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Reading Development

“My child learned his alphabet from the cereal boxes on the breakfast table.” “Isn’t it wonderful the way they can learn their catechism almost entirely by themselves when they are in the second grade?” Teachers have repeatedly heard these two statements from parents. Did the child gradually see the connection between the isolated letters of the alphabet and the grouping of them into a word? Did he learn to associate pictures with words and phrases? Was he able to group the phonetical sounds together into a word? Or did he, seemingly, just learn to read by himself.
Even though word recognition, comprehension, and speed can be improved in an adult this article is written with a view to our children. We are so apt to forget that they were born with the qualities to see, hear, think, and speak – sight for viewing God’s creation, auditory reception to hear the sounds of symbols and interpretation of God’s Word. Understanding and comprehension to interpret God’s revelation and oral expression to proclaim God’s glory as found in the Bible. These abilities have been thwarted and impaired by sin with the result that our children struggle with the mechanics of reading. They become indifferent to efficiency in reading. The pleasure of reading becomes one of self-indulgence. But God’s glory demands that a child must learn to recognize these disabilities and miss-inclinations and strive to overcome them.
By the end of the third grade most children have mastered the mechanics of reading. But the struggle to improve the efficiency of reading has just begun. These include word recognition, vocabulary developments, eye-movements, comprehension, retention, locating information, and organization. Various methods have been used and new or variations of older methods are constantly being tried. One of the current methods is the Joplin plan of reading.
This plan was launched in 1953 by Mr. Roi Wood, superintendent of schools in Joplin, Missouri. He believed pupils should have a good foundation in the English language, and that reading, writing, and spelling were very important. He also believed that the school curriculum should not be centered around the average child but should offer something for the brighter student as well. To assist him in developing his plan he chose Mr. Cecil Floyd, an elementary principal.
Mr. Floyd started out by testing. He found that one fifth-grade class, for example, had only one child who was actually reading at that level. The others were reading all the way from second to eighth grade material. To compromise the teacher was teaching at the fourth grade level and she was not satisfied with the results. So, Mr. Floyd began to do on a bigger scale which many of our teachers have done in their classes. Teachers divide their pupils into poor, average, and good reading groups and then try to spend some time with each group every day especially in the early elementary grades. The result is that the teacher finds herself spending more and more time with the lowest group and not giving enough personal attention to the other groups.
Now instead of each teacher struggling with three separate groups, he took all of the children in a particular school through grades 4 – 6 and after careful screening divided them into reading levels instead of grouping them by grades. Then each teacher had one certain level with which she could devote all of her reading time. The children were not told at which grade level they would be reading but that they would be assigned to reading rooms, where they could make them most progress. Now all the teachers involved teach reading at the same time and when it is reading time the pupils leave their grades and go to reading classes that vary from the second to the ninth grade level. A major characteristic of the Joplin plan is encouraging reading beside the text. Children become interested and improve in reading because they are reading at their particular interest and reading level.
At the end of the first semester of the Joplin plan the pupils were tested again and results showed they had progressed twice as fast as usual and had done a year’s work in one semester. The final test for Mr. Floyd didn’t come until the 500 students graduating into Junior High were tested after being exposed to the program for three years. Their average reading level was ninth grade. The 500 students entering the seventh grade three years before 1950 had averaged only slightly above the seventh grade.
All phases of reading – comprehension, pronunciation, spelling, phonetics, and syllabication – are stressed. Marks are not used but progress reports are sent to the parents. Poor readers didn’t mind reading with younger children because they had the satisfaction of comprehending and enjoying their reading. And in this connection they didn’t received any adverse criticism from parents. Of course, in a school of that size, a great advantage is that there are enough teachers so each can be assigned one level. In our schools a teacher would have to teach two levels and soon the same problems as before would exist.
During the 1958-59 school year Adams purchased two Reading Laboratories, one for Junior High which covers material through the twelfth grades and the other for grades four to six which includes reading material from grades two to nine. Each contains 150 selections which are divided into ten levels. Each child works at his own level and progresses to another level as he improves in speed, vocabulary, and comprehension. It is a form of the Joplin plan. Before beginning the laboratory the children listed their weaknesses and discussed their attitude towards reading. Upon completion of the course, which was given in addition to their regular reading or literature course, each child evaluated his work and again listed any improvements he had made. It was gratifying to read this self-analysis. None claimed to be perfect; none were completely satisfied; each felt the need of continual diligent application to his reading problems.
As parents, what true interest have you shown in your child’s reading? A remark or two about the grade on his report card! The attitude that he certainly learned much more from his former teacher! We should ask ourselves what we have given of ourselves to aid and stimulate our children. Do they ever see you read, look up a word in a dictionary, hear your discussion of some subject gleaned by studying? Do they observe you perusing a religious article or current event as eagerly as one of their comics? Go with them to the library. Select books at their level and interest. Discuss with them what they have read; you will soon discover their power of comprehension. Have them read a portion of Scripture at dinner; be patient as the beginner reads only a verse. How they enjoy a story at bedtime and what a wonderful relationship you are cementing between you and your children. Children unconsciously absorb these considerations
on our part. What a responsibility it is to mold their characters, personalities and habits!
So, as parents and teachers, we work along with our children. But if they realize their need how much easier it is! A child’s reading ability is related to all of their other subjects and is more noticeable as they progress in school. God has created no two alike and each of us have our own limitations and abilities. With God’s blessing and the cooperation of pupils, parents, and teachers we shall continue to stress the fundamentals of reading striving for the ability to read, study, and interpret God’s Word so as to further expound His glory.

Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 6 August-September 1959