To the Editor:
During my second year of teaching, in 1969, I would have benefited from an exchange of letters with Jonathan Kozol (“Letters to a Young Teacher,” Commentary, Aug. 29, 2007.) That year, my principal set up a class of the school’s lowest-scoring 4th grade readers, who participated in a federally funded program referred to as “Talking Typewriter.”
My 33 kids and I commuted twice a week to a downtown Cleveland location, where they read slides, in a sort of cloze test, and typed words to fill in blanks in a way that made sense. Prior to our first session, I had introduced the keyboard layout to the students and drilled them until they were fairly fast at locating letters.
The program was set at a speed that would allow a nontypist to complete responses without pressure, but the kids in my class soon showed signs of boredom. I requested a faster pace. At first the administrators refused, but they were persuaded to agree through help from my principal, and by my additional suggestion that we also give the kids access to the typing function, free of the programmed reading, so that they could type and publish handwritten material they would create at school. By the year’s end, I felt our efforts showed that if an innovative approach were used, kids who had earlier been unsuccessful could realize success.
That was just one unusual practice I made use of that year. Lyrics to carefully selected songs, such as “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations, caught the kids’ attention, developed their vocabularies, and gave us great practice in how to decode. One thing I know: That class of kids ended the year proud of themselves. What else does a teacher or the community need?
A version of this article appeared in the September 26, 2007 edition of Education Week as A Classroom Memory, Stirred by Kozol Essay