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Learning Disabilities

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. X no. 3

February 1981

First published in 1981. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1981-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-307-4 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

1981 has been declared The Year of the Disabled. This volume which covers the months of September ‘80 to June ‘81 is dedicated to presenting some of our contributions to the education of people separated from the mainstream for special reasons. The September issue contained a proposal of a new Braille for reading French. The December issue concerned itself with Clinic Cases and their remediation through the powerful techniques we use in our Psychopedagogical Clinic. In this issue we consider the case of Learning Disabilities. The April issue will be devoted to the Education of the Deaf and the last issue in June to a broader challenge encompassed in the title “We are all Handicapped somehow.” In the articles of this issue we restrict ourselves to what we believe to be a distinct contribution to the field. From our work in our clinic, we know that this contribution has made an actual difference to the lives of those who were referred to us as learning disabled. In a field in flux, one in which all sorts of specialists add their input, it is easy to be confused and not know what is the proper perspective on this matter for students and parents. Many despair. We think that there is hope, in very many cases and we shall attempt to share our reasons for this view with our readers. It seems to many people in the learning disabilities field that the multiplicity of the viewpoints involved in the study of this field is necessary, since so little is known about what learning disabilities are and how to treat them. The empirical side of these matters however, requires action. Despite our uncertainties, all of us must act when working with students. It is not necessary to have an overall theory to do good work. A good theory may help, but empirical situations can also be met empirically, and the value of the inspiration that prompted actions assessed. The implicit theory may later come to the surface. A Book Review and News Items complete this issue.

Table of Contents

1 Making Sense .................................................................... 1 2 Help From The Whole (3 examples) .................................. 7 1 Spelling (in English) ....................................................................... 7 2 Multiplication ................................................................................11 3 Reading......................................................................................... 14 Book Review ....................................................................... 21 News Items ......................................................................... 23

1 Making Sense

Traditionally, the way schools cope with their explicit function as conveyors of knowledge is to fragment a field of study and present knowledge to their students in small amounts, one bit after another. For those who know the whole field, each piece may make perfect sense. That is probably why this path has been followed everywhere, and for such a long time. But for those who submit themselves to the traditional curriculum, it is only at the end of the route that the pieces may join together to make a whole picture. Often, they fail to do so. When we study the mistakes we find in the individual work of students, quite commonly we find that those who are being introduced to a new topic are unable to comprehend what they are meeting for the first time. Since we all take this to be natural, we continue to believe that we are entitled to present knowledge one atom or one molecule at a time, expecting that comprehension of the whole will eventually follow as it may have done in our own case. But if one day we re-examine our premise, and begin to question its validity, we may come across the challenges of how to remain in contact with the whole and, also, how to keep students in this state. We contend that much which goes wrong in learning at school is due to the students difficulty in making sense of the challenges they face. We contend also that it is not difficult to let them “make sense” of what they are working on and that this approach — staying in contact with the whole — changes the relationship of the learners to the field and to


Learning Disabilities

their own performance. When this relationship is improved, it often affects students’ self image as well as their attitude to study and to schools. Our purpose, in this short introduction, is to examine briefly what “making sense” means at different ages, in relation to what each of us has to do at those ages to become capable of forging ahead. All of us are learners of what can be done and what needs to be done at various moments of our life. On the one hand, we have excluded being interested in vast areas of living which were not vital at those stages; on the other hand, we have passionately involved ourselves in activities we then sensed to be vital. This dual state of affairs shifts as years go by, and as we equip ourselves with the instruments for survival in the environment in which we find ourselves. As babies, we exclude all social activities such as earning a living, voting, knowing about religion, for example. But we give ourselves to articulating our relationships to sounds, to sights and lights, to our soma, so as to teach ourselves how to grasp, how to sit, how to stand up, how to crawl and walk, to produce sounds and transform them into speech, etc. As boys and girls, years later, we exclude falling in love and wanting to get a family of our own, but we are passionately attracted to physical games which produce coordination of our senses and mastery of the functioning of voluntary muscles. As adolescents we exclude political and financial games but passionately study the inner life — our emotions and feelings, and how to become a conscious person in contact with our will. As young men and women we delight in the powers of the mind and in the reaches of our imagination. We pursue passionately our intellectual growth, while we accept to be apprentices in the social fields, excluding the responsibility of command until years later when we learn to


