Frances Jenkins.

Reading in the primary grades online

. (page 2 of 7)
Online LibraryFrances JenkinsReading in the primary grades → online text (page 2 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

begin in the midst of a paragraph. This work
should help pupils to find the climax of a story,
topic sentences, and key sentences. Care will
be needed to guard against the idea that these
sections must be of uniform length, to emphasize
the thought that careful development of plot


makes possible the expression of important
events in few words. The use the class makes of
these large units in discussing characters, indi-
cating word pictures, selecting sections for oral
reading, and comparing parts, will determine
whether the teacher is using this analysis as an
aid in teaching or as an end in itself.

yj Stage setting of the story

The atmosphere of a selection may depend in
great degree upon the time and place elements
involved. Nature poems frequently make this
evident to those who fail in appreciating the im-
portance of time and place in the understanding
of other selections. So few words are used to tell
when and where the events take place that we
fail to see how much of the spirit depends upon
these simple factors. Surely once upon a time
suggests the unusual, as certainly as one day last
summer speaks of real experience. Expectancy
may be aroused with such slight suggestions as a

When pupils, through the enlarging of their
experiences, have ideas of varying conditions, of
distant places, of time differing widely from our
own, the possibilities increase. What will you ex-
pect to find true in the lives of these people? What


will they be thinking and planning about ? How will
they dress ? What quaint words and idioms may
they use? Not the author but the times and
places he is portraying determine much that he
writes. Homer deals with gods and warriors,
Malory with knights and ladies, Irving with
ghosts and portly squires, Whittier with sweet
and serene family life, — because these go with
the times and places of which they write.

As soon as a child is able to do any independent
work, surely by the last of the first year, he is
able to find the characters in a story. Later he
may find what each did, what each said. He may
express judgments as to their actions. Through-
out the grades work of this type is most impor-
tant. The more the pupil understands a charac-
ter, the more truly he enters into his spirit, the
better will be his own impersonation in oral read-
ing and dramatizing, and the greater will be the
likelihood of the pupil's finding in the character
elements of idealism to follow. This impersonal
discussion of honesty, loyalty, truth, and obe-
dience is a fine clearing-house for ethical train-

Closely associated with character study is the
study of action. Movement always interests chil-
dren, but there is grave danger that the teacher



will believe that they care only for rapid action.
Many times the teacher will need to read to a
class in order that they may see how intense is
the action, how rapidly events follow one another.
At other times the class may well be required to
discover this during study periods. Slow move-
ment may indicate patient waiting for an excit-
ing moment, the influence of conditions which
must be overcome slowly, or a dreamy type of
incident. "The pod grew and the peas grew. . . .
Weeks went by." " It's time to take the window
to see Leerie going by." "Either the well was
very deep or she fell very slowly, for she had
plenty of time as she went down to look about
her." The illustration by movement of the ac-
tion in a story adds to interest and helps to make
the meaning clear. Frequently a child who is
slow in reading proves very capable in illustrat-
ing the movements. "Along he would come,
creepy-crawly, creepy-crawly, and put his paw
into Brother Rabbit's pantry." "Then he
laughed to himself, and hugged himself, and
rocked back and forth." "To and fro . . . Strode,
with a martial air, Miles Standish, the Puritan



Parts which grip the reader's attention
Very early in most stories there is a suggestion
that something is going to happen. Gradually
this suggestion is reinforced by others. The more
keenly interest in the promised change is aroused,
the stronger will be the motive which impels the*,
reader to find out what does happen. Many j
times a word or two hidden in a paragraph of
description points the way to the main climax,
at another time the clue is given in a passing re-
mark made by a character. Again a key sentence
gathers much in a nutshell, requiring careful
interpretation if what follows is to be understood.
The finding and following out of these clues is
excellent training in weighing the values in a

The reaching of the climax in a story is an
event indeed, provided teacher and class recog-
nize the force of a climax. Was this what we
thought might happen ? When did we feel pretty
certain ? When were we sure ? What other result
might have occurred ? There are teachers, however,
to whom all parts of a story are of equal value,
who have no appreciation of the grip laid on the
real reader compelling him to find out what hap-
pened. These teachers assign lessons without


regard to natural divisions in a story, discuss
trivialities as frequently as essentials, and have
no compunctions at stopping a lesson even at the
most thrilling point. These teachers need to learn
for themselves the joys of reading, then they
will remodel their teaching methods. They may
learn much from the mother who never finds
bedtime so close that the child may not "finish
just this chapter."

