And what a story it is...
Back in the 1946, just out of my teens, I started teaching in the small town of Coalville, Utah. I had no degree and not many books to teach with. There were few supplies. The children had been taught from the same readers, spelling books and language books for many years. There was little money to buy new nor did it occur to me or the other five teachers in that small school to request anything new. Few catalogs reached the teachers to give us new ideas for education.
The faster learners did well with this setup as learners had done for generations. But what about those who never connected reading, spelling or language together. Reading and spelling were a subject apart. Even with my meager training, I knew there had to be a better way for these slow-moving students. The grain of an idea began stirring. "What if a curriculum could be written from first grade to about sixth grade that would include all the skills of reading, spelling and language. It would have them meshed together in one large unit." No, the idea was too large, too cumbersome. Where would you start? How could stories and activities be written to include only early or certain skills? No, the project was unthinkable!
After several summer schools, I received a B.S. in Elementary Education. Still the idea never left me. Nowhere in my studies or research had anyone or any publisher attempted such a massive project. Several years later, a M. Ed. in Learning Disabilities inspired my thinking further.
This degree brought me into what is now known as a Resource Room. Any teacher who faces a group of readers several grades behind -- readers who do as much as possible to escape the written word -- will understand my plight. My students also included a group of six-year-olds who were enrolled in first grade with no idea of reading, writing or correct language. The thinking of the times was not to interfere with the teacher. Don't teach until the child starts first grade.
Again my situation had few books, only the castoffs from the classrooms. But lack of materials has its good points. I was free to teach as I wished. "Just teach these kids to read." With what, how? How does learning take place," I asked? The word multi sensory was just coming into vogue in educational circles -- sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. What if I recorded some of the books from the classrooms on tape? With permission from the teachers and securing some of the current classroom texts, I set to work. This took hours and hours but it was successful. The kids loved it. They could hear their lessons as many times as they wished at their own pace. At last they could participate. This was in the days of reel to reel tapes. The tapes tangled, recorded backwards and broke. In spite of many problems, recording proved the way to go. Parents even contributed money to my room so I could buy more tapes.
In the meantime, these kids had to start from the beginning of the English Language. They had to know how to sound their words, how to comprehend from literal to abstract learning. Recording on grade level solved the immediate problem and gave a good name to the Resource Room but the main problem persisted; a lack of knowledge of phonics, comprehension and vocabulary had not been solved from the beginning skills.
Luck often plays a part in many endeavors and it did in mine. I had a sister, Mrs. Blanche Pryor, supervising mentally challenged students in Tucson, Arizona. She was laboring with the same problems as I. Her teachers were teaching from readers from classrooms.
I knew I had to work with my sister Blanche, but our meetings were only at holidays and family functions. In that time telephone conversations were charged by the minute. But on a family occasion, our problems became one. She had also toyed with the idea of a program for mentally challenged children that presented skills in sequential order.
We started together. At our next family function, and with many books to guide us, we mapped what skills in phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and a story and activities for each one and what each character-building story should teach. We completed the mapping and had found it to be sixty eight stories. Each story would teach a phonetic element, sometimes two and delve into the story's comprehension from easy to hard. Each story had a spelling list that transferred the phonics from the story to handwriting. The outline stretched for twenty five feet across our mother's living room floor on butcher paper.
At her return to Tucson, she began writing. She wrote her first story with five consonants c,d,s,f and t, and the short vowel 'a'. We chose those consonants because four of them make their first stroke toward the left to help correct directionality problems. She didn't just write a story, she wrote a character-building story. Each story was given to her teachers. Both students and teachers now were joyfully learning the phonetic and comprehension hierarchy of the English Language in a meaningful format. When news reached classroom teachers, each was glad to contribute the cream of their ideas to be included in the program. Both of us used the best of the best gleaned from hundreds of sources from years of teaching.
She finished several of the stories before her retirement. When she finished, all her stories were narrated and given to my students who loved them. They know knew what they were learning and why. Students were glad to start at the beginning of reading skills because they knew that's where their trouble started and the foundation of reading is laid.
Softly and without fanfare the computer crept silently into education. Courageous and forward thinking teachers, often at their own expense, put one in their classroom. Blanche's stories and activities, which by now were many, were put on the computer.
Today, the complete program of CompuRead is finished. We can now offer our 40 years of labor to the world for all to use for problem and dyslexic readers. Indeed all students can now progress with a knowledge and confidence that they are learning the hierarchy of reading skills and building for their future success by understanding the English Language.
Margaret W. Turner
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St George, UT