September 1, 2011

This Year's Curriculum: Elson Readers

Another result of our pow wow about what to do about reading which I mentioned in the last post, This Year’s Curriculum: Phonic Rules Book, was that Zak fell in love with the Elson Readers. he said, "I love all the stories with kittens." I showed them the pictures and read to them one of the stories they would later read to me. I also showed them other books like the little bear series and frog and toad books etc. but they didn’t want to read them. Secretly, I was thrilled he loved them because when I saw them a few years back I fell in love with them too. I am glad I waited to use them though until they loved them too.

The Elson Readers are vintage books written in the early 1900’s. They are simply and sweetly done. The pictures are delightful. Experienced educator William H. Elson who also wrote the well known Dick and Jane books wrote the Elson Readers but the Elson readers were prior to Dick and Jane so they are of a higher literary quality and more rigorous. Some of the authors included are Shakespeare, Thoreau, Thomas Paine, and Homer.

“The real beauty of the these readers is the kind of literature within its covers: wholesome literature that views the world of nature with awe, upholds the ideals of service to others and our country, and encourages sound moral development in the reader.” -Quote from the back of the book
There are nine books in the Elson Reader series, The Primer through book eight. The series is intended to offer a complete reading course. The Primer through Book Three focus on basic skills, and Books Four through Eight focus on reading for content. All the Readers have either a "Word List" (for earlier levels) or a "Glossary" (for level Three and up) with updated pronunciation guides that reflect modern pronunciation. The selections progress throughout the series from adaptations of fairy tales to unabridged stories from authors such as Hawthorne and Dickens.

Each Reader has a teachers guide to go along with it. The Teacher's Guides have been newly created, using the original exercises as a base. The authors of the guides have teaching experience in both public schools and homeschools. The educational standards of the state of Florida are reflected in the guides, but it is noted that many states have similar guidelines. There are clear objectives listed in each guide.

The Primer where we will begin this year says it is geared towards beginning readers, however, I feel they are more for emerging readers who have had teaching in phonics and practice already reading. We plan to use this series to hone our reading fluency not to teach them how to read.

The Primer contains the following sections: Animals and Birds (15 stories, plus 3 "Review Stories"), Nature (5), Festivals (4, plus 1 "Review Story"), and Slumberland (2). The "Review Stories" reinforce concepts and words learned in previous stories. In addition, there is a page with the uppercase and lowercase alphabet and a 3-page "Word List" containing words that are to be emphasized for special study. Simple black-and-white illustrations complement the stories.

Near the middle of the book, you will find a 6-page story called "Little Owl." Here is an excerpt from page 88: "Little Owl lived with Mother Owl. One night Mother Owl, said, "Whoo! Big owls say 'Whoo, whoo!' You must say 'Whoo, whoo.'" There is a sweet illustration on each page.

The teachers guide lists the stories in order and includes the page numbers in the teachers guide and the corresponding page numbers of the story in the Reader. Under each story are the headings, words, phonics, and concepts, and a listing next to each heading of the particular target points covered in that story.

There is a 2-page "How to Use This Book" explanation followed by a clear listing of objectives. The teacher/parent is encouraged to collect pictures of items related to themes in the book (e.g., pigs, owls, windmills). Each story comes with a specific word list, as mentioned above. You are advised to teach these words to your children before reading the story. Suggestions include maintaining a vocabulary journal and/or using index cards with the words on one side and a picture of the word on the other side.

Comprehension questions are presented at 3 levels: literal (can be answered directly in the story), implied (clues and background knowledge are needed to answer the question), and creative (children can "dream and be unique"). You are advised to discuss questions orally with your children.

It is also recommended that you maintain a supply of lined and unlined paper and a variety of writing tools for your children to use.

There are 15 objectives identified for this level. The first two are as follows:

• The student will predict what a story is about based on its title and illustrations.

• The student will identify words and construct meaning from text, illustrations, use of phonics, and context clues.

In the Table of Contents, the following information is provided for "Little Owl."

• Words: night

• Phonics: ow, ou

• Concepts: sequencing, circle story

The teaching guidelines for "Little Owl" are on pages 70-74 (page 72 is mostly blank). The first two pages contain a longer version of the story than is presented in the Reader. You are directed to read this longer story to your child before presenting the shorter story in the Reader. There are five comprehension questions: two are literal, three implied, and one creative. The creative question is, "If you were Mother Owl, what would you do to protect Little Owl? Accept any reasonable answers."

For the phonics exercise, you and your child are supposed to "brainstorm" words containing the ow sound with both the ow and ou spellings. For the concept exercise, you are directed to cut out six little boxes on the bottom of the page containing events from the story and paste them in order around the circle at the top of the page (blank boxes provided).

“In general, I see this program as a fabulous collection of literature along with a useful resource to teach children how to engage with text. Each family must decide how much purposeful direction with literature their children should have...The larger question is one of philosophy. The literature is lovely and presents a wonderful opportunity for practice in narration. However, the activities in the Teacher's Guide run the risk of ruining the simple enjoyment of the stories. Also, I am not convinced that the level of interaction with the text is appropriate for the targeted age level, regardless of the state standards. Admittedly, there are individual differences among children, and some children may indeed be ready for these kinds of activities. I do think it is very helpful to purposefully teach a child how to interact with a text. But for me, the important questions are when and how and how much.” - Product review by Nancy Casari Dayton, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008
I agree with Nancy's quote not just about The Elson Readers but about any choice you make. It is more important to tailor it to fit your family than to try to tailor your family to fit it. We plan to use the Elson readers to practice reading fluency on a daily basis and we will pick and chose from the teachers guide extra assignments as they seem useful to our learning.

Thus far in this day we have read a faith building story, learned one phonic rule and put it into our book, and practiced reading. Now onto one of my favorite topics....Ancient Egypt!

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