1 Making Sense

become leaders at work, at home, or in organizations working for the future through politics, science, or business. These simultaneous exclusions and deep involvements needed to forge — through a process which takes time and consumes one’s energies— the experience necessary to be on top of the activities which are most compatible with what we are and what we are doing, and which form the essence of our growth. It follows that, if we present people of a certain age subject matter which we know is not spontaneously the concern of that age, there will be little or no involvement, and the lasting impact will be negligible. Most school populations have experienced this phenomenon — finding that they retain nothing of some of their classroom studies which are part of traditional curricula. Because the curriculum is decided by people who may be living at levels which value aspects of life not yet meaningful to younger ones — like intellectual pursuits or social activities — matters which generate a gap between students and teachers are often included in the curriculum. We must therefore avoid this way of relating to our students, who identify themselves with what matters most to them, and replace it by giving ourselves the task of presenting to them what we think is vital, in terms that make sense to them. Once these vital matters are part of their minds, students can transform them by shifting their awareness to other components, discovering that these matters are also present in what they already know. To succeed in this endeavor, we must learn to present our students panoramas of the tasks they need to master. They will (and can) only integrate these tasks gradually, but now, they can do so in a manner which is coordinated within the perception of the whole. In this way of working, all the disabilities which result from a loss of the mutual support parts receive from the whole, or from other parts, will thus be avoided. As a result, these matters will make sense more easily.


Learning Disabilities

If this proposal — to put in front of learners all that can help in a manner that helps — has not been attempted, the lack of the support, provided by the whole may well be one of the causes of the learning disabilities exemplified by many school children (and not only by those classified as learning disabled). In the various examples treated at length below, we hope to show why and how the whole helps learners to sense where they are going and how much progress they can make, and, in particular, to feel they can mobilize themselves to be on top of the specific challenges they are tackling. *** For a teacher who wants to help students in this way, a movement of the mind to generate appropriate materials and techniques becomes necessary. Every aspect of every curriculum can be handled in a way compatible with our approach if it is understood as belonging to a wider whole. To help students make sense of the many challenges involved in their mastery of the basic subjects (reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, spelling…) we must ask ourselves first whether the content of our lessons is not isolated from other contents which could lend some support. If we entertain this question we shall find that these supporting contents do exist, and, therefore, that a role for our memory greater than and different from simple retention is now required to propose at the right moment the right lighting for comprehension. So long as we do not relate to the interconnections between items that are interconnected, we obviously cannot be as powerful as we might be if we do relate. Reexamining the contents of the syllabus or curriculum for all mathematics from grades 1 through 12, and, for reading, spelling, and grammar lessons as they are usually presented, may indicate that perhaps we have touched on something essential about why children so easily miss the boat and remain for years handicapped intellectually. Grownups believe, for example, that one must know the alphabet of one’s language or the alphabet of a new language before entering the study of reading it or before learning it. Questioning the role of the alphabet prepares one to consider alternatives. But the alternatives that come to mind may be only substitutes, unable to solve the


1 Making Sense

problems they are supposed to alleviate. Only if each challenge is squarely faced, and adequate responses to the whole are contemplated, can we expect that our answers will be adequate. We shall find some in what follows. They will be particularly concerned with the basic subjects, but there exist similar answers for more advanced as well as less scholastic subjects. When we examine what could make sense to students of certain ages, whose main preoccupations are accessible to us through a study of their spontaneous involvements in life, it becomes clear that not only is it possible to deliver what a conservative society asks of its educational system for the average student attending school, but, also, that the results of this investigation justify realistic changes in the curriculum, in examinations and in the prospects for the future. In particular, this investigation releases time and energy to work on avoiding that aspect of learning disabilities created by the system. To pay attention to this, therefore, produces desirable returns. In the sections that follow, we shall work on three examples among many which could have been chosen. The real challenge we must meet stretches over quite a number of years — certainly more than ten — and is concerned with learning. School learning is only one of the learning activities we engage in all through our lives. Separate consideration of school learning occurs because our society stresses the savings represented by requiring students to assimilate in a few years, rather than reinvent, those aspects of what culture has produced over the centuries which are judged essential for its survival and growth. This assimilation would still take place if we could detach ourselves from this stress in order to consider the wider technical challenges in order to benefit (for the same end) from how “making sense” helps students assimilate the conquests made by culture in its history. Society is not, in fact, concerned with the gains made by students day by day. The sum total of one’s education is what matters, and this stretches over years. Society will support “making sense” if educators guarantee that schools will deliver what is expected of them and if this proposal is justified ideologically and by experience.


