The Fertile Crescent for Fertile Minds
We face the new school year, teachers and children alike, with high hopes
for a productive year. Our job
as educators is to make it an exciting one, full of new discoveries.
Let’s give the children a rich curriculum full of knowledge. Let’s
delve into ancient history, Sumer and Egypt, or Greek and Roman myths to serve
as a springboard for studying those civilizations. Some third-graders with
whom Reading Reform Foundation worked in inner-city New York City classrooms
delighted in having a child’s version of the Odyssey read to them and
wrote letters to their teacher, saying it was the highlight of their year.
Dr. E. D. Hirsch, Jr. has developed
and published the Core Curriculum, which introduces first graders to ancient
Mesopotamia (currently Iraq), followed by Egyptian studies. These civilizations
are all part of what has been called “The
Fertile Crescent” geographically.
Such studies need a good foundation
for beginning reading of systematic phonetic instruction that makes use of
all the children’s sensory pathways for
learning. All children—no matter from what social or economic group—thrive
on organized, step-by-step phonics teaching. Comprehension begins with the
word, proceeds to the sentence and then to the paragraph. As words are written,
their meanings can be discussed. Teachers can help students examine words closely
for meaning from first grade on. For example, Sunday means the day of the sun,
Monday means day of the moon. Children are fascinated by this, and it is the
beginning of a wonderful intellectual journey.
While this foundation for reading,
writing and spelling is taking place, a teacher can read to his or her pupils
about ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia or Egypt. Together the teacher
and the class can look at maps to see where these civilizations were. They
can draw time lines and measure with rulers to place 3000 or 2000 B. C. E.
on the line. They can sound out and write words and names pertinent to these
studies, such as Mesopotamia, Hammurabi, pyramid, papyrus, (all of these
words can be taught phonetically) but most important, they can expand the
child’s world and make knowledge exciting. This is
how to develop comprehension.
This kind of reading and study builds
a base of wide knowledge and enriched vocabulary and is essential to avoid
the “fourth-grade and beyond slump.” As
Jeanne Chall wrote in her book: The Reading Crisis: Why Poor Children Fall
Behind (Harvard University Press, 1990): The needs of low-income children are
not essentially different from those of children from middle-class homes. Indeed,
our findings suggest that low-income children benefit most from programs that
work best for most children—a strong reading program that provides for
learning of skills as well as wide reading in the primary grades, and a combination
of structure, challenging and direct teaching, and practice in the reading
of many books on a wide variety of topics in the middle grades.
Let us vow this year to engage those fertile minds.#
Sandra Priest Rose is Founder of Reading Reform Foundation of New York
and Trustee of the New York Public Libray and Lincoln Center for the Performing