Frances Jenkins.

Reading in the primary grades online

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Editor's Introduction vii

I. Reading as a Thought Process i

* II. Problems in Expression 30

III. Problems in Form Mastery . . . .41

IV. Some Special Methods in the Teaching j3

of Reading 6$

V. The Recitation Period and the Study

Period 103

VI. The Teacher's Attitude toward Results . 114

Outline 119

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There is a sense in which the subject of reading
is the most important study in the elementary
school. The need to teach children to read cre-
ated the school. So long as men learn to do and
to know chiefly through their own acts, sponta-
neous or in imitation of others, the institution of
apprenticeship suffices. When it becomes im-
portant that youth should know what their elders
have experienced, the informal telling of the story
is enough. But when men are to be guided by
poets, seers, and statesmen, long since dead, they
must have recourse to the written or the printed
record. And the use of the wide ranges of experi-
ence that literacy allows means that the power
to read must be taught by a teacher in more or
less continuous contact with the child. One may
"pick up" skill by watching a workman; one
may learn the common speech by ordinary asso-
ciation with men who work and talk; but one
can never learn to read by looking at a book over
the shoulder of the reader. The marks are too
conventional and the reader's vicarious experi-


ences are unseen. The reader must step aside
from his own business to reveal his mind and the
established sense of the black marks before him.
When he does this he has created a school. His-
torically, the first schools were reading schools.

Even in the modern school, however different
it may be from its progenitor, the obligation to
teach children to learn through reading is its
outstanding technical function. No one who is
discreet in thought believes that an illiterate
man is completely ignorant. The illiterate man
can learn through direct participation, that is,
through doing. He can even learn vicariously,
through indirect participation; that is, through
the experiences of those with whom he talks from
hour to hour. What illiteracy means is that he
cannot learn from that largest body of accumu-
lated wisdom, the knowledge and idealism stored
in books. It is the school, superimposed on a life
of action and conversation, which teaches him to
read so that the deeds of the whole world are
added to his own life, and the whole of history
put alongside his own short acquaintance with
reality. The literate man is one who has the
largest potential experience at command for the
guidance of his own career.

In so far as the modern school is an experience-


giving institution, it may well make its life more
largely active and objective, with more of sociable
conversation in it; for these are the natural and
vital ways by which men and women, as well as
children, learn. They are, indeed, necessary as a
basis for that less vital appreciation of life which
comes through the printed page. But while the
experiences they give are clutching, their extent
is limited. Through doing one learns from his
own individual life; through conversation, from
the group in which he is a member; but from
books one has all civilization at command.
Learning through reading is the third and largest
circle of experience into which the growing life of
the child reaches.

So far as the analysis of the educative function
of reading has a bearing on teaching methods, it
.emphasizes the purpose of thought-getting.* The
prime function of reading is to gain an experi-
ence, to derive a meaning, to share in the writer's
thoughts. Whatever mechanics of printing and
pronunciation need to be learned, ought, of
course, to be mastered. But their acquisition
should never be allowed to obscure the central
and motivating function of thought-acquisition^
Whatever active, objective, pictorial, or oral ex-
ercises enter the reading period must be treated


as mere preliminaries, and the teacher must be
certain to arrive at the chief business in hand ; in
fact it should not be forgotten even temporarily.
This is not to imply that the reading of books —
any books laid down in the course of study — is
the chief thing. One generally reads to some pur-
pose, to some problem which arises in the normal
course of life. The child's active life is the center,
not the reader or supplementary text. Neverthe-
less, the reading period, as an hour set aside for
thought-getting must have its own special func-
tions. It is not a place to drag in dramatizations
and games for their own sake. The wise teacher
will, when possible, select reading matter that is
new and yet within the appreciation of the pupils.
If no such easily readable reading matter bearing
on the children's problems is at hand, then it will
be necessary to give an active and oral basis for
that particular reading. Otherwise the reading
will not be thoughtful.

The redemption of reading from the dull status
of a formal and mechanical drill with letters, syl-
lables, phonics, and diacritics is already well
under way. The change has been due in part to a
common-sense view of the actual uses of reading
in life, and again to a scientific psychology and
a rational pedagogy which have emerged from


the laboratory and experimental school to show
the futility of much of the traditional faith in
artificialities of teaching method and to give a
sanction to natural, thoughtful, and interesting
ways of teaching children to read.

