Episode 35: Learning to Read
Many find it hard to believe, but children at self-directed democratic schools do learn how to read, largely without any adult intervention. On this episode of the Alpine Valley School podcast we hear from two graduates who learned this essential skill - from video games. Listen now and hear how these articulate adults address the all-important subject of learning to read!
Also available on YouTube.
Read a blog post from Dr. Peter Gray: Children Teach Themselves to Read
Listen to a podcast episode all about Video Games
Watch a video about how students at Sudbury Schools learn to read
Hear from a group of AVS graduates about their experiences learning at our school
Listen to another podcast episode with Lisa Mancuso all about creativity
Get in touch with the show! Send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello and welcome to the Alpine Valley School podcast. I'm your host, Marc Gallivan. This is episode 35 of our show. You can find show notes for this episode, including additional links in a transcript of the episode at alpinevalleyschool.com/podcast/ep35 for episode 35 if you want to support this podcast and the work we do here, you can help support Alpine Valley School by using Amazon smile, visit smile.amazon.com and shop just as you normally would and a portion of your order goes to Alpine Valley School. It's an easy way to help give to the school without costing anything for yourself, so please use smile.amazon.com when you shop online. On this episode, we tackle a question that comes up often: learning to read. If kids are not sat down and taught phonics and the basics of reading, how do they ever come to that knowledge? Is it something that people graduate our school not knowing? I'll give you a hint: no. Reading is a part of everyday life for most of us. And even those who learn later in life, eventually master the skills seemingly overnight. In this episode, I interview two such graduates of Alpine Valley School, Josh Mann and Lisa Mancuso, both of whom were here for most of their childhoods and both of whom learned to read at our school. In this episode, they talk through their experiences of learning how to read and share some advice with people who might be concerned about this for their own child that may be involved in Sudbury school. So with that, I'll turn it over to Josh and Lisa.
I am Lisa Mancuso. I went to AVS most of my childhood, I started around five and I graduated from AVS.
I'm Josh man. I attended AVSfor 11 years from when I was eight years old, until I was 19. I graduated in 2009. When I first came to AVS, I knew how to read a little bit, but I remember specifically other students were playing video games that required a lot of reading. Um, there were a lot of text based games back then. Uh, that you had to read out of text bubbles a lot. Um, and so I remember being frustrated because somebody would be playing a game and they'd be going real fast through the dialogue. So I couldn't read it because I just wasn't as fast as they were. So I remember distinctly early on in my time at AVS that I had that desire to get better at reading because I couldn't keep up with the people playing video games. Um, and so I, I took it upon myself and just practiced on my own. Got better that way.
Yeah, a lot of the same thing. I think it was, um, it was video games and also watching videos with subtitles. I think that was really difficult because I couldn't read as quickly as everyone else. And I didn't start off knowing how to read at AVS. I learned while I was there, so I had a lot of people reading to me when I needed to know what was going on, on piece of paper or in a book, or if I needed to write someone up, I would get some help. But when we were playing games, the same thing either I'd have to have someone read out loud to me, which they weren't always interested in doing or I would miss things. And that was really a good incentive to learn to read more quickly when a bunch of your friends are playing a game that involves reading and you can't play the game because of that. That's great incentive to learn how to do it. And then you have your friends around you helping you out. So it's not like this big scary thing that you must accomplish by a certain time. It's just another thing that you learn.
What tools or systems did you use in order to learn?
I think a lot of what I used to practice was just kind of through video games, like playing them myself. So instead of just watching people play them and not being able to keep up playing them myself and then using that as a tool to, to learn how to read more efficiently faster. Um, because I remember I could read, but not terribly well, um, at that time. So it was just teaching myself to get better, but I don't remember having anybody else, um, helping me at the time. I just remember playing games on my own and teaching myself that way. It's kind of, I think the way it is with learning all new things when you want to learn them, when you have the desire to learn them, it just sort of comes naturally.
I think it was around when I was getting people to read it to me and they weren't always available, so I'd have a new book that I want to read or have someone read to you, me and the whoever it was that I would have read to me when want to do that at that particular moment. And so that was limiting for me. And I think it was, I started with comic books because you can sort of get the gist of what's going on without really having to understand all of the words. And I didn't have any particular program that taught me. It was more, I had some people at school helping me out and then my parents giving me the basics and then just telling me to go off and practice. So it was a lot of work just by myself and when I got stuck I ask for help and eventually just figured it out. It wasn't so much I was afraid of not being able to do something and more I wanted to be able to do something like it was a thing that would enable me to do things that I wanted to do. I mean if you want to do something, you have to look at all of the things you need to know how to do to accomplish whatever that is. And if I wanted to read my comic book that no one would read to me, I'd have to learn how to read. And I remember making a very conscious decision that I was done relying on other people to do that for me because it was not as convenient as it would be if I could just do it myself.
