Monday, November 2, 2009

The way first graders learned in 1953

(Editor’s note: My father, author of the following newspaper column from 1953, was the son of a school teacher who Dad late in life described as an abusive father. Dad once wrote about how his dad who during the 1920s taught in a one-room country school near Mountain Home, Idaho, whipped Dad and two other junior high age students who he caught fighting with lilac bushes. And another time he took a belt to his ninth grade boys who failed to return to class from the basketball court. In 1953, Dad wrote that a certain amount of such corporal punishment might be necessary in schools. But he never described exactly how much. I know he whipped me for fighting with my younger brother when I was nine or ten. But I’m not sure he’d have been happy if a teacher had taken his belt to me – which I never saw happen to any of my classmates. Anyway, it’s clear in this column that he liked the way this first grade teacher in our small town approached her job. Standardized tests were apparently the last thing on her mind.)

The Argus Observes
By Don Lynch
From the Nov. 5, 1953 issue of the Ontario Argus-Observer

The capable Ontario teacher Mrs. Sylvia Osborn brought her charts and illustrative material and various teaching helps to the weekly Kiwanis luncheon and presented the program to the club men for their annual observance of American Education Week.

There is no rigid schedule to first grade work, she said. Instead the information taught is worked into the child’s everyday living.

Each morning Mrs. Osborn’s class starts with the day’s news. At this time each day, the learning of reading is related to the habit of reading about the news.

First graders, she says, are very observant about the weather. So they keep a record every day and at the end of the year they know how many sunny days, rainy days, windy days, etc. there have been during the school term.

A major reaching effort is directed at making the first graders number conscious. Over and over again they are taught that the same combinations will produce the same results whether they are dealing with blocks, or apples, or people or animals or any other units. The little ones have a hard time making the transfer of mathematical reasoning from one subject to another and this is a slow learning process.

Six year olds have a different adjustment problem in getting used to the closeness of school work. The rate that reading is learned is much affected by the youngster’s natural ability to focus his eyes.

The children make up the first stories they read, writing them in simple terms to learn simple words, and then re-reading what they have written. They also illustrate their stories, drawing the characters and situations in a group effort.

One evidence of the relation of education to everyday living is that children in this year’s first grade classes insist on equipping their houses with TV antennas.

(Editor’s note: In the fall of 1953, TV had just come to Eastern Oregon. Good antennas in Ontario were picking up the signal from a Boise, Idaho station, the first to begin broadcasting in the area.)

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