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Words in Color in France in 1996

Glenys Hanson & Roslyn Young

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Collated and edited by: Glenys Hanson and Roslyn Young All rights reserved Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, NY 10003-4555

Words in Color in France in 1996

Une Ecole Pour Demain is a nonprofit making association of teachers which was created to further the work of Caleb Gattegno, creator of Words in Color. As the sole distributor for Words in Color in France, it is well placed to describe the use of this approach throughout the country, where it is estimated that between 10 and 20% of the adult population is semi-literate or totally illiterate. Nearly 300 sets of La Lecture en Couleurs (the French version of Words in Color) were sold from 1993 to 1995. More than half of these sets were bought by associations dealing with literacy problems in adults. Of the rest, more than half were bought by people engaged in remedial work with children. The other users are primary school teachers. From these statistics, and also from the public coming to our courses and workshops, it would appear that this approach attracts those who come in contact with the most intractable illiteracy problems. 1

To give some idea of why they do so, we asked about twenty of them to answer the following questions: 1. Who are you working with? 2. What does Words in Color offer to this public? Here are some of the answers we received. Interview with Alain L’Hôte - Primary School Teacher I’ve been teaching children to read since 1977 - though not continuously because some years I was given older children to teach. I haven’t always used Words in Color; I started with traditional methods (syllabic methods) which were not very much fun either for me or the children. Then I used the method Le Sablier, from which I learned a lot, and after that the Méthode Gestuelle and then a mixture of a lot of methods. I was dissatisfied because I had the impression that the children weren’t progressing at their own rhythm, that I was holding back the more advanced and leaving behind the children in difficulty. That is what motivated me to look for something else. I heard of Words in Colorthrough my wife who had observed interesting results with people learning English with The Silent Way. I took a few courses and got started. At first I used the material in much the same way as any traditional material, in the same way as I had worked before. I enjoyed it because I started learning things in class about the French language. I realized that I was paying more attention to the language than to the students; I could see what was happening but I couldn’t do anything about it. This process has slowed down but I still make new discoveries about the language using Words in Color - and that’s something which never happened before with the other methods. Thinking about the approach from the children’s point of view, I’d like to start 2

with an anecdote. The first time I put the charts up in front of a class, they all applauded. The material is so attractive to children; they want to get into it. It corresponds to children’s need to explore and discover things. In the presence of the charts they are avid to discover the unknown. This is a phenomenon which I observe every year - it’s quite spectacular. I remember one day we were working on chez moi (at home), we had made a lot of sentences using this expression when a little girl shot up her hand and said, “I can see it, schéma” and pointed to the word on the chart, thinking she had made the discovery of the day. Her mistake and the movements of her eyes that I observed during the first part of the work showed that she was engaged in her own private research. The material itself incites this kind of research. Of course, I can set them off on a path, the sound /o/ for example, but the children are immediately motivated to look all over the word charts searching for new spellings. What they really like are long words, difficult words, strange words they seek them out of their own accord. I often hear them during the break telling each other what they’ve been doing on their own with the material “Did y’see that one?” “Did y’see this one?” “Did y’see the /o/ like that?” This of course, is after a few months. After a few months, the differences between the children get more pronounced. A few are ready to read little books at their level; others are almost ready; some, who are still not sufficiently at ease with decoding for things to take on meaning, are at the level of sentences, and then there are those who have only just started to get into reading and who are still at the level of words. At the beginning, I put up only a limited amount of the material and we create our own restricted Fidel bit by bit. This year, for these slower children, who 3

were not ready to read at the beginning of the school year (in September), I’ve used the rectangle chart. Having mastered the color code, they become independent and can work by themselves with the Fidel. Another thing that is unique about this material is that it remains visible all the time on the walls. The children have the whole of the French language in front of them. I can remember at least two children who refused to learn to read with me. One in particular would turn off anytime I tried to get him to work, but every time I turned my back, I could see him looking at the charts. When I realized that, I placed his desk so that he was directly facing the charts. And that child learned to read entirely on his own. It was possible only because the material was all visible and because it is an adequate description of the French language. This is very important, because it means you can have confidence that the children will learn to read with it because it is complete. The Words in Color material respects the language and the children. There are no “baby� words, no sentences which adults think children would like, only the everyday words that adults use too. The material is on their true level. I think that is the most important point, that it respects the learners. The children are free to make the sentences they want - silly ones or not - at their own level. All the algebraic exercises, for example, respect the mental powers of the children. The different facets of Words in Color respect and coincide with what is human in each of us, learner or teacher. That is probably why most learners immediately take to the work and continue to find pleasure in it. *** 4

