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FEBRUARY 1918 part 3.

SS Experiments in Scotland.

Mr. ROBERT JACKSON, of the Training College, Dundee: I have had personal experience of several experiments in the teaching of reading by means of reformed spelling.


A few years ago an infant mistress in Fifeshire, after attending classes in phonetics organized by the St. Andrews Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers, introduced the phonetic method into her classes, making use of a modified form of the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association. The result was eminently satisfactory. Within a comparatively short time the pupils learnt to read anything that described facts within their own experience, and to write and spell any such words as came within their natural diction with almost perfect accuracy. Facility in learning to read was accompanied by a very marked improvement in their speech. Miss McCallum, the teacher responsible, still uses a phonetic method, but has altered the values of the letters to lighten the pupils' work in the transition stage.


During recent years there have been three experiments carried on in Dundee schools. The first was made in Clepington School. It was described pretty fully in THE PIONEER of August 1915. The results might be summed up as follows. Pupils who had been taught by means of Simplified Spelling for ten months, and had then learnt the conventional spelling for four months - fourteen months in all - could read as well and spell as well as pupils who had been at school for nineteen months, and had been taught exclusively the conventional spelling. The balance of difference was altogether on the side of the pupils who had been taught on the new lines. They had acquired a better and more natural utterance and expression, and had laid a more solid foundation for the subsequent cultivation of good, clear speech. Untoward circumstances prevented the continuance of the experiments beyond one year; but a few months ago the Simplified Spelling method was reintroduced, with results that are giving full satisfaction.


Mr. Jackson next described the methods employed in two other highly successful experiments, in Dens Road School last year and Morgan Academy this year. The teachers of these schools had kindly lent him their charts and wall-sheets for exhibition at the meeting. The charts and the methods used in the two schools corresponded very closely, and might be described somewhat as follows:-

The First Chart for Infants contains the symbols for about a dozen sounds, thus: m, n; v, dh, z; l;r; ee, ai; oo, oe.

The sounds are chosen (and the letters arranged) on scientific principles:

1. They are long, or can be made long, so as to give both ear and speech organ a grip of the sound.

2. They are voiced to give the child a grip of sonority.

3. Their "on-glides" and "off-glides" are so like the body of the sound as to be practically non-existent.

4. They can be easily isolated.

Words containing certain sounds are got from the class and printed on the blackboard, beginning from the end of the word, as shown in the examples of syllable-building on pages 8 and 9 of the Ferst Reeder. Sentences are next made containing the word. The wall-sheets hung up behind the platform gave numerous examples of words and sentences actually used in the classes, and showed also how these are arranged to further speech-training.

Incidentally, Mr. Jackson remarked that not one of the critics of the Ferst Reeder had referred to the examples of syllable building or the hints for chart practice. Apparently the critics were innocent of any knowledge of the principles of systematic speech training in the infant school.

The Second Chart was as follows:- -m, n, ng; v, dh; z, zh (voiced); f, th; s, sh (voiceless); l; r; ee, ai; oo, oe; au; aa; y, ou, oi, eu. This chart adds the diphthongs and such voiceless sounds as have their other qualities similar to those of sounds in the First Chart.

Wall sheets and illustrative sentences were shown as before and their scientific use explained.

The Third Chart adds the short vowels and semivowels. Of the open sounds they are the most difficult vowels to isolate and have been prepared for by previous daily practice in the long sounds: m, n, ng; v, dh, z, zh; y, w; f, th, s, sh; y, (hy), w, wh; l, r; ee, ai; oo, oe, au; aa; y, ou, oi, eu; i, e, a; oo, o, u. Wall sheets for words and sentences were shown as before.

The Fourth Chart is the full chart (see Ferst Reeder, pages 6, 7). It completes the list of sounds and symbols by the addition of "stopped" consonants and the consonantal diphthongs.

The "stops" are taken up last in the special study of individual sounds, because their "off-glides" in isolation are so strong as to suggest another or second sound. They should be introduced first at the beginning of a word - thus: "oe, loe, bloe." In this way the pupil's eye gets accustomed to the appearance of the symbol, and the ear to the sound, as it occurs in the living word before it is studied in isolation.

