Learning Delays, re-visit

This one goes way back to April of 2015, whew! I had no idea of the lessons I would be learning in this next chapter…but four and a half years later, the children are still leading me toward learning.

This morning I sat across from a six-year old boy who is learning to read.  He has memorized many rules and exceptions to rules over the past couple of months. This morning he had so much confidence when reading some words — in fact he helped me ‘learn’ how to break some words into syllables and how to play some games. At those moments his eyes were bright and his smile was wide. But the same six-year old boy had moments of frustration where his eyes were focused on the words, his brows were knit together, and he just couldn’t make sense of the message. He could persist in trying to figure it out for a few minutes, but if it took much longer, he was prone to putting his head down in defeat.

I’m leaning a little toward the second posture at the moment. I have been looking at some words for the last couple of hours on and off. I sense they are trying to convey some meaning to me…but I’m just not getting it. Now, I am not six years old. I have been at this reading game for quite some time.  I’ve got all the words decoded. In fact, I know what they mean on the surface, but I get the sense that I am missing the bigger message. I have walked away a couple of times thinking, “it’ll come to me…”

This morning when my student got discouraged, I turned to the more experienced teacher at my side to watch what he would do to breathe a second breath into the little guy — what would transform his defeat into determination. I was impressed when the teacher pulled out strategy after strategy but even more impressed when our munchkin left after two hours of hard work, high-fiving us and smiling!

I wish I had that kind of resilience!

Instead, often when the message seems cryptic, I walk away.

So here’s the message I’m trying to digest: I was reminded this afternoon of the book Through Gates of Spendor which chronicles the work of missionaries to the Auca tribe in Ecuador in the 1950s. The Aucas, according to my Bible study, “have allowed the Gospel to radically change their lives. The practices of their people relentlessly handed down through the generations have been completely altered by the Word of God.”*  Ok, I got that part. The part I am struggling with comes next. The idea, I think, is that God may want to also radically change my life with the Gospel.

Huh? I am a life-long Christian.  I have been a Christian school teacher, youth leader, pastor’s wife.  How much more can my life be radically altered? What “practices of my people relentlessly handed down through the generations [need to be] completely altered”?

I’m struggling with these two sentences:

The dilemma is weighing our genuine need for God’s direction against our personal resistance to alteration.

Will you allow Me to dramatically alter your ways to teach you my own?*

You may be saying to yourself: Come on, Kristin, this isn’t really that complicated. Let God have his way in your life.

Ok, sure. I get that. I mean, I did just let go of a job I loved, a home I loved, and a city I loved in order to move to this new chapter in my life. And I have no regrets. So far, so good!  But I am sensing that those big and noticeable changes are only paving a way for some more internal changes — the ones that aren’t so easy to spot, the ones that have needed changing for a very long time. I just don’t see how those changes are going to happen or what they are going to look like.

Part of the lesson this morning required my student to stand at the white board and spell out a word that I gave to him.  It was a word that he could have easily read if it was printed on the page in front of him — he had read dozens like it already this morning. But when I asked him to write it on the board, he wasn’t having it. I stood at the board and asked him to race me to spell it. Nope — he didn’t want to do that. I tried to make it into a different game. Nope — not gonna happen.

We struggled together to get through that one word and then the other teacher moved us on to something else. Today writing on the board was not a success, but tomorrow we will give it another try.

He doesn’t have to learn everything all in one day.

Sometimes when I am reading my Bible study, it makes sense right away.  Other times, my blogging clarifies ideas and helps me make sense of what I have read. Today? Today I think I got a quick preview of a lesson to come. It’s like I was sitting in the back of the classroom and the teacher told us something we would be doing next week. I know something is coming, but I really don’t have a clue what it is. And, right now I am content with that. I mean, seriously, I don’t have to learn everything all in one day.

I think my new job is teaching me more than I am teaching children, as per usual.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me.”

Psalm 25:5

*Quotes taken from Moore, Beth. Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2013.

More Life Lessons – Celebrate

I’m three days into my training to be a clinician at Lindamood-Bell and let me tell you, this English teacher is learning about language. It’s linguistics, really — the rules of the English language and how you teach them to struggling readers.  On Monday I held up vowel flash cards for my partner who was making the phonemic sounds and then took my turn doing the same.  We learned about consonants, vowels, diphthongs, and the beloved schwa. Now I know that way back in the eighties I sat in class with Professor Campbell and learned all the basic rules of linguistics.  In fact, during my master’s work, I had two classes in linguistics with Dr. Stalker where we did all this and more — studying the rules of sentence construction and the ways that different people groups vary from the norm.  But somehow knowing that these rules, when taught to a struggling reader, might unlock the door to decoding and then to comprehension, makes it all just a little more meaningful.

I believe it was my fourth grade teacher who clapped out the syllables for me.  “My name is Kris/tin.  I have two syllables in my name.”  I have used that strategy with poetry students when I teach them meter, but I have never considered the fact that each syllable has a vowel or that the arrangement of consonants and vowels — whether a syllable is ‘open’ or ‘closed’ has an impact on the way that we pronounce the sound of the vowel. I’ve never had to!  Reading and language have always come easily to me.  I must have thousands of sight words.  I very rarely have to sound a word out or look it up in a dictionary.  I don’t have to think about how to decode; it’s natural for me.

But it isn’t natural for the students I will be working with.  Some of them are years behind in school.  We’ve looked at case after case over the last few days — many of these students are very bright, they just have never had success with reading.  Some of them have already been through several other reading interventions, both in and out of school.  They, and their parents, have had enough.  They are ready to give up.  They are almost ready to admit that they will never know how to read and comprehend. In my imagination they come dragging into our office, believing that their worst fears are going to be confirmed.  They are beaten down, exhausted, and hopeless.  I would be, too!

So for the last three days I have not only learned about language — phonology and orthography. I have also learned how to be a cheerleader. From the moment that a family enters the door, the focus is on success and celebration.  Even the FOUR HOURS of testing is designed to be fun.  From the room where I was training yesterday I could hear a student and a teacher in the next room laughing and celebrating — during a battery of tests!!  The students are celebrated for showing up, for trying — even when they get it wrong, for hanging in there, and eventually, for reading!

My fellow trainee and I have even been celebrated.  We are training via teleconference.  When we are brave enough to un-mute our microphone and speak up in the conference, we get a prize — candy or a little toy to use in our tutoring.  When we practice with one another we give positive reinforcement with every response, even when it is followed with a correction.  We use words like great job, fantastic, amazing, you got it! Not once have I heard a trainer say no, but, not exactly, or not quite. The focus is on celebrating what the student did get right and guiding him to see what he needs to correct.  It’s pure genius.

It’s also a life lesson for me.  I have been pretty critical of myself and others over the years.  I have focused on my flaws — my errors– instead of celebrating my strengths and successes.  I’m pretty sure I have done this for the others in my life as well.  I’ve probably told you more than I should what I think you are doing wrong instead of what I notice you are doing well.  I’m sorry about that.

So today, let’s focus on the strengths.  I am excited about another opportunity to learn!  I have a very supportive husband and family!  I have a forgiving, redeeming God who daily says to me, “I see your strengths. I gave them to you. I love you.”

Psalm 139:14

[We] praise you because [we are] fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, [we] know that full well.