not screw it up. 
One of the best decisions that I made was to contact a friend who worked with illiterate adults. She also trained others how to use the Laubach Method to work with non-readers. She agreed to tutor Michael once a week and I signed up for a training workshop. Michael began to move forward using this method. Still, I was not comfortable and did not know if what I was doing was going to be enough for my son and his future.
Back to my unfortunate sigh. “Mommy, if you could tell me how to do one thing I know that I could read as pretty as you do.” Realizing that he heard me sigh was not a pleasant moment and certainly wouldn’t have won me the elusive Mother-of-the-Year award. Still not fully engagedin the conversation, I asked him what I needed to tell him how to do. Hearing his little voice shake, I looked down at him and saw tears half the size of dimes falling down his small face as he asked his question. “Please tell me the secret of how to make the words stand still on the page.”
What was the secret to making the words stand still on the page? I didn’t know a secret. How was I going to answer my son? I gathered him up in my arms and said through a choked voice, “School is done for today! You decide what we should play and I will join you in a few minutes after I pick up the school books.” My smart child knew I was avoiding answering him. He reached up and touched my cheek and said, “The words don’t move around for you, do they?” 
My tears joined his, “No, they don’t. But I will figure out a way to help you. I promise. Now, go play.” Yes, I told him that I would figure out how to help him make those words stop dancing around his page. Was I insane? How could I accomplish what the educational professionals had not achieved?
Michael left to find something for us to do as I gathered up the school supplies. I put them on the bookshelf and went into my room where I closed the door. Dropping to my knees, I cried out to the God who had created my son for wisdom and guidance. And, He began to direct me to more resources. 
My time at the library increased. Lots of the material that I was reading could not be checked out so I would carry change to make copies of salient educational articles. I would try various suggestions and different methods that were supposed to help dyslexic children learn how to read or to remember which side a circle attached to a stick to form a lower case b. One of the things that seemed to help his words stand still was covering the page with different colored transparenciesI don’t really know if that helped as much as Michael claimed or if he just liked the different bright colors. Honestly, I didn’t care what was helping to keep him engaged in trying to read. I was seeking ways to make reading fun and not drudgery
In my research I had found out about the different learning modalities. Michael was a tactile child. He loved the way things felt. He was drawn to colors. The rhythm of poetry helped him when reading. So I found ways to incorporate these elements into his reading and writing lessons. There were tin pie plates filled with beans, rice, and sand. I would take his finger and draw a letter in the one of the plates and say the letter out loud, and then draw it again and say the sound. Michael would draw the letter and say the name and sound. After doing this several times, he would write that letter on paper. We did air writing. I taped giant letters to the floor and we would crawl around them as we said their names.
He was still reversing several of his letters. The Laubach Method used pictures to help people remember the sounds of the various letters and how they looked. Michael loved drawing and he could remember details. I decided to change from the ball and stick writing method to pre-cursive since once you began writing a letter your pencil stayed planted on the page. His reversal of letters stopped immediately. To help with the letters moving all over the page, he covered all the words except for the line he was reading with blank sheets of paper. We covered the words above and below so there were fewer words to cause confusion. Since he loved music, he began taking piano lessons. I felt that having to follow notes going from left to right might help with his reading.
Instead of using the basal readers, I had him read using Dr. Seuss books. I would have him sound out the words. Afterwards, I would read a page. He would then“read” the page, or perhaps he was simply parroting me. He loved it because suddenly, his reading had begun to sound pretty due to the rhythm of the poetry that he could mimic.
I quickly discovered that Michael was better able to concentrate on his reading lessons early in the day before we did any other subject. Once his eyes got tired, he was unable to focus on the words and both of us would become frustrated. His schedule was reading, writing, math, and then either science or social studiesWe took several breaks during the day. He was doing second grade materials in all subjects except his reading. We were using Dr. Seuss, Laubach books, and other children’s storybooks. For his other subjects, I would read his textbooks to him and we would discuss the materialsAnytime I could incorporate an art project with his math, science or history, I did. He was learning and seemed to be thriving.
One day, Michael picked up his Bible. It was a children’s, Bible written on a fourth grade level. I was sitting on my bed reading. He brought the book over and climbed up next to me. He opened it up to Genesis and began reading. Since we had read that several days before, I assumed he had memorized the passage. I told him that was great and then randomly opened to another passage. Slowly, he read several verses to me. I wept. He started crying because I was and wanted to know what was wrong. I told him that I was crying because I was so very proud of him. Our tears had changed from ones of hopelessness to tears of joy.
My friend who was tutoring Michael evaluated his reading at the end of our first year of home education. When the school year had started he was assessed with a reading level of pre-K; at the end of the year he was reading at a low fourth grade level and we had just completed second grade. Somehow, through many trials and errors and a very imperfect teacher, this child had learned to read. He was flourishing and loved the learning process
As I remember that conference with the all-knowing principal and his first grade teacher, I am very sad but also angry. How many other parents over the years did these women convince to give up on their children simply because they were the educational professionals?Ultimately, a child’s education is not the responsibility of the school system. It’s the responsibility of the people who love him or her the most. Never give up on your child.
Michael is now a man. We home educated him through high school and he went on to college, where he graduated with a BA in Fine Arts, focused on Film and Script writing. Currently, he has been writing and illustrating poetry that he plans to publish with the hopethat as Dr. Seuss’ books encouraged him, his books will encourage other children to discover the love of reading.
Michael’s determination also motivated me. It’s amazing what a parent can learn from a child. When Michael started college, I decided it was time to finally finish my degree. I completed a degree in Early Childhood education and went on to earn two Seminary Masterdegrees, one in Theological Studies and the other in Christian Education. Today when I look at my son, I can still remember that little boy who never gave up. He was determined to learn how to read and excel in other subjects. I thought I was being selfless by sacrificing my time for my son, but in reality I learned how to persevere through the hard things in life by watching him. All those years that I thought I was teaching him, in actuality he was teaching me how to endure even when the odds are against you.