Last weekend while out shopping for a perfect treasure to give my husband for Christmas, I wandered into a thrift store and began perusing the book collection. We need another book in our house as much as we need another seashell. Which is to say, not at all. We have a rule now, “bring in 1 book, get rid of 1 book.” No problem. For the book I purchased, I will gladly bring to the thrift store a whole box of books!
The book is The Technique of Teaching, by Sheldon Emmor Davis, Ph.D. (I googled him, he was quite a prolific author in the field of education.) The copyright date is 1922. It’s a small book — 4.5 X 7.5, with a dark blue hardcover. The gold lettering on the spine is no longer readable, except for the word Teaching. I took the book from the shelf and opened it, and I have learned.
The book has seven chapters. Chapter One echoes the title: “The Technique of Teaching”, and is, of course, an overview. The next 6 chapters explain how to teach Spelling, Reading and Literature, Composition and Grammar, Arithmetic, History and Geography. All that in 336 pages!
Because of my interest in supporting students with dyslexia, I wanted to go straightaway to the chapters on spelling and reading. On the way there I came across several important gems: “We are teaching pupils, not subjects.” True. “Learning is attention.” Check. “Emotional response (is) important.” Yes. “Belief in pupils (is) essential.” Wow. I don’t remember discussing teaching in such direct terms when studying for my teaching certification. Are these ideas too obvious to mention?
The Teaching of Spelling chapter still is pertinent to the methods of instruction prescribed for dyslexic learners: systematic, explicit, phonetic, multisensory.
For instance, Dr. Davis wrote, “For clear impression the assignment may require writing words plainly, syllabication, copying in the air and upon paper, pronouncing aloud individually and in concert.” The language is dusty, but concise. He wrote, “The degree to which a given child or class may be visual, auditory, or motor minded we may not know, but the teacher who makes the multiple sense appeal is on safe ground.” Which is an accurate plan for using a multi-sensory approach in teaching spelling.
Under a heading called Repetition with attention, Dr. Davis wrote that since spelling can be monotonous, keep study times short and focused, and use different types of drills to keep it interesting. He spoke of using reasoning to help teach spelling, such as the rules for vowels depending on their positions in words. “One who is led to discover the reason for persisting e in singeing, tingeing, or hingeing is far more likely to be using economy that the child who mechanically masters each word. For he has a key to the situation even when he encounters a word he has never studied.” The spelling of hinging has been changed (Dr. Davis also discusses spelling changes through history), but his method of teaching spelling involves using a tactic that is systematic, examples provided.
In Chapter 3, “The Teaching of Reading and Literature”, Dr. Davis begins to discuss phonetics in a substantial way, with examples of learning activities that at first sound archaic, until I began to understand their brilliance. For example, the teacher or students might create a tool called “winding the clock.” A phonogram (ick, ock, ore) is placed in the center, think of the point where the clock hands connect, then 12 consonants or consonant blends are placed instead of numbers, for students to make real or nonsense words. As Dr. Davis points out, the student should meet the sight words first: “After the pupil know at sight can, man, hand, and others of the same family, it is not difficult to focalize his attention upon the phonogram, an.”
Does this book utilize explicit instruction? Absolutely. The author describes how to make different types of card decks, and how to use them. His methods and activities, or “devices” are easy to understand, often with practical advice: Use of Objects and pictures. “Use of objects is one of the surest ways of introducing the ideas for which words stand. This is experience gaining rather than reading, but necessary nevertheless.”
This is not a handbook for teaching dyslexic readers, and not once is the word used. If you are an educator you should by now have your own copy of Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, even if you teach content other than reading and spelling. Because as Dr. Davis wrote, “Every group doing written work is a spelling class.” As teachers, reinforce one another, every chance you get.
Indiana now has IN HB 1108, the Dyslexia law, and educators are being called to address the 1 in 5 in meaningful ways. Which means you may be required to attend trainings to help you teach. Hopefully, that will be the case. I have heard the big sigh, and have been told by a few individuals that “This is just too much, with all else I have to do. “I get that.
But help is all around you. There are resources in the PATINS Lending Library: books, software, hardware. The ICAM provides free memberships for your students to receive Learning Ally audiobooks-all they need is an IEP and documentation of a reading disability. There are trainings to attend here in Indiana. You probably have some very good resources in your possession now. Don’t wait to be trained to begin helping struggling readers. Use what you have until you get what you need. Let us help!
Martha Wells Hammond, MA.Ed has taught LD, MSD and EBD students grades K – 8, and holds a certification in Screening for Dyslexia. Since 2010, she has been the ICAM DRM Services Specialist for the PATINS Project. Martha trains and supports DRMs as they acquire AEM for Indiana students, and provides guidance for helping schools meet the NIMAS Regulations of the IDEA 2004. She presents to groups about ICAM Services at state and national conventions.