It may be of interest to readers to learn about the various methods of teaching that were the vogue during my training. It was a time when children ‘played in to learning’. The emphasis was that they should enjoy their work and, by doing so, would be motivated to learn more and become instrumental in their own learning and development. Our text books reflected this philosophy: for example Rousseau’s Emile, a book written by a hypothetical teacher who has one pupil – Emile, whom he guides and teaches in preparation for his adult life. Rousseau lived in the era of Enlightenment.The Enlightenment, a movement in Western history that came just before romanticism, was itself a rebellious movement that developed out of a prior period that emphasised ideas such as religion. In addition, before this period, there was more weight given to speculations about god and the natural order of things whereas with Enlightenment, Empiricism became one of the core ideas.
During the Enlightenment movement new rebellious ideas about the nature of man’s connection to the universe as well as the concept of the individual with natural rights emerged. These were rebellious notions, especially since, before this time, people viewed themselves as part of a hierarchy based on many religious and social notions such as class. Science and observation were at the forefront of this movement and many thinkers of the time wished to know the truth through their own experience and process of experimentation and hypothesis.
This period in artistic history was a rebellion against the old order because before many people were content to believe in disprovable truths, such as the nature of the heavens or of things such as weather or medical phenomena. Although the Enlightenment sought to keep people rational, this would not be enough for later rebellious movements such as Romanticism, where people began to look behind facts and closer into the individual experience.
What Rousseau attempted do convey through the pages of his book is the importance of discovery and challenge of traditional ideas. I have to confess that it was not a book I enjoyed. It smacked of smugness on the part of the teacher. It must have had some redeeming features, as I still remember it and still refer to it occasionally.
The other book at the time was Dibs in Search of Self a book written by Virginia Axline in 1964, which depicts the true psychological story of a young child who had been labelled as autistic and who had basically been written off as a failed child. The book traces the year she spent offering him therapy. The therapy in question was play therapy –a relatively new phenomenon at the time. Through play she supported him while he healed himself from the dysfunctional family he had been born into and the different challenges that had been sent his way before he had time to process them. This meant that almost in self defence he became initially mute and then aggressive. The message of the book is to never give up trying and don’t ever forget that children know what you are about. Dibs, it turned out, had a very high IQ and in fact was gifted. She assisted his re-entry into real life.
This was also the time of Summerhill School and A.S.Neill. Summerhill School was founded in 1921 at a time when the rights of individuals were less respected than they are today. Children were beaten in most homes at some time or another and discipline was the key work in child-rearing. Through its self-government and freedom it has struggled for more than eighty years against pressures to conform, in order to give children the right to decide for themselves. The school is now a thriving democratic community, showing that children learn to be self-confident, tolerant and considerate when they are given space to be themselves. See www.summerhillschool.co.uk.
It was an exciting time to be young and to be in training for the challenge of educating future generations.
The methods we learned to teach reading were in themselves rebellious. Up to that time, most children had learned to read by phonics – making sense of the sounds of letters and combining them to form words and repetition.
The new revolutionary methods included ‘Look Say’ where a child learned to recognise the unique shape of a word such as dog, hat, walk, the etc. Alongside this they were taught to recognise the phonic sound of the letters so that they could learn in a more individual way that suited their particular method of learning and remembering.
The other revolutionary method introduced at this time was ITA or Initial Teaching Alphabet. This was developed by Sir James Pitman in the 1960s and was intended as a practical simplified system by which children could read more easily and which would help them to write. The expectation was that once a child had learned to read using ITA, they would then go through a transition stage and learn Standard English particularly if this was their home language. It was very popular in the 1960s but fell out of favour very quickly, the main reason being that whilst the majority of children eventually learned to read using standard reading methods, those children who had been taught ITA in the first instance struggled to learn the traditional language and often became traumatised by suddenly finding that they could no longer understand the words they saw.
Note that “d” is made more distinctively different from “b” than is usual in standard typefaces (which is possible since in ITA there is no “q”).
Any advantage of the ITA in making it easier for children to learn to read English was often offset by some children not being able to effectively transfer their ITA reading skills to standard English orthography, and/or being generally confused by having to deal with two alphabets in their early years of reading. There were alternative methods, such as associating sounds with colours, so that for example when the letter “c” writes a [k] sound it would be coloured with the same colour as the letter “k”, but when “c” writes an [s] sound it could be coloured like “s”. They were found to have some of the advantages of the ITA without most of the disadvantages. Though the ITA was not originally intended to dictate one particular approach to teaching reading, it was often identified with phonics methods, and after the 1960s, the pendulum of educational theory swung away from phonics. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initial_Teaching_Alphabet
I didn’t have to teach children to read using ITA as it had lost credibility by the time I qualified but years later, when I taught in a special needs school in Cambridgeshire, the children were expected to learn to read using this method and it appeared to me that the school had bought every last copy of reading books for this scheme.
It is interesting to me that there is now a Government expectation (Rose Review 2005) that children are taught to read using phonics, and some schools have taken this guidance literally so that other teaching methods are not used, thus negating the inclusive attitude that is now prevalent. One of the main aspects of teaching children that I learned was that individuals must be allowed to learn in a way that suits their needs. To prevent this is to deny each child their right to a good foundation for learning.