The monograph here presented bears on the
problem of teaching primary children to read,
a field where dullness has hitherto reigned. It is
offered as a set of concrete, practical suggestions
which the teacher may follow in the faith that it
has the best of modern investigation behind its
selection of methods. A general treatise might
have been written in its stead, were it not for the
fact that the most pressing demand has come
from primary teachers rather than from princi-
pals, supervisors, and superintendents. Teach-
ers, while interested in the mooted questions and
scientific evidences bearing on them, have the
more immediate interest of wishing to know what
they ought specifically to do. This monograph,
then, with all its suggestions of procedures, is a
practicable application of the best contemporane-
ous theory on teaching children to read. *



. Teaching a beginner to read

For thousands of years the precious art of read-
ing has been taught by an older generation to a
younger. Probably any intelligent reader, old or
young, can teach reading to any child of average
intelligence. Indeed by special methods it is pos-
sible to teach the moron, the higher grade of sub-
normal child, to read. Present-day conditions
make the teaching of reading a mass problem,
rather than an individual one, however. What
help can be given the teacher, experienced or in-
experienced, so that she may secure increasingly N
better results in reading at a gradual reduction
of time cost and nerve cost?

The value which the child himself feels that
he is getting from his reading is probably the
truest test of results. But so elusive is this qual-


ity that the average teacher may have no means
of discovering its existence; the literature of read-
ing methods needs to emphasize it more and
more. The points to be considered are : motive on
the part of the pupil, richness and amount of
reading material, making the most of the thought,
development of a method of study, and results of
reading upon activities and character.

Reading is a thought process. This we have
long believed, and it is a common cry that the
child must have material rich in content placed
in his hands, that he must be trained to get the
thought from it. There are many types of think-
ing, however, and much remains to be done to
show how each of these types may be utilized in
teaching children to read.

Mastery of form is essential in learning to read.
To the inexperienced teacher this seems to be
the greatest stumbling-block. The experienced
teacher is in danger, especially in the intermediate
grades, either of failing to have her pupils master
form, or of wasting much time in the process be-
cause of her use of antiquated methods. Mod-
ern methods are in large measure the result of
experimentation in the psychological laboratory.
These experiments have done much and promise
to do more to help us in economizing time cost


teacher, with their help, may write such simple
accounts as : —

Christmas is coming.

Santa Claus will soon be here.

He is getting his toys ready.

We are making presents for Christmas.

John made a box for mother.

Our newer readers have charming accounts of
children's birthdays, of visits to the park or to
the farm, while circus day and the zoo are pre-
sented again and again. Older pupils find their
own experiences the basis for much of their en-
joyment in reading, whether it be of the travel
and science types, or such an account of a drama-
tization as is given in Aldrich's account of the
Rivermouth theater.

Reading may furnish enjoyment. This is es-
pecially true of the stories and poems which ap-
peal to the imagination, though it is also true of
much informational material. The small boy likes
to read of Jack the Giant-Killer because "he is so
real," and the eighth-grade pupil enjoys Julius
Caesar in much the same way. This is one of the
safest ways for him to enlarge his experience,
provided the reading material is wisely chosen.
Emotions which he needs to express are studied



in an impersonal way through their portrayal in
literary characters. -60 ideals are formed, while
the inner life of the pupil remains sacred, unre-
vealed to teacher and classmates.

The motive of sharing is one which may well be
emphasized far more in our schoolrooms. Pupils
may read to their classmates selections found
in books not used by all, they may read to their
parents selections mastered in school, while as-
sembly programs and other special occasions
may well include reading as a desirable feature.
The sick, the aged, the shut-in, may also be found
in the school neighborhood and made happy by
this means.

The motive of mastery makes a strong appeal
in higher grades. Many teachers find it helpful
with little children. The relation which sugges-
tion has in arousing the sense of mastery is worth
considering. We read of the remarkable results
which Mrs. Wesley accomplished with her chil-
dren, teaching each the alphabet in a single day.
One cannot but wonder, however, whether that
day's rich experience was not merely the starting-
point. It may be that the strong feeling of ac-
complishment aroused in that memorable day,
furnished a sense of mastery which tinged all
future effort with a suggestion of success. We are


told that when one has mastered a single symbol
he has the key to all reading.

Choice and amount of reading material „
Every teacher needs to feel a personal respon-
sibility for the richness and amount of reading
material in which her pupils are to find opportu-
nity for growth in reading. Like Sentimental
Tommy she must "find a way," whether the
basic text is inane, the supplementary readers
scanty, or the course of study prescriptive.

, Nothing but the best is good enough for our
purpose, and it is easily possible to learn what is
considered the best. The teacher must cultivate
her own taste and judgment. Lists are published
by several of our libraries: Chubb's The Teaching
of English, McMurry's Special Method in Read-
ing, and other works on reading give excellent
suggestions; while numerous courses of study
contain lists of books, poems, and stories tested
in the schools of our cities.

Within reasonable limits the teacher should
have large liberty of choice. There must be no
infringing on the work of a later grade, though
the class might well re-read selections from an
earlier grade which bear upon the selection which
they are studying.



