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become rather a bindrance than a help in learning to read. It may be so; but my experience does not satisfy me that the objection is founded in truth. I do not indeed deem the pictures essential, but regard them as a valuable auxiliary.
When the scholars have reached this stage of advancement, you may teach them the name and the power of the letters, especially the latter; though I can conceive no great disadvantage from deferring it to a still later period.
This method of teaching reading by means of words instead of letters, was first recommended, I think, by Miss Edgeworth. It is practised by Mr. Wood, late principal of the sessional school, Edinburgh; by Jacotot, the celebrated teacher of the Borough school, and others. It is founded in reason and philosophy; and it must become general. Nothing can be more irksome and unreasonable than the old method of learning the names of unmeaning sounds and characters, as it was formerly the practice to do. The child's attention was arrested and long detained in the very porch of learning, by being obliged to name, and even to learn by heart, a series of characters, which have scarcely an associating tie to bind them in the memory. It seemed like stringing beads on a thread of sand. What rendered the old method still more absurd, is, that nothing but the name was taught; and the name gives no clue to the power, or sound of the letter, especially in combination with another letter. Take for example, the word "hat.' Knowing the name of each letter, and being able to utter it, give the pupil no clue to the name of the word :- Aytch,— ae-tee; h-a-t, hat. Neither of these name-sounds, nor all of them together, make the sound we utter, when
we say 'hat.' So the name-sound of the letters which compose the word, 'pit,'—pēē—eye—tēē; p-i-t, pit, would never suggest the sound we make when we speak the word pit. By laying the accent on the sound of the first letter and protracting it a little, and giving the short, or obscure sound to the second letter, we make a word, or rather a sound, which the learner might mistake for pity,—(p—7—ty) as we sometimes liear it spoken, (pee,—7—ty). From the sound of the letters merely, (I mean the name-sound), he would sooner think they made pity, than pit. And from the name-sound of the letters in cat, c-a-t, see---ae-tee, especially if the first letter were accented, and the second shortened a little, thus, sēē—ă-tee, the pupil would be quite as likely to think the word was the name of city, an incorporated, populous town, as the name of a familiar domestic animal. So also the word mat, in a similar way, might be very easily mistaken for em-i-ty, or am-i-ty, 'amity,' friendship. Hence the absurdity of the practice, so common in our schools, of telling a child to spell the word, i. e. name the letters, when he cannot pronounce, or call it. The sound of the letters do not indicate the sound of the word, and the child, after getting through with naming the letters, looks up in his teacher's face, as if he would say, What shall I call it?' This, it is believed, he will always do, until the sound of the combination of letters which he is reading, has become familiar to him, and is remembered as the sound of this particular combination, or of a combination very similar.
At whatever stage the individual letters are taught, (and they should be taught at some stage,) let the powers of the letters, or their sounds, be taught with the names; -and let them, for this purpose, be grouped into classes on some principle of analogy or resemblance, and not be taken in alphabetical course, in which there is no advantage, except in reference to the Dictionary. Still more injudicious would be the attempt to teach the division of letters into mutes, semi-vowels, double-consonants, dentals, labials, liquids, &c.
The sum of what I have said is this. In teaching a child to read, begin with words,—simple words; such as the names of familiar objects, animals, articles of dress, furniture, &c. Then connect these words, and form very simple sentences; such as children can understand. Let the sentence be perfectly understood and the words be perfectly familiar to the pupil before he is put to reading it aloud. Let the teacher first read it to the child, or to the class, two or three times, and then the pupil, taking care to preserve his ordinary natural tone, and give to each word a distinct and correct pronunciation.
After the scholars are able to manage with ease simple sentences, such as are found in Gallaudet's and Worcester's Primers, Bumstead's First Book, or Swan's Primary Reader, let them be taught the names and sounds, or powers, of letters.
From the first lesson, be careful to question your pupils, and talk to them much about what they read. In this way form in them the habit of attention. You can hardly do them a greater service. The scholar, who has formed such a habit—a habit of fixing the attention deeply and intently upon what is read, has acquired a power of far more value to him than the strongest verbal memory. By once reading a piece, he will put himself in possession of all the principal ideas it contains. Not only put questions, but let the scholars state what they remember without being questioned. Exercise them in giving abstracts and analyses of what they have read. Do this from the very beginning. As you commence with words, every lesson will afford you something to talk about, and thus make the exercise in every stage of it, an intellectual affair. And I will add, though spelling is not my subject now, immediately after reading, let your pupils spell the words in the lesson; at least as soon as they have become familiar with the letters and their powers, or sounds. The words for spelling should be taken from the reading lesson, and not from the spelling book; for they should be words with which children are familiar, and can associate an idea, and not mere arbitrary sounds. As soon as possible make spelling a written exercise, for the object is to learn to write the language. In practical life we are seldom called upon to spell orally.
In reading, let me reiterate the injunction,-give no place either to the nasal, drawling, twanging, or the hurried, slurring, indistinct utterance, which is so common in schools. It is ungraceful and unnatural. Many adults, as well as children, who speak well, can read with no propriety. As soon as they take book in hand, their tone, inflection, everything, is changed. It arises, as I have already said, from compelling children at first to read what they do not understand, or in words with which they are not familiar. Their whole attention is occupied in deciding what to call the word; they have nothing to bestow upon the meaning, the understanding of which is necessary to bring out the proper tone and inflection. This method is acquired, I say, by attempting to read, at first, what is not understood. It is continued afterward, from habit, and transferred to what is understood.
I am persuaded, were you to take a class of infant pupils, and begin and proceed all along with them upon the plan which I have attempted to describe, suffering them to read aloud only what is well understood, this unnatural, disagreeable drawling would be unknown. Reading in school would be what it ought to be, -something very much resembling talking alond with the book in hand.
The truth is, as our schools have been, and are, the pupils are all the time reading in an unknown tongue. They begin with the names of letters, go on to a, b, ab; e, b, eb; i, b, ib; then to combinations of three letters, c, r, a, cra; c, r, e, cre; c, r, i, cri; c, r, o, cro; c, r, u, cru; then to words of four and five letters;- and are hurried through the successive stages of reading, to the National Reader, First Class Book, Young Ladies' Class Book, and similar compilations, containing selections from the most elevated and difficult compositions of our language; compositions altogether above the comprehension of teacher as well as pupils.
Stick to the good rule of giving nothing to your pupils to read but what they can understand; and let the words be so familiar that their minds may be entirely at liberty to attend to the meaning,--the sentiment which those
I do verily believe that the carrying out of these two or three principles, would effect wonders of reform in the reading of our common schools.
This method of beginning to read has reason and common sense on its side; and, I think, it cannot fail to be