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POSITION AND CRITICISM
When a child reads in the class, he should be in a proper physical position. A careless or slovenly posture usually results in similar reading. When called on, the child should rise promptly and take the position required by the teacher. Some teachers have the pupil stand at his seat; others require that he shall come to the front and face the class. Prompt physical response is apt to put him in a proper mental attitude for beginning his recitation and, moreover, it saves considerable time in the course of the year.
A Good Position
When reading in the class, the pupil should stand firmly on both feet, shoulders thrown back and chin well up. He should hold his book in his left hand, his right hand thus being free to turn the leaves or to assist him in any other way. If the child cannot see type clearly at fourteen or fifteen inches he needs to consult an oculist. He should habituate himself to hold the book from twelve to fourteen inches from his eyes. At any distance, he should hold the book so that an imaginary line from his eye will form practically right angles with the page. The teacher must take pains to see that the child does not acquire the habit of swaying rhythmically, that he does not distort his face in any way, and that he does not hold his head aslant, so that one eye receives more than its share of strain. Some children get into such bad habits, and later it is very difficult to break them. A mirror will often convince the unbelieving offender of his bad habits.
An observant superintendent in Illinois noticed that when called on the pupils in his schools dragged themselves to their feet, beginning the reading with the rising. The result, he says, was correspondingly bad. He instructed his teachers to accept no recitation from a pupil unless he stood in proper position before beginning to read. No one thing, declares this superintendent, has done so much to improve the oral reading in his schools.
The time required for a child to pass from his seat to the front of the class is probably more than compensated for by the resultant advantages. The pupil has time to get into a proper attitude of mind; gains the ease which comes from standing before others; the class can see the reader and hence follow his reading better; and it makes whatever simple dramatic reading there be easier and more natural to undertake.
While a pupil is reading aloud, the rest of the class sit attentive, with closed books. Of course, if the reading is a mere formal, mechanical repetition of words, the same paragraphs being read by one
pupil after another, it is hard to get and almost inhuman to demand the interested attention of the rest of the class. But if, at each reading, the pupil reciting have some definite problem that he is trying to solve or some interpretation that he is endeavoring to give orally, it is quite a different matter. The class is as interested as the teacher (often taking its cue from him) in whether the reader will do what is expected of him.
Criticism from the class should not only be invited-it should be expected: but it should be very carefully directed and wisely modified. If the class sit with their books open, each finger following the line, criticism of pronunciation and of minor detail will almost inevitably follow. Consequently books should be closed, a finger keeping the page, so that the attention may be given to more important things. Some teachers have only one book used in class; each pupil after reciting hands the book over to the next one called on, indicating, as he does so, the place where he left off reading.
Criticism from fellow members of a class is often heard with more genuine interest than that which the pupils sometimes feel is perfunctorily given by the teacher. Consequently this criticism from the class should be most carefully directed. In the first place, children must be made to understand that criticism means a judgment, not fault-finding. It may praise as well as blame; but, in either case, it should be definite, to the point, and usually detailed. It is wiser, both for the reader and for his critics, to have the class look for and commend the good points in the reading than to disapprove, especially in a vague or general way. A pupil finding fault with a reading should be prepared to say why it was bad and how it can be improved, often to illustrate the improvement.
The teacher will usually find it wise to set some definite problem for each reading. “Let us see,”' he may say, “if John makes us see the picture as he reads”; or, “Try to show through your reading how you feel”; or, “Make us sure of what this long sentence exactly means." A few leading questions may set the criticism on the right track, even though it starts afield. The requirement of justification of criticism or of a different reading restrains the overhasty and also challenges the instinct for rivalry which may thus be directed for general improvement.
No child should ever be permitted to read except in his best manner, either in or out of the reading class. When he reads his problem in the arithmetic lesson, the statement from a history, a report in geography, or what not, nothing below his best should be accepted. Slovenliness in actual applied reading can never be overcome in the reading class alone.
ARTICULATION AND ENUNCIATION
If children heard only the best enunciation of words from the cradle until they reach the fifth grade, they would need only slight and occasional precept to insure perfect practice on their own part. But unfortunately, as we know, such is not at all the case. From babyhood each child hears enunciation which, for the most part, differs merely in its degrees of badness. It is often said that no people speak in so slovenly a manner as Americans.
The primary school does much for the children, but it cannot do all. Even if it had the time, the children are too immature to appreciate the teach ings of careful and accurate pronunciation, or to follow them. So they come into the intermediate and grammar grades presenting this problem, too, for the teacher to attempt. The chance that each child will get enough instruction and practice in his share of the oral reading is ridiculously slight. As well expect him to learn his mathematics by the accidents of daily intercourse. The problems must be undertaken seriously and more or less independ ently if we hope to improve the enunciation that we hear on every hand.