The advantages and disadvantages of i.t.a.

, the initial teaching alphabet.

From i.t.a.: An independent Evaluation. FW Warburton and Vera Southgate. Pages 152-4

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It should be emphasised that the majority of the verbal evidence collected in this evaluation weighted the advantages of using i.t.a. for beginning reading and writing with infants much more heavily than the disadvantages; the latter being frequently expressed as doubts or dangers rather than disadvantages.

When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of i.t.a., more than half the infant teachers who had used it approved of it so thoroughly that they could see no disadvantages and, accordingly, were only able to list advantages. Other teachers who basically approved of i.t.a. were nevertheless aware of certain dangers. The same was true of H.M. Inspectors, local officials, other educationists and parents, who noted a few disadvantages, even when their conclusions were in favour of i.t.a.

Many of the misgivings originally felt by certain people, when the use of i.t.a. was first proposed, had proved in practice to be unfounded. Nevertheless, some of these doubts continue to be expressed by people who are lacking in personal experience of working with, or observing, children using i.t.a.

The main advantages and disadvantages put forward by all the different categories of people interviewed are summarised in the following lists. Those doubts or dangers which were mentioned by people who had seen little of i.t.a. in practice, and which experience had disproved, have not been included.

A. THE MAIN ADVANTAGES OF i.t.a.

1 The use of i.t.a. has made the early stages of learning to read easier and more enjoyable for children. As a consequence they learn to read earlier and in a shorter space of time.

2 This early reading is not merely sounding words but is usually reading with understanding. .

3 Children soon find they can make successful attempts to read unknown words themselves, without help from teachers. As a result, young children choose to read individually more often than when t.o. was used, read for longer periods of time and read many more books.

4 The materials read by infants soon extended beyond those of a basic reading scheme into a wide variety of story books, information books and reference books, as well as comics, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and so on.

5 i.t.a. has brought about a reduction in the number of non-readers and struggling readers in infant classes and has consequently reduced the frustration and lack of confidence formerly experienced by children who found difficulty in reading with t.o.

6 The beneficial effect of the introduction of i.t.a. on children's free writing was listed as one of its main advantages quite as frequently as its effect on read',ng7 The comparative regularity of the sound-symbol relationship has resulted in children's early discovery that they can make good attempts at spelling any word for themselves. The result has been a marked increase in the quantity and quality of children's free written work.

8 Children who have learned to read and write easily and happily with i.t.a. tend to develop confidence and independence and to show initiative and responsibility in other aspects of school life at a quite early age.

9 The early mastery of the skills of reading and writing, together with the independent and confident attitudes developed by children, has led naturally to an increase in individual study and exploration which is in line with current heuristic methods of learning.

10 The use of i.t.a. has benefited work other than reading and writing in infant classes in two different ways. Firstly, children's earlier skill in reading and writing has been instrumental in extending their understanding of other subjects, for example mathematics and science. Secondly, the fact that children master the basic skills of reading and writing with greater ease and speed has enabled the teacher to devote more time to the needs of individual children and to aspects of the curriculum other than the language arts.

11 Teachers themselves obtain greater pleasure and satisfaction in children's progress in reading and writing. They spoke with feeling of the end of the 'long uphill grind' of children learning to read with t.o., and the abolition of long queues of children waiting to ask for help in spelling words.

12 Teachers also rated it as an advantage that the introduction of i.t.a. has stirred up a great interest in reading among themselves; attendances at lectures and conferences, as well as staffroom discussions have contributed to an increase in teachers' own understanding of children's learning, with a consequent increase in their teaching proficiency. This view was supported by headteachers, local advisers and other visitors to schools, who also noted particularly an improvement in the proficiency of less able and less experienced teachers when they use i.t.a. rather than t.o.

I3 Teachers and others counted it an advantage of i.t.a. that its introduction has resulted in an increasing interest by parents in their children's reading, often exemplified by closer co-operation between parents and teachers.

B THE MAIN DISADVANTAGES OF i.t.a.

1 Certain people, including teachers, parents, local inspectors and educationists, who were not only familiar with i.t.a. being used with infants but also favourably disposed towards it, continued to have misgivings about the effect on the children of' using i.t.a. in the classroom while encountering t.o. in every other situation in their total environment.

2 There were instances of parents reporting the frustrations experienced by children, who were not yet ready to transfer from i.t.a. to t.o., when they attempt to read t.o. print at home in books, comics, newspapers and other printed materials. 3 Certain parents find it a disadvantage to be unable to give the help requested by their children who are reading or writing in i.t.a. at home.

4 Many parents, teachers and other educators are very conscious of the problem which arises when a family moves and a child who is not a fluent reader in i.t.a. has to attend a school using only t.o.

5 Local inspectors, as well as teachers themselves, are aware of the danger of infant teachers endeavouring to hasten children's transition in reading from i.t.a. to t.o. This problem is most likely to arise when slower infants are about to be promoted to those junior schools known, or thought, to be not very favourably disposed towards i.t.a.

6 Owingtopublishers'doubtsregardingthepossibleextensionoftheuseofi.t.a. the number and variety of books and other reading materials available in i.t.a. for beginning readers is still small compared with early reading materials printed in t.o. Furthermore, experience with i.t.a. has not yet been sufficiently extensive as to result in the most appropriate reading materials for the early stages being devised.

7 Once children have mastered the initial stages of reading, H.M. Inspectors, local advisers, teachers and others do not consider that the quantity and quality of books available for infants cater adequately for their expanding reading ability. This lack is felt not only in i.t.a. books but also in suitable t.o. books for young readers who have made the transition from i.t.a.