Learning Disabilities

“Making sense� has not been tried out systematically, openly, and for what it actually yields. When it has been attempted seriously on a limited scale, it has generated, through its sound basis and general applicability, a certainty which strengthens the scientific efforts that usually lead to universal technologies. This is where we are at this moment. ***


2 Help From The Whole (3 examples)

1 Spelling (in English) Everyone who has attempted to master the spelling of English knows that it looks like a formidable task. Even classroom teachers who have to teach spelling are prepared to admit that spelling remains a problem for themselves after a number of years. There are a few people who even believe that bad spelling passes from parents to their children through the genes. Let us first consider the challenge. The evidence about how good people are at spelling comes from people who have been introduced to spelling within a certain way of teaching reading and writing. Whether these ways are capable of coping with the problems of spelling is a question rarely asked. The analytic, or alphabetic, approach to spelling begins with the assumption that to know the names of the letters does help and people are trained to use these names when “spelling” a word, i.e. when telling which letters are needed to produce the physiognomy of the word. For example: “pea, aitch, why, ess, eye, owe, gee, en, owe, em, why,” is supposed to help know how to write correctly the word physiognomy.


Learning Disabilities

The synthetic, or whole word, approach to spelling assumes that making a good photograph of a word helps trigger its shape when heard or needed, although there are many different shapes associated with almost every sound in English. For example, there are 20 different ways of eliciting the sound of the vowel in it. Those who learned to read by the whole word approach know that it has not equipped them to be good at spelling, simply because there are too many words in the language — not all are met frequently enough to make a sufficient impression. In fact, there are many more criteria behind the traditional choices for the shapes given to words than can be set in a brief and neat list of samples meant to take care of all cases. Hence, those who can evoke the images of words they have seen are not certain of what to do to conceive of the shapes of words not yet met, and writing these words is simply a hit or miss operation. The people who have mastered spelling think that they must have done the right things to reach this mastery, and, since they cannot conceive of how they did it, attribute their mastery of spelling to their general intelligence. Hence, not to be good at spelling is a reflection on one’s gifts, and poor spellers must be pitied. It is generally believed that practice in writing new words is the main way of remembering their form. Dictation — the school exercise which presents orally words which must be written down — is used to bring forth whether one “knows” how to spell properly mainly a set of words required to show that one is a person who has benefited from one’s schooling. When someone cannot make sense of the demands of spelling and does not improve when undergoing the common traditional exercises, the label of “learning disability” is readily available. The truth is that these people have not been helped by what they had been exposed to, and we need to study spelling per se to come to the aid of those in difficulty. *** 8

2 Help From The Whole (3 examples)

One proposal which seems to help those presented with it is a new organization of English which we call “The English Fidel.” Conceived in 1958 in Ethiopia, the local word “Fidel” (which serves there to trigger the alphabet of Amharic) was adopted for the organization, in any language of all the spellings of that language collected in columns representing each one of the sounds of that language. Sounds were given colors so that each color represents a particular sound, whatever the traditional shapes given to that sound when written down in words. Hence, colors both unify and distinguish. Most people who are introduced to the Fidel very quickly consider the index of color as a determiner in the job of thinking about the transcription of the spoken language into the written one. The English Fidel, illustrated in black and white below, exists in a classroom size which consists of eight 16''x22'' charts and a 5½''x8'' hand size for home use. It contains 58 separate groups of colored signs, some made of only one sign, but most made of several. One sound column contains 24 signs. The total number of signs or spellings, 408, represent all the orthographic units of English.

Confronted with this array it is possible to make students aware:


Learning Disabilities


that the 58 sounds of English are formed of 23 vowels and 35 consonants;

2 that most sounds have several representations; 3 that every sign on the Fidel corresponds to at least one sound — in some cases up to twelve sounds; 4 that every word is made up of a particular sequence of the signs on the Fidel, or, exceptionally, by one of them; 5 that the English language determines which of the possible sequences that can be formed by selecting some of these signs is an English word. To be good at spelling in English is to manage to generate the proper sequence of these signs for each English word. Learning to spell results from familiarity with those sequences which reflect exactly the sounds of English words. Students must become aware: (a) that there is no rule that tells how to spell every English word; (b) that, instead, one has to be on the lookout for the special composition of every word — one must replace a known sequence of sounds by a sequence of signs, each generated by the choice, from among a certain number of possibilities, of the unique one required for that word. This last awareness expresses the contribution of the whole to the many singular exercises which lead one to make sense of what spelling is all about. Because we have surveyed all words, and found that they can be generated as sequences of signs contained in the Fidel, we are giving our students an instrument whose functioning is evident and which yields the content of a dictionary. Of course, there are techniques for the use of the Fidel which increase the yield as learners become more familiar with it and which evolve to take care of harder challenges. The techniques we developed are called games, because they are easy but provide challenges which increase in difficulty as the powers of the students grow, and because they are self-


2 Help From The Whole (3 examples)

motivating. Most of them exist in print and can be consulted by interested readers.* For this article, what matters mainly is how the totality of the problem of spelling impinges upon the pinpointed exercise of writing “correctly” words of English as soon as one knows them in terms of sounds and often in terms of meanings. Disabilities which result from the lack of these awarenesses will vanish as soon as we give students access to the Fidel, which is finite and limited, manageable, and perhaps even capable of being enjoyed.