This method of chart division secures that all sounds and symbols are introduced gradually and studied systematically. They are each and all exemplified by living sentences taken from the child's own vocabulary. The Ferst Reeder, it is to be remembered, is a "reader" and presupposes the use of such sentences as were shown on the Dens Road School and Morgan Academy charts and wall sheets. They are not artificial, mechanical sentences based on spelling only, like those of the ordinary phonic books. For instance, one of the Dale readers excludes all the long vowels. These are - ee, with 24 ways of spelling; ai, with 25 ways of spelling; oo, with 24 ways of spelling; oe, with 23 ways of spelling; au, with 11 ways of spelling; aa, with 8 ways of spelling.

While that book is in class use, pupils are not obtaining speech practice in those sounds, nor are their eyes being trained to the recognition of the hundred odd forms that represent them in the ordinary spelling. Perhaps this may explain why the charge of "bad spelling" is often brought against pupils taught on the Dale system, bad spelling being, according to those who have given no thought to educational values, a greater proof of ignorance than bad speaking, bad English, bad everything else in the school curriculum.]


The results of the experiments in the four schools - Lumphinnans (Fifeshire), Clepington, Dens Road, and Morgan Academy (Dundee) - prove that the forty forms that represent the forty sounds of English speech can be mastered in a few weeks, and that thereafter only a little practice is needed until the pupil can decipher any word whatever that forms part of his daily diction, or that, keeping in mind the stage of his mental growth, can legitimately be introduced in teaching.

But the question may be asked - in fact, always is asked - What of the transition to the ordinary spelling? In not one of these schools has the transition given anything like the trouble that was anticipated. I recently visited the Dens Road class, now in the transition stage. I heard the class do a bit of unseen reading from a book in the ordinary spelling. The fruits of the consistent training in the relation of sound and symbol showed themselves in the grip and intelligence and readiness with which the pupils read the "nomic" forms, which of course to them were new. The combination of stress and intonation, and the ease of utterance, proved that the naming of the words was real pleasurable reading, and that the meaning was being caught as the words were uttered.

I also recently spent an afternoon with the class in Clepington School in which are the subjects of the Simplified Spelling experiments of 1915. It is now, two years and a half since they laid aside the Ferst Reeder. The two sections of the class were tested in the Sekond Reeder, just published and new to all of them, and in the class reading book. The pupils who began on the Simplified Spelling method are still ahead of the other pupils in ease of utterance and in the superior purity of their vowel sounds. The foundations of good speech have been laid firm and sure. No difference revealed itself in the spelling of the two sections.


My experience gives me confidence in claiming that the use of Simplified Spelling, or any form of consistent spelling throughout the school course, would save a whole year of the child's school life; would help the training of ear, eye, and speech organs; give increased facilities for the cultivation of self-expression and thought development, and would permit language teaching generally to be conducted in accordance with the laws of mind growth to a degree absolutely impossible with the present spelling.


Mr. EZRA SYKES: It is my privilege and honour to make a report on work that has been done in a Yorkshire school.


The York Road School may be described as a typical poor district school in the heart of Leeds. The children are sturdy little Britons, charming personalities, but obscured and handicapped by a sordid environment. Their speech is a mixture of broad Yorkshire dialect and slovenly English. School speech to them is a strange tongue, interspersed with a few familiar words. Very few of the children possess such a luxury as a book: the play books, picture books and story books that delight children in better circumstances are unknown to them, and the only books they ever see are the school books. I mention these facts in order that you may realize the difficult conditions under which the experiment has been made. The difficulties, however, enhance the value of the experiment; because, if success can be achieved in such adverse circumstances, one may imagine what the results would be under more favourable conditions.