How old were you when you learned to read?
I think it was 13 around there. And just remember not being able to read and then like learning it slowly and then deciding that I wanted to write for Nano and I did that like a year later, Nano is an abbreviation for national November writing month and it's where you write a 50,000 word draft of your novel in one month. So it's very intensive and kinda hard, yeah. But it was a lot of fun and I did well in it. I think I finished that one. I've done it a few times since. I think the first time I did it I got my word count and then a few years I went over and a few years I've been under. But yeah, I, it was hard, but not terribly.
I don't think I knew much when I came to AVS and I came there at eight years old, so it was around that range, around eight. Quite a few people describe me to some degree as a grammar Nazi. I've calmed down a little since then, but I tend to take spelling very seriously. I don't use abbreviations like you know, a single u instead of y o u and I, uh, I type it about 80 or 90 words per minute. So I think I've, I've done pretty well despite a learning late and learning on my own.
I can see how it would be more difficult because I wasn't sure as well versed in like spelling at that time. And I mean I've been typing pretty consistently. I was taking writing classes so I had practice doing that. But yeah, if you want to do something, it really doesn't take that long to learn it. And especially if you're using it all the time, like reading, you're going to get good at it really fast. So it's really not something that should be shocking, but it's just like anything else. You learn it if you need it.
What advice would you give to parents who are concerned that their child is not yet reading?
Well, it really has a lot to do with the model of the school. You're trusting your children to do what's best for them and being able to trust them in something like this makes sense. As an extension of that. If your children want to, they will and it's very likely that they want to, if there are invested in doing pretty much anything on the internet or going to the library or applying for a job, you're going to need to be able to read that and fill out forms. So that's going to be relevant in all sorts of places in life. And when someone makes a decision to do something like that, there'll be motivated to learn to read and do it well. So it's really just a matter of when they choose to do that, it's not like they're never going to read. And when they do choose to read, there'll be able to enjoy it because it was a choice that they made for themselves. So just letting your children decide when that is important for them to do or then is the best thing you can do
It's normal to be concerned about your child's growth and you want to make sure that they have everything they need and that they have all the tools at their disposal that they'll need to get into the greater part of life. You know, get a job, go to college, right? Those things always concerned parents. But I think, well we've touched on here already kind of ease those fears you're, you're talking about or reading, which as Lisa said, is necessary to pretty much everything you're going to want to do in your life and my experience. So I think many other people's experiences is that when you need a skill to accomplish something, you learn that skill and it's not, it's not all that difficult when, when it's something that you want, right. When it's something you don't want, it can be difficult because you're not invested in what you're learning, but when you need it and you also want if, which is the more important thing, it's much easier to, to learn it that way.
Yeah. There's two groups, uh, that would get together and like read out the lines because that was before voice acting. So you just had the text for the characters, like little speech bubbles. Well, I remember my group of friends did that and I was in charge of the Garnet and she has could have a dialogue and I think that was another big push to make me like learn to read better because otherwise someone else would have to read the dialogue for me and then I'd have to repeat it, which slows down the whole process. So being able to read quickly and have other people waiting for me to read was definitely incentive to learn how to read more quickly.
I remember that that time I actually think I remember you voice acting the characters too, but I also wanted to add on to what we were talking about earlier real quick, just to kind of like a swatch. The fears of parents and their children not reading. There's also a degree of I think unspoken peer pressure among children, right? Like they're not actively like pressuring each other to read, but if your child isn't reading, I guarantee you there's three other children around them that are reading, especially in an environment like AVS. And so when they see those other children reading or participating in activities that require a certain degree of reading, that will make the desire for them to read even greater because suddenly my friends are doing it and then I'm not.
Thanks so much to Josh and Lisa for taking the time to share their stories with us. I think it's important to note that pretty much everything Josh and Lisa said about learning to read can be applied to really any other skill, even the ones like math and science and other areas that we consider to be absolutely essential to adult life that when it's important, kids learn it and we've seen that time and time again over the last 21 years here at Alpine valley school as have many other Sudbury schools. There are several links in our show notes for this episode that talk about learning to read and other skills that students pick up at Sudbury schools. So I'd invite you to go visit the show notes to learn more. The show notes are available at alpinevalleyschool.com/podcast/ep35 For episode 35 you can also find links to previous podcast interviews with both Josh and Lisa on a variety of subjects. As always, thanks so much for listening. I'm Marc Gallivan. This is the Alpine valley school podcast, and we'll be back again soon with more stories of real learning for real life.