Contribution from Françoise Lazare: Words in Color in an innercity neighborhood Why do six- to eight-year-old children, from a volatile neighborhood where unrest, boredom, violence and suffering are rife, change their attitude to learning as soon as they realize they can learn to read with Words in Color? This approach involves many game-like activities whose humor creates emotional states which will remain essential referents for learning. It creates a situation in which resistances fall and the learners are able to be present in the moment. It also creates and maintains cohesion in the group. Interest, curiosity and mental dynamism are stimulated as the learner realizes that the material enables her/him to regain the state of living in the present and at the same time it opens the door on a new field of investigation which excites her/his creativity. Once trust and contact have been established, the teacher can present the children with challenges at their level. Challenges which become ever greater. The learner: - recognizes a way of functioning (learning) that he has been able to initiate since babyhood, - is reawakened by this unknown (the material) which revives in him a well-known functioning (learning), - recognizes this alter ego who both l ikes and k nows how to learn, - discovers another self-image which disturbs his previous self image (“dumb”, hyperactive or any other negative adjective which has been used to categorize him). This moment is often a shock and may sometimes lead to the child putting a stop to his learning and even “regressing”, - is in contact with a terrible dilemma, a 5

painful ambivalence, an internal conflict. Who will gain the upper hand? A “spiritual” struggle takes place similar to that of Good and Evil and the question of truth is posed... and that of relativity... The material makes it possible to: - respect what the learner is, at a given moment, - take the time it takes (for the learner to pause, to have the right to his own difficulties, to eliminate whatever is stopping him from being present to the situation). For the child who is not making his first attempt to learn to read, Words in Color: - allows him to feel he exists again, to have an identity, to have the right to learn, -enables him to be in contact with his own energy and his own will, that he can put to the service of learning or to the service of destruction, - makes him realize that he alone is in control of his learning and of his decision-making power. By its nature, the material provides pedagogical situations which become reference points which both stimulate the learner to form his own mental constructs and develop his creative powers. The fact that learning (in this case, reading) leads to a change in behavior, should make us beware of quick and facile associations of “children in difficulty” and “failure at school”. The terms “deprived neighborhood” and “inner city” become explanations in themselves and give rise to simplistic analyses of causes external to the learning situation itself and allow people to avoid confronting the real problem. The Words in Color material, in itself: - is a reassuring reference which the 6

learner knows he can rely on, which provides him with the time necessary to his learning and thus gives him calm and inner well being, - enables the learner to establish reliable inner criteria which he learns to use and has at his disposal all the time, - gives rise to and teaches rigor and discipline in the development of his learning and on-going self-evaluation (awareness of being with, and of staying with the real problem), - allows the learner to take charge of his learning at his own rhythm while totally respecting what he is. It gives him autonomy and independence in relation to the teacher, - allows the learner access to awareness of his ways of functioning which become transparent to himself and to the teacher, - enables him to have access to the awareness of the power that creativity brings him and which leads to the desire for greater and greater challenges. In addition, in the same class, the teacher can set different challenges to satisfy the needs of each individual. *** Contribution from Yvette Gomez: Experimentation with Words in Color in an Institution with 10- to 13-year-old Children The children I work with are mentally deficient with associated behavioral and personality problems. They have no physical handicap and are not visually or aurally handicapped. Their IQ is below normal. All of them suffered from emotional and educational deprivation during their early childhood and for some this may still be the case. They are unstable, and disturbed by their emotional and family problems. These children arrive in the Institution with the experience of failure in their learning in general. Their teachers are confronted 7

