Future Reflections                                                                                      Summer/Fall, 2002

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Practice Makes Perfect
by Sally Miller

Editor’s Note: Parents and teachers sometimes ask me if the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is really worth all the trouble. It’s a lot of work just to fill out the form, not to mention three months of keeping track of titles and pages. (Ever try to figure out how many Braille pages there was in a book you just mailed back to the library?) Sally Miller, mother of 2001-2002 Most Improved winner, Anna Miller, has the best answer yet. Here is what she has to say:

Practice makes perfect. That’s what my mother used to tell us when we were kids. So when I started taking piano lessons, I practiced and practiced and practiced, trying my best to play perfectly. My teacher was a good one, so I learned to play the piano fairly well. Then in my teens I had the opportunity, and the desire, to learn to play the pipe organ at our church. Again, I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher. I practiced and practiced, always looking for perfection. I got to be fairly good at playing the pipe organ. In fact, the more I practiced the more I enjoyed playing both the pipe organ and the piano.

Now, forty years later, I’m still playing those musical instruments. I’ve done a LOT of practicing in that time. I play better now than I did when I was younger. My practice habits are different and my playing techniques are more efficient. My timing is not as mechanical. My interpretation of the music is much more my own style. Without a doubt, I enjoy playing more than I did as a teenager, and I’m better at it, but not yet perfect.

Let’s face the facts. No matter how much I practice, I’ll never be perfect. Yet somehow, that doesn’t seem to be the point. Practice has simply made me a better player. And because I play better I enjoy it more, which spurs me on to practice again, which makes me a better player, which helps me to enjoy it more, which…well, you get the picture.

“Practice makes perfect” is a saying that can be applied to reading. My daughter Anna read 175 pages during the 2000-2001 school year Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Due to her tremendous efforts to learn to read Braille (she was thirteen before she learned to read) we were very pleased with those numbers. But something astounding happened in the 2001-2002 school year.

Anna began reading on November first for the contest. Her Braille instructor, Mrs. Terrie Randolph, coordinator of the contest at the South Carolina School for the Blind, and Anna’s classroom teacher, Ms Irene Casey, encouraged her to read at school and the family encouraged her to read at home. The pages started adding up. As she read she was improving her reading skills. Words that had to be decoded at first, or spelled out, were becoming sightwords, which made the pages easier to read. Her enthusiasm for reading large quantities of pages turned into a desire to read different books, and she enjoyed them more. Her inflection while reading greatly improved. This spurred her on to read more pages, more stories, more books. I was begging, borrowing, buying, and Brailling books for her to read.

At the end of the three months of reading Anna had increased the number of pages she had read to 5,022 pages! During the contest period Anna would tell us that she wanted to win a prize. And she did. Not only was she recognized at the national level, but at the state level, and at her school. Mrs. Randolph added an award of her own—a trophy—to those Anna received from the contest sponsors (cash, a T-shirt, ribbon, and certificate). Anna wanted to show everyone she met the prizes she had won. They meant a lot to her. And rightly so. I think she got so much more from this experience than she realizes now. Her practice of the basic skills of reading has made her a better reader. And because she is a better reader she enjoys
reading more than she did before.

When the contest had ended, and we were sitting down to read she said, “The contest is over,” as if to say, “but, I don’t have to read anymore.” I told her, “So, now we can read just for the fun of it.”

“Oh. OOOHHH!” She exclaimed.

A real sense of accomplishment plus improved skills has given Anna a sense of well being. It makes her more comfortable with reading than she had ever been before. Now she can read just for the fun of it. So, she’s not a perfect reader. I don’t play the piano or the organ perfectly either; but that’s not the point. The point is that I enjoy playing; and the point is that Anna enjoys reading.

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