I distinctly remember the day Michael learned about the silent e. You know the one that makes the other vowel long? With this discovery, he was like a racehorse released to run for the first time—eager, awkward, almost tripping over himself. It was a joy to see the excitement in his eyes and his new confidence in reading.
As part of the Read to Win program for public school first-graders struggling with reading, I had been working with this sweet little boy for a month. We had made negligible progress up to this point and both of us were frustrated. I felt ineffective and I worried my student was on the verge of giving up.
The silent e was a game changer. With this new piece of the phonetic puzzle, Michael was no longer dependent on me to tell him every new word he encountered. He now had a tool to help him sound it out. He still struggled to read but with this new confidence I was fairly sure he was going to be okay and that his education would now progress.
His epiphany put me in mind of the first time I changed an automotive light bulb. My tag light quit working and I tried to fix it myself but I could not get the bulb out. When I finally resorted to pliers, I broke the glass and wound up having to crush the flimsy aluminum base to extract it. Only then could I see the little button holding it in. “Ah-ha!” Once I understood the mechanism, it was an easy fix.
We have a saying, “Hindsight is 20-20.” That is to say, once we’ve been down a path, our mistakes are clear to be seen. And life is one big learning lesson after another.
One thing I’ve learned to help me along the way is that it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. If I try something and the solution is not immediately apparent, I’m apt to ask, “Is there a trick to this? Something I’m not seeing?”
Books are wonderful for finding puzzle pieces. For instance, the Chilton Manuals offer diagrams of your car’s pieces and how they’re put together. There are books on how to properly write a letter to a Congressman. My dictionary has clues on how words should be pronounced. Learned men have written books about the meaning of the Bible. I learned how to knit by looking at a book.
Our knowledge has been increased exponentially by the Internet. Nowadays, we have videos on You Tube to help us learn everything from making pie crust to repairing a cell phone. The idea is to watch someone who has made a their mistakes and now knows a few tricks to avoid the pitfalls.
But others’ instructions are like working a puzzle with a pro. They can point out the importance of corner pieces, color schemes and shapes. It’s up to me, up to you, to actually put all those helpful hints into practice and do the work.