Neighborhood interests, world happenings,
other lines of school work, ought to help deter-
mine what shall be read and when, while class
needs may suggest that poems or stories of a cer-
tain moral tone may fit into the class thinking
especially well at some particular time. Omis-
sions may need to be made even from the basic
text, certain selections not fitting into the inter-
ests of a special class. Often the pupils them-
selves should suggest what to read next, using
tables of contents as guides, or glancing ahead
to see what looks interesting. The teacher whose
class reads the next selection because it is printed
next in the reader, is sadly neglecting an impor-
tant problem which it is her duty to solve.

A satisfactory amount of reading material is
supplied in most city schools which have high
standards. In smaller districts the problem of
getting enough reading material is a serious one.
Some States furnish traveling libraries, and
many schools could be served by these if the
teachers would get into touch with them. The
Government publications available are described
in Bulletin, 1913, No. 47, Teaching Material in
Government Publications, which may be obtained
from the Bureau of Education, Washington,
D.C. City libraries frequently establish branch


libraries in neighboring schools. We are learning
to make use of the child's home library where he
has one. Parents' associations often help in the
purchase of extra books for a school. A Christ-
mas list of books suitable for each child is a wel-
come suggestion to parents. Newspapers will
gladly print such lists. The librarian in one of
our larger cities persuaded the authorities in the
book departments of large stores to sell only
books on an approved list. Marked changes ap-
peared in the books offered for sale. Is there not
a suggestion here for teachers?

The language work of the school may contrib-
ute to the amount of reading material far more
than is generally appreciated. Blackboard stories
composed by teacher and pupils may well be
copied by older children as writing lessons and
preserved for the younger pupils to re-read. Ad-
vanced grades may rewrite famous stories in lan-
guage appropriate for younger pupils. Such
papers may be bound in dainty covers and used
again and again.

Reading lessons developed as language lessons

Yesterday was Sunday.

Sunday is the first day of the week. Papa does not
work on Sunday. We do not come to school. Many



people go to church and many children to Sunday

We like Sunday.

Father and mother can rest and we can play.

(First Grade, St. Louis, Missouri. Columbia School.
Teacher, Margaret Noonan.)

We went out walking this morning. We were
looking for signs of Spring. We saw that the green
grass was growing.

We saw something else, too.

Do you know what it was?

We saw a great many little footprints. There was
no green grass where the footprints were. The little
feet would not let the grass grow. We are going to
stay on the walk after this. Then the grass can grow.

(Second Grade, Decatur, Illinois. Oakland School.
Teacher, Edna L. Harkins.)




Action. The crow flies around*
Crow. Caw! I am so thirsty.

Where shall I get a drink?
A ction. The crow looks around for water.
He sees a pitcher.
Crow. Oh, there may be water in this.
Action. He puts his head into the pitcher.
He tries to reach the water.
He cannot.



Crow. Caw! Caw! I cannot reach it.
Action. He tries to tip the pitcher over.
He cannot.

He puts his head to one side.
Crow. What shall I do?
Action. He sees some small stones.

Crow. Caw! Caw! I have an idea.
Action. He picks up a stone.

He drops it into the pitcher.
He puts in stone after stone.
The water rises to the top.
The crow drinks the water.
Crow. Caw! Caw! I've had a good drink.
Action. He walks away.

(Written by Third Grade for Second Grade, Ele-
mentary School, University of Chicago. Teacher,
Jessie Elizabeth Black.)

Newspapers and magazines, Sunday-school
papers and almanacs may have worthy material,
while catalogues of various kinds have decided
contributions to make.

There should be enough material furnished to
meet the needs of various types of children, to
give fresh material that will preserve the interest
in reading, and to allow pupils to brow T se around
and choose so that they will not feel hampered
and limited.



Finding the heart of the story
Every poem or story has a central theme about
which the different parts are organized. Both
understanding and appreciation of a literary se-
lection depend upon the finding of this central
theme. The conventional reading work of the
schools is justly criticized because little is done
to make this major purpose clear. Seldom does a
lesson in reading concern itself with a large point
of view.

At times the title suggests the organizing idea.
The teacher may well raise the question why the
author has chosen such a title, but the answer
can be only tentative until a careful reading de-
termines its fitness. The Ugly Duckling is a good
example of a significant title. Only when the
story has been read can the children see that the
ignorance of the barnyard fowls caused suffer-
ing; that the duckling was not a duckling after
all ; that the ugliness which caused so much sor-
row was called ugliness because the little swan
was compared with little ducks; that mother
ducks see beauty only in little ducks. The ele-
ment of surprise in the story is delightfully
guarded in the title. How many children get
the idea from the story, however, that an ugly



duckling turns into a beautiful swan? When the
central thought has been appreciated, other se-
lections containing the same thought may be
presented. Phcebe Cary's The Crow's Children
may well follow The Ugly Duckling, the mother's
attitude being shown there, —

"It takes a mother to be so blind
She can't tell black from white!"