by the problem of their refusal to learn. When I realized that the teaching in the Institution was only a repetition of what had already been attempted, I tried to find an answer to the question: How can I teach them to learn in a different way? In 1994 I attended a seminar on Words in Color. Gattegno’s approach interested me immediately because it has the advantage of helping the teacher become aware of what learning is in general, by subordinating teaching to learning based on awareness and affective involvement. I started using Gattegno's material. It made reading more accessible. Is this the most important point, however? The work done by each child based on awarenesses teaches them a certain “something” about themselves. They become aware of their capacity to solve one problem after another. What they learn is thus transferable to other areas. So, a deeper change is seen to be taking place in the functioning of each child, not only at the level of cognitive learning, but also at the level of social behavior. The awareness of their difficulties leads to lucidity and encourages the children to use their errors to correct themselves. Errors no longer lead to failure but provide the possibility of attaining the objectives set by the child. Errors become an invitation to create awarenesses, with the children working on themselves, by themselves. I would like to mention that I have been teaching mentally deficient children for more than twenty years. Gattegno’s techniques, through their rigor and the quality of the underlying analysis, are a means for helping children with 8

psychological difficulties and learning disabilities to begin learning and discover pleasure in doing so. *** Contribution from Carol F. C. Rose & MaĂŻtĂŠ Auzanneau: The specificity of the use of Words in Color in a population of NonReaders In the course of a multidisciplinary 5-year-long research program emanating from three Parisian laboratories which studied and remediated the total inability to read of a group of normal children 9 years old and above, who were qualified as Non-Readers, Words in Color was used exclusively. Every other reading method known in France had been tried with this population, to no avail. The specificity and success of this approach seemed to be related to the initial, brief (one hour) and sole use of the chart of colored rectangles representing a limited number of phonemes (around 7). We are of the opinion that the reason for this success lies in the introduction of a rational code which was not immediately recognized as being related to letters or reading. The belief systems of the individual children had been so compartmentalized during their earlier education that whenever letters or words appeared, they would fall back into the old aberrant patterns of dealing with them. In the first hour of work these difficulties were completely bypassed due to the absence of letters themselves. This led in the majority of cases to the realization that the act of reading was not so difficult and brought them to phonemic awareness along with meaning without undue weight being placed on memory. 9

It might be useful to explain that “non-readers” are often efficient at recognition of word “shapes” and letter forms. They achieve consistently respectable scores on computer programs especially designed to explore this area. This ability to recognize, retain and compare involves no reading whatsoever of the words in question. “Non-readers” tend to function entirely with words as images or else as strings of letters. This research has resulted in a book called Les Enfants hors du lire (Children Outside of Reading), Phaidon Press, a remedial interactive computer program (Rose, Royer), and many articles. *** Contribution from Pascale Voyeux: Working with the unemployed I have been teaching since 1990 using Words in Color with native French and non-French-speaking people, who were all over 18 years old. The material which makes up Words in Color enables the learners to undertake different activities which are directly linked to reading and written expression. Since the material shows the entire complexity of the activity, if the learner stops before mastering the whole, he or she is aware of the fact. I have often met people who said they could read, but who only knew the alphabet or a few words or syllables composed of simple graphemes. Such false awarenesses are practically impossible with Words in Color. Rapid success with learning to read depends a lot on the way of teaching, especially for people who have failed at school. For people who have been 10

fragilized, the unknown frightens them, rather than awakening their curiosity. So, to get each of them to admit that the unknown is the essence of life and/or that the making of mistakes is inevitable, necessary and instructive, the work of the trainer is fundamental. It consists in holding the presence of the learner at work for the longest possible time, whatever happens. This pedagogical task requires a detailed study of how human beings learn, taking into account what makes learners enthusiastic and what demotivates them. This study, and my work with learners, enables me to observe inefficient attitudes towards learning and to take action without making the students feel guilty. I am becoming more and more aware of how people learn and so the work that my students do yields more in exchange for their time. I am often surprised at the happy atmosphere during the sessions. My students tell me about their difficulties, their doubts, their preoccupations in a natural way which makes me want to smile, as I, myself, would never have confided in a teacher in that way when I was at school. This pedagogical approach is for those who realize that teaching means neither promoting imitation nor calling on memorization, but relying on the motivation and skills of the learners. Finally, this way of working is not repetitive or boring but leads to self-knowledge and to encountering others as individuals. I do not find my work in the least tedious, unlike many trainers who feel so distressed and powerless when faced with such weak, “hopeless� learners, that they no longer even try to teach them to read. ***


