Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More on Education

Michele Catalano emailed about my education column with a fascinating story about some educators who were apparently were bored with the very alphabet:
Your TCS column got me thinking and reminded me about my own experience with bored educators and new innovations in teaching methods.

This is not something new. They must have been very bored back in the 60's, because that is when I was taught - for three grades - to learn how to read using the I.T.A. (Initial Teaching Alphabet).

ITA was a phonic-based system with an alphabet all its own.

It was only through the sheer diligence of my mother and my own desire to read and write like a normal person that I came out of third grade with any literacy skills at all. The fact that I was reading on a seventh grade level in fourth grade had nothing to do with ITA and, in fact, had everything to do with my desire to learn like the other kids were learning.

We had to take special ITA books out the library. We could only write in ITA in our classes; all our reports and tests had to be in that form. It was confusing as hell and frustrating to parents who had to learn an entirely new way of writing and reading in order to help their children succeed in school.

I have no idea why I (along with about 10 others classmates) was singled out for this grand experiment, and I never did find out any results of whatever studies were done on those of us who were used in the experiment.
Check out the alphabet used for the ITA system, and especially take a look at one of the website's two "success stories" here. How bizarre.



Blogger Tim McNabb said...

Wow. I hadn't heard of ITA in forever. I was introduced to this educational travesty in Kindergaten. Lucky for me, I was already reading standard English, but writing out those cursed characters was awful. I would be punished for spelling "wood" w-o-o-d rather than using their insane asylum glyphs.

I recall in late first grade worksheets that has us write, from left to right, consenant blnds like "sh" that gradually went from their peculiar version to a simple s and h.

Don't get me started on the Downing Readers. What twaddle

Tim McNabb

5:19 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Hey, I liked ITA! I learned it in first grade in the late 1960s (in a suburban Wasington DC pubic elementary school). It just "clicked" for me, it was easy to sound out anything and I was quickly able to read all the materials they had.

My own memory is pretty fuzzy about this, I'm relying in part on a conversation with my mom about it now, but there were books about dinosaurs, etc -- some of it was definitely written beyond what might otherwise be thought of as the first grade level. The limitation was that there wasn't THAT much stuff written in ITA, though it wasn't too hard to apply most of it to reading standard books, even when still in 1st grade; we transitioned from ita to standard spelling after about a year and it didn't cause me any trouble. On the other hand, I don't think all the students found it as easy as I did and the progrm was scrapped after a few years (My mom tells me that our school principal was getting his PhD at the time and was using us as test subjects...)

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we can entirely blame boredom for the odd methods used to teach English. If our language was a consistently spelled, phonetic, free of odd conventions and leftovers from other languages we *couldn't* get things like ITA. The existing alphabet would already support what it does. We probably wouldn't get much of the rest of the silliness because English simply wouldn't be as hard to teach. Think about how much less of this sort of thing you see in math.

- Joel

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The limitation was that there wasn't THAT much stuff written in ITA..."

Thank God we didn't have computer-assisted search-and-replace in those days, or imagine the consequences.

-Old Grouch-

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh. I guess you could count me as one of those "success stories" because I learned to read with ITA in 1969 in West Vancouver, B.C., Canada. I was in the first grade and I loved this system, probably because I didn't know there was any other way. I learned to read extremely quickly, switched over to the regular alphabet with no difficulty and became and avid reader and excellent speller. Always wondered what happened to ITA, though. Very weird that there are only two "testimonials" on the web site. Christina M.

9:17 AM  
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2:21 PM  

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