The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Living in a World of Education I Can't Understand

Since there isn’t much to do these days, I try to go from one task or game to another every half hour. At least that keeps me from falling asleep. I also go to my computer frequently to see if there is anything new there and usually there is. But right now I have decided to write because I have something to say.

The topic I have been reading about almost everyday is reading, and most of it supports Phonics (a word I have only recently learned to spell). In fact several of the words I read from phonics supporters are unknown to me. Clearly, we are operating on different levels, and maybe in a different world. To me there version of teaching reading appears strange and unnecessarily difficult to learn. I am certain that it wasn’t the way I learned to read or the way I taught students to read. I can’t except the idea that those methods no longer operate successfully.

Why should reading be any different today from what it was twenty years ago when I was a teacher? Are the students I taught then unable to read now? I can still read books, newspapers, and the bills I need to pay. So I don’t understand why Phonics supporters claim that their version of reading is the only one to be taught today. Can anyone explain that to me?

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Give Me Your knowledge or Opinion

As a successful teacher of reading in the past, I am willing to accept the possibility that one way of teaching works better than the other for certain children or because the world has changed over time. I just don’t want us to live with an angry dispute anymore. Would it be possible–and reasonable– for every public school to offer a choice to parents and their students? Would doing that result in peace or war within a building? Please give me your opinions or knowledge. I am willing to consider your knowledge and experience

Joanne Yatvin


Learning To Write Well

When my son Rich was in first grade he wrote a fairy tale called “The Bat Who Eats Children”. When I read red it I was amazed to see a coherent story with complete sentences, correct spelling, and proper punctuation. Although I credited his teacher with the editing, I was certain that the story was his own work. He had taken the plot from a fairy tale called “Hansel and Gretel”, which I had read to him many times, and borrowed the bat character from a television show called “Sesame Street’. The events and characters’ behavior in the story were just variations of the original. Although my son was not yet an accomplished reader, he had learned the basics of writing from being read to at home and at school. Although no one outlined the structure of the fairy tale, told him how the characters should behave, or showed him examples of fairy-tale language, he had learned them all by himself.

 At that time I was teaching high school English and laying out a path of reading and writing for my students. For instance, when I taught a unit on short stories I didn’t ask students to analyze their structure or identify the types of sentences. Nor did I ask them to write in their own journals every day. Instead, we discussed the message of each story, how it was laid out, the behavior of it’s characters, and the surprise endings. I concluded the unit by asking my students to write their own short stories. As I hoped, most of them did very well. They had learned the basics of short story writing.

Here is another student’s example.

Once upon a time, not my time and not your time, but once upon a time the moon was all alone in the sky.

Directly down there was a skunk village. Now there was a problem. Each night the skunks wouldn’t have enough light. Finally one night the genius of the skunks had a council. He glued a match on a board. By accident one of the skunks struck the match and a ball of fire shot up in the air—shaped like this *. .  The skunks thought it was weird, but from that day on they called it a star.  But the skunks forgot how to pronounce it and started to call it a scar until one day a new skunk said, “Look at the stars.”

 And so it was, that from that night to this night, the stars have been twinkling.

By Sachi Komai ( a very smart girl)

How can we explain the power of those two writers? Did they steal their stories from books at home, or did their parents do the writing for them? No, those young writers were vigorous readers, and the stories they wrote grew out of many others they had read. The secret of learning to write is reading. When you read a lot, the structures of writing stay with you and enable you to write new pieces that are not only different, but also just as good.

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Please Read This if You Missed it the First Time

By Joanne Yatvin

For some reason I don’t understand, the piece I wrote two days ago is only credited with one reader. Either you didn’t like it’s title or it got lost somehow. Because I prefer to believe the second possibility I have published it again below. If you read part, but didn’t care to read the rest, I apologize

Yesterday I noticed on my computer that many readers have looked at an article I wrote several years ago called “The Difference Between a Good School and an Effective School”, which I no longer consider relevant. What I was trying to do back then was to describe what I thought were good schools, but now I’m afraid they no longer exist. Along with most outside observers, I now have a limited view of today’s schools because I can’t visit them as I once did. I can judge schools only by what I read in newspapers or hear from friends, which is low test scores and bad behavior. In addition, many good public schools have closed recently, while private schools have ben oppening up. And I often read about how much money private schools are getting, and that makes me angry. What right do they have to destroy good public schools so they can get larger incomes?

Because I remember my experience as a teacher, and later as a principal of two elementary schools, I am appalled by what I read about school operations today. Even though not all schools were good in the past, teachers, principals, and parents were able to help them improve. Back then students learned better and also respected their teachers. In addition, parents participated in school operations and made things better for everyone.

  1. My first teaching job was in a third grade classroom of a small country school where I quickly learned there that students’ reading abilities were mixed, and their behavior was poor. Also, our classroom didn’t have different level reading books or enough teaching materials. Apparently, the school couldn’t afford adequate classroom needs. So I asked a local library for books, and it graciously supplied us. I also set up a weekly newspaper in the classroom so we could read about local events and discuss them. Finally, in order to perform in the school auditorium, children made stuffed dolls and their clothing, so they could perform in the auditorium. But because they couldn’t manipulate their dolls and speak for them at the same time, we recorded their voices so they could move their dolls along with the word sounds. Their performance turned out to be a great success.
  2. At another elementary school where I taught, children became interested in making items that could be sold to others at school. So we told them they should do their work at home with their parents, and then bring the items to sell at our school store, which would open for one day a weak during the noon hour. Most kids made small toys, but a few wrote books or created useful items. When teachers saw new things for sale they suggested what there prices should be. Older children were chosen to sell items or give change inside the store. Outside the store a teacher kept students who wanted to buy things stand in line. 
  3. When I came to my last school, based in a small country town, I saw that the schoolyard had been badly kept, and was then very dirty. Also the street next to the school was filled with trash. So teachers chose older students to clean up both areas, and the city provided work outfits and tools for them.  They cleaned the street three or four times a year and did a good job. In the schoolyard younger workers leveled all the rough ground and cleaned the insides of work cabins. Then older children planted vegetables out in sunny areas while young children planted flowers near the school building. Unfortunately, the school was not fully closed in, so outsiders got inside at night and took vegetables.
  4. Later at that school, older students were chosen to work outside their classrooms for 30 minutes a day, supervised by teachers, and they earned points for their work. Their jobs were serving lunch to young children, cleaning up the school dining room after lunch and the school practice room at the end of the day. Others delivered items to classrooms and collected trash in them at the end of the day. Because some of the items thrown into garbage cans were still valuable, older students picked them up and sold them to a company. As a result our garbage costs became lower than in the past.

 Although I still think about the work I did with students I can’t remember it well anymore.  I just want to emphasize how significant jobs were for students.  Not only did they learn new skills, they also enjoyed and respected their schools more than most students do today.


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A New Message to Phonics Friends

Last week I attended an afternoon Jewish event where we sang Hebrew songs. Looking at the book we were given I was able to read words that had no vowels, even though Jewish print excludes letters when they are too large for the page. Nevertheless, adults and older children are able to read them without any trouble.

That experience reminded me that readers don’t need to sound out all the letters of words. They can recognize words right away from experience. So, today I want to remind you that learning to read is not a difficult job. All it requires are frequent visual encounters with words. When we teach reading by having children look at written words when they are singing, playing games, or reciting poems, they quickly learn how to read. Just try that, and you will be convinced.

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