[IAEP] Reading (was Re: changes in outlook with Sugar

Alan Kay alan.nemo at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 4 08:35:28 EDT 2009

Hi Ed, 

I couldn't agree more. But the reason that there are so many non-reading-non-writing children and adults is that there are not enough adults around who understand how to do all this (imagine how wonderful it would be if all adults just understand what Montessori was really trying to do and how). My essaylet was aimed at the very difficult problem of how much and many of the gaps created by inadequate mentoring in all areas could be bridged by above threshold computer mentors. I think the answer is "some very important ones, but not all", and I'm advocating a "grand challenge" effort to make the mentors which can fill some of these important gaps.



From: Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com>
To: Tomeu Vizoso <tomeu at sugarlabs.org>
Cc: Alan Kay <alan.nemo at yahoo.com>; K. K. Subramaniam <subbukk at gmail.com>; iaep at lists.sugarlabs.org
Sent: Friday, July 3, 2009 9:43:11 PM
Subject: Reading (was Re: [IAEP] changes in outlook with Sugar

On Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 5:37 AM, Tomeu Vizoso<tomeu at sugarlabs.org> wrote:
> On Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 13:49, Alan Kay<alan.nemo at yahoo..com> wrote:
> [snip]
>> But, if I were trying to make things happen with IAEP, I would try to do
>> just a few main things, and one of them would be to make a
>> program/user-interface which could do a great job of teaching a child to
>> read and write their native language without requiring any more from the
>> adults around them than a little encouragement.

I don't think that we need such a brilliant piece of software to
achieve this. There is much in the Montessori tradition about the
appropriate preparation for reading, which commonly results in an
"explosion" into reading in a day or at most a week per child. The
book Teacher, by Silvia Ashton-Warner, has the best description I know
of this process, in a context that is particularly relevant to our
work, a Maori/English school in New Zealand.

For writing and other skills, the portfolio method seems to have
enormous power, providing sufficient structure to help the students
get started, and sufficient freedom to allow them to continue onward
with no ceiling. Portfolios have gained considerable traction in the
adult world, where they are recommended over resumes for job-seekers.

>> Part of the desired changes
>> in outlook could be made part of the stories and other materials that the
>> kid would encounter along the way (and part of the big change in outlook
>> that we are a part of is fluent reading of non-story materials in general
>> and about outlook changing ideas in particular).

Ashton-Warner's insight: We have to begin with the words that have the
most meaning to the child. After words for familiar objects and
members of the family, the word that she found to have the greatest
power was "frighten", which she took care not to introduce too soon.
Properly-prepared children burst out with whatever frightens them most
at home, in nature, or wherever, and can learn those words immediately
and permanently on the first reading. She is quite disdainful of stock
first-grade readers.

> Do you have already any vision about how to make that happen? I have
> seen lately several people interested in working on better tools for
> reading, may be a very interesting opportunity.

We have to think about a course of reading that captures the child's
imagination. That is not inherently hard to do, but requires
customization to the individual child's interests. Or rather, it
requires sufficient resources to allow the child to customize the
path. (In my youth, that meant checking the ads in the back of every
book I read, and browsing in the library. We can easily adapt this to
the online experience. Nowadays, I use Goodreads occasionally to see
what my friends are reading.) It also means engaging children in
writing their own stories and passing them around to read.

But first, we have to get the child to sufficient fluency of reading
so that the mechanics are not a barrier to enjoyment. Among other
things, this means making provision for dyslexia, which Nicholas
Negroponte can tell us about, and for emotional problems, which
Ashton-Warner describes. Boredom is the greatest obstacle I know of,
whether because of poorly chosen content or failure to achieve

We have a starting point for achieving fluency naturally in the
karaoke-colored TTS speech engine under development. We need to
provide it as a resource to all Activities that deal in text. We
definitely want it to be able to read stories to the children.

We also should use it to create a singalong program stocked with folk
songs of the culture, because Same-Language-Subtitled Bollywood
musicals and TV singalongs have proven to be the best literacy program
in India, and indeed anywhere in the world. Singing engages parts of
the brain that are not involved in reading text, and makes singing
both more enjoyable and more memorable than reading text. Rhyme and
meter are also important aids to memory and to enjoyment.

Thus I suggest a pervasive integration of reading and music, starting
with song, and proceeding to reading and then writing, and at the same
time to musical performance and composition. There are several models
to draw on for each part. Zoltan Kodaly's music education program for
Hungary, for example, or the Dutch and Danish practice of teaching
every child to play a wooden recorder. (According to Montessori
principles, this will work much better than plastic. I don't know
whether there is research to back up that claim, but I can tell you
from decades of experience that wooden recorders just sound better
than plastic ones. Always.) You get kindergarten classes that sound
like church organs on a 4' flute stop.

I am sure that there are traditional methods that we could take
advantage of, used in countries where song and in some cases dance are
inherent in the culture, as in Wales and some parts of South Africa,
among others. I have taught pre-school multilingual music classes,
using methods taught to me by Julie Wong of Music Around the World.

Coming back to the portfolio method, we want to have children write,
draw, take pictures, compose, and perform music, all as naturally as
speaking, and be able to bring them all together to make a point or
explain a subject, or just to show something that is important to the

Then we want the Journal to have the capacity of a Dynabook, to record
and preserve all of the child's work all throughout school. How much
storage would you want, Alan? Then I can calculate when Moore's law
will give us that. Not too many years from now, I would say.

> Regards,
> Tomeu
>> Best wishes,
>> Alan

Silent Thunder (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) is my name
And Children are my nation.
The Cosmos is my dwelling place, The Truth my destination.
http://earthtreasury.org/worknet (Edward Mokurai Cherlin)

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