Category Archives: Educational Research Bulletin

The Content of a Free Reading Program (1937)

LaBrant, L. (1937, February 17). The content of a free reading program. Educational Research Bulletin, 16(2), 29–34.

Based on her implementation of a free reading program at the Ohio State University School, LaBrant documents the success of the program against common complaints about free reading.

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Quoting LaBrant:

Within the last few years heated discussion has centered around the question of free reading for high-school students in English classes. Critics have insisted that interest as a basis for book selection merely tends to establish poor taste; they have stressed the importance of organization in reading as in any program; they have assumed that free reading, with its emphasis upon pupil-direction, lacks content. Indeed, the arguments in slightly more abstract form are those frequently advanced against any program in whose construction pupils participate, and have been offered as criticism of the whole progressive-school movement. Perhaps the basic misunderstanding comes from careless use of the term “interest.” An interest is not an entity, unchangeable, fixed. It is merely a way of behaving at a given time, and may be modi-fied, directed, developed, or discouraged. The important matter for the educator is to realize that interest means a strong tendency to behave in a certain way, and to understand that that tendency has driving power which is better used than thwarted. (p. 29)

At the Ohio State University School reading, or the study A of literature, develops as an inherent factor in the entire school program….Classes consider the whole field of reading, and work out group study and discussion around common problems of development. There is no assignment of books or pieces for uniform study except in rare cases where an entire class feels the need for introduction to an unfamiliar form or type. There is constant demand that the individual pupil contribute from his experience, and in consequence em-phasis is placed on understanding and careful interpretation. In addition to this emphasis on careful reading, from time to time classes make inventory of group development, setting up common criteria for judging. (pp. 30-31)

Recently an attempt was made to evaluate the free reading of one class (graduated June, 1935) in the light of a three-year record. Fifty-nine pupils, 26 boys and 33 girls, with an aver-age yearly enrollment of 57, made up the group. The study concerns the content, the organization, and the resulting drives in the free reading of this one class in the Ohio State University School….With neither teacher was there ever a uniform reading assignment for an entire class, however; and diversified reading was always a part of the pupil’s program regardless of the particular class unit of a given period. (p. 31)

The joint processes of analysis and synthesis are seen in the work of the twelfth year, when pupils insisted on seeing their intensive, individual units within a chronological setting which all assisted in formulating. That such a succession of meaningful experiences could be thought of as lacking in “content” is absurd. There was, it is true, no teaching of techniques as an end, no unit on the sonnet, no history of English or American literature. Voluntarily, the class spent three weeks in the twelfth year on reproducing Elizabethan dramatic scenes, singing Elizabethan music, and reading excerpts from a variety of Elizabethan lyric and dramatic writers for class enjoyment as an element in making the chronological approach more vivid. In brief, while there was organization, it was not the organization of the conventional program, and was not set up in advance of pupil understanding and need. (p. 32)

Sex differences are evident, although reasons are not suggested. The girls read twice as much as the boys, with especial interest in drama and poetry. Neither boys nor girls, however, showed the strong interest in romantic fiction, hero stories, and adventure so commonly attributed to adolescents.

The theory that in a free or extensive reading program designed to utilize interest and to serve individual needs there will be fruitless reading of light fiction gains no evidence from this study. The report does, however, point to the possibility that the adolescent has much greater power to read and to think intelligently about reading than the results of our conventional program have led us to believe. (p. 34)

The Fallacy of “Modified Courses” (1936)

LaBrant, L. (1936, May 13). The fallacy of “modified courses.” Educational Research Bulletin, 15(5), 141-143.

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LaBrant challenges the narrow use of intelligence tests to track students.

Quoting LaBrant:

American secondary education was for many years open to the privileged few, and only recently have we conceived our high schools as the property of the entire adolescent group. This generally recognized fact is perhaps responsible for our persistence in thinking of secondary education as planned for the more able of our young people. Consequently, when we consider mental ability we mean ability to do academic work. Mental tests, developed on the assumption that certain academic experiences are common to the mass of individuals, reflect what have come to be thought of as basic high-school experiences. …Unfortunately this emphasis on the intelligence test as a device for elimination has tended to obscure rather than to clarify its values. Instead of studying the interests and abilities of pupils, we have classified children with an emphasis on lack of ability rather than possession of ability. (p. 141)

We have frequently in schools having so-called homogeneous grouping, talked of the high group as those who can do certain types of work, and of the low groups as those who are underprivileged, unable. All of this vocabulary has had its effect on our teaching. Disregarding the strong interests, and the actual abilities of a third or even a half of our children, we have considered instead their inability to do certain operations, and have attempted to provide substitutes. Now a substitute implies that the thing offered is less desirable than the object for which it is a substitute. In education the implication is that we teachers wish that the pupils could all do a certain type of work, but that, since unfortunately this is not so, we will do the best we can and provide something as nearly like as possible. (pp. 141-142)

The point is that the dull or average child has strong interests, and that they are not necessarily faint shadows of the interests of more scholarly children. They are real and individual, and deserve consideration on their own merits. (p. 142)

In A certain high school, for example, superior students study algebra and geometry to clarify the problems they meet in a study of the natural world about them. This seems reasonable and desirable. The students are curious about the scientific development of their age, and eager to investigate it. Mathematics plays a large part in this scientific world of today. But this same school offers to the duller students, just as eager to use and examine the inventions of their times, not additional work with wires and dynamos and batteries, but as a substitute for the algebra and mathematics which is involved in the technical study of the others, a review of arithmetic with more practice in figuring percentages and in multiplying and dividing. Numerous publishers are offering to schools modified editions of the classics-Dickens written down, Scott without his details of description, famous classics with the difficult words eliminated. Back of such offerings is not a study of the reading needs and interests of average children, but an ideal of copying the reading activities of better students. (pp. 142-143)

If educational practices are to produce active, thinking citizens, they must be based on the real needs of the children who are educated, not on shadows of the needs of a small group. Intelligence tests are useful, but only if they are considered as positive rather than negative. They must then be recognized as the limited measures which they are, and supplemented by information concerning the emotional equipment, the interests, skills, and abilities of the children. Visitors to many progressive schools fail to distinguish, in a class where work is largely individualized, the brilliant from the less intelligent children. All appear interested and intelligent, because they are using intelligence on problems meaningful to them. The teacher who complains that a low ability class is dull and uninterested is in all probability offering material which is chosen for values suitable to more gifted children. Interest is not the property of genius, as may be seen from watching dull to average children at their chosen sports. Let us have suitable courses, yes, but not modified ones. (p. 143)