Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 2 - Teaching Reading

Continuing on with Part V of Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason, let's take a look at what Charlotte says about teaching reading. You may go back and read Post 1, from Part V, on Kindergarten here.

To begin, Charlotte suggests the importance of learning to read, but acknowledges the opportune time to teach reading is an open mystery...
Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education although it is open to discussion whether the child should acquire the art unconsciously, from his infancy upwards, or whether the effort should be deferred until he is, say, six or seven, and then made with vigour. (p. 199)
That first line above is of uber importance. "Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education." Charlotte states the significant impact reading has on learning, suggesting that it's the number one tool or means of education. One must be able to read or to listen to the word in order to interpret knowledge. Now, this is not to say reading is the end all, be all. However, it is of highest importance in Charlotte's philosophy. The exact time of when this must begin is open ended because exactly how and when a child learns to read is unknown. What or when is that exact moment when one becomes cognizant of their ability to read? Does reading begin with spoken word or written word?
Many persons consider that to learn to read a language so full of anomalies and difficulties as our own is a task which should not be imposed too soon on the childish mind. But, as a matter of fact, few of us can recollect how or when we learned to read: for all we know, it came by nature, like the art of running; and not only so, but often mothers of the educated classes do not know how their children learned to read. 'Oh, he taught himself,' is all the account his mother can give of little Dick's proficiency. Whereby it is plain, that his notion of the extreme difficulty of learning to read is begotten by the elders rather than by the children.  (p. 200)
Charlotte even goes so far as to say that if tears are shed over a reading lesson, the fault rests with the teacher.  Rather than include a great amount of commentary and debate about the advent of reading here, I'm going to focus on notes and observations I made while reading each specific section on teaching reading. Keep in mind, Home Education is for the training and educating of children under age nine.

The Alphabet
As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself. (p. 201)
Apparently, it was expected that each child had a box of ivory letters and whenever that box began to interest the child is when reading instruction was to begin.
...learning of the alphabet should be made a means of cultivating the child's observations: he should be made to see what he looks at." (p. 201)
The teacher would trace the letters in the air and use a sand tray, in which the student would write letters.
There is no occasion to hurry the child. (p. 201)

Short vowel "a" with a consonant such as "t" forms the syllable "at", of which many other consonants can be put in front to form words like fat, cat, sat, bat, rat, etc. Charlotte reminds us to keep these exercises light and pleasant.
Exercises treated as a game, which yet teach the powers of the letters, will be better to begin with than actual sentences. (p. 202)
Let the syllables all be actual words which he knows. (p. 202)
Begin with short vowels and consonants making short three letter words. When the child is comfortable with this exercise and doing the lesson for himself, it's time to move on. Again, Charlotte reminds us not to hurry the child. However, I am under the impression that the alphabet and word making exercises could begin informally at a preschool age.

Word-making with Long Vowels, etc.

When short vowel lessons become so easy that it is no longer interesting, let the long sounds of the vowels be learnt in the same way. Charlotte advocates using the same method as listed above, but now adding a final "e" to the words, turning rat into rate and pat into pate. Be sure the child pronounces each word they make to take advantage of the full multi-sensory experience. (ex. moving letters - kinesthetic; reading word - visual; hearing/saying word aloud - auditory)
This is not reading, but it is preparing the ground for reading; words will be no longer unfamiliar, perplexing objects, when the child meets with them in a line of print. (p. 203)
Early Spelling
Accustom him from the first to shut his eyes and spell the word he has made. This is important. Reading is not spelling, nor is it necessary to spell in order to read well; but the good speller is the child whose eye is quick enough to take in the letters which compose it, in the act of reading off a word; and this is a habit to be acquired from the first: accustom him to see the letters in the word, and he will do so without effort. (p. 203)
Unfortunately, all English words aren't made by the same patterns...
But many of our English words are, each, a law unto itself: there is nothing for it, but the child must learn to know them at sight:... (p. 203)
Charlotte recognizes sight words and suggests this idea of learning to see the letters in each word as a way to read and spell these non-traditional words. Words like: the, I, for, said, and was, need to be memorized or visualized in the mind's eye. Again, Charlotte suggests making lessons interesting and keeping them light to engage the child.

Reading at Sight
The teacher must be content to proceed very slowly, securing the ground under her feet as she goes. (p. 204)
Charlotte uses Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in her example of teaching reading. She advises to make sure the child can read each word independently before allowing him to read it all at once.

The Reading of Prose

Charlotte continued citing her reading example from Twinkle,Twinkle..., suggesting the use of prose and poetry to teach reading right from the start, saying...
At this stage, his reading lessons must advance so slowly that he may just as well learn his reading exercises, both prose and poetry, as recitation lesson..... Even for their earliest reading lessons, it is unnecessary to put twaddle into the hands of children. (p. 204-205)
Careful Pronunciation
...another advantage of slow and steady progress - the saying of each word receives due attention, and the child is trained in the habit of careful enunciation. (p. 206)
A Year's Work

Charlotte continues to adamantly advise slow, unhurried lessons, suggesting mastery as the key to keeping the child's interest and desire for continued progress.

