Each time we go out, I feel incredibly inept. While shifting gears and pushing down the clutch might come naturally to some people, I have struggled to train my feet, hands, and brain to think that way while driving. Because I'm so caught up in the process of how to drive the car, it is more difficult for me to give my attention to where I'm going or what is going on around me...which is why we practice in parking lots or low-traffic neighborhood streets. I also feel so nervous and tense the whole time I'm driving because my skills are not always consistent, and I never know when I'm going to make a mistake and stall the car. I am still a long ways off from feeling comfortable enough with the process of driving a manual to drive around town confidently.
I heard an analogy this week that was more meaningful to me because of this experience.
Learning to read is like learning to drive a manual car.
At first, you have to learn the process of reading- essentially following the print and decoding words. That process comes very easily to some people, but to others it can be incredibly slow, cumbersome and frustrating. At this stage of reading development, early readers are so consumed by that process that it is much more difficult for them to give their attention to anything else--like the meaning of the text, for example. Just like learning to drive stick, learning the process of reading is crucial, but we eventually want that process to become automatic. The ultimate goal in driving is to be able to drive without having to think so much about your physical actions so that you can give your attention to the road. Likewise, the ultimate goal in reading is to read with fluency, and make the process of decoding and recognizing words automatic so that you can give your attention to the meaning of the text.
I wish I could drive a manual car more fluently, but I know that will only happen with practice and repetition. There's also something to be said for positive feelings of support, safety and success while working towards fluency. Just some things to keep in mind while working with early readers.