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Throughout the 20th Century theorists and teachers argued about the "best" way to teach reading. In California, when the whole language approach was in vogue, many teachers were forced to ignore phonics. I said forced and this was true. Either they had to teach phonics secretly or they would be insulted, degraded, and intimidated to teach using whole language. I ignored it like I had every other dictate that came from above that I knew was the latest way to "teacher-proof" the curriculum. ...
Throughout the 20th Century theorists and teachers argued about the "best" way to teach reading. In California, when the whole language approach was in vogue, many teachers were forced to ignore phonics. I said forced and this was true. Either they had to teach phonics secretly or they would be insulted, degraded, and intimidated to teach using whole language. I ignored it like I had every other dictate that came from above that I knew was the latest way to "teacher-proof" the curriculum. Many children who could have benefited from an auditory method of learning reading were crippled in their decoding skills.
In Los Angeles in the Sixties teachers had to teach a phonics lesson every day, but the sight word method was totally ignored. A teacher could be in trouble if he emphasized the sight words. At the time I started teaching I was only vaguely aware of the importance of the 220 most frequently used words. It was when I began to teach Special Education children did I discover the importance of these words. I incorporated teaching them into my reading and spelling lessons and for years they were the basis of my great successes at teaching first graders to decode far beyond their grade level. They also became the mainstay of my SIGHT, SOUND, TOUCH Reading System kit.
When I read about the teacher who used language, a writing approach to reading, I tried it. Instead of forcing them to read books, she helped them write their own. They read the one they wrote, plus they eagerly read those written by their classmates. I did it and it worked. (I will be using this approach during the 2000-2001 school year with Hispanic fourth graders who are the lowest in reading.) With some of my Special Education children I found that TOUCH worked. I had them writing words and sentences in the sandbox. It worked.
Another reading method that worked was having the children listen to tapes of the books they were expected to read. In San Bernardino I worked for months dictating all the mandatory and supplemental readers, the science and social studies textbooks up to the fourth grade level. I would have these placed in listening centers with up to six headphones. This worked too.
The truth was that everything worked, but some children learned easier and faster with one method than with another. Since I did not have an accurate way to diagnose which child learned best with each method of presentation, I used them all. I found that instead of arguing which was best that everyone benefited from a wide variety of materials and techniques. I would emphasize one for a few weeks and then go to another. It was very effective. In "ABC's" I discuss each approach and how I used it.
My spelling method was very briefly discussed in the magazine THE INSTRUCTOR in 1980. It is easy to do and the children love it. Especially the days they get to "Challenge Dr. Rose"! They look up words in any dictionary and I have to try and spell it. They have to give me the same clues that I give them every day. They must pronounce it correctly, give me the number of letters in the word, break it into syllables and give the number of letters in each, and give me the definition. With those clues I can spell almost any word, but they love to stump me, which they do. Besides spelling they learn new words while they use a dictionary.
After years of frustration trying to put on plays I began to write my own. I had experienced the frustration of long plays with a huge cast so every child had some lines. I was tired of screaming at the children who were bored, inattentive, and got into mischief because they were waiting around to say their lines. I had academic work for them, but the action on the stage was distracting and I was busy as THE Director! My plays were short, had no more than six characters and each character had a good part. I used a few props and a Spartan background. I rewrote fairy tales so everyone knew and understood the play. I added humor and my personal touch. My best idea was to have a narrator who stood on stage and interacted with the actors. He also fed them any lines they forgot. I had created almost failure-proof plays that were easy to produce. You will learn about them in "ABC's."
In an era with everyone crazy with testing and accountability, teachers are terrified to "waste" time doing anything that is not geared to teaching the basics and to the test. I am no more or less successful in the testing than my colleagues. However, I have physical education, music, and art EVERY day. I have happy children and I am happy. We also put on plays and we are the ones who are constantly performing in assemblies. In April 2000 we did ten minutes of mime performing. I strongly believe these things that are considered by some to be "extras" are the very heart of education, teaching, and learning. It is during these activities that I am able to teach the civility and cooperative skills that make my classrooms "safe" and enjoyable to the children and to me.
I do not depend on just these to get my children to be kind and cooperative. I have complex, but teachable methods of discipline that are the backbone of my program. In "ABC's" I challenge you to think about the teacher's role in the classroom. I am concerned that many people are unaware of what they do to "control" the children. In most schools the major method is coercion. Many very nice people only know how to get the children to behave by using coercive methods. Others, also nice, believe that rewards are the answer. They use rewards or some other means of persuasion. I admit I use both ways, most teachers and parents use a combination, but I think both do not train children to be independent, self-motivated, lifelong learners. I offer a third approach, which is much more difficult, but builds the kind of people that most mission statements proudly boast as their goals.
Throughout "ABC's" I offer suggestions and examine premises that will stimulate your thinking and could improve your teaching. These will not be easy because most people are entrenched in 19th Century dogma about what should be taught, when and where it should be taught, and they will continue to work against anything except the most minor changes. You can either be part of the forces towards a flexible future or help with the intellectual slowdown that continues to afflict schools.
Most schools are designed just as our factories and prisons are - to maximize the control and logistical expedience and convenience of those in charge. When you "humanize" any of these you must either train the children, workers, or prisoners to be independent and responsible or you must greatly increase the number of bosses to assist them.
Schools are time-bound, space-bound, and because children need one-on-one help not a thirty to one ratio of teacher to student, the teachers are forced to treat children as workers or prisoners. Most children (and teachers) accept this reality, as do their parents. People would rebel and call it insane if a single parent was expected to raise ten or more children. The children would be irreparably damaged (there are notable exceptions). Expecting teachers to teach thirty children in a closet is equally damaging.
In the May-June 2000 issue of the FUTURIST magazine Irving Buchen presents his "radical" ideas about what education should and could be. Except for the possible impact of the newest technology, I found it a rehash of much of the same complaints and suggestions I've heard in my forty years as a teacher. I didn't go