A Promise

Guess what? The drug didn’t make Victor less angry, and only occasionally more attentive.

At times he loved learning and other times hated it. He frequently responded to not being able to do something with tantrums, threats or stubborn refusals. Sometimes I could navigate through his resistance and nudge him down a path that enabled him to accept my help and engage with what was difficult. When he succeeded in solving a troublesome math problem or reading a daunting page, he shone with pride and his hatred of learning vanished. I was joyous.

As the school year progressed, these moments became rarer. He cheated more on his homework (getting kids on the school bus to do it for him) and seemed less able to grasp the concepts that his schoolwork required of him. The more he fell behind, the more the little boy who prided himself on being a good learner disappeared.

Seeing Victor struggle with reading was, of course, particularly frustrating for someone who was launching an online reading program. I knew that if Victor used the Reading Kingdom, he could become a great reader. In May, when the program was ready for testing, I mentioned to his mother that I would like to try it with Victor. She was delighted. I told her that in order for the program to work, she would also need to do it with her son 3-4 times a week, for about 10-15 minutes at a time. (The program works best when kids do it frequently in small doses.)

Maria’s face fell.

I told her it was easy and that I would show her how to do it. We set up a meeting. She rallied and nodded her head eagerly.

She didn’t show up for the meeting. We set up another meeting. She didn’t show again.

Reluctantly, I stopped pursuing the matter.

At the end of the school year, Victor had to practice for the tests he needed to pass in order to make it into second grade. His resistance was high and spirits were low. He showed me two pages that he was expected to read in a timely manner. Defeated, he plunked his head down on his arms and sobbed, “I can’t do it. I don’t know how to read.”

I have to find a way to do this program with him, I thought.

I called on a technique of the Reading Kingdom system that divides words into content and non-content words. Non-content words are words like “the”, “is”, “was”, “does” and they occupy the majority (over 50%) of the words on any page of text. I knew Victor knew most of these words. Handing him a pencil, I told him to circle the words he already knew and ignore for the moment those he that didn’t. He set to work. After a sentence he realized that he knew so many words that he began to read the sentences, stopping to ask me the words that he did not know.

When he reached the end of the page he set down his pencil and grinned.  “You tricked me into reading.”

“I promise you that this summer I’ll teach you how to read better,” I said.

It was a big promise that I was determined to keep.

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