A Tutor’s View on #LearningDifferences

I know nothing ajessicabout learning disabilities. Reading has always been easy for me and reading is my favorite pastime.

However, when I signed up to volunteer at the Literacy Center I didn’t know if I’d have the wherewithal to help a student learn to read. Luckily I was paired with a female student, roughly my age, who read at about a 4th grade level. She said her goal was to learn to read for enjoyment. Perfect!

I wasn’t sure where to begin, so we started where she left off with her previous tutor, using a Challenger workbook. She had no trouble with the lessons.  We jumped ahead a number of lessons in little time at all. But when we began reading together out loud, the problem was apparent. She couldn’t pronounce words with more than two syllables. Her comprehension was good, but she became tongue-tied reading aloud.

I still know little about learning disabilities, but after a few months of confidence-building and patience, her speed and pronunciation improved drastically.  She had an AHA moment when I brought up the notion that she may have had a speech impediment as a child. She admitted that her grandmother and sister made fun of her speech when she was young.  As an adult, a voice coach noticed her difficulty pronouncing words when she sang, which lead her to seek help from the Literacy Center. The pity, of course, was that she didn’t receive help at a young age, but rather was ridiculed, which undermined her confidence, both speaking and reading.

We continue to read out loud at every meeting and have her watch my mouth as I pronounce more difficult words.  A rewarding moment early on was when she mentioned that she was beginning to have “real conversations” with people. For example, a woman at her gym commented on the book she was reading and they discussed the author and the story at length. Rather than private study rooms at the library, we now meet and read aloud in public places, such as Barnes and Noble – a sure sign of her improved confidence.

I also attribute the success of our tutor/student relationship to mutual respect and the ability to find interesting things to read and discuss. We’ve tackled civil rights, survival in Alaska, Chinese mother-daughter relationships, geography, and personal finance. I’m pleased to say her reading speed and vocabulary are vastly improved. She’s meeting her goal of reading for enjoyment, and is having numerous “real conversations” with people she meets.

Jessica Mallinder

A Literacy Center Volunteer Tutor

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