Contribution from Marie-Sylvie Jore: Working with illiterates Over these last two years, I have had the opportunity of working with groups of illiterates, both young people and adults. They were either: Foreign - totally illiterate or semi-literate in their own language French - schooling: distant, insufficient or failed for different reasons: family, social, health. The courses I teach are intended to help the participants find work, illiteracy being obviously the first obstacle to overcome on the way to social integration. The very important task of helping the participants regain self-esteem underlies the whole course. I have found the spirit and the tools of C. Gattegno’s approach to be a guide and a constant help. The driving forces for me are: - Being cut off from the usual world. The fact, for the learner, of being plunged into a world of sounds, shapes and colors, eliminating from the beginning all the false reference points, the a priori judgements, the bad habits and the debilitating clichés (for example those photos and pictures so frequent in books which throw the students back into their daily lives). Thus “liberated”, they find themselves in contact with their early childhood state of learning, directly connected with their own perceptions. They get back in touch with themselves. What could be better for them? - The group-facilitating factor. The fact of starting at zero puts all the students on the same footing, which little by little diminishes their fears, their lack of trust or their need to dominate. Each person finds him or herself confronted with their own learning, but involved in the same process as the rest of the group. So the group progressively comes together and spontaneous helping of each other appears. They move towards social integration and a


sense of their own worth, the slower ones being helped by the more advanced ones. - The “tabula rasa” effect. For those who are overwhelmed by multiple preoccupations, often incapable of paying attention for more than a short time, and who have lost confidence in their own capacities, the rectangle chart creates a “tabula rasa” effect. The students become intensely involved in looking and listening, all interferences are eliminated. Only the present instant counts, with all its potential. - The Gattegno material is particularly efficient in working with illiterates. In all my courses the RECTANGLE CHART has been the introductory game, the open sesame, the capturer of attention and, paradoxically, the mute corrector of what is said, short-circuiting teacher talk - thus having the effect of creating autonomy in the students. In this way it becomes the reference point that they give themselves little by little. The number of hours spent going between the rectangles and the word charts, identifying, recognizing, comparing, checking! Thanks to the WORD CHARTS, the most complex act, that of reading and writing, becomes the result of a series of operations which are simple and accessible to all. Everything is in the “m a” on the first chart: putting together two sounds which are suddenly recognized and take on meaning. The act of reading becomes directly accessible and loses its socio-cultural attributes. Lastly, moving on to writing, the FIDEL shows, at a glance, all the sound/spelling correspondences and, God knows, the French writer is blessed in this domain! The students gradually learn to make choices and therefore raise the basic grammar problems. Words in Color enables us to avoid the pitfalls of this kind of learning situation 13

in which SIMPLE often means IDIOTIC. On the contrary, Gattegno addresses the deepest areas of the person. The learner’s faculties of attention, of listening and observation, of awareness, their criteria for deciding and their creativity are constantly called upon. Masters of their learning, they learn to become masters of their lives. *** Contribution from Francine Rochereuil: The city of Chilly Mazarin and the General Council of Essonne asked me to run a workshop for totally illiterate and semi-literate people. To do so, I studied different ways and underwent training. I adopted the learning system of Dr Caleb Gattegno’s pedagogical approach, Words in Color for native speakers and Silent Way for foreigners. I chose this way of teaching for its efficiency when I opened a school in Morlaix (Brittany), in 1994. The possibility of continuing with my research in a dynamic, constant evolution was a determining factor for me. The students I deal with are: - children and adolescents in difficulty at primary and secondary school, especially those in technical streams, - children and adolescents( referred to me by Dr Bergès and Dr Bailly from the Henri Roussel Hospital in Paris), who are failures at school and therefore socially too, - socalled “delinquent” adolescents, referred to me by the Prévention judiciaire pour les jeunes (a state agency), - adult non-readers, - foreigners arriving in France. 14

