A Timeline of Reading Instruction
Grand Canyon University
November 9, 2009
Reading instruction has undergone many changes since the first colonists settled in America. Hornbooks and battledores morphed into primers and basal readers. Religion played an important part throughout the first half of the history of reading instruction in America. Books grew into stories that were enjoyable instead of remedial. The alphabet played a significant role, as did pictures, when teaching reading. The debates of whole language and phonics has spanned the centuries, leaving no distinct decision. The researcher examined the trends from the 1600s to the present and identified the type of reading instruction she had during first grade. A Timeline of Reading Instruction
Since the beginning of recorded history, scholars and educators knew that reading was important. For the past four centuries, reading instruction has been the core of learning. Learning to read was essential for students since, if they were unable to read, they did not have exposure to the writings of the great thinkers of Greece and Rome. Without that exposure, the newest of the great thinkers would have been unable to pass down their philosophical thoughts and teachings to the next generations of readers, and learning, for any subject, would be dead. Various methods have been researched and taught, from the alphabet and spelling to phonics and whole language. How to teach reading has had its many challenges and controversies, and numerous studies have been conducted to determine what the best and most effective strategy is for teaching reading.
Beginning in the seventeenth century, reading instruction consisted of "having the child start with a mastery of letters, then of syllables, and finally of words and sentences" (Matthews, 1976, p. 27). Massachusetts colony "passed the earliest law on reading in 1642, requiring all parents and masters of apprentices to have their children taught to read" (Guzzetti, 2002, p. 224). Children used hornbooks in colonial times to help them learn to read. Hornbooks were popular for teaching students, an idea that colonists imported from Great Britain. They were thin pieces of wood with a handle. There was a single page protected by a transparent sheet of animal horn. Printed on the paper was the alphabet, a religious verse, or often the Lord's Prayer (Robinson, 1997). Because paper was so expensive, parents and teachers wanted to protect it. So they covered the paper with a very thin piece of cow’s horn which was so thin, you could see right through it. Thus, the name, hornbook came to describe this type of “book.” Hornbooks were sometimes made from either thinly shaved animal horn or paper attached to wood shaped like a paddle, but they could also be made from silver, pewter, iron, ivory, and even gingerbread. In the beginning, hornbooks "contained the alphabet, but the context was soon expanded to include syllables and some basic religious selection" (Robinson, 1997, p. 45).
In the eighteenth century, "reading content now had several new functions to perform" (Smith, 2002, p. 34). During this time, teaching reading consisted mainly of spelling, recognizing words, and the Bible. The Bible, the first book to be produced in mass quantity, was a readily available tool for young readers and not only taught them moral lessons, but also taught them critical thinking skills and expanded their vocabularies. Reading the Bible, along with learning Latin, became essential for a person to be called “educated.” Once students had mastered the hornbook, they moved on the battledores. Battledores were more a more complicated type of hornbook, usually made out of cardboard and folded into thirds (Robinson, 1997). The battledores taught the alphabet in both capital and lower case letters, and with words and pictures. They contained a mixture of phonics, short stories, and fables, along...