READ-ALOUD, READ-ALONG with Susan Call Hutchison
My career and volunteer life has involved teaching from a very early age. My mother told me that my first sentence was “I sing church!” The exclamation point is to indicate both enthusiasm and volume.
Reading as a Family and Community Experience
Reading was always a part of my life. I remember vividly the moment I realized the pattern of the shapes on the page, “hop, hop, hop,” was similar to the pattern of my sister’s voice saying “hop, hop, hop,” as she pointed at the shapes. I could barely contain my excitement. I had glimpsed that the combination of those ABC’s were a code that could be broken.
My wise parents had prepared me to crack that code. They had sung to me, from the time I was a baby. Played peek-a-boo and patty-cake and praised me as I learned to sing my ABC’s.
The rhythms and the rhymes of Mother Goose were already part of the pattern of my thoughts.
Bedtime tales of Goldilocks, the Three Little Pigs and the Little Red Hen prepared me to anticipate the drama of story. And my dad’s dramatic voices and sound effects added to my delight.
My mother’s favorites were Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne. I know she particularly loved Kate Greenaway’s illustrations of A Child’s Garden of Verses and the lovely sketches in the stories about Christopher Robin and Pooh.
But my parents didn’t limit my exposure to only “children’s” literature. I heard the beauty of the King James Version of the Bible long before I started to understand its meaning. I heard Washington Irving and Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe read aloud. Maybe it made me fall asleep. But I loved the poetry of my father’s voice. It made me want to sing and make rhythms and rhymes myself.
I grew up singing with my family, regularly performing in school and church programs. I learned hundreds of songs I could sing at the drop of a hat. I directed my first choir during a school program the Christmas I was six years old, and I never quite got over the thrill. I learned piano well enough to play simple hymns and Christmas Carols. When I was twelve, I sneaked into my Dad’s room where he kept his guitar, and used a paperback book of folk songs to teach myself guitar chords. I confessed to my dad when I couldn’t resist showing him that I could accompany myself as I sang “Oh My Darling, Clementine.”
Teaching as a Natural Outgrowth of Reading and Learning
I studied Music and Education at a small college in Oregon in the mid 70’s, and I volunteered as a missionary to Japan. I married a man I met at BYU, and we have two beautiful daughters, who are grown women now. But I sang and read aloud to them. And their father did, too.
I went back to school when our younger daughter was old enough for pre-school. I ended up working in a law office, helping people understand the wording of their legal documents –sort of simplifying the English.
And then I began a career that for twenty years allowed me to help students one-on-one, as they studied English materials.
I often worked with high-school-aged students who suddenly found themselves expected to read and comprehend at a level far above anything their earlier studies had prepared them for.
I also worked with adults who were studying English material in order to translate it into their native languages.
What I learned from my students is that reading is more than just decoding symbols and sounding out words. It’s even more than having a good definition for every word you read. (There’s a whole technology for that, and I swear by it.)
Oxford American Pocket Dictionary gives both these definitions for literate: able to read and write and knowledgeable in a particular field.
But my students were struggling to achieve “cultural” literacy. That ability to connect the dots, that only comes from a familiarity with the culture that makes you literate in the second sense of the word: knowledgeable in a particular field.
A student might hit a phase like “a gilded cage,” and have no life experience to relate it to. Sure, I could define “gilded” and help find some pictures of gilded things. And I could ask why an object meant to lock something up and take away it’s freedom would be covered with gold. And the student might have a realization and be ready to continue with what they were reading. But cultural literacy would include knowing that “She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage” was a popular song in 1900 about the wasted life of a woman who did not marry for love, but married an old man for his gold.
I decided when I retired, that my gift to students and to families who care so much about helping their children do well in school would be to provide materials that pass on even just a little of the advantages I had growing up.
The idea of READ-ALOUD, READ-ALONG series grew from there.
Nothing would make me happier than to know that the rhymes and stories I have written help families foster literacy in their homes with the treasured tradition of reading aloud.
I have faith that beginning readers will start to read along.
I would love to hear from you!
I would especially love to hear about how my stories have been used in your family Read-Aloud Time. I’d like to post pictures you draw when you hear or read my stories!