Now at the beginning of the experiment the children had all passed through the babies' class, and had a slight acquaintance with the simple letters. Out of forty-two children in the class ten knew the sounds of the eighteen consonants, seven knew the sounds of seventeen consonants, six knew the sounds of sixteen consonants, three knew the sounds of fifteen consonants, three knew the sounds of fourteen consonants, six knew the sounds of thirteen consonants, three knew the sounds of twelve consonants, one child knew the sounds of eleven consonants, one child knew the sounds of nine consonants, one child knew the sounds of six consonants, and one child called every letter "ber." Seven children knew the sound of th, and four knew the sound of sh; the sounds of the remaining digraphs, ch, dh, wh, zh, and ng, were not known. Forty-one children knew the short sounds of a and o, thirty-nine knew the short sounds of e and i, thirty-seven knew the short sound of u (as in "put"), twenty-six knew the long sound of u (as in "truth"), and fourteen knew the long sound ee (as in "sweet"). The other combined or long vowels, designated in S.S. aa, ai, au, oe, er, oi, eu, and ou were not known by a single child. The children had not reached the stage of combining two or more letters. I tried several of the brighter children with o-f and i-s, and three of them managed to give me "off, iss." Some of the children were inclined to be playful and talkative, eager to show their drawings. Others expressed themselves merely by a nod or shake of the head when spoken to.


Such was the class with which the experiment began on the 1st of May, 1917. For the first two weeks, in order to give the experiment a good start, by the courtesy of the Head Mistress, I spent much time with the class, assisting the class teacher with each reading lesson. The teacher was capable and sympathetic, and, owing to her splendid efforts, the class made remarkable headway. After making sure of the short vowels and simple consonants, a start was made with the digraphs. Then the children were encouraged to join two sounds, and they soon knew and could read words such as "and it iz dhe boi." Most of this work was done on the blackboard. I then prepared wall sheets, with short sentences in easy words. These words and sentences were first built up on the blackboard, and they dealt with incidents with which the children were familiar, or which appealed to their limited imagination. For example, I wrote on the blackboard, j-o-n. The children discovered the word and some of them said "It is John Cope." Right. Now we will make a story about John: "Jon had a peni, tu by a peni bun; run, jon, run jon, by a peni bun; run, skip, hop, tu dhe shop; run, jon, run, jon, by a peni bun." The children joined in this heartily, following every word as it was printed on the board, and they had plenty of fun in urging John to run, skip, hop. The work was real, alive, and the children enjoyed it. They began to realize that written words have a power, they are more than just letters, they are living pictures by which thoughts may be expressed, and so, incidentally, the children had a first lesson in composition. The story was afterwards printed with chalk on a wall sheet, and the teacher made a coloured drawing beside it, showing John running to the shop. The children never forget the sh digraph, after a drawing of an engine had been made on the board, followed by the sentence:- "dhi en-jin sez 'sh, sh, sh, sh, sh, sh.' "I may say here that, for these young children, we did not find the Ferst Reeder of much use. A set of Primers, profusely illustrated, more childish in sentiment and using simpler words, would have speeded up the work considerably at this stage. The Ferst Reeder is more suitable for older or more advanced children; our children at five years of age are no further advanced in intelligence than are most children of three years of age.


At the end of six weeks I was able to report:- "The work is making satisfactory progress, the children are already beginning to read easy sentences. That means they are two or three months ahead of what they would be doing under normal spelling." Now I felt that I could safely leave the work to the class teacher, who was by this time familiar with the scheme and quite enthusiastic because of the rapid progress that had been made. Within a fortnight, however, that is towards the end of June, the teacher fell ill and had to undergo an operation, and she did not return to duty until the 1st of November. From the end of June to the summer holidays in August the class was left to the tender mercies of supply teachers who knew nothing of Simplified Spelling and who had no sympathy with it. In September, after the summer holiday, a new teacher was put in charge. This teacher was not unwilling to take up the experiment; but, not knowing the scheme or its possibilities, felt somewhat nervous and diffident. The Head Mistress decided to stop the experiment and for a time it was in abeyance. The local Inspector, however, when appealed to, decided that the experiment must go on and the teacher must do her best. I again visited the class about the middle of October to give the new teacher assistance, and I found the work almost at a standstill and very little in advance of what it was at the beginning of July. The new teacher was an excellent embodiment of perseverance and sympathy, and only needed confidence and assurance. She soon picked up the scheme and set to work with commendable spirit. From this point the work again began to show signs of rapid progress.


