Each Child Must be Taught Differently
The commonplace idea uttered by most professors
in schools of education is that each child must be taught differently.
Twenty-six children in a classroom, twenty-six lesson plans
and strategies for teaching.
Most educators also believe that for teaching reading, writing
and spelling, various groups have to be taught in different
ways. That is, privileged vs. unprivileged children; English-speaking
vs. non-English speaking; black vs. white; learning-disabled
vs. regular classroom; gifted vs. average student-each group
requires completely different approaches.
Successful teachers in the classroom have known that this
is not completely true. Good, research-proven approaches to
teaching reading, writing and spelling work for all children.
The question is generally of pace: that is, how fast or slowly
each child or each group needs to absorb what is being taught.
We have known for decades that the research and practical
application of the research done by Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a
neurologist in the 1920’s and 1930’s, for what would help learning
disabled-children is also useful for children in the regular
He found that if children were taught to read, write and spell
in a systematic and structured way that made English words
logical, they could begin to reason and sound out words for
themselves. To this end, he organized the 50 or so letters
and sounds in English to teach the letters and combinations
of letters that make one sound. For example, “igh” is taught
as a unit that says long i (if it’s “eigh” it says something
else.) That “igh”
can be taught as three-letter “i” and then put into words such
as light, might, tight, sight. Instantly,
children can recognize and understand what they are reading,
writing and spelling.
Now that we have an organized explanation of almost ninety
percent of English words as to spelling and pronunciation,
how do we teach this information?
Dr. Orton developed simple, multisensory techniques for teaching
so that children could learn more easily. He had the children
see, say and write simultaneously everything they were learning,
thus using all the pathways to the brain. The sounds of the
language and their written representation were fixed in the
eye and ear and then were practiced as these sounds were written
and put into words.
If a child learns visually,
he or she would learn that way by seeing the units of sound
on cards that the teacher held up. If
he learns aurally, hearing the class repeat the sounds reinforces
learning that way. If he or she learns best through his
or her muscles, saying and writing by using the muscles of
the mouth and the arm helps the student learn that way. While
teaching through each child’s strengths in a whole classroom
setting, his or her weaker areas are strengthened by the combined
use of all the senses. Then
the children can break into their appropriate reading groups
between learning-disabled children, depending on the severity
of the disability, and children in the regular classroom, is
the pace at which they can learn. The learning-disabled children might
need more repetition over a longer period of time: months or
even years, but almost all children can benefit from phonetic
approaches to the teaching of reading that employ multisensory
techniques for learning.
These approaches work in the privileged suburbs as well as
the inner-city classroom. Black children respond eagerly to
systematic, direct instruction teaching, but so do all children.
Hispanic and Asian children benefit from this organized teaching,
too. The human brain is the human brain.
Pioneer work is being done at Yale by Dr. Sally and Dr. Bennett
Shaywitz, using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to study the
brains of children and adults. They are finding that children and adults who were taught
phonics in beginning reading use the appropriate language part
of their brain and therefore read more efficiently and rapidly. Children and adults who were taught by “whole word” or balanced
literacy methods use an inappropriate part of the brain and
may eventually learn to read, but do so in a much slower and
more laborious way.
Gifted children AND average children enter school eager for
knowledge. Bringing history, science and the arts into class
from first grade on excites them. These subjects build vocabulary and breadth of understanding. All
children can be fascinated by the early civilizations of Mesopotamia,
Egypt and Greece. Each absorbs what he or she can; some more,
some less than others, but all gain some expansion of vision.
There is no room for clichés in education. The time has come
to examine the shibboleths or commonplaces that are uttered
repeatedly and discard them. There are good practices that
help children to learn at the rate at which they are capable.
This is essential in a democracy.#
Sandra Priest Rose is
a reading consultant and founding trustee of Reading Reform
Foundation, a twenty-four year old not-for-profit organization.
For more information please visit: www.readingreformny.org