The native French speakers who are referred to me are all illiterate, which places them outside our modern society, made “abnormal� from their first encounter with school work. This failure manifests itself both physically and mentally in the non-reader. I chose Words in Color for the following reasons: - So as not to recreate failure by using a conventional method associated with past difficulties. - This way of teaching, which demands a constant exploration of oneself as a student of learners, opens up a more attentive way of looking at the student, allows an exchange of knowledge and leads to a really collaborative way of working. Since we begin with the knowledge of each person, this way of working, through successive awarenesses, rapidly leads to a change of behavior and makes the right to error something positive, avoiding value judgements. - The tools of Words in Color enable work to be done on rigorous mathematical structures, bringing together gestures, intellectual research, and mental imagery. These make the learner into a whole person, actively creating his own knowledge. The learner develops his curiosity and carries out his own investigations within the group to arrive at successive awarenesses. With the help of his visual, auditive and gestual memories, he uses the colored charts to confirm what he has learned. - A certain type of silence which, although different from that of Silent Way, also leads to calm, allows reflection and concentration, and gives the teacher the time and the pleasure to be where he is, leading to a warm atmosphere which seems to me, is indispensable in any attempt to work on literacy. - The efficiency, the rapidity of change in behavior, the fact that the results of this way of teaching can be counted upon, have all led me to run 15

training sessions for teachers on Words in Color. *** Contribution from Christian Duquesne: U  sing Words in Color with Coal Miners - An on going experiment In 1994, Les Houillières du Bassin de Lorraine (The Lorraine Basin Coal Mining Company) decided to improve the qualifications of those workers considered to be semi-literate or totally illiterate. The company launched an experiment using Words in Color. A. Extracts from the report issued by the company after the first course in 1994: With the participation of the Regional Government of Lorraine, the Les Houillières du Bassin de Lorraine successfully experimented with a pedagogical method to enable students to learn French and familiarize themselves with the language of Moliere. L’Institut National de Service et de Formation - INSEF Conseil (The National Institute of Service and Training) at Pont à Mousson was responsible for organizing and teaching this course. Context and Objectives The Les Houillières du Bassin de Lorraine considers it essential to maintain the level of competence necessary for the satisfactory functioning of the company and the future of its employees. In this company, there are a number of people with a low level of education requiring individualized retraining. Within this framework, out of several possible 16

methods for the totally illiterate or semi-literate personnel, Gattegno's Words in Color was chosen. The objectives of this training session were to enable 20 company employees: - to reach their training level 5 by the end of the session to gain in self esteem by learning to read and write - to rediscover their learning potential - “learning to learn” - “learning to think” - to reach an acceptable standard through mastering skills of everyday living - to acquire a professional culture - to become better qualified professionally. The course The group consisted of 20 students made up of: - 4 people who needed a French as a Foreign Language course and were totally illiterate. - 7 people who required a French as a Foreign Language course, but could write in their own language (4 knew the French alphabet). - 7 French people, considered as functionally illiterate. - 2 (1 Moroccan and 1 Senegalese) who had some problems in the oral language, but were at an intermediate level VI/V. The course took place at the Training Center of the Les Houillières du Bassin de Lorraine from September 1994 to January 1995; the length of the training period was 280 hours of training, 5 days a week every second week, thus 8 weeks of training over 16 weeks. Results A - Oral Language All the students, including the native French students - who had problems with distinguishing between the nasals - made considerable progress in spontaneous expression in the language and the use of appropriate syntax. For 2 students, totally illiterate to begin with, the work was so effective that spectacular results were produced in the basic mastery of the written language.


B - Reading The majority of the group acquired the foundations necessary to overcome the difficulties associated with all kinds of reading. They can now manage to find the vocabulary they need when it is not available to them. A few are still limited by their level of understanding of the language but are able to read simple texts. It should be noted that for one member of the group, the speed of learning was such that she became one of the best readers in the group. C - Writing The progress of the 6 French people was considerable. Now all are confident enough to write personal texts. Some have become more at ease in this exercise than in the traditional dictation in which some of the old fears from their school days resurface. T he conjugation was mastered (use of the présent, passé composé, futur, etc.). From texts which were illegible because they were written phonetically, the students progressed to productions which, while still containing mistakes, they can correct through reflecting on their work. Some can now write short reports connected with their professional situation. All show initiative and autonomy in their learning. The foreigners are capable of writing short simple sentences which can be understood, and they can all now write their own checks. Follow up Since the objectives attained were well beyond what was expected, the Les Houillières du Bassin de Lorraine has decided to renew the experience with a second group of 20 students, along the same lines as the first group, with people from different backgrounds (French and foreign participants) from 13 March to 23 June 1995. (Signed): Gérard Mehl, Centre de Formation HBL Puits II, 57490 L’Hôpital, Lorraine