By the end of November the brighter children needed little or no teaching. They were able to discover words for themselves, and to make out the stories in the Ferst Reeder. This self-help feature of the Simplified Spelling, by which the child of its own initiative discovers the words and., unaided, reads and understands sentences, did more to convince the class teacher of the immense advantages of Simplified Spelling than any amount of theorizing could have done. Here was practical proof, and both the Head Mistress and the class teacher expressed surprise at the amount of work accomplished beyond anything they had, expected or hoped for. Even the little girl who named every letter "ber" at the beginning is now able slowly to make out words, and to read the simpler parts of the book; and the dullest children in the class have all read once through the whole of the Ferst Reeder. Some of the brighter children have almost finished the Sekond Reeder. If you will consider the difficult words which appear in the Ferst Reeder, I think you will agree that for the whole class to read it through once is no mean accomplishment. Such words are to be met as "afterwards, gathered, squirrels, curtains, violin, twinkle, together, journey, mountain, northern, music, pleasure, and feather." Not a bad selection for five-year-old children.


We may now consider some of the difficulties found by the children at different stages. These all occurred in the pronunciation of words or in the digraphs, particularly in the vowels. The h digraphs, dh, th, zh, sh, ch, and wh, did not cause much rouble; but oo, ee, oe, eu, ai, au, and oi were pitfalls into which the children repeatedly fell. They could read the combinations from the wall chart, but when they came across them in a word the children invariably sounded each single letter. Thus, oo was pronounced o + o, or as the long vowel of "awe"; ee was pronounced e + e, or as the long vowel of "eh"; oe was pronounced o + e; eu was pronounced e + u, and one little girl said it was the "air" we breathed; ai was pronounced a + i; ou was pronounced o + u. To overcome this recurring difficulty, which was due to the inconsistency of vowel values - that is, the vowels in combination have not the same values as the separate vowels - the combinations were tied together by a curved line drawn over the top. The children were now told that these letters were married, and were to be regarded as one letter, not two, and, being married, their names were changed. The two values of the letter y were puzzling for some time. The children read y-e-s and called it i-es, which, according to their vernacular, is the word "ice." After the y difficulty had been apparently overcome, one boy would persist in writing yoo for "you," and, as he was phonetically correct according to the scheme, he was praised for his ingenuity, but told that he must write ue. He was evidently puzzled, but he accepted the ruling against him, though his intelligence told him that something was wrong. O-e-v-e-r was persistently read as o-ever, and p-o-e-n-i as po-eni, and b-o-e-t-h as bo-eth. But as po-eni and bo-eth are broad Yorkshire for "pony" and "both," the transition was easy. In the same way children readily translated the southern aa in "laaf," "daans," and "kaasel" to short northern a, "dans," "laf," and "kasel." The pronunciation of er in "her, berd, gerl" was at first invariably the er in "merry"; but as these are common words the children soon learnt to recognize them as "her," "bird," and "girl." B-oo-sh and p-oo-t, and p-oo-si were not recognized; the children uttered them with the long oo of "food" or the short o of "bosh." The reduction of combined or double vowels to a single vowel in final positions (as in "we, me, he, so, no") caused much perplexity. The leter u in t-u is misleading. Our children naturally pronounce "ter," as "ter" for "to" is Yorkshire dialect, and the spelling t-u says "ter." We try to teach our children to say "too" and not "ter "; we may be wrong, but personally I regard "ter" as an example of slovenly speech.


Thus far our experiment has gone. We have not yet reached what we anticipate will be the most difficult stage - the transition from the Simplified to the normal spelling; and, in the light of this experiment, it seems a pity that such a transition should ever have to be made. Everything in the experiment points to the fact that, whereas learning to read under normal conditions is a long and tedious process, extending more or less throughout the whole of school life, under the Simplified Spelling scheme a complete mastery of reading - except for the meanings of new and unfamiliar words - would be accomplished in the first two or three years. When once the children have overcome the initial difficulties of associating sounds with signs there is nothing more to learn. The children can proceed on their own initiative to decipher any and every word.


