Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Gem of a Book

My mom sent a book to me a while back, and I finally picked it up to read. I've been pre-school home-schooling Violet for about a year, just for something to do during the day, other than "play the iPad." Once she mastered the alphabet, and started spelling out 3-letter words on her own, "Mom, how do you spell CAT??" I figured I needed to sit down with her and start this process of Learning How To Read. Well, it's more complicated than I realized. English is a bass-ackwards language, and the spelling rules are very inconsistent. It seemed any time I introduced a rule, I then had to make 3 or 4 exceptions to the rule.

I broke out the book, called, "How To Tutor, [For Parents And Teachers, A Manual That Works]" by Samuel L. Blumenfeld. It has a bit of a wordy preface, an encouragement to parents and tutors and a bit of philosophy on how to approach children and engage them in learning. Then it goes on, chapter by chapter, outlining a lesson for your preschooler, very smart-ly organized, making Phonics actually make SENSE. It's a very good pace, lots of repetition, everything alphabetical, predictable for good, in fact, that Violet was suddenly double-speed reading through "bell, cell, dell, fell, hell, jell, Nell, quell, sell, tell, well" LICKITY SPLIT.

Kids are amazing learners. I'm seeing it all over again in my youngest, who is just starting to use sounds to make words & communicate with us. I'm a Suzuki teacher, so I get the philosophy of immersion, imitation, and repetition. But, applying it to reading?? and MATH???

Yeah, there's a section in the book on arithmetic. I love what he says about the "New Math" they teach in schools.

"If a child discovers that a dollar bill is worth so much candy in a store, he is not interested in the history of money at that point or the theory of supply and demand. He is much more interested in learning how to get more dollars so that he can exchange them for more candy. If we stopped him in his tracks and told him that he ought to know the history of money before using it, he might find our history quite irrelevant to his immediate pursuit. The same situation applies to the learning of arithmetic. When the child is being taught the rudiments of addition and subtraction, he is much more interested in the fact that the methods work and permit him to master counting than in why the methods work. They why is quite irrelevant at this point in learning. That is why it was possible for children to become so proficient in arithmetic by rote learning. They saw, in the doing, that it worked--and they did it. Today, all that rote learning has been thrown out of the school-room window and an attempt is being made to explain to the child how addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division work. Unfortunately, the explanations are not very good and often much too confusing and tiresome, with the result that children neither learn to perform arithmetic well nor understand it. ......Sometimes, such premature "understanding" can, in fact, retard performance. For example, if we taught a child the grammatic structure of our language before he began to speak, he might never speak for fear of being wrong. The child learns to speak completely on his own before he knows anything about grammar, correct pronunciation, parts of speech, or the origin of words. He speaks because he finds out by experience that speaking works." 

I love the comparison, again, to the child's natural process for learning to speak. SO MUCH can be learned from studying this process. It is a thing never touched by methodology, philosophy, history, or psychology. Every child learns to speak his mother tongue. It is a wonderful thing to behold. If we can submit ourselves to this God-given process in everything we try to teach our children (and not force them to achieve some meaningless score on a politically-derived national test), they will become wildly successful.

On a side note, I remember being in about 6th grade and struggling with math. I had each of my parents try to explain "percents over a hundred" to me. They broke out a dollar bill, drew charts, and talked a lot. None of it made sense to me. I went crestfallen back to the book, and skipped over to the "examples" section, where there was just a set of about 10 problems, all solving for "percents over a hundred." I saw what they did with the numbers, noticed the pattern, if you will, "what to do" with the numbers to get the correct answer. I memorized it, and got every percents over a hundred problem right from then on out. I didn't understand it until I was much older, far more advanced in math. Maybe even in algebra, I forget exactly when it began to make sense. But, I could DO the problem. I just wasn't ready to understand it yet.


  1. I've been struggling with our wonderful English Language teaching Evie, too. ugh. Makes me wonder how we were ever able to learn to write anything down! As you say, there are rules and then MANY exceptions to the rules. I may have to try to pick up a book - maybe this book. On the other hand, she had her first meeting with her K teacher on Monday. All along, I've been working with her with letters (sounds and writing). With math, it's been mostly just verbal, no writing numbers. In her "test" with her teacher she had to identify letters and write numbers. Just to show how contrary my kid is, she mixed up some of her letters (like p & q and d & b, which is perfectly normal) and then proceeded to write all her numbers perfectly. So, why again do I bother? LOL...orneriness is in the blood;)

  2. Hooked on Phonics works for reading! We started with Pre-K Level then finished Kindergarten this year. It doesn't have a lot of boring rules....their method is highly effective!

  3. I love Mr Blumenfeld! He's The Man :) I went and bought another copy, since apparently you have mine. I wondered where it got to...

    The thing I love so much about this book is it's simplicity. In one easy-to-read, less 300-page book, he pretty much lays out an entire program for teaching your kids everything. Ok. Not quite. But at least the reading section took Sofi (and now Judah) from knowing her letter sounds to reading chapter books in one school year. She now reads (at age eight) on a sixth or seventh grade level.

  4. This book better be good... Just ordered a copy on Amazon! :)