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    Teaching Tips

    Teaching Reading with a Method vs. a System

    November 11, 2016 by Hayley Beck

    There is always the danger that a method, a bona fide method, should degenerate into a mere system…
    -Charlotte Mason

    Third time’s a charm for this mom

    Many things season well with age, and motherhood is no exception. I had taught two of my children to read before realizing anything was amiss with the way I went about it. It wasn’t until my third child sought to learn to read, that I began seeking a better way of teaching how. Just over a decade into motherhood, experience has taught me much about what NOT to do. Having become a mom at the age of 22, I was inclined to take on a systematic approach when the time came to teach my first child to read. I hadn’t the experience, much less the confidence, to trust myself with anything else at the time. Charlotte Mason explains that

    A ‘system of education’ is an alluring fancy; … because it is pledged to more definite calculable results. By means of a system certain developments may be brought about through the observance of given rules.

    It is no wonder why I latched on to a system. I wanted that “alluring fancy” to ensure that my own inexperience and self-doubt wouldn’t hinder my child.

    Our reading lessons before:

    Looking back, reading lessons with my oldest 2 children could have gone more smoothly had I not approached it as a system. We would sit down, open our reader, and trudge through the lessons, while I inwardly hoped that they weren’t in a disagreeable mood so the lesson wouldn’t unravel. The destination I was aiming for was that they become literate, and the road wasn’t paved with good intentions, so they say.

    Being in systematic autopilot mode, I had firm determination that we accomplish as much in that session as possible — in my mind, that meant success. This often led to the frustrations I hoped against, and when met with the inevitable mental road blocks that came up, and the meltdowns that sometimes happened mid-lesson, I could no longer see our path to the desired outcome. I would keep trying to troubleshoot in the moment, but felt lost. Systems don’t usually account for these diversions; Diversions are, after all, quite contrary to the “observance of given rules”. A system which sounds foolproof in theory can become problematic in practice. I had no guide for those roadblocks, and my forcing the status quo to continue regardless of the wrenches that got thrown into the works did not feel like success, even when they were progressing in their ability.

    System, method…As long as they end up literate, does it really matter?

    Our goal in teaching reading is, of course, literacy. But could it be more? Both my children who endured my learn-to-read system read very well now at 10 and 7 years old. I can attest though, that their impression of “school” did not begin with a glowing perspective. Later, when I began learning of the sound philosophy of Charlotte Mason, we began softening those hardened attitudes towards learning and lessons and loving it as a part of life. Charlotte Mason states that

    …method is natural; easy, yielding, unobtrusive, simple as ways of Nature herself; yet, watchful, careful, all pervading, all compelling.

    That’s where my system failed. A child’s reading lessons need that “easy, yielding, unobtrusive” method, which allows for the proper balance of challenge with encouragement and mental rest.

    A system might only have as its end that which is measurable — such as the possession of rote reading skills — but then what is dismissed of the other aspects of learning which aren’t quite as measurable? What might they miss out on learning of life while they are learning to read? It might seem silly to think so heavily on what is, after all, “mere child’s play”; — just simple phonics lessons. Yet, consider: These are typically the first formal lessons embarked upon by home-educators. How will they set the course for the child’s journey of learning in general? Is each lesson a compartmentalized chore seen as a momentary interruption to the joys of life, or is it interwoven and enjoyed as a part of life itself?

    Instead of making connections in teaching my children reading, bonding over special moments, snuggling and smiling together over new learning, I was stressing over achieving the calculable result which I though defined success, while they perceived lessons as something to endure while habitually hoping to “get it over with, already”. A system is no respecter of persons. A method takes into account the person for whom the end goal is set.

    There is a better way!

    Around the time my 4-year-old began to express that she really wanted to learn to read, I had been relatively new in my own implementation of the new principles about which I was learning. I came across Teaching Reading with Bob Books (TRwBB) and saw in it the guide I needed to teach reading as a method. For those who, like me, might be recovering from the inclination to systematize any curriculum they touch, the wholeness of this “method”; philosophy is built-in. A welcome companion for both the timid, inexperienced mom, and the confident, seasoned mom alike, TRwBB is simple and unintimidating, yet “all pervading, all compelling.” It serves as a guide through potential roadblocks, breaking down the end goal of literacy into smaller goals within each lesson. Due to her Charlotte Mason approach to learning in general, Brandy’s lessons incline me to be a more “yielding and unobtrusive” teacher, making the journey more natural. The “broad essential principles” of which Charlotte Mason says

    … once fully laid hold of, it is as easy and natural to act upon them as it is to act upon our knowledge of such facts as that fire burns and water flows…

    are so obviously at the foundation of TRwBB. For me, the third time has, indeed, proven to be a charm as we traded a system for a learning-to-read method.

    Some thoughts about the TRwBB process:

    The binder we created with TRwBB is a great tool that can be used however strictly or loosely we would like. As for review, I can decide based on my child, reviewing only a few cards each day or several, adjusting as her abilities grow. I love the long-term goal of 100 books which is set right at the start. The momentum it creates as they finish each little book so soon after beginning is exciting motivation for a little learner.

    [T]he following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end of object to be arrived at.

    Charlotte Mason

    By focusing on smaller, clear goals, we can add a love of learning and pleasant memories to the broad goal of literacy. With these goals, and the object of the lesson clearly in view, and I can take each day’s endeavors less systematically and more naturally. Each lesson is just challenging enough to be satisfyingly encouraging to the new reader, without the risk of overwhelm or burnout. The mental preparation the lesson offers removes the decision fatigue, so I can focus on what matters during the lesson. I’m not thrown for a loop if something unexpected comes up, and I can reserve my “decision muscles”; to confidently readjust that day’s goals if a need were to arise.

    Early on, it felt strange to take on a tiny little Bob Book in such bite-sized pieces, but I came to see the wisdom in this. I do it every day for my 8 month old when I prepare his food in tiny, soft bits. Stopping before (rather than when) the child grows weary is definitely the more natural, (”… watchful, careful …”) approach. I found that my child’s attention and endurance in the lessons have naturally grown, and it has proven to be a much less-stressful task to start slow and speed up in proportion to the child’s growth, rather than to start fast and expect them to keep up the pace as they stumble along.

    Our reading lessons now:

    My daughter gets her binder and Bob Book, we sit on the couch, she eagerly reviews that day’s sections, and she reads. By the end of Set 1, we have had zero tears, and I can’t recall a single frustrated moment. No more system. Now we have a method that fits our family. I believe any beginning reader and their parent would thrive with the method that the Teaching Reading with Bob Books curriculum offers. No tears, and no frustration. Only enjoyable, fun times with her reading binder and Bob Books, learning to read as Mom better learns to guide.

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    Filed Under: PhilosophyTeaching Tips Tagged With: Parent TestimonialsPhilosophy of ReadingTeaching Tips

    About Brooke Favorat

    Brooke is a child of God, Native Texan, wife to husband imported from Boston, and mom to 5. By grace, she is joyfully committed to learning and growing alongside her children with fervent enthusiasm for all things Charlotte Mason, scholé, mother culture, and the community that surrounds them. Follow @alongside_mom on IG or find her at her blog Alongside Mom. ❤

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