When I was in first grade, I was taught to read using a system called, “I.T.A.-The Initial Teaching Alphabet”. Never heard of it? No wonder. I.T.A. used a fake, Latin-ish type of alphabet with somewhere between 43-45 symbols-depending on the year you started the program. Each symbol represented a single sound in the English language making it a type of phonetic reading without it actually being reading. Confused? So were the students. As far as I understand, it died a valiant death when people caught on that it was a waste of time and its’ graduates couldn’t spell properly even years later.
Both my under-graduate and graduate degrees in Elementary and Early Childhood Education taught me only to use the “Language Experience Approach” for reading. We were told that phonics was “boring”. Children would be motivated for reading success if they were presented with their own life experiences in books and stories. Time was spent with each student who dictated to the teacher the happenings in their lives and then they could read all about the life they had already lived.
Not only was this system labor intensive and required added hands in the classroom to take dictation, but it also rarely advanced student vocabulary or knowledge of the world at large. Students may have improved their drawing skills as they illustrated their own books, but true growth in reading and achieving a real education was limited.
Teaching Kindergarten for many years, my principal insisted on the basics. We used phonics books and programs. He felt that once the basics were achieved, we could be as creative as we wanted to advance and encourage reading. You know what happened? In 10 years of teaching Kindergarten, every student I ever taught was able to read something by graduation!
As our testing scores continue to drop, once again schools are being presented with “new and improved” ways to teach reading and math. In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg mandated the use of “Balanced Literacy”. This is a student-led approach where children can choose books based on their individual interest and help each other through challenging vocabulary and ideas working in groups or in class discussions. Balanced literacy is based on the idea that children are “natural readers and writers; teachers needed only to create the conditions to unleash their talents.”
Especially for immigrants with limited English knowledge, this approach was considered a way for students to feel successful in their studies. Unfortunately, state testing found that this system seems to have failed the very students it was geared towards helping to succeed.
Now, there is another new kid on the block; the Common Core. This technique demands that students generally read non-fiction at or above their grade level. Lessons focus on fewer topics in greater depth. Critical thinking is developed through the use of abstract lessons showing how learned skills could be applied to the real world.
Unfortunately, after the first year of using the Common Core, a school in New York had a whopping 85% of their nearly 350 students fail state exams, the school’s worst performance on record.
In a generation where most writing is done through Cyber abbreviated texting and fewer and fewer books, newspapers and magazines are found in the home, is there an “ultimate” way to get our next generation reading, calculating and critically thinking? I would love to hear your thoughts ’cause this ain’t no topic to LOL about