Researching the Teaching of Reading through Direct Observation

Tools, Methodologies, and Guidelines for the Future

Authored by: James V. Hoffman , Beth Maloch , Misty Sailors

Handbook of Reading Research

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780805853421
eBook ISBN: 9780203840412
Adobe ISBN: 9781136891427

10.4324/9780203840412.ch1

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Abstract

When all was quiet, one of the pupils called out: “I ain’t got no ruler.” In answer to this the teacher, without correcting or even paying the slightest attention to the incorrect language that had been used by the child, said to him: “You don’t need a ruler. Do it the way you done it yesterday.” Then the words of the oft-repeated (spelling) list were slowly dictated by the teacher. When the word “steal” was reached, she remarked: “Spell the ‘steal’ you spelled this morning, not the ‘steel’ you spelled yesterday.” When the word “their” was reached, the teacher asked, “How do you spell ‘their’?” “T-h-e-i-r – their,” sang the children. What kind of a ‘t’ do you use in their?” “Capital ‘t’” one of the pupils answered. “That’s right,” said the teacher … Here the teacher said to me, “They don’t use capital letters regularly in this class; I only let them use capitals when they write proper names and proper things.”

(Joseph Mayer Rice, 1893, p. 72) Joseph Mayer Rice has been variously credited as the “inventor of the comparative test” (Engelhart & Thomas, 1966); a “founder of the progressive movement” (Graham, 1966); and even as the “father of research in teaching” (Berliner, 2007). Whether these titles exaggerate Rice’s contributions to education or not, it is widely agreed that Rice, a medical physician, was one of the very first to venture into classrooms to study teaching. Rice was fundamentally concerned with the quality of schooling in America. He had studied education in Europe and was impressed with the “scientific” approach being taken there. Over a period of 5 months, beginning in January of 1892 and finishing in 1893, he visited classrooms in 36 cities to “witness” as much teaching as possible (p. 2). He relied only on “personal observation of teaching” (p 5). In every school district he observed in at least 30 to 35 classrooms, claiming to have observed over “twelve hundred” teachers. It is not entirely clear the method Rice used to record his observations nor is there detail on his process of analysis. The book is filled with some transcripts of classroom interactions suggesting that his noting taking could have been quite detailed. Rice recorded his observations and reported his findings over a series of years using both periodical writing (chiefly in The Forum) and in book form (Rice, 1893). Rice was highly critical of the schools he visited and the teaching he observed identifying only four of the systems he visited as deserving of positive attention and decrying most of the others as being “unscientific” and “mechanical.”

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