Teaching Reading Through the Ages

This issue of Dorbooks spells out how reading was taught fifty years ago, how it is taught today, and shares some summary thoughts. Enjoy!

TEACHING READING IN 1959

(As excerpted from “Solomon or Salami?” by Helen R. Lowe, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1959.)

“Reading is more than a skill. It is an illuminating, enlarging and quickening experience, to which the majority of our high school and many of our college graduates are strangers. They read of their own volition hardly at all, often little beyond the newspapers, a few magazines, and an occasional best seller.

“Moreover, of those who reach high school level, we are told that only 15 to 20 percent are capable of a rigorous secondary school or college preparatory program, based on tests and cumulative school records.

“To learn something of the causes, character, and consequences of what has happened to the teaching of reading let us go straight to the evidence—to the students themselves—and we shall see that many of them do not know how to read.

“the lips of students of excellent and superior abilities. These are errors made by tenth, eleventh, and twelfth-grade students, taken at random from approximately a hundred thousand similar misreadings from the first grade to the college level:

WORD USED     WORD READ
Solomon             salami
delicacy              delinquency
groceryman        clergyman
hurricane            hammer
God knows         good news
inert                   inherent
imbecility           implicitly

“Misreadings of this kind can not be detected by standardized group tests. These are students who passed standardized reading tests and College Entrance Board Aptitude Tests.

“In addition to these spectacular distortions students make errors of omission, interpolations, paraphrases, conjectures, and complete improvisations so that paragraph after paragraph reaches their minds garbled, blurred, altered, and ungrammatical.

“What children know as reading is a difficult, tedious, confusing, time-consuming exercise in visual recall, association, invention, prediction, and substitution. This uncoordinated exertion mutilates or obliterates the meaning of the writer. Imposed upon students is a perverse and illogical concept of a word as a visual symbol of meaning instead of as a symbol of the sound which conveys the meaning.

“Their reading vocabularies are very limited in range, to reading only words they know and guessing at new words through context clues. They are confined within the boundaries of their current vocabularies and thoughts, interpreting things only from within their own shallow perspectives. The so-called reading of the disabled readers is largely meaningless, narrow, and without interest.

“Consider the effect of this kind of reading not merely upon the comprehension of content, but upon the capacity of think critically about anything at all. There is clear and abundant evidence that this dislocation of word and meaning carries over to other areas of learning.

“In the field of mathematics, for example, students are handicapped not only by their inability to read problems but by the very habits of mind which induced their reading disability. They surmise where they should calculate, and predict where they should reason.

“These students have no conception of reading as an experience that carries them beyond themselves, of opening doors that never close again.

“How can we teach anything to students who read lazy as snowing, remember as rabbit, and lieutenant as lunatic?”

(See the original complete 1959 “Solomon or Salami?” article at http://donpotter.net/pdf/solomon-or-salami.pdf)

TEACHING READING TODAY

DAVID-14 YEARS OLD:

“When our challenged son was 14 we had him tested at Scottish Rite Hospital because I thought he must have learning disabilities. I homeschooled him and he struggled so much. Scottish Rite told us David’s IQ was 66 and it was impossible for him to read at the level he did. So, how come he could read?
Answer:  I taught him straight phonics with Phonics Pathways, and I didn’t know he was mentally challenged, so I just expected him to perform normally.”

JIMMY-3RD GRADE

“My son Jimmy stumbled over the same words and eventually we would have to stop because we were both frustrated. The reading problem became much worse when we started reading math problems. It was like he had hit a brick wall.

“I called a friend and was just so totally overwhelmed when she suggested that he might have dyslexia. I had him tested  at the Dyslexia Testing Center in Boaz and found out he was severely dyslexic.

“I was shocked and  asked the Dr. how is it that he can read so well. She made a great statement that profoundly effected my thinking from that moment on. She said:

‘Our children up to 3rd grade are learning to read, but that after that they must read to learn. So with most dyslexic children they are extremely smart and have learned to memorize so many words early in reading, and they can pick information out of the pictures and guess at the words. So when the material becomes more challenging and less pictures you will start to see reading problems.’

“You might think your child is just being lazy, I did. I understand how to help my son now. He has to be taught phonics first. He has started to read without any prodding just since the past 2 weeks. To see the light turned on in his eyes is priceless.”

(Three months later)
“Dolores, I just had to share with you my most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I could ever have asked for. Jimmy went to Walmart with me to shop and he went running to the cards. He usually looks for a colorful card with child like pictures and has no idea what the card says. He found what he was looking for and stuffed it inside the envelope.

“He gave me the card yesterday and before I could open it he said, ‘Mom, you know how I have dyslexia and how hard reading has been for me. You know how hard we have worked this year. Okay now open your card.’

(The card:)

‘To My Mom: This is a story about a kid with a mom who believes in him and has taught him about important stuff- like chasing his dreams and trusting his heart It’s a success story and it was written by you. Happy Mother’s Day with love from your son.’

“It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the impact I had on him this year. I had no idea the impact that he made on his own self. He is so proud that he can read now. This story would not have been possible without your gracious help. I am in such wonder of you and how wonderful you must feel knowing that you have made the difference in so many children and adults lives! I will be forever in your debt.”

ADULT & ELL

“After my mom had a stroke she had trouble getting words from her brain to her mouth. Soon after she was back home I began using Phonics Pathways with her. She loved it! The sounds were one of the problem read she had, and it helped her so much. She is writing out her own Christmas cards and reading ‘baby’ books now. Today I’m proud to say that our library has its own copy of this book. We also have a growing population of Mexican families in our area, and we notice that many Hispanic children are using it to learn English.”
Barb Tessmann, Librarian, Oconomowoc, WI

SUMMARY: BOILING THE FROG

When a frog is placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, it never realizes it is in danger and is slowly boiled alive. So it is with education today.
The United States continues to lag near the bottom when compared to most civilized countries today. Increasingly we can see the effects of this all around us, from pharmacists who misread prescriptions to clerks who cannot add.

Soon we will have another presidential election. If we cannot read or think clearly and accurately, we tend to believe in slogans rather than analyzing statements using the subtle reasoning that is so needed to survive in today’s complex society . . .
We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive because of our creeping illiteracy!

Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes, 2015

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