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PARTICULAR BRANCHES OF EDUCATION.
ON TEACHING READING,
BY CHARLES BAKER, AUTHOR OF "A TEACHER'S LESSOxs On SCRIPTURE CHARACTERS."
(From the Quarterly Journal of Education, No. XV.) The early instruction of children is a subject deserving of all the attention which it has received from some of the most profound thinkers. During the last few years various alterations, and, in some instances, improvements, have been proposed upon the old plan of teaching reading. The success of these attempted reforms has been comparatively trifling, either from teachers being the last to learn, or from the public being averse to innovations, lowever plausible in appearance. It is certainly an undeniable fact, that we see around us, if not the horn-books of the last century, at least the same machinery by which the memory was drilled into the names of letters and words in the dark ages. In the National and other popular systems of education twelve precious months are still required for teaching children to read. In private schools and families as much time is spent in attaining the same object. Why bad plans should oppose such a barrier to change and improveinent, when more rational systems are proposed, it is not now our purpose to examine, any further than may be incidentally necessary to the elucidation of the
method which we propose for simplifying the mode of imparting a knowledge of written language to children.
In all communities there are a few minds considerably in advance of the many; a few who will think and act for themselves, in spite of the trammels imposed by custom. The prevalent errors on the subject of which we are about to treat have been long felt by solitary individuals. Evidence enough is at hand that improvements on the old system of teaching reading have taken place, and some few fortunate children have been initiated into language, without undergoing the toil of the alphabet and the spelling-book. But these are rare exceptions; the infant mind is still generally committed, during the first years of its intellectual existence, to the tender mercies of the dame and the schoolmaster, who preside over its progress with a book in one hand, and a rod in the other. The reluctance of mankind to adopt shorter methods of acquiring knowledge originates in a spirit as unenlightened as that which opposes itself to improvements in the machinery of our manufactures. A portion of the community, it must be allowed, who were not unfriendly to the more rapid progress of their children in the elements of knowledge, would have yielded to their better convictions, had they not been afraid of upsetting the infant's vehicle, by attempting to conduct it over a path never travelled by themselves. From this, and various other causes, the art of teaching to read has been as nearly stationary as possible, and it is much to be feared, that, unless a powerful conviction can be created of its unfituess for the purposes of popular instruction, the minds of children must still continue to struggle in the fetters of an antiquated and ill-adapted system.
An attempt will be made in the present article to show how a child may be taught to read, with less trouble and anxiety to the teacher, and with more improvement and pleasure to the taught, than is generally found to accompany such a progress. The suggestions relative to the first stages of instruction will be found in some measure applicable to infant schools; and those referring to the more advanced stage--learning to read -will be equally applicable to the other schools for the young.
It is no uncommon thing to be introduced to some prodigy of learning in a family, the two or three-yearsold pet of some good-natured aunt, or perhaps nearer relative, and to be invited to pass judgment on his acquirements after witnessing an exhibition of his abilities -these acquirements often amounting to a very perfect knowledge of the twenty-six letters, a repetition of verses, and a catechismal examination on the Scriptures—all learned by rote. Some well-meaning persons, not versed in such matters, have frequently marred such exhibitions by ill-timed interference and cross-examinations, equally offensive to both child and parent. The sensible visiter will allow such scenes to pass before him in silence; the early age of the child forbids us to suppose that he understands all that he has been taught to repeat.
The present mode of teaching the art of reading is not more defective as an instrument for unfolding the capacities of the intellect, than for communicating the knowledge and pronounciation of words. An imperfect utterance is almost universal in the young, for want of the application of a few simple corrective principles. By well-adapted exercises, and careful repetitions, the pronunciation of most children of three years' old may be made almost perfect. Inattention to this in early years is the cause of much of the defective utterance that we observe in youth, and in grown-up persons. A child's manner of speaking is too much disregarded ; if it be intelligible, it is deemed sufficiently correct to pass current. The imperfection being no great obstacle to its progress in knowledge, it is thought that, as the child grows older, the evil will correct itself. Like other errors, which, from being unnoticed at first, settle into vices, this evil sometimes produces a faulty habit of speaking which can never be eradicated. By patient care on the part of the teacher, this defect is often very much modified, and in many instances removed; but that this is not always the case the immense number of imperfect speakers bears ample evidence; and if there is a possibility of preventing such impediments by early attention to a child's pronunciation, it is surely better to attain this certain good, which may be attained without trouble or annoyance to the child, than to force it to utter words above its comprehension, and to dole out sounds which nobody can understand.
It is not to be supposed that stammering can always be prevented by early care. Sometimes this affection proceeds from mental excitement, and sometimes from organic defects; even in such cases the evil may be considerably diminished by a proper treatment at the time of its first appearance.
Correct pronunciation is the first thing to be attended to in the education of children, and childhood is the period most suitable to its attainment. When too volatile to apply its mind to books, a child will receive much pleasure in being talked to, and in being heard
to talk; and no one will deny that this is a more rational way of occupying the thoughts, than for it to be employed in poring over the forms of the letters, and attaching sounds to them of which it cannot conceive the meaning
The names of objects should be taught simultaneously with pronunciation, care being taken that the utterance is in all cases full and distinct. It will not be necessary to classify all words according to their syllabic formations, such a classification being only necessary with words which the child utters imperfectly. The l, the w, the d, the r, and the y are often difficult letters for a child to pronounce: table is called tabin ; elephant, ayephant; wood, vood ; dog, gog; rabbit, thabbit or yabbit ; yesterday, thesterday, &c. In all such instances of mis-pronunciation, words should be selected containing the unpronounceable letter, which should be very deliberately articulated in its different combinations, the child being made to observe the different position of the organs of speech, as different sounds are produced. We cannot refrain from giving one instance which we , recently observed, showing the facility with which infant pronunciation is corrected. A child of about two and a half years old called a stick, a kick. Being desired to pronounce it again, kick was again repeated. She was desired to imitate the low, hissing sound of s, as used in this combination, which she did correctly; the sound of t was also clearly uttered, both singly and preceded by the s; the termination ick followed, also correctly : so that it was clear that the child could pronounce separately all the sounds composing the word, and that there was no real impediment to the pronunciation of the whole word. The word was then deliberately