B. What does Words in Color bring to these students? The first contact destabilizes them, but they all understand quickly that they have an individual bridge between what they know orally and the necessities of reading and writing (the written code). The permanent and simultaneous solicitation of their senses (sight, hearing, touch) suits them particularly well and leads them constantly and autonomously towards learning. It is this autonomy which gives them confidence in themselves and often dignity with respect to their immediate environment (especially their families). From a technical point of view, all can handle working with the different charts associated with Words in Color on a full time basis (40 hours a week). Out of 100 people trained in 1994-95, only 2 dropped out, one of whom stayed 4 weeks although he had never been known to follow a training session for more than 2 days up to then. French is a complex language, even for native speakers. Confusions between sounds in spoken French, very frequent at the beginning of the course, had practically disappeared by the end. At all the appraisal sessions which took place, representatives of the different institutions were present (the ANPE (the National Employment Agency), the Director of Training in the company, heads of departments, etc.). These appraisals demonstrated an increased freedom in taking the floor and in expressing themselves on the part of the trainees. The fear of showing what 19

they had written and of reading in public disappeared. In 1995, all the people in one of the groups (with the exception of one person) decided to participate in the National Writing Competition organized by the CLAP. Out of more than 500 entries, 3 received prizes. This is seen as important for the socialization of the students. *** Contribution from Suzette Lachaise: W hat Words in Color and the Gattegno Approach contributes to the teaching of reading to children with hearing deficiencies The children I have taught over these last twenty-five years - and am still teaching -, have suffered from various kinds of hearing impairment from the most severe deafness to the mildest. All have worn hearing aids which means that they were able to perceive at least sounds (the difference silence/sound) and therefore rhythms, and at best speech with the need for the observation of lip movements (lip reading) for perfect discrimination. Vision is the preferred way of knowing for the totally and partially deaf. The Words in Color material is structurally aimed at vision: the clear separation of words, the colored impact of the graphemes, and the identification of the forms through the choice of printed character. Also, the fact that the words on the charts are organized not in sentences but in relation to their algebraic structure in the initial stage avoids the need for semantic comprehension (to be dealt with in a later paragraph) and encourages the fundamental awarenesses which underlie the human functioning demanded by the act of reading. Let me explain: Reading French nowadays, that is to say at the present stage of 20

evolution of the written language, entails seeing characters arranged on a page: from left to right, from top to bottom, grouped initially in graphemes and then in words, in the order required by academic French and accompanied by punctuation marks. On seeing these characters, the first mental act of the experienced reader, like the beginner, is to transform these visual signals into mental sound signals which trigger the second mental act: the access to understanding, if the language level of the text is compatible with that of the reader. My role as a teacher here is to make the first act possible through learning to read and the second through learning the language - though this second act is automatic for those who speak the language before starting to learn to read. I shall deal here with the acquisition of the first mental act independently of the second, though they become more and more intimately linked in the learning process, as the second concerns the charts created for learning French as a foreign language (the Silent Way). The better the hearing of the children and the better their initial skill in the spoken language the more I am able to use just the material for learning to read as it is. If this is not possible, I use the same learning framework but using first the sounds of the language which are accessible to them, that is: - work on the language of /a/ (see The Common Sense of Teaching Reading & Writing , C. Gattegno) - transfer to another vowel - integration of these two vowels (this gives an opening into combinatory) - extension of this work by adding 2 or 3 other vowels subject to their being written simply (not /u/, for example- written ‘ou’ in French, but /e/ or /è / depending on the articulatory capacities of the children). 21

