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Reading (04/22/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

First grade at St. Stephen’s School featured Sister Rosaline, who looked to me as a five-year-old like one of those “apple dolls” you find in old country store gift shops. She was not much taller than we were, but dressed in black with only her face showing was quite imposing. She was very stern, not like the loving, caring, kindly women or men we associate with first grade teachers today.

On the first day of school, I knew no one, but soon was introduced to one of my classmates. He sat next to me, crying, missing his mother. Sister Rosaline walked up to him and said, “Joseph Watts! Stop crying right now. You are ruining your tie!” (The boys had to wear shirts and ties, and we wore dresses, until a year later, when we began wearing uniforms. The boys still wore shirts and ties.)

But we learned to read in Sister Rosaline’s class. We were taught the alphabet, and the sounds the letters made. Our word recognition instruction was part “sight words” such as “the, he, she, say, said,” to make reading quicker, and part phonics, to help us sound out words such as “Sally, Dick, Jane, Mother, Father.”

When we read our textbooks, which were full of stories (some pretty good ones in later grades, a few of which I remember to this day), we broke into groups according to our reading abilities. I was very proud, I remember, to be a Bluebird, which was the top group. Sad to say, I don’t remember the names of the other groups. But as kids got better in the other groups, they could move up, and by the end of the year, most of the kids were Bluebirds.

When I heard about the new reading program in District 861 schools, called Balanced Literacy (see story, page 1A), I immediately thought of Sister Rosaline, and learning to read. I also thought of Virginia O’Brien, who taught my daughters to read. She told me and John when we talked to her about starting Cassidy in her first grade that she would teach her students enough reading and math that they would be able to get along in life if they never went to school another day — not that she recommended that course of action. And she did. Her instruction has stood our girls in good stead through sixteen years of formal education.

Our son, Jake, was at Central School. He was most demoralized at first in Joan Klagge’s kindergarten because he couldn’t read, and there was a boy in the class who was such a good reader that Joanie sent him out to read the menu posted in the hall to see what was for lunch. At home we called the boy “David Cahoy the Reading Boy.”

But one day Jake came home, walked into the kitchen and said to me, “Ask me to read!” “Read what?” I asked. “Anything!” he replied. And sure enough, he finally had figured it out and could read. But then by fourth grade, when he should have been learning the multiplication tables, we were attacked by the popular but irrational opposition to “rote” learning, which is another word for memorization. As a consequence, we had to take over his math education at home, even using the teacher-abhorred flash cards to learn the tables.

All those memories came flooding back as I read the article about Balanced Literacy, which is nothing more (I hope) than bringing back the tried and true ways of teaching kids to read.

So often, teachers and administrators have been sold a bill of goods on a teaching system, simply in order to get them to buy materials or training, and it is to the disadvantage of the student. This seems to have been the case with the “Basal” system of teaching reading that Dist. 861 has been using since 2003. (One should note that this is one thing that can not be blamed on Paul Durand, given the date of purchase.) The teachers who are bringing this forward for change are to be lauded. But that it has taken so long, and such dismal reading test scores, to wake up to the fact the system doesn’t work is a mystery to me.

What is also a mystery is what on earth a “book room” could be. Is it something like a library, which most district elementaries trashed when computers became the thing? I remember well the books in the Central School library being moved out to accommodate computers, which had a rudimentary contribution to make to education at the time (and still can’t replace books as economical reading tools).

Sixty years ago, Sister Rosaline was using a system she called “teaching reading” and it worked. Let’s hope Balanced Literacy, which sounds a lot like her method, works. If it doesn’t, we’ll have another generation of people who will never learn to read very well, diminishing their ability to get further education, get a good job and be happy.

P.S. And let’s not forget that modern technology — computers, cell phones, etc., with their Facebook and texting — rely on…READING.

Senior Memory Book - attention parents

Each year the Winona Post publishes a memory book for seniors graduating from Winona Senior High School, Cotter High School and Hope High School, as well as some homeschoolers.

This year, we have received information from all of the Hope Lutheran seniors, most of the Cotter High seniors, and only 80 seniors from Winona High, out of a possible 230 or so.

We will have a very nice book without all of the students, but each year I get calls from the parents or grandparents of students who did not submit pictures or write-ups, wondering why their student is not in the book. I hate it when that happens, because it is a missed opportunity for these kids’ relatives, neighbors, and friends and others in the community, to have a memento of their graduation.

So I urge parents and grandparents to make sure their senior is in the book. Tell your student it might be an opportunity to get cards (with something in them) from people who see them in the book — just a suggestion. Students should have received the forms at school, and if not can get them in school offices.

Students often don’t look beyond the here and now, and don’t realize what this will mean later. 


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