My Reading Crusade, Part 2

I continued to write my then little program on still more 3 by 5 index cards. I kept each chapter in its own file box. These were special Steelmaster file boxes that opened kind of sideways instead of from the top so that the face of each card could be read without removing it from the box.

I only made one copy of each chapter. Students had to wait their turn to use the box next. Sometimes the students had to wait until I wrote the next chapter before they could continue. The students liked working the program. It greatly reduced discipline problems for the students were much better behaved when they were doing something they liked. The students knew they were successful as they used the program.

If the students got stuck, they could come up and get my help. That helped me to know how to rewrite a portion of the program where they got stuck so future students would not have trouble when they reached that point in the chapter.

I kept careful charts for each chapter to record where students had trouble, and I revised the program accordingly to the point where no more than three students out of twenty got an answer wrong at any given point.

One day, the Assistant Principal brought one of the little steel boxes to me during class and asked me why one of my students was using it in the school library instead of in my class. I explained that I had made an arrangement with the librarian to let this student work in the library where she would not be as distracted by the ongoing activities of my classroom where most of the students were doing their regular work.

It turns out that the Assistant Principal had been reading over her shoulder, and came up with the same answer to the particular frame or step as my student did, and was very upset when she marked her answer wrong. He took the box and showed it to three other English teachers on his way to my classroom, and they all came up with the same (wrong!) answer he did.

He began to criticize me in front of the whole class for using his students as “guinea pigs” for my research. He said this kind of instruction was only useful for teaching “rote learning,” not higher-order thinking skills. I replied that then-current research contradicted his opinion, and off the top of my head I cited a recent research article about this very thing in the Harvard Educational Review, as I recall. He replied he had graduated from Harvard. In answer to his charge about what he saw as a mistake in my program, I commented that he and the three English teachers got the wrong answer because until the preceding part of the program is carefully read, it is not easy to get that answer right.

But, I explained, no other students have had a problem with that part of my program, and I showed him my chart which recorded the responses of students who already used that program to prove my point. No other student had ever gotten that answer wrong!

He asked me if I had the permission of my department head to use such a program in my class. I said I had not obtained her specific permission. He said he was headed directly to her to let her know what I was doing.

This happened so long ago now that my memory may be conflating some of the incidents, but I do recall my department head actually swearing at me at the next English department meeting, saying that my program was not teaching the students to spell better. Well, that is not the purpose of the program, so why should it?

At the end of the semester I was required to administer a standardized reading test to my seventh-grade reading classes. One of my formerly very noisy students (who had promised to be good if I let her use the program) finished the test first, and I scored her test on the spot. I was worried that she had just mindlessly colored in the little circles on the answer sheet without actually reading the test.

She scored at the tenth grade, sixth month reading level, which was as many years ahead of her grade level as she had been behind at the start of the semester. All told, there were eight out of the forty students in the class that made similar multi-year gains in their tested reading comprehension in one semester.

I told the counselor about how well these students had done. He said he would do a little experiment and place these students in the next to the top honors group (except for their mathematics class) the following semester. The students did just fine the rest of their way through school. I know, for I lived in the neighborhood, and informally kept track of how they were doing even after they reached high school.

My Language Enrichment Program really does work, and I have seen it change student’s lives for the better.

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