A Reading Room

Walking home last evening I walked past some idiot from Australia juggling with chainsaws. Canadian idiots were cheering madly. Apparently the buskers are back in town.

Let me tell you about something really worth cheering.

An adult learner came back for his second visit. I'm always as nervous with new learners as they are with me, but this night we had the place to ourselves which opened up more possibilities.

Knowing it was just the two of us, I didn't roll out the 5-foot table and chairs. I figured we could use the kitchen table later, and so we started by plopping down on a pair of armchairs.

A word of explanation: the space I'm using is a single-story four bedroom housing unit converted for use as a community program centre. The "bedrooms" are taken up for office or storage space (we have an office there, and use another room for storytent / bookwagon storage) leaving the kitchen and "living-room" for program use.

After the preliminaries ("How are you?" "How was your week?") I suggested we read. I pulled two copies each of the Grass Roots Press books Bears and The Hike. (These two, and The Goof, are my favourite starters because they are remarkably easy and interesting for new readers.)

He chose to read silently - at least, he started off reading to himself right away, and I saw no reason to interrupt - and so I read along silently with my own copies. When he came to a word he didn't know, he spelled it out and I told him what it was. The rest of the time, I kept pace (and kept quiet - though I watched his eye movements and the way he silently shaped words for clues about his reading style).

After, I explained some of the different things people did to improve their reading: reading leveled books; reading PageTurner books and then answering the questions; reading Grass Roots Press books and then writing summaries; reading and creating word lists of new words (and then studying or writing with the words); writing captions for interesting pictures; writing on the computer; reading parts of magazines or the newspaper; and so on.

Then, I asked him what he would like to do, and shut up until he had time to answer. He thought for awhile, expressed reserve about any idea of writing, and chose to simply read.

"Sure," I said, handing him a stack of about 30 books ranging from level 1 through 3.

And so we settled in. He read, and I read. He read The Big Question ("Is that word, um... 'picnic'?" "Yep.") And I read Inkspell. He read Spare Parts ("What's w-r-i-t-e?" "Write.") and I read more of Inkspell.

About an hour in, he asked if he could "go grab a smoke" - an uncomfortable reminder of the power dynamics in the room, since I'd never ask him if I could go make a coffee.

About an hour and a half in, he set down Tony's Deal and mumbled something about needing a good night's sleep.

"Well," I said, "you've been reading for an hour and a half. Reading will make you sleepy. That's why people read in bed before they go to sleep."

"When," I asked, "was the last time you read for an hour and a half straight?"

He blinked and paused. "Never. This is the first time ever."

"You might consider reading for another half hour - until eight o'clock - and then calling it a night."

"Okay. Yeah." And that is what we did.

Picture it. A big living-room type area, with soft, upholstered chairs. Accent lamps and natural light from the picture window. Two guys, feet up on improvised footstools, reading silently for two hours. Just reading - no tests, no stress, no criticism.

I don't know why he was there, really. I can't say he isn't being pushed by some other person or agency in his life.

But that night, I think he really was reading for himself and the pleasure of reading.

Ink spells, indeed. :)

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