When Readers Become Writers
"I remember when I was a little boy the small town in Mexico where I was born seemed to be the most beautiful place on earth. The mountains surrounding the town made me feel at peace." Those words were written by my student Manuel. He came to the East Texas Literacy Council to be able to use English grammar and spell better; in the process, he has become a writer. It has taken some time and some change in attitude for Manuel to get to this place. Since living in the United States for over 20 years, he had a good command of the spoken word and read reasonably well. However, he was not happy with his English grammar or his spelling. When we first began meeting, he wanted to "take spelling tests" primarily, with some language worksheets sprinkled in. I kept encouraging him to read - anything - English language newspapers, novels, biographies. He kept insisting that he could read and implied that he wanted to spend his time with the mechanics of writing. What I know as a teacher, however, is that the more one reads, the better writer one becomes. When a person is exposed to print, especially articles and stories written by gifted writers, he or she begins to see how language comes alive.
Several months into our sessions, I discovered Manuel's passion for baseball. The movie The Rookie had recently been showing, and I had a copy of the book upon which the movie was based. I brought it to one of our sessions and asked Manuel if he would be interested in reading it. He gave grudging assent, saying that he'd read it if he had the time. Two weeks later, a beaming Manuel brought back my book, having read it cover to cover, and he was ready for another. Since that time, Manuel has read two biographies of Bobby Knight and one about Daryl Strawberry. I heard about a new biography that was recently published about Daryl Strawberry and recommended it to Manuel. When he found out that the public library didn't yet have it on their shelves, he ordered it from a local bookstore.
During our time together, Manuel has reached many milestones including becoming a United States citizen, but he seems most proud of writing his autobiography. This seems especially important to him now as his father is in declining health and he sees the passing of time more clearly. Not only is Manuel writing his memoirs, but he is learning how to use a computer in the process. He sees the potential of this new learning for not only word processing skills, but for Internet usage as well. Each day spent with a book, using the Internet, or writing opens Manuel's world - a world that began in a small town in Mexico, and thanks to his writing, he can revisit and share with others.
About the Author
Tammy Allen is a certified teacher of English, reading and speech for grades 6-12 in Texas. She is pursuing a master's degree in reading from the University of Texas at Tyler and has completed 21 hours. Currently, she is an instructor at the East Texas Literacy Council, specializing in learning differences.