The Mountain and the Squirrel emphasizes the
difference in talents and the value of each; while
every class will have some favorite quotation
which shows the philosophy of individual worth
so expressed as to have real meaning to the chil-

At times the title may be an excellent one, but
so unusual as to mean nothing to a class. Sifting
Boys is the name of a story in a well-known
reader. Discussion of the story showed that no
pupil in a certain class had gained any idea of
relationship between the title and the story it-
self. The pupils were able to tell how the mana-
ger of a factory selected the more capable boys
by their attitude toward shop conditions. Ques-
tioning brought out titles which the children con-
sidered appropriate. Finally the significance of
the author's title was shown them. A few ques-



tions, asked when the story was first taken, would
not only have helped them in understanding the
title, but would have added significance to the
entire reading of the story. What have you seen
sifted ? What does your mother use in sifting flour ?
What sieve could be used to sift boys ? Have you
ever been sifted? Here again the apt quotation
will help enforce the central thought: "God had
sifted three kingdoms to find the wheat for
this planting, then had sifted the wheat, as the
living seed of a nation."

A class had read and dramatized Pilgrim's
Progress. Later they observed the dramatization
of Barclay of Ury given by another class. One
boy remarked casually to his teacher, "This is
just the same as Pilgrim's Progress. They both
show men who gave up everything else for what
they thought was right. I guess that's the thing
to do." What better test could have been given
to show that the organizing idea had been em-

Separating a selection into its main sections

So firm a hold has the sentence method taken

upon our teachers that the sentence is made the

unit of progress in a majority of our schoolrooms.

"Read the next sentence," is the slogan which



urges on each pupil day after day. A critic of
our Sunday schools says that the primary teacher
so impresses upon the children the precept, "Al-
ways bring a penny/' that later offerings never
rise above the penny stage. There are times when
the next sentence or the next paragraph may be
a very suitable assignment, but definite training
in finding the larger parts of a story is most neces-
sary and may begin early.

Our primers and first readers are being printed
now with this idea of larger units as a basis. The
section which tells of the squirrel's experience is
separated from that which tells of the rabbit's
experience. This makes it easy for the little child
to grasp the larger unit of thought as he reads.
Where the printing does not suggest this divi-
sion, the teacher may train herself to have sen-
tences which belong together read together.

A second-grade class was reading the life of a
little Eskimo girl. The section dealt with her
playthings. "You may read all about one play-
thing," the teacher directed. Only two children
in the group were able to do this without help,
but every child was able to pass judgment as to
whether the others read far enough or too far.
After a few months of such training a class
reaches the point where, when a child is called


upon to read, the teacher will ask, "How far will
you read?" "I shall read how the pine tree felt
when it was very little," will be the response; or,
"I shall read to the place where Hans saw the
man trotting along on a horse."

The finding and naming of these important
divisions, whether in stories and poems or in
informational material, trains the child in getting
tlie larger ideas and their sequence. As he grows
older he is able to discuss these larger units intel-
ligently. The heart of the story grows intelli-
gible from their sequence. Viewed in the light of
the larger idea he sees the pointedness of allu-
sions, the fitness of wording, and many delicate
touches whose significance would otherwise be
lost. We may call this process the making and
using of outlines, but it is important that it shall
not degenerate into formal work of this type.

With older pupils some method of indicating
where each large unit begins and ends needs to
be employed. The name chosen by the pupil
may be written, then the introductory and clos-
ing words and punctuation of the section, the
bulk omitted being indicated by stars or dashes.
The paging should be shown. This method of
making definite references is a valuable one for
the student to acquire. Malory's account of How


Arthur Drew the Sword from the Stone, may be
divided in this way : — —

Where and why the sword was placed

page — "For a long while "

page — "king born of all England."

First attempt to move the sword

page — "Then the people "

page — " that wished to."

The joust *

page — "Upon New Year's Day "

page — "his foster-brother."

Sir Kay needs a swatd V

page — " W™, as they rode "

page — " delivered him the sword."

Experience win show the amount of this type
of work that is of value for a class. Naming divi-
sions of the story indicated by numerals in the
printing, renaming parts named by the author,
are exercises along this line. At times the author's
paragraphing will not be in accord with the sec-
tion as named by the pupil, and the section will

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Online LibraryFrances JenkinsReading in the primary grades → online text (page 1 of 7)