In Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, those hoping to save books and literacy from a government that would destroy all printed sources from the past memorized entire books. Imagine memorizing your favorite book. Maybe it has thousands of pages with tens of thousands of words!
If you have had the experience of fighting off sleep while reading a book to a child–who won’t sleep–you may have attempted to skip a page or omit a few lines of their favorite book. What a mistake! They KNOW every word in that book and smart family members had better not try to cut any corners when reading it!
Memorizing a book is not something that children set out to do. They simply memorize it like they memorize the smell of their “blankie” (balking when it is washed). They mentally absorb all the words and illustrations in their favorite book because it gives them pleasure each and every time they encounter it.
In so doing, they have created a personal Rosetta Stone for learning to read. They know what the book says. Now, IF they want to, all they have to do is to figure out why those little marks on each page has us say the exact same thing every time we see them.
My neighbor is from Slovakia. She came here about 20 years ago speaking no English. She claims that she taught herself the rudiments of English by watching, memorizing, and speaking along with characters in the Robin Williams’ movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, more than 100 times. She has since completed a Master’s Degree–instructed in English.
Leveraging one language resource to master another is a pretty powerful explanation about why folks who are good writers and speakers tend to be folks that have read a lot of good books. So, it’s no surprise that kids who memorize books, with no other agenda than wishing to devour something that for them is so delicious, often learn to read relatively quickly. The central lesson here is that in each case they begin with the meaning of the text, NOT text itself. They then ask, or are invited by a wily adult to consider, how it is that the text cues us to say that, every time.
For educators and family members who gently guide children to learn to read, it is vital to know that by shifting attention from the story to the form of the text that carries it, we can introduce some connections to how letters are associated with sounds, how good sentences have a word order that sounds like our speech, and that children’s past experiences contribute to making sense of and enjoying a book.
And off we might go toward early reading–UNLESS that intrudes on the loving lap-time and reading their favorite books without missing a word…