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HOW TO TEACH READING.
BY A. W. KNEELAND, M.A.
My attention has been drawn to this important subject by the remarks of the Rev. Mr. Rexford at the late Convention of Protestant Teachers in Montreal; and, the more I have thought of his words and compared the results of methods in common use with the ideal results sought by the thorough teacher, the more have I become convinced that a reform is necessary just along this line.
It seems a settled conviction with many that anybody can teach reading, or, to draw a legitimate conclusion from the premises afforded by the facts of the case, that learning to read comes by nature; that all one has to do is to put the reading book into the hands of the child, when, presto, he reads and reads intelligently. No greater folly is conceivable, and no more unjust conclusion could be reached, is the answer of a hundred teachers who have read the above words.
Sound judgment weighs and deliberates before pronouncing sentence; it views the pros and cons; it ascertains just where the weight of evidence falls, then decides, and this is what I would ask every candid teacher to do. Let us, therefore, for a few moments, weigh this question, and, in order to do so the more thoroughly, let me ask a few questions to which every teacher of reading should write out a categorical answer.
First. How many teachers have spent the greater part of this session in teaching the alphabet? I candidly confess that I
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once was so foolish as to keep a class, or a part of a class, until March, at the poor, miserable bones when the living, speaking, acting words were waiting within their reach. I wonder now that a long-suffering public did not chase me from the schoolhouse and warn me to leave the place.
Does it need argument to prove that it is easier for a child to learn the name of a thing than, by synthesis, to find it out? The truth is so apparent that it seems superfluous to assert it. but, lest any may still be unconvinced, let me ask how nature teaches the child? Does he first learn that this is the leg, that the round, the one the back, the other the bottom, that this is wood, that paint, this cane, and, finally, that the whole, leg, seat, cane, back, bottom, altogether is a chair? Does the medical scientist first find certain unknown substances which he terms bone, tendon, muscle, nerve, blood, hair, etc., etc., and then, finding out their properties, decide that these arranged in a certain way form a man, in another way a dog or a horse or an ox? Need I answer that the child first learns that this is a chair, and may not for years learn how it is made; that this is an apple, and has no knowledge of its parts, possibly until he is a man; that the medical scientist first takes the completed body as he finds it, and, by analysis, finds out its component parts and their various forms, and that, having made a few careful analysis, he is, at once, able to tell me that this is bone, that flesh and this blood, and that the whole makes up the original body. We study the diamond that reflects the light from its score of faces before we crush and subject it to the chemist's art to discover its component parts. We learn of nearly everything, in fact, by the process of analysis, but in reading we have been trying to invert nature's process and build up, we know not what, out of symbols that are as meaningless to the child as Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Some have claimed that the "Look and Say method" develops bad spellers, but I challenge the correctness of this opinion. True, it may be, that a poor use of the method might turn out bad spellers, but this is not the fault of the method but of the teacher who manipulates the method.
That bad spelling exists is but another argument for reform in teaching reading, for good teaching analyzes the words taught and shows how the results have been reached; that such a method could be held responsible for bad spelling is almost inconceivable. Bad spelling is largely the result of negligent reading and the most unnatural ways in which we teach spelling; but of this I must not speak at present.
Again, let me ask how many teachers have been teaching little children lists of words, without life or meaning, from lack of that association which gives them their force ?
The word cat written by itself on the board or seen on the printed page is as meaningless and lifeless as the scrawl of an infant, and, perhaps, more so, for in his formless scrawl he sometimes sees an elegant picture of a dog or cat, but in the purely artificial characters which he sees before him, he recognizes nothing.
Put a bright and correct picture of a household tabby before him, ask him what it is, then tell him that the chalk will tell him the same thing, whereupon he almost involuntarily exclaims, as he sees the words associated with some tangible object-the cat.
At first he should learn a few expressions, such as a cat, a rat, a hat, the cat, the rat, the hat; then, showing him a running cat or rat, he reads, almost without effort, the cat runs,—the rat runs. It is not necessary to prolong this discussion, for the intelligent teacher will readily understand the method from what has already been said, and will see the necessity of teaching groups of words properly associated, if she would rapidly teach children to read, and banish that unspeakable drawl and monotone so frequently heard in the school-room.
Again, I would like to ask how many teachers have been allowing children to read around the class in consecutive order while she has been correcting exercises or been engaged in some other work foreign to the lesson? Let me say here that such a lesson is worse than lost time; it is suicidal, for it is but the breeder of disorder, the producer of carelessness, the direct cause of monotonous reading and indifferent conduct.
A reading lesson demands the closest watchfulness, the most vivacious manner, and the exercise of all the intelligence at the command of the teacher. There are questions to be asked, words to be especially noticed on account of some peculiarity of spelling or derivation, time to be judiciously divided up so that the greatest possible advantage may be taken of it, mistakes to be corrected, and the class, as a whole, to be kept on the qui vive from the beginning to the end of the lesson.
Can this be done if the teacher is engaged with some other duty? I need hardly answer such a question. Too much time must not be taken for questions, as it is essentially a reading lesson, but a question here and another there, with a wise explanation now and then, work wonders in keeping up the spirit and attention of the class.