We [teachers] evaluate the children’s achievement in objective and subjective ways. One area at which we look closely is the child’s language development. Facility with the spoken word belongs only to humans and the acquisition of this skill requires great concentration and hard work on the part of the young child. Because the child is so young when he teaches himself to talk and because he does this work in the home setting, we adults usually do not fully appreciate the intellectual feat to be what it is – probably our most challenging task in life! Because we all master it, we adults think learning to speak one’s native tongue is easy. We need to instead open our eyes and our awareness to the capabilities of the child. Then with a healthy respect for the child’s intellect as demonstrated by his acquisition of his native tongue we place our child in a setting especially prepared to take him forward to other intellectual challenges. This environment is pregnant with opportunities, giving birth to these opportunities as the child shows his readiness and interest.
One area of the prepared environment is the written language. We at the Center have chosen Caleb Gattegno’s approach to reading called “Words in Color”. It is the only approach which takes into account the language work the child has already done in learning to speak his native tongue and builds on this foundation. Gattegno called his approach the “Algebraic Approach” because the child gains strength in reading by building ways of unlocking words through manipulating sounds. For example, the words “pat” and “pit” are different words but have similarities which, when realized, make it possible to substitute the “i” for the “a” and be able to then read “pit” without having been told what the word is. Other transformations include reversing words, e.g. “stop” and “pots”. If one knows “stop” one can discover “pots” by reversing the order the sounds are uttered. Other systems avoid reversing words, fearful that children will mirror read. Gattegno faced the fact that children can read from left to right or from right to left and has given them the opportunity to understand the direction and to follow our system while still understanding that we can turn words around to make new ones. Another form of transformation utilized is to add sounds to words. We can have “end” and add an “s” to make “send”. These transformations are studied through games. Children love games and take them seriously. They accept that games have arbitrary rules which must be followed. Hence, children are eager to play games and we are happy that the by-product of such games is that the children learn to read.
Many people ask why Gattegno used color in his schema, yet educators have learned that children are interested in color and that color is an aid to the child’s memory. Gattegno’s charts are beautifully colored so as to attract the child and then offer additional treats for the learner as he sees that each color has a sound of its own regardless of the letters needed to make that sound in a particular word. So the word “michigan” is not called “machine gun” by accident, but the child sees that the “ch” sound in “michigan” has the color of the “sh” sound and correctly pronounces the word.
The charts are hung on the walls not just because they are so colorful but also because they offer so many possibilities for the child. The child may review a lesson by studying a particular chart or color or spelling. He doesn’t need the teacher to do this. He may begin his own study of a chart without instruction because he has been given the tools. He may continue to learn more words on his own. He may find a friend and work with him as the teacher worked earlier. With the charts available on the walls, the child is presented endless possibilities for his own exploration.
Gattegno begins his system simply with the short vowels and then 4 consonants. These are his building blocks. A lot is done with these to form a firm foundation for later work. The games are introduced early and played with delight. As the child gains muscles, more is presented until upon discovery of the 20th chart and accompanying materials, the child has met an example of every possible sound of the English language and every possible spelling for those sounds. In brief, he has met the written language which is his oral, native tongue. As the child reads he understands because it is his language that he is reading.
How long this process takes depends on who the child is and how he’s taught. Patience is not a virtue, it is a necessity. Little seeds are planted early and with care and nurture, strong competent children grow.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher