Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Timeline and My First Grade Reading Instruction

Timeline: Reading Instruction
  • Approximately 1,000 B.C. - The Greeks and Romans developed forms of the alphabet that we use today. Their method of teaching reading developed into the ABC method. “Children memorized the letters of the alphabet and then were drilled on letters sounds through work with simple vowel-consonant and consonant-vowel clusters, and ultimately, syllables” (Teale, 1995, p.110).
  • 1834 - Isaac Pitman created a shorthand by using common letters and invented letters that became very popular for teaching the letter-sound relationships. It was redesigned in 1870 by A.J. Ellis and called Glossic. In 1898, Nellie Dale continued on this idea to write the teachers’ manual, Teaching of English Reading. This was the first true classroom program based on a basic code and taught sound to print. This classroom program was widely used until the 1920s.
  • 1920s - The whole-word or sight-word method of look-say developed and basal readers became popular. Children were taught reading primarily by memorizing sight-words and then learning to analyze the structure of the words after many sight-words are known.
  • 1940s and 1950s - The famous Scott-Foresman readers about Dick and Jane became the primary way to teach reading. The Dick and Jane readers continued to use the look-say method. The students were taught to read the story and the complete the Think-and-Do workbook. This reading instruction had very little writing or phonics.
  • 1955 - Rudolf Flesch wrote Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It. Through this book, Flesch describe the problems of the current reading philosophy. The look-say did not teach phonics. This created a movement for more phonics instruction.
  • 1967 - Jeanne Chall wrote Learning to Read: The Great Debate. In her writing, Chall concluded “that an early code emphasis produced better outcomes in word recognition in the early grades and helped children read with better comprehension up to forth grade than did instruction practices in which children were taught to read whole words and whole sentences” (Kim, 2008, p.372). That year, the conclusion of the First Grade Studies were also published. The First-Grade Studies “greatest impact was that the basal approach was not very powerful relative to its alternatives” (Allington, Block, Morrow, Pressley, & Wharton-McDonald, 2001, p.12).
  • 1971 - Frank Smith wrote Understanding Reading. Frank Smith, Kenneth Goodman, and others argued for the whole-language approach. The whole-language approach has little to no phonics and emphasizes more comprehension and using context clues.
  • 1987 - A basal reader was introduced that is literature-based and aligns with the whole-language approach. This is very similar to the basal reader we see today.
  • 1990s - The idea of balanced literacy developed. Balanced literacy is a combination of the whole-word and phonics approach to teaching reading (Wren, 2009). This is the primary reading approach that we see today. In 1990, I received my first grade education in reading. At that time, balanced literacy was just beginning to develop and I was mainly taught using the whole-language approach that was popular in the 1980s.
My First Grade Instruction

My reading instruction came while most teachers where using the whole-language approach. Balanced literacy was just beginning to take form then. Whole-Language began to become popular with Frank Smith’s book Understanding Reading. Kenneth Goodman was also very influential in this movement. They believed that reading instruction should “focus on making meaning in reading and expressing meaning in writing” (Wikipedia, 2009, Overview).

The whole-language movement had many new ideas that were very different from the previous methods of basal readers. In a whole-language classroom, little to no phonics are taught. It is believed that learning phonics was not as natural as learning through experiencing books. Shared reading and read alouds became very popular from this method. Small guided reading groups also became popular at this time. Guided reading groups were different from the small groups of the previous method because guided reading groups are more flexible and not always groups made from ability levels. The whole-language movement also brought independent reading. Students read silently at times often called Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything And Read (DEAR). Whole-language also brought on the idea that children should read authentic literature. In 1987, basal publishers began to publish a new basal that included children’s literature as opposed to the stories that were created just for the basal reader like in the past.

I have very fond memories of my first grade classroom. The most clear memory of reading in first grade was during SSR. I was reading a book in a bathtub that was located in our classroom for use during free time. I have very little memories of any other reading time in our classroom. My teacher did use a basal reading series. The series that we read from was literature-based, although I don’t recall the name of it. I do not have any memories of guided reading groups, I believed we used big books and shared reading experiences. Partner reading was also a very big part of my first grade classroom. The best times were when we were able to choose our own partners to read with. I also enjoyed when the older students at the school, our “book buddies,” would come and read with us. I don’t have any direct memories of phonics until second grade, where our teacher used Hooked on Phonics.

Whole-language had a large influence on my first grade teacher and how she taught reading in the classroom, though I don’t believe that I was taught from a purely whole-language method. The activities and resources my teacher used developed from whole-language, such as SSR, partner reading, and shared reading. Although whole-language does not agree with using a basal, I think using a basal with whole-language methods was very common at the time and still is. I know that I was also taught some phonics, which is not a purely whole-language method either. I think that my teacher was using a basic form of balanced literacy, even before it received its name.

Throughout the years, there have been many different views on how reading should be taught. My first grade teacher taught using the methods that were popular at the time and I believe that she did the very best she could. I was able to read well and I believe that I received the education I needed. I think that as we take a look at the history of reading instruction, we need to remember that no matter what the method, it was always the teacher that mattered the most.

Allington, R.L., Block, C.C., Morrow, L.M., Pressley, M., & Wharton-McDonald, R. (2001). Learning to read: Lessons from exemplary first-grade classrooms. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Kim, J.S. (2008).Research and the reading wars. Phi Delta Kappan. 89, 372-375.
McGuinness, D. (2004). Early reading instruction: What science really tells us about how to teach reading. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Teale, W.H. (1995).Young children and reading: Trends across the twentieth century. Journal of Education. 177, 95-127.
Whole language. (2009). In Wikipedia [Web]. The Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved May 18,2009, from
Wren, S. (2009). What does a balanced literacy approach mean?. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from SEDL Web site:


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