Reading curriculum

From Reading Is Elemental, by Helen Vendler, (seen here) here’s the way to do it:

  1. “engage in choral singing of traditional melodic song (folk songs, country songs, rounds);
  2. “be read to from poems and stories beyond their own current ability to read;
  3. “mount short plays—learning roles, rehearsing, and eventually performing;
  4. “march or dance to counting rhymes, poems, or music, “reading” rhythms and sentences with their bodies;
  5. “read aloud, chorally, to the teacher;
  6. “read aloud singly to the teacher, and recite memorized poems either chorally or singly;
  7. “notice, and describe aloud, the reproduced images of powerful works of art, with the accompanying story told by the teacher (Orpheus, the three kings at Bethlehem, etc.);
  8. “read silently, and retell in their own words, for discussion, the story they have read;
  9. “expand their vocabulary to specialized registers through walks where they would learn the names of trees, plants, flowers, and fruits;
  10. “visit museums of art and natural history to learn to name exotic or extinct things, or visit an orchestra to discover the names and sounds of orchestral instruments;
  11. “learn conjoined prefixes, suffixes, and roots as they learn new words;
  12. “tell stories of their own devising;
  13. “compose words to be sung to tunes they already know; and
  14. “if they are studying a foreign language, carry out these practices for it as well.”

I agree wholeheartedly. This curriculum describes my school from Kindergarten through third grade, plus SRA but minus the foreign language. We did learn a few children’s songs in French: Frère Jacques, Alouette, Sur le pont d’Avignon. Professor Vendler continues:

“Later in my ideal schooling, a familiarity with authors would arise as three successive cycles of literary acquaintance would take place. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, the students would read short excerpts in chronological order from major authors A, B, C…Z. In the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades the very same authors would appear, but in longer or more complex excerpts. And finally, in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades the same authors would again recur, but now in larger wholes.”

The next years followed her plan as well, and it was great, except for a massively annoying pedagogical failure that caused us to read The Red Pony three years in a row. Around this time foreign languages became available. I took French because they told me that was the language of international commerce and diplomacy, and then took Latin, because that was the language to study if you had professional ambitions. I’ve never used either, except to order coffee and a sandwich once, but Latin has been the more rewarding.

It all fell apart in the next-to-last year of high school when we “read” Julius Caesar, stopping every line to explain the hard words:

Student, reading: “Oh pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, tha…”
Teacher, interrupting: “Now class, who is speaking?”
Student: “Marc Antony.”
Teacher: “And what is he saying? Anyone? Marcel?
Marcel, visibly grinding his teeth: “Can’t tell yet.”

So that was my last year of formal instruction in literature. This gave me an extra period in study hall in senior year, where I was left alone to read, or to wander the school at will, because of another pedagogical failure.

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6 thoughts on “Reading curriculum

  1. Yeah, I actually read The Scarlet Letter the year before we had to read it in high school. I liked it a lot. Then we dissected it bit by bit, word by word often, and I hated every minute. Pedagogic indeed.

  2. I had a teacher once who, about a quarter of the way through a book, said “this foretells the end of the book where everyone dies.” She didn’t seem to realize that there was no longer much point in reading the book. Also, I hate The Red Pony.

    • I generally like Steinbeck, but haven’t read The Red Pony since seventh grade. There’s also a movie version I won’t be watching.

  3. I remember SRA fondly. Blew through the entire box sometime before Christmas, which led my teacher to conclude I needed more complex things to read, so she gave me stuff like “The Little Prince.”

    Teachers and my parents did a lot of the other things on that list. I remember going crazy over Greek and Latin roots to words when I realized that if I knew what the root meant in one word, I could usually figure out what an unfamiliar word with the same root in it meant. (There are a few “false friends” out there, but it’s generally a solid rule). I have my intro Bio students looking at me like I’m some kind of wizard when I break words down to their roots and explain what they mean based on the roots; I guess roots aren’t taught much any more. (I was also a Spelling Bee geek, so I learned a lot more word-roots that way.)

    Luckily, I never had a teacher who really destroyed the enjoyment of reading for me. As an adult, I’m trying to slowly read through the Shakespeare we didn’t read while in school. (The Folger Library editions are excellent for this, I find – even though I don’t have that much trouble with the vocab, certainly less than I expected)

    • Agree about the Folger Library editions. I picked up a copy of King Lear from a library sale rack a couple of months ago and appreciated having good notes on facing pages, available but unobtrusive. They were helpful notes. Without them I would have missed some things.

      I enjoyed SRA, and then in later grades we had vocabulary books from Jerome K. Shostak that were good, with analogy pairs, adjective forms, etc.

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