Sarah on Reading

What follows was taken from the transcript of a conversation between Sara, a very precocious, strong, smart and bold 6 year old, and David Boulton. Their conversation is a remarkable illustration of the role of shame in the development of a child’s reading ability. The conversation was recorded totally impromptu with a hand held device. Due to the recording’s extraneous noise and file size, the conversation is provided primarily in text form. However, some of Sara’s most beautiful and profoundly exemplifying ‘tones’ of shame and pride remain available to hear. 

Context: Sara is in the 1st grade in a public school in California.  Sara had spent the day at the zoo before coming home and meeting David. David and Sara had never talked about her reading or her inner experiences before. This exchange was completely unexpected and unplanned. Over the course of the conversation, Sara described hearing two distinct inner voices; one she called her ‘head voice’ and the other her ‘heart voice’. (see ‘Sara’s-voices’ for more on this part of their talk). At one point Sara told David about how well she could read. After David said he would love to hear her read, Sara got her Harry Potter book and began thumbing through it looking for a place to begin….

Sara:       You want me to read you this page?

David:     If you’d like to.

Sara:       Okay, want me to start here?

David:     Go for it.

Sara:       Okay.

David:     Pick any page.

Sara:       Okay. Let me see.  (thumbing through pages)… John Potter he wrote a note to his friend. He asked did he throw up in her hat before he told her friend. Before she put it on there was lots of yucky stuff on her head. That was the throw up he did in her hat on accident.

David:    (realizing that she is making up the story rather than reading) Can I see this page for a minute?

Sara:       Why?

David:     Well, I just want to see some of the words on it. Is it okay?

Sara:       No!

David:     Okay. You don’t want me to see the page?

Sara:       No.

David:     Okay, go ahead.

Sara:       Do I have to read it?

David:     You were reading before, let’s read it now, sure, just read a little bit. Let’s go.

Sara:       Do I have to show you? 

David:     It will help you if you do.

Sara:       Why?

David:     Well before you were reading really fine, right?

Sara:       Yes! And I can read it.

David:     Yes, but you know why you’re turning like this now?

Sara:       Why?

David:     It’s because you’re going to make it up rather than read it.

Sara:       Nooooo.

David:     Then let me see it too.

Sara:       Look at all the words.

David:     Okay.

Sara:       Then I’ll read it by myself. Look at how much you want.

David:     I tell you what, here’s what you do. You read a sentence and then let me look at the sentence. Then you read a sentence then I’ll look at the sentence, okay?

Sara:       (sigh) Why?

Sara:       You look at all of them. Then I, then I read myself. That’s a deal.

Sara and David went on for a while and then David asked how she was feeling about reading. Sara,
leveraging their earlier conversation about the voices in her head, began sharing her inner dialogue:

Sara:       (In a taunting voice) You can’t read that book. You can’t read that book.

David:     Your voice was telling you that?

Sara:       Yeah, my head one…my heart one,  my heart one was like, “you are reading fine”
(said in a very angelic voice)

David:     And your heart voice was saying you were reading fine.

Sara:       Yeah, and the head one was like, you can’t read that book, you can’t read that book.  
(said in taunting voice)

Sara:       It was true. 

David:     Was it true?

Sara:       Yes.

David:     It was true that you couldn’t read the book?

Sara:       Yeah, don’t you know that?

David:     I do. And you know what? It’s okay! It’s okay that you can’t read that book.

Sara:       I can!

David:     I know that you can, but I mean that if you have trouble reading that book. It’s okay!

Sara:       I know, you still know it.

David:     You know what? Out of all those monkeys you saw today, those guerillas, and those tigers and the bear,
the scary bear? All of those animals?

Sara:       Yeah.

David:     Not one of them ever, in all of life, ever ever ever could read.

Sara:       silence

David:     The stone age people that lived in stone age time. None of them ever read. Reading is only a new thing
human beings have been doing just a while. It takes time to learn. There’s nothing wrong if it takes time for
you to learn. As long as you keep trying to learn.

Sara:       How did, (trailing off….)

David:     And it’s real important, ah ah, stay with me one more minute. It’s real important that you not let the um, voice that is trying to embarrass you…

Sara:       Uh-huh.

David:     Or judge you or shame you…

Sara:       Uh-huh.

David:     Don’t let it win over your heart voice.

Sara:       Okay. (very quietly)

David:     It may be true that you’re not reading right now in some ways, that may be true. But that doesn’t mean
there’s anything wrong. It just means you’re still learning right now.

Sara:       Uh-huh.

David:     But don’t feel bad about it. Cause you know what? If you feel bad about it, it will make it worse. It will
actually make it harder to learn. Do you understand that?

Sara:       Yeah.

David:     Sara, did you follow me? You got it?

Sara:       Yeah

David:     Okay, so now reading can be something new and different now.

Sara:       Yeah.

David:     Yeah. Let’s stop.

Sara:       Look at the book we don’t know where he is.

David:     Do you want to stop or do you want to go on?

Sara:       Um, we could go on.

David:     You want to go on?

Sara:       With the voices.

David:     You want to talk more about the voices than the reading thing. It’s interesting that one voice is telling
you it’s okay, no matter how well you’re reading and the other voice is making fun of you for not
reading well.

Sara:       No, the one in my heart is more better than the one higher. But they like to fight.

David:     The one in your heart likes to fight with the…

Sara:       The heart wants to get closer to my mouth so it can tell me lots of other things. But it usually never  gets to talk because the one in my head will interrupt her, so it’s really hard for her to talk.

David:     Oh my god, what a jewel.

Sara:       What?

David:     Well, the way you said it, I’m sorry. What you said was just really cool.

Sara:       Well, it was true. I won’t hear her in my body if I’m hiding. No, if you have voices in your body, 
you can hear them.

David:     Yeah.

Sara:       You know what, know what? You’re like cats sometimes, sometimes you’re like bears and 
dogs and cats, whatever. They have ears inside of their nose. They can hear from their nose.

David:     Uh-huh. They have senses, they can be aware of things.

Sara:       Yeah.

David:     Yeah, dogs, can see with their nose, huh? Pretty strange.

Sara:       Yep.

David:     Okay, we can have more talks another time. It’s been fun, thank you.

This recording was made in October of 2002 

On the VIBE: “Sara on reading” has an interesting parallel to ‘swimming in implicity
Copyright © 2002 David Boulton and Implicity