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Memorizing vs Reading

m.steinfeld's picture

In the Literacy and Development reading Pat Herbert and Clinton Robinson describe a scene from a Muslim religious tradition in which people are holding cards with prayers written on them but none of them can actually read the cards; they have memorized the prayers instead. Further investigation found that the people believed the actual words themselves to be sacred and therefore having them in their hands was important even if they could not read the words. This reminds me of my field placement in a first grade classroom. I was working with a boy struggling to learn to read. The teacher had given me a stack of books the boy had been working on all year. I let him pick which book he wanted to read. He picked it and read it better than I have ever heard him read before. He picked another and again I was impressed at how much he had improved since my last visit a month ago. I even told the teacher about how much he had grown in that time. The next week I picked the book for him. It was one I had not seen before which meant it was the most recent book he had been reading. He struggled.  He did not know most of the words, making most of them up as he went along. He even said, “I don’t know this one.” It was clear to me that he had read the other books so many times he had memorized them. I thought he had really improved his reading but in fact he had just memorized the words and so could “read” them quickly. But it made me wonder, is reading the words actually any better than simply memorizing the stories? I remember my Bat Mitzvah I had to “read” from the Torah, when really I had just memorized the words and looking at the scroll was just for show. Is literacy and learning just about reading and writing, or can the old saying “fake it till you make it” apply?


alesnick's picture

I appreciate the connection

I appreciate the connection to your placement: it brings the reading home.  What do you think the student meant when he said, "I don't know it yet." Did he mean have it by heart?  Is this something you can imagine talking about directly with him, exploring together?  There is a performative dimension of being able to read . . . I wonder if it could help him to tease that apart from the decoding dimension . . . I wonder whether he is comfortable with their being an uncertainty-based process in the reading experience.