Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Listening is Fundamental

I realize that I'm dating myself, but way back in the 70s when I was a kid there was a huge push to increase literacy through the slogan Reading is Fundamental. I loved reading. In fact, I loved it so much that I got my degree in English. I still love to read. While I won't delve too deeply, suffice it to say I didn't have the best childhood. Reading provided a respite from the everyday shambles that was my life. I loved reading stories that did not resemble my life or my surroundings. Reality? Who the hell wants that? I sure didn't. Seriously, I did not want to read about characters mired in the despair of alcoholism and poverty. I didn't need to read about it because I lived it. But, different strokes for different folks. The beauty of living in a free society with a free public library system is that there are multitudes of books for everyone.

I mention all of this because despite my love for reading and my husband's love for reading, my oldest son does not share this. What I find to be an enjoyable pastime, he finds a frustrating endeavor. It's not that he can't read and it's not that he struggles with reading per se. He reads instructions, manuals, and magazines just fine. Reading is utilitarian to him. He'll read about airplanes (his latest obsession), or how to catch a particular Pokemon. If you ask him to read a fiction book and then talk about a character's feelings or motivation, he'll give you the deer-in-the-headlights look. Maybe it's because he has Asperger's Syndrome that he struggles with deciphering context clues and character motivation. He wants just the facts and only the facts. Consequently, he doesn't always do well on those darned, pointless Accelerated Reading quizzes. Did I say 'pointless'? I meant 'inane'.

Regardless of my feelings about Accelerated Reading, it is a fact of my son's life. While observing in his classroom (remember?), I noticed his teacher reading out loud to the class. I also noticed that the class - including my son - seemed to be enjoying it. With this in mind, I decided to try a summer experiment and have my son read along while listening to an audio book. I found free audio books at Books Should Be Free; granted, they are all public domain books, but I figured it would be a start. I had my son read Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. He actually liked it. I asked him if it was easier to read along while listening and not surprisingly he said, "Yes". Tentatively, I asked him if there was a book that he thought he might want to read but was afraid to try. He said, "Well, my friend read Scat by Carl Hiaasen, and he really liked it. You know, that's the same author who wrote Hoot." I took him with me to Barnes and Noble and I bought Scat. Then we went to the library and found the audio version.

I don't know if he'll ever come to love reading the way I do. But I sincerely hope that he won't despise it either. If reading while listening to an audio book will help improve his comprehension and diminish his reluctance to read, then sign me up, baby, I am all for it. I'll let you know how this experiment goes at the end of summer.

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