2 Multiplication Our second example is taken from mathematics, selected because it is often mentioned as a stumbling block for many students classified as learning disabled. There seems to be one method used universally in schools, whose roots go back hundreds of years — the memorization of the multiplication tables. Even today, when people say they have made the learning palatable by devising means which take away the drudgery of repetition, the overall belief is that unless one knows by heart all the 100 or 144 products in the 10x10 or 12x12 table, it is not possible to multiply any two whole numbers. It could perhaps be said instead that if we learned to multiply, the retention of the specific products might result. But here we are concerned with how the contemplation of the whole helps to make sense of the special instances that make up particular problems met by students. Multiplication tables can be presented as the Pythagorean Array, or a double entry table, in which we place the numerals 1 thru 10 (or 12) on                                                         *

Ref. C. Gattegno, On Spelling New York, Educational Solutions, 1977; also The English Language Fidel Spelling Kit. From ESI.


Learning Disabilities

the top horizontal row and on the left-most column, providing 100 (or 144) empty squares whose two “addresses” are the pairs (a, b) in which a and b are any one of the ten (twelve) figures 1 thru 10 (or 1 thru 12). By filling in these squares, we generate all the products asked for by elementary school teachers. A much more helpful way to arrange these products is the Product Chart invented by Georges Cuisenaire in 1952. This chart consists of rows of “flowers,” the petals of which are colored to be consistent with those of Cuisenaire’s rods, now known as Algebricks. Each flower displays, for a green product, all its factors between 2 and 10. The multiplications that yield the green product can be read vertically (or vertically and horizontally).

Thus, the flower for 12 can be read green (3) times pink (4), pink times green, red (2) times dark green (6), and dark green times red. The flowers on the chart are arranged in rows, so that the products in each row double from left to right. When students work with the Product Chart it tells them: 1

that while the so-called multiplication tables are really addition tables, with several numbers found in a number of them — a property shared by the Pythagorean Array, the Cuisenaire Table is based on true multiplication and the special case of doubling;


2 Help From The Whole (3 examples)

2 not only are the factors ( 10) forming the products made visible through the use of colors, but when there are two or three or four factors ( 10), they are explicitly shown; 3 which products are squares can also be picked up; 4 the products met through doubling can be rearranged to produce the traditional tables; 5 the products are clustered functionally: in most cases, the same products can be read, in at least two ways, sometimes in three and four ways; 6 the products suggest new relationships such as fractions and fractions of fractions; 7 iteration is met in the form of repeated doublings or halvings; 8 groupings and regroupings indicate how to reduce the burden on memory. Still, the most important role of this table is that it is a whole, much greater than the sum of its parts, and it can become a welcome companion for students who can see it grow on them, as a picture does, when it becomes more and more familiar. An additional advantage is the table only tells its secrets to the initiated, those who have been given the instruments to let them find how to label the 37 colored designs the table contains. Since these instruments are actions associated with perceptions, on a performed set of colored rods or Algebricks which every child of 4 or older who has sight and working hands can manipulate, they generate all the products of the table as well as their names. Each name (or label) in the usual system of numeration is transcribed in digits on round counters which fit in the white part of the designs. Entrusting to memory the association of a label to a design is made easier, first, because each grouping on this table contains a maximum of five products, and second, because, when a label is placed on each sui generis design, the figures become associated with the colors surrounding them, and from then on they can be evoked together.


Learning Disabilities

In this way we have indeed helped our students to have enough criteria to fall back on every time a product is required. Those who have used this device are witnesses that its introduction serves students and teachers in a smooth manner and with lasting effects. Much time is saved as well, and multiplication stops being a problem.

3 Reading While spelling and multiplication are, respectively, chapters of the English and math curricula, reading has such an extension that it spans years in schools. In this section, we shall restrict ourselves to those general considerations of greatest help to the population labeled learning disabled, and to consideration of the role of the integrative whole in their case. In the April issue of this Newsletter, we will concern ourselves with the case of deaf students whom we want to teach to read; therefore, we shall not consider the deaf in this writing. Hence, our population is assumed to have learned to speak (say, English) and our challenge is to lead them to the mastery of the written form of their language. In our studies, we found more than a score of meanings for the activity labeled reading. This multiplicity of meanings causes endless ambiguities in the minds of those talking to each other or writing on this subject. We shall consider here only five meanings of reading — denoted R0, R1, . . . . , R4 which are the school’s main concerns. Ro designates the initial approach to reading, which generates in the students what we call “the discipline of reading.” This means the establishment in the minds of the learners that the word itself tells the readers what to say when they look at it and scan it. By separating the triggering of sound from the triggering of meaning, and concerning ourselves first with the former, we give Ro the unique and rigorous task of informing future readers that there is an activity of the mind called


