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The Problem of the Child's Reading

MARGARET PORTER, SUPERVISOR OF TRAINING Department, STATE NORMAL SCHOOL, NEW BRITAIN, CONN. NHANCIN÷HE restlessness of the age is reflected in the pleasure


activities of children. We hear on all sides the complaint that children don't read any more-that the movies, with their swift, direct, exciting methods have made the child of today impatient with the slow natural working out of plot and development of character as depicted in the great literary masterpieces. The children have seen Ivanhoe in the movies, so they ask why should they trouble to plough through those weary pages of description. This query sets the schoolmaster to thinking, for he knows they have not seen Ivanhoe, nor have they conceived any notion of what Ivanhoe really is. They have been shown some of the rushing, high moments of action and passion, staged in a very beautiful way, but this is not and never can be Ivanhoe; for Ivanhoe is the reflection of the chivalric spirit of the best, mingled with some of the worst, in the stirring times of Richard the Lion-Hearted. Unless the children get a feeling of sympathy with the proud Saxon in his forlorn struggle with the conquering Norman-unless they divine something of the real honesty and true bravery underneath the outlaw's Lincoln green-in short, unless they can see in imaginaation the Feudal England that the Great Wizard of the North would have them see, how can it be said that they know Ivanhoe? And to get this knowledge and enjoyment, they must read or have the book read aloud to them.

From my personal experience, I am firmly convinced that the teacher will have to act as guide and explorer if the child of today is to find his way in the great fields of good literature. And the teacher, at the start, must be very certain in her own mind what she wishes to accomplish. She must realize that she has only one end

in view-to have the child enjoy the reading. If along with the enjoyment he gets some knowledge of past or present customs, or some insight into human character,-good! But these gains must be looked upon wholly as by-products. The acid test must be: Is the child happy during the reading, and eager to hear? Is he convinced that you are playing square, that he can give himself over unreservedly to the enjoyment of the moment and not be caught up afterwards by any trick quizzes? This trusting relaxation on the part of the child must be very carefully built up if the teacher wishes her experiment to succeed.

At the Professional Children's School in New York* we gave very special attention to this problem. This school is a private day school attended only by boys and girls who are playing either on what is termed the legitimate stage or in the movies. There is now an average attendance of 200. The reading problem here is peculiarly difficult. Their chosen profession demands that they have a cultural background of the imaginative in literature, but their mode of living almost precludes the acquirement of such a background. Few of them have settled homes. This means that they have very, very few books. The ever-changing conditions of their lives and the excitements incident to their profession, are not conducive to quiet reading. Yet to try lead them to find enjoyment in reading, to open up to them the great storehouse of imaginative and dramatic literature that is so vitally necessary to a right understanding and appreciation of the dramatic profession, that was the problem that faced us. With children of that type the only method of approach was through reading aloud. And as I come in contact now with the hundreds of children of all classes that are in the Model schools connected with our training department here, I am more and more convinced that in the present age, keyed up as it is to such a high pitch of nervous action, the reading aloud method is the best way out in dealing with the great majority of children.

The author was Principal of this school, from 1917-20.

At the Professional Children's School our hours had to be short -we could not begin school until ten in the morning and we closed at two thirty. A half hour was given for luncheon. We decided that the period immediately following luncheon would be the best time to read to the children and each teacher was required to give this twenty or thirty minutes a day to reading aloud. The period came at different times in different grades so that I was able to supervise carefully the selection and presentation of the material.

We took great care to build up the idea among the children that it was an enjoyment period-it was their party. We strove to allow as much freedom as was consonant with quiet attention. I impressed upon the Junior High School group of about thirty boys and girls the idea that for that period I was their guest and was reading wholly for their enjoyment and pleasure. If a majority, or even a goodly number of them didn't like the story, I never forced it on them, no matter how high it ranked in literary value. If, however, the class as a whole accepted it, then the one or two who were bored, must give courteous attention. At the least disturbance, I would close the book and say quietly that we would have no more reading unless the class could see to it that no discourtesy was shown me. The class at once took the matter of discipline out of my hands. Their methods were often more effective than elegant, but the offenders were made to feel in no uncertain way that they had violated the will of the social group. In time it became a rare instance that I had to threaten to stop reading.

