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Mary walks into her garden looking “quite contrary” and finds silver bells and cockle shells and the pretty maids all in a row, and she not only finds them but she finds the words that stand for these things on the printed page. And there you have it, the picture and the page and the pointing out of the name of each actor on the page, and presently the child is reading; for reading has been made easy by making use of the dramatic instinct.
Since it is true that the dramatic instinct is such a powerful factor in driving home lessons of all sorts, scientific, practical, material as well as ethical, I have been surprised at the sparing use that is made of it in the teaching of the subject of Reading itself in our schools.
In my experience as a teacher I have found that the children of the lower primary grades are taught to read well. With selections of the sort described above, Mother Goose Rhymes, stories that hold the little children's attention because of the repetitive or accumulative rhythmic swing, any teacher can train her children to read with expression because they have grasped the whole thought and it has become their own.
But when we get into the higher grades of the elementary school, we find that the reading deteriorates into a mere desultory, monotonous calling of words. The teacher, not alive to the possibilities there are, in calling forth the wonderful power that the child has of throwing himself into the character, and really becoming that character for the time being, shuts herself in and the child in, and the opportunity is lost for introducing a child to the heroes of all literature in a most interesting way. If the boy of six loves to be Tommy Tucker singing for his supper, will not the boy of fourteen love to be the Saxon King Fitz James or the Highland chief Roderick Dhu! If the girl of six loves to be Little Bo-Peep will not the same girl at fourteen love to be Ellen or Queen Elizabeth, or the Goddess of Liberty?
Not long ago while traveling in Europe, the writer fell in with a distinguished actress in the same compartment of a train and they rode for some distance together. In the course of their conversation the actress, while describing her part in a well known play said, “When I am playing that part I am so full of the character that for the time being I am the character." And so it is, that I would teach our boys and girls to read so dramatically that for the time being they become the characters they read about.
One of our educational aphorisms is "Teach objectively.' How few of us teach reading objectively! We forget, I am afraid, how limited are the experiences of our children, especially of the children of a great city, concerning the things of which authors write. And so, we of a larger growth and greater experience, read on with the children, taking it for granted that they understand.
Let us take “The Lady of the Lake” and teach it objectively. Have you access to a good set of stereoscopes and the pictures that go with them? Get them and show the class the lochs and the mountains and the bridge and the ford as Scott describes them. Have the victrola records of the Scotch songs and bagpipe; get the chart or the book of tartans and if possible show them a real Scotch costume. Buy a bunch of heather, or get a good colored print or poster showing a heather-covered hillside.
Then dress up your characters in tartan shawls and Scotch bonnets and have them walk over the hills together and talk as they draw near to Coilantogle Ford where the combat took place; and you have your boys and girls so in the spirit of the whole poem that they will never forget it. They become for the time being Roderick and James and Douglas and Ellen and Margaret.
Take again "The New Citizenship." Have the boys and girls prepare the pageantry of this themselves. Will they not understand it much better if they make believe that they are the citizens, and if they write the speeches and read them and recite them, making the lofty thoughts their own?
The stories have been brought together in this reader with a view to giving the teachers an opportunity of continuing to develop the dramatic instinct in the boys and girls of the upper grades. Some of the stories have been dramatized, some of the plays have had the story told first, and some are simple stories which the boys and girls can dramatize themselves if they wish to do so.
The whole purpose of this book is to get our boys and girls to do something. “We learn to do by doing!” The old philosophy of Pestalozzi holds good in large measure in this instance for, not only do they learn to read so as io give pleasure to all who hear them, but they learn to understand fully the thoughts of the writers, and to feel the very heart throbs of the characters in the stories.
Try it, teachers. Try, it children, and the reading lessons of our elementary school in the upper grades will take on a new meaning.
Principal of Public School 15, Manhattan. New York, January 7, 1917.