A couple of people commented on my last post that they didn’t know Dick and Jane books had African American characters. I didn’t remember that either until I saw the newest issues on the store shelves. I did some reading on it today and found out that the African American family was added to the books in 1965 in the volume "Now We Read".
The books were popular in American schools between 1940 and 1970. I remember using them when I was in kindergarten and first grade. I must have stared at those pictures intensely many times because when I see them now they are as familiar as family photographs. I loved those books because I could read them and they were fun stories. I can still imagine the feel of the pages turning and recall the texture, sound and scent of the paper used to make them. After I got better at reading I remember thinking the simplicity was silly and boring. We used to make fun of them after we were confident in our reading skill.
Dick and Jane books were developed with the philosophy that kids can learn to read by mastering a growing list of sight words. The series fell out of favor in the 70s when phonics got big. The pendulum swung the other way and schools got rid of them. Some were required to throw them in the trash or even burn them.
The thing is there is a (hopefully brief) period of time when one is learning to read that this type of book is just right. I think they are good for the very beginning readers at Buddy’s level (he’s four and not in kindergarten yet). He doesn’t know enough phonics to sound out words. He is passionate about reading the print in his environment. He wants to read a real book. He has been in an intensely literate environment his whole life. He’s been read to every single day. All the people who love him spend a significant amount of time reading for information, work and pleasure. He has been drilled in the alphabet; he knows rhymes and spontaneously identifies them. He knows the power of words. He understands the language of stories. He’s been primed. When a child like this is propelled by eager motivation to read you need a fun book to put in their hands. If you can make an interesting story with 50, 100, or 200 words kids will eat it up. He is continuing to get phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence lessons from me and from his daycare teachers. Decoding and phonics will develop as he continues to put that all together.
I have been teaching reading long enough to see several trends come and go. I’ve taught enough kids and adults how to read that I know the wisdom of the middle way. A little of this, a little of that, and each individual can find what they need based on their individual learning style. If one method isn’t working, try something else. Phonics, whole language, key vocabulary, you name it. Whatever lights the fire!