Friday, September 30, 2011

Why Parents Are Told to Read to Their Kids

From Why Johnny Still Can't Read, by Rudolf Flesch:  the beginning of Chapter 13, "It's the Parents' Fault":

Once upon a time — around 1908 when Edmund Burke Huey wrote his famous book The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading — there lived a little boy in or around Boston, Massachusetts.  His parents were well-to-do, kept a staff of servants, and had plenty of leisure time on their hands.  The house was large and comfortable and contained a cozy library, with a plentiful collection of favorite children's books on some lower shelves.

One day Dr. Huey came for a visit.  The boy was four years old at the time.
He had never tried to read, but had a new pictured storybook which contained lines from Old Mother Hubbard.  He knew the story already, but had me read it aloud over and over again, following my finger over the lines and also keeping the place by the pictures.  He would then "read" by turns with me, and actually came to keep his fingers "on the place" throughout, at the first sitting.  All that is needed is books of good old jingles and rhymes and folk stories and fairy tales, with illustrative pictures, and a mother or father or friend who cares enough for children to play this way and read aloud to them.  The child will keep it up by the hour and the week and the month, and his natural learning to read is only a question of time.
Huey's recipe for teaching reading is almost exactly what is being followed to this day in most of our schools.  They expect the child to be taught by this miraculous method at home and are sorely disappointed if the parents leave them in the lurch.

... To judge from the look-and-say teacher's manuals of the 1980s, it's perfectly clear that the schools still rely on home teaching just as much as Huey did.  Word-by-word-taught reading is impossible to teach in the few snatches of time the normal modern school gives to the individual child.  There has to be enough time for one-person tutoring, and that person, by necessity, is the mother rather than the schoolteacher with her full classroom and innumerable other chores.

And so the schools assume that the parents play an enormous part in teaching the small child to read, and they're consciously or unconsciously fiercely resentful when parents fall down on that unspoken contract.

... And so the responsibility for Johnny's reading trouble is neatly placed on his parents' shoulders.  There isn't a single piece of advice to parents from the look-and-say people that doesn't recommend lots and lots of time reading aloud to the child, letting him or her see the words on the page.  This will make the child memorize the words and sooner or later the Huey-type miracle is going to happen.

There's no lack of advice on exactly how the mother is supposed to proceed ... 

Here's the advice of Professor James E.  Flood in the May 1977 Reading Teacher ...
1.)  Start the reading with some warmup questions.
2.)  Interrupt the reading often with questions to see whether the child is following the story.
3.)  Interrupt the reading often to repeat what the book says.
4.)  Go over the story again when you're through. 

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