Some details that count
Recent editors of literature for children have
cut down very wisely the amount of descriptive
material presented to them. At times, however,
a relatively lengthy description is needed in order
to give events their proper setting. Informa-
tional material may be mainly descriptive. What
are the children thinking as they read these por-
tions? This depends in part upon their recall of
their own experiences, in part upon their ability
to fuse these recalled experiences into a larger
whole. What do you see when you read this para-
graph ? What sort of a place is this ? What is there
here for a child to enjoy? Such questions as these
help a pupil to imagine objects in relationship, to
get the spirit of the scene. Often some color,
sound, or odor will be mentioned which it will be


a pleasure to recall in more detail. This filling
in of detail is one way of "reading between the

The purpose of the allusion is to emphasize a
point by referring to a similar experience which
is well known. Too much explanation of unfamil-
iar allusions loads a reading lesson with an over-
abundance of detail, but where an allusion is well
known it repays richly to dwell upon it for a while.
The child who is prowling about "like to an In-
dian scout," the creature who springs up "like a
Jack-in-the-box," are better known through the
allusion. Teachers of older pupils need to appre-
ciate more than they do the rich lives which these
children have had. "One with Nineveh and
Tyre," "Where the Siren sings," "Huge as Goli-
ath of Gath," — there are thousands of such al-
lusions understood by large numbers of our pu-
pils. This again is a use of recall, and it not only
strengthens the new idea by associating it with
old ones, but also helps the pupil to realize
the value of classic literature. These are bits
of knowledge common to educated people. One
cannot afford to be ignorant of them.

Many details in reading explain themselves.
If the total situation is in mind, these details fall
naturally into place as the reader sweeps on



through the selection, adding to the interest,
making conditions clear, giving the mind much
to think of. There are details, however, whose
value is too great for the teacher to trust en-
tirely to this mode of assimilation. Delicate bits
of humor, exquisite diction, strong idioms, local
color, these may well be subjects for discussion.
Frequently they mark the style of an author.
"Brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a
goodly show for sixpence," "Snowy summits old
in story," "By my faith."

Making sure that ideas are understood
Book knowledge alone is most inadequate for
meeting conditions in this practical world. New
ideas are obtained through investigation, experi-
ment, exchange of experiences with others, both
inside the schoolroom and out. When the new
idea is closely related to previous experience,
however, reading is one important means of get-
ting the new. Totally new ideas may be much
better presented in some other way.
^ The teacher needs to know the past experi-
ences of her class in order to judge when and how
to present new ideas growing from the lesson.
At times the best procedure may be to let the
new idea challenge the child as he meets it in the


lesson. Let it suggest that he observe, that he
experiment, in order to prove its truth. Suppose
a second- or third-grade class is reading of the
power of steam as shown in lifting the lid of a
teakettle. Some will recall having seen this hap-
pen at home, many will be glad to watch at home
in preparation for next day's lesson, a few may
plan to illustrate the fact in the schoolroom.
[ Again, interpretation of the lesson may call
for a clear understanding of some facts worthy
of a lesson by themselves. In planning to teach
The Hare and the Tortoise to a second-grade class,
a successful teacher gave a nature lesson on those
creatures and their habits. The children delighted
in illustrating the slow, plodding gait of the tor-
toise and the quick movements of the frisky hare.
Not being certain that these children appreci-
ated what a goal stands for, a game was taught
later in the day in which the children ran for a
goal. These ideas were so essential to the appre-
ciation of the story that they could not be left
vague, or even passed with a mere question or
two during the reading hour.

