As a twelve year old spatial dyslexic, I couldn’t read simple words, such as cat, bug, dog, pot, fish, sang, chop, boat, skate, etc., nor did I have the numeration skills to understand how to solve simple addition or subtraction questions, such as, 11 + 6 or solve 12 - 6. My learning disabilities inhibited any chance of my learning and my hyper-active behavior disrupted the learning environment for everyone. By Grade 5, it was obvious that my learning was never going to improve, and I was placed in an "Opportunity Class." This was a special class for students who tested at a 70 to 75 IQ level and I wasn’t even the smartest kid in the room.
Until the age of twelve, my cognitive development was being delayed by the same socioeconomic conditions that face children from low income families today. I was born into poverty where there was never enough food or clothing for my single parent mother and myself. By the age of ten, I had been in a dozen foster homes with zero nurturing and often went to bed hungry. By eleven, I had changed school several times before my mother brought me to Vancouver to live with her. It’s difficult for me to remember having fun playing games or having friends.
The disruptive behavior that I mentioned earlier resulted in my being punished by my Special Education teacher who stated, "You want to behave like a Grade One, then I’ll teach you like a Grade One." Bingo! This punishment resulted in my being placed in a learning environment that matched my learning level.
From then on, my motivation to learn began to progress because I now realized that I was able to understand my reading program. That year, I graduated through each grade until I acquired Grade 6 math and reading skills. I was returned to regular classes, and my school performance remained adequate throughout high school.
One of my first jobs was working as a banker, bad choice. Later, I took a job as a Community Center Supervisor and realized that recreation might be a good career. It was then that I realized that for me to accomplish something important, I needed to get professional training. I made the decision to attend the University of British Columbia to study the science of work and play. Back then students could take extra courses like psychology and sociology at no additional cost. I studied and graduated with Second Class Honors with majors in Recreation and Psychology, and a minor in Sociology. I didn’t know it then, but it seems that becoming an educator was in my future.
My first job after graduation was working with seniors and youth as a Vancouver Community Relations social worker. That same year, I was offered a job to be a consultant for Youth and Recreation for the Ontario Government in St. Catharines, Ontario. Later, I accepted a teaching position with Niagara Community College to initiate a School of Recreation for the college. Until the program was approved, I was asked to teach classes in psychology, as well as, teach recreation skills to students in the school’s Paraprofessional program. The government said no to the college recreation program and thus began my teaching career.
After my professional year of teacher training at Brock University, I began my career as a Special Education teacher working with 14 to 15 year old students. These students were from schools where their Grade 8 teachers claimed, "If Billy is in my room again next year, I’ll quit." By then end of the year these students could out-perform the bottom half of the three Grade 8 classes in the school. This was an interesting introduction to becoming a teacher. While my teaching duties were mostly remedial, I taught "gifted" programs and rotary Grade 7 geography. Except for the one year of teaching Grade One reading, my career was remediating Special Needs children who couldn’t learn, how to learn.
By taking Ministry of Ontario Special Needs courses and attending numerous reading conferences, as well as, obtaining my Masters Degree from The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, I began to realize I needed to change my teaching style. By trying some of the teaching techniques and methods that I had been gathering, my students began to make small gains with the teaching strategies that I designed. I started experimenting with learning concepts that I thought would improve the reading performance of my students.
With trial-and-error lesson planning, some of my theories began to show positive results. I knew then that if my students were to learn, it was up to me to provide them with reading instruction that they could understand. I completely discarded the Whole Language Curriculum that was recommended by my superiors and started teaching what was to become the Thorne Reading Method.
Even though I am retired from teaching, it is my intention to share my methodologies with parents of children who are struggling to learn. I make myself available to consult with any Boards of Education or Faculties of Education that might be interested in the Thorne Reading Method.
I now live in the West End of Downtown Vancouver, still golf, write music and for those of you who like the “Blues,” have produced a CD album called “House of Blue Light.” Check it out by clicking on the link or the image below. Go to ‘Latest CD’ and scroll to listen to the tunes. Some of you will probably say, "Stick to your reading theories," but I think it’s pretty good music for a teacher of reading.