The Teaching of Reading

The ultimate purpose in teaching of reading as in every other subject is to glorify God and learn more about Him and His Creation. It is the duty of every Christian to seek to comprehend more and more of God’s General Revelation. Through reading, the child is also enabled to live intelligently and with pleasure in our complex civilization.

The importance of reading is apparent everywhere. In everyday life, one must be able to read in order to meet the demands of society. One must read about the back ground of political candidates in order to vote intelligently. Daily routine activities could not be carried out without being able to read. Driving along the highway, one must be able to read the signs in order to know how to drive safely and according to the law. Recreational activities also require reading ability. Even the oft-reproached pastime of watching TV requires some reading ability for full enjoyment. And most important, religious activities require much reading on our part. Daily searching of the Scriptures, study of Bible commentaries, and reading of the many church papers are all important for the wide-awake, sincere Christian.

In the school, too, reading is all important. Reading is the means through which the social heritage is transmitted. By reading about the past, the student begins to under stand what his predecessors have done and what they have contributed to his present way of life. A sound reading ability is also needed for proper use of textbooks. The student must have a broad reading vocabulary in order to grasp the meaning of the author and to know how to read textbooks. Proper study habits can be developed and maintained only through good reading ability.

Today there is much concern about children who lack reading ability and enthusiasm. Rudolph Flesch, in his recent book — “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” has done much to increase this concern. It is a question however, as to how much of this is actually true. How much better were the children of thirty years ago able to read than today’s children? How much better can you read than your child? How much better a reader is your father or mother than you? Actual tests have shown that children today read more than children did thirty years ago.

Perhaps the busy life and the numerous possible activities of today account for some of the apparent lack of reading time. There are so many sports to watch, so many meetings to attend, so many programs to plan that one finds it difficult to take time out for reading.

On the other hand, today there are many good books available to everyone. And endless amount of good books can be obtained at no cost from the local library. Paper-back editions make it possible for almost everyone to own many of the great works of literature. The increased number of people attending the colleges in our land shows that not only the books are available, but also the guidance under which to read them.

In order to begin to teach a child to read, he roost have attained a certain amount of readiness, he must have reached a mental age of approximately 6.6 years. He must also have attained a certain amount of emotional maturity, shown in the way he re-acts to the school situation. As far as intellectual development is concerned, the child must be able to do some abstract thinking, be able to see likenesses and differences in words, and be able to remember word forms. Kindergarten is an important place for these abilities to be developed. The home can also help by giving the child a rich and varied experience in many fields. They can also help by clear pronunciation and the use of correct grammar.

Before the child is taught to attack words through various methods he must first have developed a basic sight vocabulary. This is the group of words which he will memorize and recognize immediately at sight and not have to sound them out each time he meets them. He recognizes these words because of their general shape, the length of the words, its striking characteristics (like double letters, etc.), by seeing known parts within words, and in many other ways. Some teachers prefer to develop this sight vocabulary independently of books, while others use the book to teach the sight vocabulary.

There are several general methods of word attack or identification. Some words can be identified by reading the sentence or paragraph in which it is found. Of course, this is not always accurate, since many words have similar meanings. Picture analysis, that is, looking at the picture and discovering what the strange word is, can also be used, but is again not always accurate or possible since not all books contain pictures. Phonetic analysis is one of the most popular methods of word attack. The child sounds out the parts of the word, and by combining the sound finds out the new word. This works only for those who have an adequate sense of sounds and functions only for those words which are pronounced as they are spelled. It is important to remember at this point that no one method will work for every teacher or every student. It is up to the teacher to decide which method will work best for her student and to make the best use of this method.

A reading lesson in the lower grades usually follows the same general pattern. The teacher begins by introducing the new words, usually trying to get the children to sound them out and perhaps find out what the word is for themselves. Then a short drill follows, usually a flash card game, consisting of old words as well as the new ones. This is followed by an introduction, in which the teacher seeks to motivate interest in the story, for the day. The children then read the story, first silently and then orally. The children do some of their reading in groups which are arranged according to ability, called “reading circles.” This eliminates the extreme differences between readers and allows for more even competition in games.

As the child grows older, there is less emphasis laid on word drill and more emphasis on story content. Reading is no longer to be restricted to the textbook but is to be extended into various areas of interest and study. Instruction should also be aimed at developing good reading habits and attitudes.

Through all the phases of reading instruction the teacher must continue to impress her student through her attitude and example that reading is a gift of God and is to be used only to His honor and glory.

Originally published in:

Vol. 18 No. 1 February 1958