Training The Voices In Your Head (Intro)

Inner DirectorLet’s talk about the voices in our heads. 

We all have them. For some, they may become so pronounced as to become a distraction, or require some outside help to control, but let’s not fool ourselves – most of us have at least a few up there, vying for attention. You may remember the classic 90’s educational program on this subject, Herman’s Head:

Herman's Head Opening

At the moment, however, I’d like to focus on the voices primarily involved in reading. I am NOT a ‘reading specialist’ - and my science is subject to challenge (you did notice I cited a Fox Sitcom by way of evidence just now, yes?) - but I DO have some experience working with students who think they're poor readers (but don't have to be) and modeling effective reading strategies with teachers who, well... didn’t sign up to teach reading. 

Seriously – we didn’t know that was going to be a thing. We thought, you know… they’d come to us knowing. 

But they don’t – at least not all of them. We can wring our hands and point our fingers and lament how wonderful students used to be in whatever our golden age of false memories happens to be, but for now let’s look at a few basics that might be helpful for US – with OUR students in OUR subject right now. The one we DID sign up to teach. 

(Yes, yes – we teach ‘students’ not ‘subjects’ and all that. You get my point though… don’t quibble.) 

Ralph & RazorIf you watch sports at all, you know there’s a minimum number of announcers necessary to properly call any event, match, or game. Sometimes you’ll get a half-dozen or so in the studio, and another three or four in the booth, but they’re extra. Look past the fluff, and at the core you’ll almost always find two main roles – Play-By-Play and Color Commentary.

The Play-By-Play guy tells you what’s happening on the field/court/ice, even though you’re watching it at the same time. Sounds redundant, yes? But if you’ve learned your favorite sport by watching it on TV, then someday go to a live game, you'll miss this guy. 

We apparently like being told what’s happening while it’s happening. The Play-By-Play guy helps keep things clear and focused on the narrative of this game, right now. It’s all about the play, ‘bout the play, no color…

All About The Bass

Inner ThoughtsThen the whistle blows, or the buzzer sounds, and the action is momentarily paused. This is where the Color Commentator guy jumps in to discuss the strategies recently employed in the contest – in the action just called. He talks about the players involved, their backgrounds, recent injuries, etc. He’ll explain what the coach is hoping to accomplish by whatever decisions he’s made, or otherwise fill in context and personality to the actual play occurring before and after his interpretations and insights.

The Color Commentator is why those of you watching favorite teams over a period of time begin to feel like you KNOW them, why each player has a personality to you, and you feel a connection to them. They’re why we’re able to believe we’re in some way connected to these athletes – like all that’s lacking for us to order a pizza and drink some beer together is opportunity. "Is that you, Antoine Roussel? Get your crazy French *** over here and have some of these chili fries! Waiter? Another Keystone!'

Color Commentary brings the game alive and gives it meaning. Then action resumes, and Play-By-Play is off and running again. 

The roles aren’t quite that delineated in practice, but that’s the general idea. We find this basic setup in everything from Stanley Cup Playoffs to local high school football broadcasts on deep cable, so it must resonate across specifics. There must be something about it we find necessary to fully enjoy the game.

It’s the same when we read. 

Most of us have a ‘reading voice’ that scans the strange scribbles on the page or screen before us and translates them into words, which it then ‘reads’ to us. The spoken word came long before the written in world history; alphabets are tools to echo speech – not the reverse. 

You’ll sometimes notice young readers or those struggling with a passage or still learning a new language moving their lips as they read. That’s why. 

Harry Potter CharactersThe ‘reading voice’ we hear is usually our own. If you’re reading a book by Oprah Winfrey, you probably ‘hear’ it in her voice. When I re-read Harry Potter, I tend to ‘hear’ the characters from the movies when their antecedents have dialogue in the text. But most of the time we’re our own Play-By-Play voice – we read to ourselves without consciously recognizing it.

Then there’s the other voice. The one we have to watch out for. It can be an essential ally or our greatest distraction. 

Have you ever finished a page only to realize you have no idea what you’ve just read? That’s because while your Play-By-Play was chugging along faithfully, it was drowned out by whatever your Color Commentator voice had on its mind. Those calls you were supposed to make, the laundry you’re behind on, what to have for dinner, whether or not the Bachelorette will make the ‘right’ decision… our color voice is a varied and fascinating creature.

The reason cell phones are the devil is that they appeal to the worst part of our Color Commentary voice – that inquiring, connection-seeking, narrative-forming, wondering-wandering voice. The constant, chaotic connection allowed by your average smart phone is Color Commentator crack.

Brain VoicesReaders who struggle with Play-By-Play need specific reading instruction and assistance. We do our best to prop them up with vocabulary previews, anticipation guides, or whatever, but our bang-for-the-buck is going to be limited with them. We’ll keep doing what we can, but the Play-By-Play skill is a long time developing and only gets harder to ‘fix’ as we get older – especially without willing application.

But many of our readers can Play-By-Play just fine. They call out words with the best of them, although their inflection is usually lacking. They read with confidence, and assure you they are ‘DONE!’ 

When you ask what they’ve read, though, or probe for some detail or connection therein, they have no idea. What’s worse, they may not even recognize that this is a problem, or believe it’s in their power to address. Many wouldn’t know how to do so if they did. That issue lies with their out-of-control Color Commentator - wherever he or she happens to have gone while they read. 

That’s what we’re going to work on next. 

A Little Man In My Head

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