Ordinary Method

Charlotte suggests that other teaching methods bore children. Stating, it is likely the child will learn to read eventually, but most likely they will have a distaste for it.

Based on sample lessons as presented in sections above, it appears as though any type of phonics instruction could be considered pre-reading instruction. Once the child understood the alphabet as symbols with meaning, the teacher would introduce a few word families through word building exercises. From there, the child was presented a nursery rhyme, in which he/she could recognize a few words maybe based on the word family exercises. The child was then taught words in the rhyme by memorizing a visual picture of the word. Charlotte felt that teaching phonics or teaching reading on the sounds of the letters only hindered the child by causing mental confusion from analytic labour. Instead, she taught the whole word so the child could see the meaning and beauty of it as a whole, rather than its parts. It's almost as if she taught whole to part, instead of typical phonics instruction of part to whole. I would say Charlotte was fond of what we now call the Look/Say Method or Whole Language Method.
What we want is a bridge between the child's natural interests and those arbitrary symbols with which he must become acquainted, and which, as we have seen, are words, and not letters. (p. 216)
For more information or a curriculum on using Charlotte's methods of teaching reading, Simply Charlotte Mason has published Delightful Reading and Jennifer at Joyful Shepherdess created a series of blog posts.

In the next section of this part, The First Reading Lesson, Charlotte quotes two papers, which appeared in the Parents' Review, in an effort to make the reading lesson teaching method more clear. It's as though two mothers are discussing a reading lesson. In her example, Charlotte says, "spelling and reading are two things." and that a child must learn spelling in order to write. Based on her explanation, I feel as though Charlotte is likening spelling more to phonics, giving reading it's own rite. She advises beginning a new study on the child's birthday as if it's a privilege or a coming of age adventure.

In the footnotes, Charlotte writes,
Spirited nursery rhymes form the best material for such reading lessons. (p. 222)
- and -
It is desirable that 'Tommy' should not begin to 'read' until his intelligence is equal to the effort required by these lessons. (p. 222) 
Recitation and Memorization

Next, Charlotte touches on recitation and memorization, stating that the two are not necessarily the same thing. She cites Arthur Burrell's work, Recitation: The Children's Art as the best way to teach recitation. In regard to memorization, she recommends storing the child's memory with a good deal of poetry, but without labor. Charlotte gives two examples to support her method. One of which of a little girl learning a poem simply from hearing it at various times throughout the day, in play, while brushing her hair, etc. One day, the child was suddenly able to recall it with ease. The second was of a convalescent woman reading while bed ridden. She too was able to remember sections of the work after one reading because her mind was allowed focus with no preoccupation. To this Charlotte writes...
It is possible that the disengaged mind of a child is as free to take and as strong to hold beautiful images clothed in beautiful words as was that of this lady during her convalescence. But, let me again say, every effort of the kind, however unconscious, means wear and tear of brain substance. Let the child lie fallow till he is six, and then, in this matter of memorising, as in others, attempt only a little, and let the poems the child learns be simple and within the range of his own thought and imagination. At the same time, when there is so much noble poetry within a child's compass, the pity of it, that he should be allowed to learn twaddle! (p. 226)
Reading for Older Children
The child who has been taught to read with care and deliberation until he has mastered the words of a limited vocabulary, usually does the rest for himself. The attention of his teachers should be fixed on two points - that he acquired the habit of reading, and that he does not fall into slipshod habits of reading. (p. 226)
Charlotte recommends the child reading for themselves to themselves as soon as they are able. Also, the child should be trained from the start to narrate each reading after a single reading, as this will encourage the child in the habit of attention. The child's books should consist of history, legends, and fairy tales. He should also have practice in reading aloud, particularly poetry. Lesson books must not be twaddle.
A child has not begun his education until he has acquired the habit of reading to himself, with interest and pleasure, books fully on a level with his intelligence. (p. 229)
Charlotte further suggests, once a child can read independently, reading aloud to them only at bedtime or on special occasion as a treat. Her thought was if the child becomes dependent on someone reading aloud to them, they would become lazy in their reading and not want to do it for themselves.

Direct questioning about the reading and vocabulary quizzing should not be allowed. Instead, the child should narrate each passage to show understanding. At this age, narrations should all be oral, no written. In regard to vocabulary, a child gets the meaning of a word only in the context of reading, not by quizzing according to Charlotte.

Short lessons are the key to perfect attention. Also, as stated above, the teacher must require proper enunciation from the start.
Provincial pronunciation and slipshod enunciation must be guarded against. (p. 230)
There you have an outline of Charlotte's ideas for teaching reading. Again, please don't take my word as the final authority. Go and read her writing for yourself. Then come back. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share in the comments below.

After the New Year, I plan to continue with Post 3 of Part V, covering Narration, Writing/Composition, Bible Lessons, and Arithmetic teaching for children under age nine.

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