Another favorite story tells of the donkey who
got rid of his burden of salt by dissolving it in
the stream he crossed. The master loaded the
donkey with sponges next time, and when the



donkey tried to lose these in the stream he added
to his load. This shows a different possibility in
the treatment of ideas which may be new but
probably are old. The teacher may well give the
children such questions as these to answer either
in study time or in class time : What became of the
salt ? How do you know ? Can you prove it ? What
happened to the sponges ? How can you prove this ?
How many people know that salt and sponges be-
have this way when put in water ?

There can be no hard-and-fast rule in such
matters, but on the whole we may be sure that in
dealing with new ideas the pupil should either
recall such old ones as may be needed to show
the significance of the new, or the new should be
used in ways which will render them full of mean-
ing. A lesson dealing with facts should not
degenerate into haphazard dealing with vague
ideas. Efforts should be made to clarify the ideas
so that the lesson may prove to be of value. Care
must be taken not to allow false statements of
experience to be given. The teacher who reiter-
ated the question, "How many of you have little
red drums?" until every hand went up, was en-
couraging lying, not desirable thinking. Touch
upon one fact, dwell upon another, drive home
a third. Thus will children learn their relative


values, mastering facts instead of becoming their

How the child makes (he story his own
Children and teachers are likely to believe,
when a story has been read through in sequence,
with necessary explanations at specific points,
that work with it is finished. This is not so in the
adult's reading; why should it be so in the child's?
We discuss plots and characters, moral issues and
social conditions, style and diction. Some critics
are ready to suggest a better working out of the
plot, or better plots for illustrating the moral or
social issues involved. We follow a sympathetic
friend to read him a choice paragraph, a glorious
bit of nonsense, a telling quotation. We come
back to our favorites again and again.

Some possibilities for this critical judgment
are present in the material read by the children.
The teacher may arouse lively interest by opening
such discussions; children soon learn to partici-
pate with good sense and keen enjoyment. The
first-grade child who read of the blue brook and
declared that all brooks he had seen were brown,
was giving a just criticism. The second-grade
class which sat speechless when asked, "If the fox
had given the stork a pitcher of food, what would


have been different?" did not know that one is
to think about the story that is read. A group
of third-grade children dramatized The Lark's
Spurs, adding to the original story the training
of young larks to fly, the facts of which they had
learned in a nature lesson. "If there is any part
of this story which you like especially, read it to
us and tell why you like it." This direction given
to a fifth-grade class brought an hour of delight-
ful companionship. A boy fond of dramatizing
was broken-hearted, on returning after an ab-
sence caused by sickness, to discover that no
place had been saved for him in the dramatiza-
tion of The Ugly Duckling. "If you can think of
a necessary part which has not been assigned,
you may take the part," said the wise teacher.
Presently he came back. "I could be the grand-
father. I think the children must have gone to
the pond to show the swans to somebody, and
maybe it was their grandfather visiting them."
Needless to say the new character was added.

"Have you thought about Tom since yester-
day?" Evidently they had, and the new lesson
on Water Babies proved that Tom was very much
at home in their minds. There is wise suggestion
in the old saying, "A penny for your thoughts."
Why should we not expect the children to live


with these characters to whom they are intro-
duced, to dwell upon the charm of the stories, to
sing over the music of the poems. These are mov-
ing pictures which they may easily summon, as
Aladdin summoned the genie.



Oral reading as an art
1 Recognition that oral reading differs from silent
reading, and that the old humdrum fashion of
reading everything orally must be replaced by
more intelligent procedures, does not do away
with training in oral reading. Rather it suggests
that a higher standard in oral reading must be
accomplished at a greatly reduced expenditure
of time and energy.

