Arthur I. Gates

Arthur I. Gates earned a Ph.D at Columbia University in 1917 and did research in experimental psychology, including studies of how children learn to read. In 1928, he published an influential book, New Method of Teaching Reading, which encouraged a child to guess at the word and its possible meaning without pronouncing it.

The book's abstract said

This book is devoted to the prevention of reading difficulties. The author has the conviction that most reading difficulties have their genesis in the first year of school work. The new procedures and material recommended are the results of ten years devoted to investigation. The methods of introducing children to reading are:(1) the letter and phonetic method, which is not recommended;(2) the story method, which is believed to be uninteresting to the child;(3) the sentence and phrase method, which also offers difficulties;(4) the word method, which has certain advantages as given.

In the April, 1927 issue of The Journal of Educational Psychology, Gates had written...

That it will be the part of wisdom to curtail the phonetic instruction in the first grade very greatly, is strongly implied; indeed it is not impossible that it should be eliminated entirely.

Although Gates removed the final phrase about eliminating phonics entirely when the book appeared, educators nationwide saw that Teachers College had endorsed the word method and severely deemphasized phonics.

In 1949, one of Gates' students, David H. Russell, then at University of California, published the book Children Learn to Read, with a list of different ways to recognize words.

  1. The general pattern, or configuration, of the word.
  2. Special characteristics of the appearance of the word.
  3. Similarity to known words
  4. Recognition of familar parts in longer words.
  5. The use of picture clues.
  6. The use of context clues.
  7. Phonetic and structural analysis of the word.

These steps are familiar parts of Ken Goodman's whole language" method introduced in the 1970's.

In 1953 Gates wrote the pamphlet Teaching Reading for the National Education Association with the following reading strategy...

Skill is observing the word as a whole; then, if necessary. quickly searching for major parts, such as component words; then, if necessary, isolating and pronouncing syllables; then, if necessary, isolating easily sounded letters and familiar phonograms, such as tj, ain, etc...and finally a shrewd knack for shifting from one approach to another...

Gates became a full professor at Columbia in 1956, about the time Rudolf Flesch published "Why Johnny Can't Read" excoriating the word method, which at that time was being used in many US schools with students failing reading tests. It has only grown worse with the "reading wars" in the following seventy years!

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Author: Bob_Doyle

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