2 Help From The Whole (3 examples)

the act of reading, which is new but determined or well defined, and easy. R0 is needed by all those students who would be baffled by any other introduction to the skills of reading that does not spell out what their minds must entertain to end up as readers. The booklet for Ro is a very thin text, which in most alphabetic languages asks for at most a dozen sessions. It introduces one sign for each of five vowel sounds. The next three R’s, R1 R2, R3 are tackled as follows. R1 aims at the awareness that the act of reading learned in R0 can be extended over a number of signs, triggering sounds which, when functionally strung together, produce not only words of the language but meanings recognizable as those one uses in one’s own spoken speech. R1 is introduced by means of two wall charts containing words in color (cf the segment above on spelling for the sound/color correspondence) which can be scanned and “decoded” as blended sound sequences which trigger actual words used by the students. These words may need to be used in sentences to be recognized and for meaning to emerge in one’s mind. To help the students master the demands of R1, a pointer is used by a teacher, who invites the student (or students) he or she is working with to play games with the color-coded words on the charts. At first, the teacher lets the students apply to these words the techniques of Ro, extended to include one consonant blended with the five Ro vowels. This work produces, first, 10 syllables (5 pairs, each containing a consonant vowel syllable and its reverse) and then, by combining them, many more sequences. Only a very small proportion of these basic syllables have been selected as words by the prehistoric inventors of the various languages. For example, with a (as in at) u (as in up) i (as in it) e (as in set) and o (as in pop) and the consonant p, there are the following syllables: ap, pa, up, pu, ip, pi, ep, pe, op, po of which up is the only English word. When combinations are included, five English words, pap, pup, pip, pep, and pop are produced and at least one readily recognizable sentence, pop 15

Learning Disabilities

up. With the consonant t, there are two syllables that are words, it and at (to is not one of them, since o sounds as in pop), five words recombining syllables, tat, tut, tit, tet, and tot and one phrase, at it. The words for the first Word Chart were selected so that when a specific few consonants (p, t, s in is, s in sit) are chosen, some algebraic transformations (labeled addition, insertion, substitution and reversal of sounds or signs) allow the generation of new words; therefore, the burden on memory is reduced, variety is increased, permitting transfer of knowing and adaptability to the various levels of different students. In fact, hundreds of different sentences can be made with a very restricted set of words which are linked algebraically. If these words are written (on a chalkboard or on paper) and a pointer is used to generate selected combinations of them, students learn to utter English sentences when only temporal sequences have been formed. This game-like activity is the act of reading, extended to produce the “miracle” of generating English as a language in a new form. Students, fascinated by this phenomenon, play many games devised with these instruments. These games, which are described in black and white texts for teachers and students,* are varied, easy, engrossing, promising, and effective. R1, like R0, is a turning point in making students become aware of what reading is and how to be prepared for the next natural extensions, those that take care of the transmission of culture through books to be read and the freedom to write as one’s own means of more permanent expression. R2, simply, takes students through a survey of all the sounds of English, as an extension of the set met in R1, No new demands are made upon the students, they only go on playing the same games with more and more signs, generating more and more sounds until all those of the language have been met. In English there                                                         *

Ref. La Lecture en Couleurs (French), Leocolor (Spanish), Words in Color (English) distributed by Educational Solutions Inc.


2 Help From The Whole (3 examples)

are only 58 sounds. R2 surveys them all, in 8 more wall charts and in one short text of 48 pages. This work is done systematically, but with the same game-like approach which maintains concentration and joy, and facilitates retention because of the practice provided. It also permits the elimination of the deadening drill and repetition generally considered necessary to obtain retention. Quite a number of spellings of English are met in R2. But their systematic and exhaustive study is reserved for the activities of R3. The survey of the content of R3 is that of the complete Fidel, described above. In English, there are 408 separate signs to render the 58 sounds of English as transcribed in all the words of the language. R3 does not include all the techniques which lead to mastery of spelling, although these can be made a part of R3. There are other jobs to be done when one is to become able to read any book, and able to write any statement one can say. R3 considers these jobs, following the same approach as R2, but being much more ambitious, because the learners have at their disposal so much more of the language. There are 10 more Word Charts to play with. Together, R1 thru R3 do the main job schools are entrusted with — making students technically capable of putting down, as society demands, what they can say, and capable of reading what others have said and they could have said, with the same level of comprehension they have when they converse orally on the same topics. The display of charts on the wall, and the other materials and techniques that are part of this approach, can be used systematically to deliver with certainty what parents demand of schools. But more than this, they encompass all the demands required in order to master the tasks involved in learning to read. Furthermore, this is done with joy and ease because it is functional. R4 is not concretized in materials or techniques. We call R4 the challenge of using R0 thru R3 to penetrate the mystery of acquiring new knowledge through reading. R4 is not an extension of R3 as R3 was of R2 or R2 or R1. It is a new activity of the mind which must be studied per se. It has different forms when it is connected with the different school 17

Learning Disabilities

subjects: history, economics, etc.