Choice of material suited to oral reading is
essential for success in this field. There is no
^.time to waste upon poems, paragraphs, or other
material the purpose of which is better attained
in silent reading periods. Much more definite
preparation on the part of the teacher, will be
necessary, for oral reading is to be lifted to the
plane of an art, not left as the daily drudge. Time
spent on it must be well spent. Laing well says,
"Oral reading has been used largely as a device
for ascertaining if the child had mastered the
words. Mischievous results have followed the


abusive use of one process for the purpose of see-
ing that another process has been performed." 1
Periods assigned for oral reading should be full v
of thought, of intensive attempts at its more ade-
quate and artistic portrayal.

Helping the child to interpret the spirit I
Absorption in the reading material, saturation
with its meaning and its spirit, is the most essen-
tial element in oral reading. The more completely . i J
a pupil puts himself in the place of the character y
he is portraying, the more thoroughly he enters '
into the music or spirit of the poem he is reading,
the less self-conscious he will bej The teacher's
questions and directions, the class criticisms and
suggestions, jneecbto center upon what the charac-
ter stands for, what he is doing or saying and
why, what the poem expresses, the fitness of its
wording and rhythm < Little s hould be. said in
praise or blame of the pupil! except as to the X
truthfulness with winch he portrays the charac-
ter, and the spirit which he arouses by his ren-
dering of a poem.

The greater freedom of pupils in all well-con-
ducted classrooms, the constant use of story- tell-
ing and dramatization, recent development of

1 Laing's Reading: A Manual for Teachers, p. 59.



constructive criticism by class and teacher, —
all tend toward freeing the pupil from self- con-
sciousness. Increased use of silent reading prom-
ises to help in this way also, for many children
have been made unhappy by stumbling before
their classmates over oral reading unsuited to
their ability.

Why be certain the child understands ?
The cart has long dragged the horse through
the greater part of our oral reading. The pupil
has been called upon to read at sight, or with in-
adequate preparation at his seat, anything and
'everything presented in the reading course. Ex-
pressive reading requires just the opposite pro-
cedure. The thought of the whole selection must
be in mind, the relation of different scenes and
characters to the whole, the shades of meaning
expressed in different sentences; climaxes and
key sentences must be understood; pronuncia-
tion of difficult words mastered; — then oral
expression may give to an audience an interpre-
tation which shall be pleasing. .No intelligent
oral reading can be done otherwise.
• During silent reading and study lessons the
class may often be encouraged to find parts
adapted for oral reading. During the period


spentjg_thgugbf. irinsi^y^thejtea^er^s^^ronuse
of adequate time for oral reading later — perhaps
with the~ thought ofa special audience — willact^-
as a st i mulus to greater effort. The relation of
thorough understanding to pleasurable oral read-
ing is comprehended by every child. The burdens
imposed upon children so frequently, of reading
everything orally, are not of their choosing.

Many_teachers fail_tCL_rec ognize a dec eitful
type of reading which creeps into every s chool. .
Its most mal^cT^haracteristic7 is fluency; its
grave danger is lack of understanding. James
says that a reader may read aloud, "with the
most delicately modulated expression of intelli-
gence," a book of which he is "incapable of un-
derstanding four ideas." Fluency is essential to
expressive rendering. Reader and hearer both de-
light in it. But this type of reader is so fluent that
the teacher may take for granted an understand-
ing and appreciation which are not present.] If
these have been developed by careful work, 'the
rapid rate is desirable. When power and speed
are combined, a steady growth in power to inter-
pret will be developed. Left to himself or praised
for his fluency, such a reader may reach his maxi-
mum of ability in oral reading by the third grade ;
under careful teaching he should continue to



grow so long as he has teachers and reading mate-
rial capable of stimulating him.