The work proposed on the chart which contains only vowels will concern, for example, the sounds /a /, /i/, /o/ or /么 /, /e/ or /猫 / ... /e/ and /y/ are more problematic. At this point the children: know how to pronounce, in a way that distinguishes, them the sounds that have been studied, know which color is associated with each of them, are able to identify these sounds whether I produce them in isolation or in connected speech, perceived visually and aurally (by the least deaf) each of these four planes (articulatory, colored, graphic, perceived in a speaker) linked to the three others. They are skillful at constructing and decoding sequences which can be deducted one from the other by one of the four algebraic functions which underlie the activity of reading: the addition, insertion, substitution of a sound (and therefore of a color, therefore of a grapheme) in a sequence and the reversal of the whole sequence. The children know how to relate a temporal sequence, uttered or given by the pointer which touches in succession colored characters (for the moment these are letters) to a spatial sequence organized from left to right as French requires. They are therefore able to do a visual dictation and to produce themselves sequences that they can read and have read by their peers. They are able to classify such sequences according to numerical criteria (numbers of letters or sounds) or of partial identity (beginning or ending by /x/, containing /x/, containing /x/ and /y/, not containing /x/, etc.


They also know how to scan the rhythm of the phrases and read them with fluidity. The fact of being aware of the scansion and of mastering the algebra enables them to tackle, like hearing learners, a more complex syllable made up of a consonant and any of the known vowels. This consonant will be the one which can be produced by majority of the group. It is often /m/, sometimes /c/. I choose it through observing their spontaneous speech and through the work on linking the sounds to the colors which is done with the help of the chart of colored rectangles at another moment, because then for the pupils it is not a question of reading but of becoming aware of their own vocal tract and of the sounds that come out when they use themselves in one way or in another; the colored rectangles enable me to give my pupils a visual feedback in response to their vocal productions. It could be said that this chart is a visual perception of the sounds: it prompts the triggering of sounds, the selfcorrecting of sounds and leads to making the intention coincide with its physical expression. The new syllable is presented in the same way as for any learner using this approach, that is to say it is presented as a new single entity which contains a part which is known and a part which is unknown and that the presence of this newcomer means that the part which is recognized can no longer be produced as it has been up to now: /a/ has become /ma/; but if the newcomer is removed, /a/ is found once more. The consonant plays its role of vowel modifier; it is not used as the vowels have already been used to produce another pure sound, it develops the awareness of the syllable gained by scansion and adds complexity to it. On the other hand, this new syllable /ma/ being added to the 4 or 5 elementary syllables at our disposal can combine with them in the algebraic game which we already know. As they play it, the children construct and develop their mastery both of the algebra and of the 23

pronunciation of the newcomer (in our example, /ma/ and not /m/). After that, a simple vowel substitution game engenders all the second level syllables possible at their present level of knowledge, leading to the creation of wholes, of increasingly rich and varied words. At this level of knowledge, the totally or partially deaf children to whom I refer, have all experienced a moment of excitement, stimulated by the discovery of the creative power possible with so few elements (a - o - i - e - ma - mo - mi me). An activity in which, for once, nobody asks them to understand anything other than the nature and the functioning of the activity itself. At about this time, they show spontaneous interest in the rest of reading and demand to go further into the universe which is opening up to them and which they enter with enthusiasm and confidence in themselves. The inverted syllables /a m/ and then the introduction of other consonants is done little by little according to the children's own rhythm, subject to taking the time for the awarenesses to jell and that the exercises leading to the mastery of the different steps have their place so that retention requires no effort and the construction of the appropriate mental structures engenders a rich mental imagery at their disposal, one which conforms to the demands of written French, which I represent in the classroom. In this progression adapted to the learning of the children, I construct the necessary material if need be. The standard material of the word charts is used as a trigger for certain activities, as a bank of words presenting specific challenges in themselves or in their algebraic relationships with other words on these charts (agent and nagent; fils, fils and fusils; six, six, six; barque and crabe; diagnostic) as illustrating certain spellings to be found on the Fidel, 24

