Stewart produced an innovative method for teaching adults to write. She understood that for adults who had to make a mark in public events, such as voting, nothing was more important than learning how to write their names. So she introduced the practice of taking a soft sheet of ink blotting paper and carving the person’s name in it. Students then traced over the indented name until they could write it without any guide from the blotter paper. Later this approach to teaching writing would be called the “kinesthetic method.”
Stewart was the first to produce reading materials especially for adults learning to read. She prepared a special newspaper, the Rowan County Messenger, to keep new learners up to date with local and national events. She wrote three Country Readers with contents that were related directly to the lives of adults outside the classroom, such as on the farm, health, civic activities, parenting, and other topics, including spiritual development, a topic no longer addressed in most adult literacy programs in the United States. This use of functional context education helped adults learn to read “real life” materials and transfer their new learning to contexts outside the classroom.
J. Duncan Spaeth (1868-1954)
During World War I, John Duncan Spaeth, a native of Philadelphia with a Ph. D. in early Anglo-Saxon literature from the University of Leipzig,, took time away from his position as Professor of English at Princeton University and worked as Educational Director of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) at Camp Wheeler, Georgia and Camp Jackson, South Carolina. Because large numbers of men being called for military service were illiterate, or of very limited literacy, schooling in reading and writing became a necessary element of military training.
In 1918, the Southwestern Department of the National War Work Department of the Y.M.C.A. in Atlanta, Georgia published the "Camp Reader for American Soldiers," written by Spaeth. In this book Spaeth acknowledged the help of Cora Wilson Stewart. But in a revised edition published in 1919 there was no recognition of Stewart’s influence. In fact, Spaeth rejected the analytic method of teaching reading that Stewart favored and instead became the first person to prepare an extensive theoretical introduction to the synthetic method of reading teaching written especially for teachers of adults.
In the preface to the 1918 edition of the Camp Reader Spaeth devoted just three paragraphs to introducing the principles underlying the lessons and explained that, "The "Camp Reader for American Soldiers" is more than a mere reader. It combines exercises in reading, writing, phonics, and spelling in each lesson. The essence of the method here advocated lies in the simultaneous acquisition of the ability to read words, to recognize and differentiate articulate sounds and sound groups, to associate them with visual symbols, and to write these symbols. The three types of association must go hand in hand, and it is therefore essential that in each hour part of the time be devoted to reading, part to phonic drill, and part to exercises in writing."
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