Judd explains th&^tmTnblin^j^raltej^ding which
is so frequent about the time the fourth grade is
reached: The eye jiajjea rned a mor ^_rapid rate
o^readi ng than th eL-VQcal-muscles. If the eye is
held back to the rate of the voice, the pupil loses
"•{, the rate in eye movement which is of such ad-
vantage to him. By using oral reading as sug-
gested here, the voice tends to reach a quicker

Sentences which are statements of fact, many
descriptive paragraphs, and most informational
material contain little which is emotional in
character. Expressive reading of such passages
requires that they be so read as to present
thought clearly to the listener. Opportunity for
emphasis may be present where some ideas are
more important than others. The practice of
stimulating pupils to read these portions as if por-
traying emotion is pernicious. Neither should
exagg erate d emphasis be encouraged except with
children whose voices are not flexible. Much
labor is expended in this way by some teachers;
and the results obtained are not worthy, as they
are based upon false notions of expression. Sim-
ple and natural expression is all that is needed


in reading simple statements of fact, clearness of
ideas and a sense of values being the main fac-
tors influencing the rendition.

Making the pupiVs experiences set standards
for him

jtorie s about peop leand poemsjwithjLiie^musi-
caljrhythm and diction are the best materials for
traimngm oral reading, Thejpupil's experiences
with people ahtTevehts, his own life struggles,
anct'the orarreadrng which he has already done_
are~t!Ten5airs"upon which the teacher must work
lor gr owth in rearting^power/. The ideals toward
which she moves are those presented by our best
readers, dramatic actors, and vocal soloists, and by
well-taught children of the same age as her own.

The literature which children read deals with
many persons and events which they appreciate
largely because of their observations. Seeing
other persons move in an interesting experience
awakens, emotion in the child, and suggests his
participation in some similar event. When he
sees the firemen riding down the street with horses
galloping, bells clanging, and people hurrying
out of their way, he longs to be a fireman. Again
he watches a fisherman patiently casting his line
and finally bringing in a fine trout. Now he is all




eagerness to own a fishpole, and dreams of the
fish he will catch. In this manner a great fund
of experience is acquired which the teacher may
well use. The child is less conscious of his own
observations than of the facts observed. To him
the important things are that the firemen went
by and that the fisherman succeeded. So the
teacher's questions and directions may well be:
How did the firemen look ? Think how the bell
sounded. Make us see the people scatter.

Far more intense, yet covering a smaller field,
are the experiences which make up his own life
struggle. Joy when he won the race, disappoint-
ment when it rained on circus day, anger at the
boy who got the better of the bargain in trad-
ing jackknives with him, — these come home to
him. The beautiful intimacies of family life and
the dignities of church services, too, are in-
fluences which arouse and develop in him primi-
tive emotions that may be used in the reading
period. Yery_guarded and^is^nmjnating^must
the teacher be in ut!g|iag_l3bdjJield -of- emotion.
Children are nat\n^l]y , jr£tic^tjLojit_that which
HeTnearest them. Here again questions and di-
rections may "Better be concerned with the charac-
ter in the story. Yet the teacher must appre-
ciate the child's experience in order to shape her


questions. How would the mother speak to Epam-
inondas? It would be pretty hard to relate
one's own experience in the home after doing a
particularly stupid thing, but with what gusto
one calls down wrath upon Epaminondas.

Every sentence, every stanza read with deli-
cate interpretation, increases the probability of
discrimination in further reading. There is al-
wjyjja^jrJc-to-^€-4iojie_ii^ helping children to imf
prove^ their interpretations, butVthe teacher who
permits children to read without expression day
after day, need not expect worthy results until
she changes her habits of teaching. ] Whenever
a sentence or a stanza is read, it shoutd represent
the most thoughtful interpretation of which the
child is capable. Just as a written sentence
should usually be written correctly the first time,
so a sentence should usually be read correctly
and beautifully at the first attempt. In both
cases due allowance must be made for exceptional

t> The need j or imitation and repetition

TJ]jM^hilgl!s-Ownjn^r^^ con-

cern_in-alL tMsjEoxL - 'No two children will or

should use exactly the same intonation, voice

shading, or facial expressions in representing Big


Billy Goat Gruff, Brother Fox, or Ichabod Crane.
T^When a pupil's reading lacks expression, how-

2 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryFrances JenkinsReading in the primary grades → online text (page 2 of 7)