R4 is a field of application of the previous R’s, and yields knowledge, not skills. Because R3 does the same job as R4 on texts whose content overlaps with one’s experience, it is often confused with R4. Through the materials and techniques we have developed we can take care of all that R3 can make students reach. But strictly new knowledge does not flow from the capacity to utter the words as English statements. R3 is necessary for R4, but not sufficient. If schools want to obtain R4 from R3, they must restrict the content of the reading material offered their students to variations on what they already know. If, instead, R3 has been acquired so as to permit the expansion of experience through reading which leaves one with knowledge that one did not have before, we need to be aware that we left R3 behind and are now engaged in new activities yielding new knowledge to use as knowledge, not as reading. This is what we allocate to R4. If we want wholes to help learning in R4, we shall have to be imaginative and innovative in different ways. R4, for us, is of another order from the previous R’s requiring ad hoc, sui generis treatments. This work is not the job of reading teachers, but of subject teachers who have been made aware that reading (specifically, R3) is involved as a subsidiary activity. To sum up this section on reading let us say that it contains the study of the reading problem met by anyone, classified as learning disabled, or not. The solution it offers to those who specialize in teaching learning disabled students is within the general framework, how the awareness that a whole exists makes learning easy, since our proposals allow one to make sense of the challenges of reading on one’s way to mastery. If we have not tried to put learning disabled students in front of these “wholes” that integrate their potentials and mobilize their energies, we


may have deprived them and ourselves of assistance that, perhaps in many cases, would have saved the day.


Book Review

“Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas” by Seymour Papert. (New York: Basic Books, 1980; $12.95.) This is an important book. It is reviewed here for two reasons. First, we at Educational Solutions are, like Professor Pappert, engaged in providing the kind of computer software which respects the reality of learning by children. Second, we must tell our readers when we have been lucky enough to come across something of value. The matters raised in this book are significant and represent a valid effort to bring together the powers of children and the powers and appeals of the computer in its “micro” form. “Mind Storms” should be studied for what it brings to the reader, and for what it leaves out for the adventurous reader. Both are worth considering. This book must be read carefully — and more than once — for its proposes a thesis which bears deeper scrutiny. In it, we find a mathematician who has generated a lot of enthusiasm in colleagues, as well as a wider public, because he has reached an understanding of science and mathematics, of teaching and psychology, by having an insight into the future as affected by the electronic industrial revolution and the omnipresence of the micro-computer in the world. Pappert warns us that this revolution, now happening under our own eyes, is an opportunity we should try not to miss, and not to trivialize in the field of education. He brings to the center his sight of children’s remarkable capacity for self-education and the computer’s capacity to discipline the mind in an atmosphere of freedom which user/computer


Learning Disabilities

interaction makes possible. There is room for experimentation, imagination, formulation, expansion so that all can play a role. Pappert’s personal contributions in the field are well-known (and have secured him a prominent place among many different adventurous workers in the fields of education, psychology, epistemology, computer science and others). Some of these contributions are spelled out in the book; some others referred to less completely. His computer language for children, LOGO, is one example in the latter category. Pappert clearly senses that the field he sees open in front of him is truly open, and that much will happen in it very soon, mainly because that field is one of the most fertile and is studied by cohorts of workers, whose unbound imaginations may hit upon unsuspected sources of inspiration. Pappert himself tells lovingly what happened to him when in Geneva, near Piaget, he discovered children’s self-education, and the incredible tasks they tackle spontaneously. His trust in children’s intellectual capabilities is constantly brought back to the reader’s notice. This contact with children made him even have reservations concerning some of Piaget’s findings. If Pappert was to believe his own observations of children so that they made sense to him, he had to abandon what his initiator in epistemology showed him. The advantage of being a working mathematician — over Piaget the amateur-is obvious, at least in the areas where the amateur was out of his depth. In spite of this, Pappert’s respect and enthusiasm for Piaget and his work are unbounded. Perhaps a little too much so in our view. In fact, this personal connection with a certain school of thought, though valuable biographic ally, may one day be of no significance, since Pappert is learning all the time and letting the children teach him. His broad outlook on education, his readiness to move from a position no longer tenable to one with greater empirical support, his imagination, his penetration of the challenges, his ease in working with others, all are assets the reader can appreciate and benefit from. Some chapters take off on topics not at once visibly connected to the main 22

theme, but valuable per se, mobilizing the reader to think further. A very stimulating reading that can only get deeper when taken up again. C. Gattegno