So far, our experiment has been made mainly on the "reading" side. The saving of time, and encouragement of individual initiative and self-reliance of the children, have been amply and practically proved. Yet, to my mind, the greatest advantage of Simplified Spelling lies in the writing or reproductive side. Reading appeals to the eye. Each word, regardless of its spelling, becomes a word picture. A child could eventually be taught to read from any spelling, however far removed from phonetic truth the spelling might be. In reading, children do not consider the spelling, and the most successful reader is the one who, ignoring the phonetic construction of a word, commits the word-form to some pigeon-hole in his memory. Even with a simplified, or a purely phonetic spelling, the power of word recognition would require to be cultivated to ensure fluency. With the old spelling, the child takes it for granted that y-e spells ye, and y-e-s spells yes, and e-y-e-s spells eyes, because the teacher says so. In the new spelling, he takes the word for granted because the spelling says so. A child easily recognizes hundreds of words in reading, but utterly fails to reproduce the words correctly in writing. The teacher who has to mark composition exercises frequently spends most of the time in marking spelling errors, which have a tendency to overshadow the composition itself, making it appear to be only of secondary importance. The child looks ruefully on the blue pencil marks which so lavishly and unsympathetically disfigure and belittle his best effort. Our wretched spelling has much to answer for as a discourager of that most desirable accomplishment, the ability to write in good English.


Teachers are daily coming across instances where a child has reproduced a word backwards way - d-n-a for and and o-h-w for who, whilst many a child has put down all the letters in a word, but in entirely wrong order. This is only a natural result of the "look-and-say," "learn- to-read-quickly" method. With Simplified Spelling this could be largely obviated, because reading and spelling could keep a more even pace with each other. Recognition by visual familiarity does not guarantee an accurate absorption and retention of detail. It is possible for me to recognize at a glance a person, place, or object from a drawing; yet I may be quite incapable of reproducing that drawing even approximately. So it is with reading and spelling. The child may easily recognize a word in reading and yet be quite incapable of reproducing the word accurately in writing or spelling. To acquire this power of reproduction with the normal spelling the child has to undergo a course of spelling drill, with innumerable dictation exercises. Dictation exercises are at present a necessary but sinful waste of childhood and of teachers' time and effort. Simplified Spelling ensures not only that a child recognizes a word, but it gives him the power to reproduce the word without the wasteful drudgery and necessity of spelling drill, as it calls to his aid both visual memory and reason. In the old spelling, he who reasons is lost. During this experiment it has been repeatedly demonstrated, and found possible, for children to write correctly words which they had never before seen. How many people dare do that in the old spelling?


To sum up - the experiment, so far as it has gone, has been a decided success, realizing all the expectations we hoped from it. The class teacher - to whom, it will be remembered, the scheme was strange, and who was nervous about undertaking the work - has now only praise to bestow upon Simplified Spelling. Her diffidence has vanished, and in its place there is a cheerful confidence. The teacher is now hopeful, and firmly convinced that during the next few months the class will advance far beyond the possibilities of work under normal spelling. Our message to all infant-school teachers is one of hope and confidence. You may shake off all doubts and fears. Try the experiment yourself; you will never regret it. The progress that has already been made clearly indicates that if Simplified Spelling were officially recognized and adopted all spelling difficulties would be overcome by the time children had passed out of Standard 1, which is the time under the old spelling when the real difficulties begin. Spelling lessons could with safety be omitted from the time-table, and as spelling occupies so much time in dictation and spelling exercises, in composition and in reading, think what a saving of energy and time there would be in the child's short school life. No longer need the child rely on his teacher or his spelling book - his own intelligence is sufficient. The success of Simplified Spelling should furnish a rallying cry to all interested in education, not only to demand, but to insist on the adoption and official recognition of some form of Simplified Spelling for the English language. "Let us, then, be up and doing." Let 1918 be a year of achievement! May it be known as the historic year in which the shackles of unreason in spelling were officially removed, and the year in which the thick, accumulated fogs of ages disappeared before the genial sunshine of common sense and Simplified Spelling!

In the absence of the Chairman, Prof. RIPMAN expressed the thanks of all present to the readers of the addresses. Owing to an interruption of the proceedings due to an air raid warning, it was impossible to have a discussion.

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