We read several of Shakespeare's plays. I was amazed to find the children totally ignorant of these, but all in all, they proved our most successful reading material,—all except Midsummer Night's Dream. The class seemed to think that silly and intellectually beneath them. Macbeth was the most popular, with Twelfth Night as a close second. One very interesting little girl of eleven with quite a histrionic gift, was especially fond of these plays. During the year she was engaged to play the younger Prince in


Mr. John Barrymore's production of Richard III. She read her lines naturally and simply, but with quite unusual charm. day she came to me with her face all aglow with pride and excitemen and said: "Mr. Barrymore asked me last night if it were my father or my mother that read me Shakespeare. I told him that I didn't think that either of them had ever read any of his plays, but that my teacher read them aloud to us. 'O that's it, is it,' he said, and walked off."

But we didn't confine ourselves to the reading of plays. I tried to have them sample many kinds of literary fare, so that I might find out individual tastes and preferences. They loved The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine... Kim and Ivanhoe were both popular-but they would have none of The Call of the Wild. Why? I have never known. They just didn't seem to like it.

The Lady of the Lake was also a favorite. Just after I had finished it one of the little movie stars volunteered the information that it was all right when I read it, but that he could never have read it to himself and gotten anything out of it.

This boy's chance remark brings us to a discussion of the harder, but equally necessary part of the program. Can we build up an interest in reading strong enough to induce the majority of children to look upon it as a happy diversion for their leisure hours? I believe we can. The teacher today will have many things to aid her in the work that the teacher, a few years ago, could not have commanded. Perhaps the greatest assistance will be found in the able and willing co-operation of the librarians in our public libraries. In our town, the following plan has been found to work very well indeed. The librarian discusses with the teacher of each grade, the special needs of her group of children, and then sends her a shelf of books-the contents of which are changed at intervals. The children have free access to these books during the school day. Whenever their seat work is finished they may get a book and read. Each child is also encouraged to have a library card, so that he may have books for home reading. Every few days the teacher discusses with the class the books they have read,

and she suggests some books in the Public Library that are similar in interest to those they like at that time. Sometimes the children will relate some interesting story from a book that they especially like,—at other times they tell the class why they like it. In some of the grades, a portion of the blackboard is reserved for a reading record and the children's names, with the books they have read are entered there, if the book be an approved one, and the teacher be convinced that the child has actually read the book.

The Third and Fourth Grades in some schools have dispensed with the formal Reader. The child chooses a story book and reads from it during the preparation period. When the recitation time comes he tells the class a little about the story, and then reads a bit of it to them, the teacher seeing to it that he reads intelligently, so that the class hears and understands. This method furnishes a combination of silent and oral reading that many teachers believe to have positive working value.

Another highly important factor in the successful working out of this scheme of interesting the child in reading, is the securing the co-operation of the child's parents. Our Puritan inheritance still crops out in unexpected places. When a child is absorbed in a story, many mothers are afraid something must be wrong. It surely can't be the kind of book he ought to read, or he wouldn't enjoy it so much. The principal should very carefully explain her aims and desires in the matter of home reading to the parents in some meeting of the Parents Association. Few schools now under Junior High School grade require home study, so that the old argument that such reading interferes with preparation of lessons can no longer be urged. A tactful attempt should be made to have parents realize the value of books in a home, books that will appeal to the child's interest. Emerson believed that a child should tumble around in a library. He should own his own books and read and re-read them. We all who love books know how precious are certain old battered dog-eared copies. On my maternal grandfather's side my people are Scotch and very early in life I became passionately fond of the stories of early Scotland. When I was about

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