proving that at least one word has this spelling. It also stimulates the children to spontaneous research moving between words and spelling (the word charts/the spelling charts) and between words in color and words in black and white (the word charts/books). I use them, of course, for creating sentences to work on fluidity, phrasing, liaisons, intonation and melody - the semantic dimension not becoming a brake on the technical work of reading. The linguistic context of these sentences not being limited to the language level of the pupils, it also gives them practical experience of linguistic variety even if its content is beyond them. This is a common experience for hearing children in front of whom adults speak of subjects beyond their understanding without worrying about it, secure in the knowledge that one day they will understand them. Nobody knows what babies and children extract from these conversations, but they are offered the experience of being confronted with different levels of language. Why not deaf children, too? The Fidel, the chart which groups by color all the spellings in French of a given sound, is the material specifically designed for the study of spelling but also of the phonetic analysis of speech and/or writing. I do not use it until the children are capable of mentally generating syllabic associations (when the pointing of a consonant followed by that of a vowel triggers in them the making of syllables produced as a phonic unit). If they are unable to do so, work on the Fidel will retard their learning. Thereafter, however, the work on the Fidel is the main tool for dealing with precision in speech, the phonetic sequence, the awarenesses of spelling: the head of the columns is often pointed to (the most frequent spelling), many words which end in a consonant sound have a final 25

letter e (e.g. in grande the d is pronounced) while those which end in a vowel sound often have a so-called silent letter( e.g. grand where the letter d is not pronounced and the word ends with the sound /a/), when /è / is said in a word it is often not clear which spelling to choose, but the spelling e on its own is










masculine/feminine agreements necessitate watchfulness for the transcription of the last sound of the word (for example, mange, manges, mangent). It is the tool which most encourages feeling, intuition for spelling and the children, and I, refer to it very frequently. At other times, as explained earlier, we work with the colored rectangle chart on the pronunciation of French sounds and also with the charts designed for teaching French as a foreign language (the Silent Way). The object of this latter activity is to relate the inner states triggered by a linguistically orientated pedagogical situation to the words and sentences demanded and allowed by French. The words for naming, the sentences for expressing relationships are defined by the manner in which our language requires us to perceive the world. During this activity, I do not require the children to utter the words and sentences in question. These three activities - pronunciation, reading, language - are directed, that is to say that I control the process with the assistance of the tools created by Dr Gattegno or by those who profited from his teaching - such as the grammar game invented by Maurice and Christiane Laurent - and those activities I invent day by day in contact with my pupils subordinating as best I can my teaching to their learning. There is a fourth activity which is essential because it is serves as a basis to all the others and which usually takes place spontaneously during the first or 26

second year of all babies. This is the appearance of a more or less welldeveloped anarchic and personal infralanguage which disappears as it is replaced by the language of the environment. This infralanguage also exists with deaf people and, as I have observed it in my work context, it develops in parallel with the language taught, including its constitutive elements, which makes it possible to study its functioning in each child - but I wont do so here! The respect of this personal language and the three activities described above lead the children to understand the links between them and to go about integrating, them which indicates that they are able: to read and write what they understand, to understand what they read within the limits of their level of language, and to physically utter what they wish to express if they dare (and they do!). All this gives them further tools for understanding what others say because, during their conscious learnings, they have developed their presence at different levels of their being (perceptions, expressions, sensations, emotions, mental activities, intuition, intentions, and so on) and being present to them, have developed them, improving for example not their hearing but their aural vigilance and as a result their performance (this is equally true in other domains). In conclusion, I would like to say that the tools of Words in Color (the word charts, the Fidel, the pointer) and of the Silent Way (the word charts) but particularly the key ideas of the educational approach proposed by Caleb Gattegno are precious allies in the teaching and education of my pupils. They stimulate in them the appetite for learning which gradually leads to greater and greater independence and autonomy and thus to the responsibility of selfeducation which according to Gattegno is the only education. 27

*** Contributors: Alain L’Hôte - Primary school teacher, Besançon  Françoise Lazare- Primary schoolteacher, Besançon  Yvette Gomez - Remedial teacher of mentally deficient children, Toulouse region  Carol F. C. Rose & Maïté Auzanneau - Psychologists, Paris Pascale Voyeux Adult literacy teacher, Paris region  Marie-Sylvie Jore- Adult literacy teacher, Toulouse region  Francine Rochereuil - Literacy teacher, Pédagogie Gattegno Ouest, Brittany Christian Duquesne - Adult literacy teacher, Lyons region  Suzette Lachaise - Remedial teacher of hearing impaired children, Besançon © The authors The Science of Education in Questions - N° 15 - February 1997


Words in Color in France in 1996  

Glenys Hanson & Roslyn Young

Words in Color in France in 1996  

Glenys Hanson & Roslyn Young