News Items

1 On January 19th, the ESL Video course cosponsored by the American Language Institute and the Graduate School of Education of New York University and Educational Solutions Inc. took off at the latter’s headquarters. Twenty-three adult students (mainly men, only five women, all newcomers to English as tested by New York University personnel, who only accepted people totally new to English or with a very scant knowledge of the language) spent their first 2½ hours of study getting acquainted with the approach: the video program English The Silent Way. It had been decided that an appropriate evaluation of the value of the video program for teaching would be to spend forty sessions of 2½ hours each, three sessions per week, with a random group of adults who would learn mainly through the television medium, in the manner most appropriate for such learning. Accordingly, Educational Solutions provided a classroom equipped with a TV monitor, tape player and cassettes, surrounded with the materials as they appear on the program: wall charts, rods, wall pictures, worksheets. The teacher/monitor in charge is capable of watching the students so that they relate to the class on the video screen, doing what that class does to cover the same ground. The monitor allows time between the viewing of the lessons so that they do what the video students have done. The monitor is prepared to move forward on tapes not representing a sufficient challenge to this population; to go back over ground covered too quickly, and to select sections to repeat, either to provide more practice or to clarify a subsequent error which can be traced to a misinterpretation of previous material.


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In this case, the monitor is a Silent Way teacher doing the monitor’s job for the first time. This class is made up of: Chinese (8 men, one woman), Italians (5 men, one woman), Haitians (2 men, 1 woman), Poles (2 men, 1 woman), and Hispanics (2 men, 1 woman). During the first three weeks of the course it was possible to observe how adults get used to working in a video class being taught by the learning displayed on the screen; how they develop criteria about their own learning and compare it to that of the students on the screen; how, as time goes by, they grow fonder of this way of working (new to them, as it is to most people). But it is also possible to discover properties of the video program itself and to add evidence of its contribution to the long term study of language teaching. 2 From a letter of January 26, 1981, from Thomas M. Pendergast Jr. (President of Didasko, Osaka, Japan) “…….I am becoming increasingly bullish on the video series. After a year of experimentation I now feel that I know how to make best use of what it has to offer. In fact, this has been my preoccupation for the past few months and I am now ready to go out and “witness” to its extraordinary effectiveness.” 3

Infused Reading on Computer

On February 9th, Ann Piestrup of Woodside California, came to see us at Educational Solutions. She brought with her a micro-computer diskette and some equipment which allowed our staff to see on our computer monitor how she managed to put Infused Reading for Spanish in the format of a computer program. Readers of the June 1980 issue of this Newsletter know already what we mean by Infused Reading. Our staff, face to face with the computer program, could not suppress a total surprise at seeing such a powerful solution look so simple. The original idea, as an intuition, was simple


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enough — the scenario sent to Ann was self-explanatory but posed potential problems for programmers who are not Spanish literacy teachers. Ann guided her programmer, and the result is as faithful to the original idea as one could hope. From that original idea to the actual program on a diskette — there has been the generation of the visible out of the invisible. And to experience this transforms the viewers. Now the general public can share another of Dr. Gattegno’s practical intuitions, the one which puts Spanish literacy at hand in the most economical and elegant manner. A feat no one believed in since that day in September 1972, when it was announced as a EUREKA in a seminar at 80 Fifth Avenue in New York City, has now been accomplished. READING CAN BE INFUSED: A very important practical message. Dr. Gattegno is already at work to test on the computer his new solution to the problem of literacy and to expand it to other languages. Some languages may be too complex to allow a treatment capable of creating as much enthusiasm as this first language does. Ann Piestrup is responsible for the dissemination of this diskette among all Spanish illiterate groups in this and other countries. The copyright is. Dr. Gattegno’s and a request for a legal registration of the words “infused Reading” is underway; the application has been made by Educational Solutions Inc. 4

The NSF Project

In the April issue this subject will be treated more thoroughly. Because we have new ideas about how to use the computer in education, we took some time to develop a proper blending of our ways of working with those of experienced programmers. We have made some progress, although the first scenario took much longer than we anticipated to take the shape we wanted to see it take on the computer. It now


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displays qualities which characterize our outlook, while respecting the inflexible rules of programming. It seems to us that those who study the making of computer software for education will be more sensitive to our innovations in the use of the computer than to our way of organizing the mathematical content, in the field of teaching mathematics. 5

