Reading Practice That Educates

Catchwords presently serve to manipulate teachers and administrators into believing that reading instruction will be successful only if decision makers choose mandated materials designed to be: modern; multicultural; high interest/low readability; non-layered; …the list continues at length. Textbook sales representatives use this jargon to justify claims that their books expand the reading materials available with which to teach children to read. However, in my opinion, all of these gimmicks serve to limit choices, and discard excellent options for teaching reading.

I teach reading quite skillfully, even though I apparently break all of the new rules. I use numerous effective methods and materials with which I have had prior success, and I layer them in whatever way necessary to teach students to read, write and spell. I pay no attention to ethnicity. I ignore all politically correct language. I do not trust sales reps or the training that they insist be dictated by the lengthy and very binding contracts schools districts are forced to sign. I lose no sleep over specified percentages for illustrations and photos that represent the various races and cultures.

Frankly, I do not choose reading selections with any illustrations or photographs since I believe that my job is to teach reading, not globalization, art appreciation or context guessing.

When I teach reading, whether to beginning readers, to delayed readers, to damaged readers, or to illiterate adults, I always use the McCall-Harby Test Lessons in Primary Reading for beginning readers, then the McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading for the rest of the students. I use the McCall-Crabbs at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I used them when I taught freshman remedial reading classes at a large state university. I used them when I taught a 53-year-old man to read.

The stories are interesting, informative, challenging and motivating. Actually, they are even multicultural, but in a respectful, informative way, without condescending overtones. In Book A, the very first story is about the Feast of Dolls in Japan, and is for students with a 2.3—4.1 grade reading level. One of the last stories in Book A tells about the discovery of a cave in Jackson County, Northeastern Alabama, and discusses the investigative tools and logic that archaeologists use in analyzing items and bones from earlier civilizations. That story can be read by those with reading skills of 4.1—8.0 grade levels.

Those levels may sound high for first/second grade readers, but not if the students have been taught the phonograms and how to use them to spell and write in conjunction with the spelling rules. Once a new or delayed reader develops a firm basis in handling that Code in which English is written, limits to reading at ever higher levels are removed and the reader can handle most any text that interests them. It is with the McCall-Crabbs books that I soon have remedial readers reading at or above grade level.

In the process of using these books, the students are introduced to three kinds of writing: narrative, informative, and informative-narrative. They learn how to handle both literal and inferential questioning techniques. I help them “see” what should draw their attention and trigger their minds to consider possible responses with, “It is a literal question. The answer is literally in front of your eyes. Look!” Soon they become adept at rapidly skimming the story for a detail that they did not notice on the first reading.

Not only do my students rapidly improve their reading and comprehension levels once they automatically decode with speed, but in using these books they build a broad knowledge base. My students soon sense — correctly — that they are becoming different people as they learn to focus, read, think, and learn. They realize their increasing abilities to perceive the world in a broader sense; to question more intelligently; to converse on a multitude of topics. My students leave me as more connected, more whole, more autonomous human beings. A holistic outcome is always my goal, and I credit the McCall-Crabbs books for giving readers so many tools with which to nurture their mind’s development, while providing the practice needed in order to improve reading levels.

Unaware, unthinking teachers look at the books and instantly — thoughtlessly — conclude, “Boring.” How very wrong these educators are!

Every day the students, upon arrival, gather answer sheet, reader, a pencil for writing, and a red pencil for correcting. I have my timer set at 3 minutes. When the school bell rings, I announce, “Ready…Set…Go!” The room becomes silent other than a child or two who may still need the reinforcement of whispering to themselves as they read. At the end of the three minutes, in response to the ring of the timer, the students take red pencils and prepare for my rapid reading of correct answers: “1-b; 2-b; 3-a; 4-c…” In some classes I may have students in three or four of the different books, so as soon as I finish reading the answers for the first book, I move on to the next. Once students have marked their answer sheets, they count how many questions they have right then check the bottom of the page where the grade levels are posted. They record the level at which they read that story and set their personal goal for the next story. I set the timer and they begin reading.

Each student is only competing with himself or herself, and the desire to become excellent readers motivates each to learn to: use those three minutes well; read with ever higher comprehension; handle the questions with speed and accuracy. I normally have each class read three 3-minute readings a day, and allow time for us to discuss problems, confusion, types of writing, types of questions, and give chances for students to read aloud. Often the kids beg, “Let’s do four today. Please? Just one more?” They love them!

There are two instruction booklets that support these materials. They are entitled The Comprehension Connection. The yellow guide covers the McCall-Harby and the McCall-Crabbs Book A. The green guide covers McC Books B-E. All of these books are very affordable — $5.00 each for any reader or instruction manual. The instruction booklets also contain the answers to each story in the readers and the answer sheets make record keeping so easy. These materials are available from Spalding Education International.

I highly recommend these quality books, originally written in 1926 when schooling was educational. The books not only provide reading instruction and practice, they educate readers in the process. Is that not what schools should be doing — teaching children to read skillfully so that schools can proceed to educate them fully?

As a whole, the public education system is failing miserably. The leaders turn in confused circles amid the casualties of the battle. Each of us must take up the fallen flags and lead the way — in our own families; in autonomous local schools of our making — to again educate the populace. There is no time to lose and materials such as these will assist us.