Payback is to teach!

By Lennox Farrell Thursday January 10 2013 in Opinion
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How different would your world be if someone had not taught you to read? Now that you can read, you already have the tools needed to teach someone else. Teaching someone else to read is probably the most mutually liberating experience two people can have and share.


As with everything else, knowing the best steps to follow makes for best results to the max. And these steps begin with knowing the methods more useful for teaching an adult, than for teaching a child. With the child – further developed later – one begins with an empty slate. For example, the child more than likely has fewer or no “confidence issues”.


With the adult, one begins with more to undo and with more with which to do. With an adult, you are not beginning with a blank slate, but with a learner who is already familiar with the spoken word. Here, the challenge is in assisting the learner to apply what they already know in thinking, reasoning and speaking to reading and to writing. It is assisting the learner in recognizing what they already practice fluently.


However, standing in the way is that the adult learner might also already have, “confidence issues”; past humiliating experiences with trying to learn to read. This student might also worry of now being too old to learn in spite of the fact that they are learning – and even teaching – new things daily. Reassure them that their knowledge of speaking English provides them with a leg up in learning how to read.


Subjectively, the degree of one’s willingness to teach is an unmistakeable measure of one’s confidence in their ability to learn. Objectively, what they already know is a sufficient base on which to further build their confidence in what they are now attempting. Tell them that both they and you are sufficiently equipped to teach and to learn: you since you already read, to teach; they, since they already speak, to read. Henceforth, writing is much more possible than not with discipline, patience and effort.


In addition, an illiterate adult who, desirous of learning to read, and is humble enough to open them self to possible ridicule, is someone of enormous courage and character. By their act, they show both confidence in you and conviction in themselves. In fact, the greatest obstacle in their trying again to learn is an unspoken, free-floating sense of shame and of being shamed.


Here, of great significance to teacher and learner is knowing the difference between being more uncertain in one’s ability to learn and being less confident in one’s ability to learn. The former undermines the value what someone already knows; the latter further invalidates what is known.


From here, it is best to consult authorities more skilled in literacy delivery. Among those in the community so skilled might be organizations as the African Heritage Educational Network (AHEN). In fact, there is no shortage of such organizations since no other community is as dedicated to advancing education and literacy among us.


Consultations, based on one’s experience and training, could include the following: learning “common phonic sounds”, for example, words like “an, at, the”; that is, words which are used regularly around us. Show how to write these words. Talk about them and find them in newspapers, etc. Encourage the student to focus on how these words look and think about their shapes each time one hears the word spoken.


Have the student carry a notebook to write down other words seen along with these “common phonic sounds” in them; for example, “an” as seen in “any”, “the” as in “then”…and incorporate these into the next lesson. Add to these, similar words like “at, in”, etc.


From here, and building on the phonics learned, introduce the vowel sounds: “a, e, i, o, u”, and the consonants, for example, those found in their name: letters like “n, m, t, r, s”, etc.


One can find more useful material for these in the library or in bookstores.


Above all, encourage the student to practice reading; aloud whenever possible; to be a word detective searching out words already learned, associating these with others similar, and incorporating these in future lessons. Celebrate every gain, without over-compensating. For what is being celebrated is an ability already had; it is unearthing a diamond in the rough, now being polished. The diligent student will learn more away from you than with you.


In short, win the student into becoming co-teacher, and whenever possible into being teacher. Their foe and ironic ally so far has not been incapability versus capability – unless there has been some undetected physical disability – but a certainty in their inability to learn; now being replaced by a certainty in their ability to learn.


Every new word learned is a victory, for whatever one learns, one owns. And for us, a people whose ancestors for centuries bore the indignities of being owned as cattle and chattel; given their sacrifices, none of us can ever do too much in emancipating yet another human from a being owned, into a being owning!


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