The NSF Washington D. C. DESR Conference February 5th-7th

Three intensive days at the Shoreham Hotel Washington, D. C., brought together the directors of projects funded by the National Science Foundation. There were presentations which addressed broad issues concerning the theme of the conference: Research and Development. The NSF funds those two activities separately under its RISE and DISE programs, but at the conference they were brought together to generate a greater impact on the field. Much of significance occurred which cannot be summarized. Between two and three hundred people, working in all sorts of ways, on all sorts of projects, were there trying not only to share their findings but also to learn from others anything that could be of assistance to them. It was clear that the NSF is a national agency with wide responsibilities and urgent, large problems to work on. With its one billion dollar budget every year to meet these problems better, it is not always able to do so in the field of science education, its sole concern. On the last session of the conference February 7th, a mathematics professor of Chicago University blew a bugle which was to resonate in everybody’s ears while going home, and perhaps even later. Based upon a comparative study of education (mainly mathematics, science and engineering educations) in the USSR and the USA, Dr. Wirszup made an urgent plea for immediate and massive attention to the dangers ahead. The scene was painted in alarming colors. The USSR


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was so much ahead of the USA! With such a wide gap, a really major effort will be needed. Whether this can be done or not, and how, was left for all to think about. We at Educational Solutions have already worked out a number of answers but no one at the conference seemed to be acquainted with them. Essentially, it is not known that by formulating the questions in terms familiar to us, but often not even suspected by others, a problem which seems insoluble becomes manageable and immediately capable of being worked on profitably. After that conference, we have the duty of expressing ourselves in such a way that what we know becomes accessible to the general public and experienced as realistic and useful by those who need it. What we know that others don’t know concerns mainly the saving of time in the study of mathematics, a saving which is considerable, but does not require the social revolution that the magnitude of the challenge seems to suggest at first. By increasing the yield per hour for all learners, by using that increase to save time, we can also widen the curriculum and make mathematics more palatable to most, more desirable to a good fraction of those who could do well in it but get discouraged, and more functional and expanding for those who normally do well. In general, we can give mathematics its place as part of the essential needs of an electronic industrial society. The “avalanche effect� of this increase in yield needs to be understood by those who face the challenge of changing science education in the United States. Indeed, the increase in yield does not result from some special device which works sometimes and with some people, but from the determined use of mental powers owned by almost all students, and used with certainty by each of us in acquiring the skills we teach ourselves in early childhood. Learning to speak the mother tongue is the most remarkable of these learnings. In this task, we demonstrate many of the skills arrived at early in life and used well from then on. By simply learning from this self-learning, we can become able to recast


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all our teaching to make it as efficient as those very efficient learnings linked in early childhood with spontaneity and lasting benefits. Because we are in contact with the learning powers of students we are often as successful in saving time, doing this as well as they have already been able to do in their own self-learning. Such success permits us to secure knowledge to a degree rarely possible with other approaches, and to give that knowledge a functional significance, which is still rarer. Because we replace knowledge with knowing, we keep students in contact with their powers and with the challenges; we make reviewing subject matter either unnecessary or only occasional, thus saving still more time and energy for further significant learning. Because we do not feel compelled to “recapitulate� collective experience, we let learners operate as individuals, as unique individuals whose lines of approach to the challenges are innerly directed by true criteria — here, those based on perception, action, feeling and social involvement. Because these ways of being a learner are not usually considered, the challenge of recasting education appears to require a social revolution that seems beyond the means of educators. But if we consider the learners, we are able to keep most things as they are, and only change what can be easily changed and gladly accepted. That is, make everyone feel that the time for learning is used for learning, and the increased yield results from the right things being done. Such considerations are not given their rightful place, with the result that audiences do not hear them, do not entertain them, though they lend their ears to bleak descriptions which defeat any rational approach and any speedy and thorough recovery. Still, we know, through careful and prolonged probing, testing, developing, that we have worked out in detail sound solutions, which neither the capitalist nor the socialist economies have integrated in


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their technological approach to education. We gave it the high sounding label of “the subordination of teaching to learning” and developed techniques over the last quarter of a century for mathematics, science, reading, writing, spelling and for foreign languages. We called ourselves Educational Solutions because we offered as our product for the public, solutions to educational problems — valid solutions, as anyone who takes the trouble to look at them can find out at once. Now that the perception of a more direct danger to the nation may spread, the role of a scientific treatment of the challenges may also be more attractive. Educators may find it lucky that this treatment is, in part, already developed, tested and at hand for immediate integration. Tools developed by isolated investigators who are also practitioners like Faraday in his development of field forces — can become everyone’s instrument of work as soon as their reality and validity are ured. We claim for our work in the foundations of education, and for our corresponding technology, a similar status. Any investigators serious enough to take a look at them will convince themselves.      


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.

Learning Disabilities  
Learning Disabilities  

Newsletter vol. X no. 3 February 1981