He’d Rather Teach Fifth Grade
In 1966, Bob Lorton asked the School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley (Cal) to accept him into its teacher training program and waive any prerequisites it might have. Bob had graduated from Stanford with a BA in economics and had made the impulsive decision that he would rather be a fifth grade teacher on the first day his Stanford Law School classes were to begin.
The Teacher Intern Program
The School of Education said “No problem. We’ll put you in our Teacher Intern Program.” The intern program was looking for candidates that met two requirement. First, no educational training background. Second, extensive travel. Bob’s economics major met the first requirement. Bob had joined the Navy to get his military obligation out of the way after his first-day dropout of law school and had just finished spending three years on an aircraft carrier traveling quite a bit, so requirement number two was met, as well.
The intern program would give its enrollees four weeks of summer school student-teaching practice before placing them as full-time teachers in classrooms of their own, with a full-time teachers salary added in. Perfect for Bob. No education background required and being paid while becoming a teacher, as well. The catch was that the intern teachers would be working in inner-city schools with low achieving student populations. The catch was no problem for Bob. He wanted to be a teacher. Teaching was teaching, no matter where he taught.
The Intern Program’s Guiding Philosophy Taken Seriously
The guiding philosophy for the intern program was “What is being taught now isn’t working, so try something different." Bob’s response to this “Try something different” was to refuse to open any of the textbooks provided for his use and look for different ways to teach from the very start.
The Once Rejected Intern
Mary Baratta had applied to the Cal Teacher Intern Program but had already been turned down. Mary was a Liberal Arts major from the College of the Holy Names, and easily met the no educational training requirement. She was also an Army Brat, who was born in Many, Louisiana, had attended kindergarten in Munich, Germany and had equally diverse residences every two years before her father retired from the military. One of the intern trainees who met the School of Education’s requirements was found at the last minute not to meet Cal’s graduate student requirements and had been dropped from the program its first week. Mary was the first person on the rejected list who happened to be at home when the School of Education was looking for a replacement that day.
Teaching From Day-One
When Bob first met the master teacher to whom he had been assigned for his four weeks of student-teaching, she told him that even though she had been assigned to a fifth grade class, she was actually a third grade teacher and didn't know any more about teaching fifth grade than he did. She suggested that because neither of them had any fifth grade experience, they simply split the workload in half. She would be in charge of math and he would be in charge of reading. Bob agreed, so Bob began his teaching career on day-one.
Two Teachers Meet
All of the intern teachers were given an assignment for the first week of their four-week student-teaching time of preparing an hour lesson to present on Friday to their respective classes. All the interns who were contemplating an hour lesson at the end of week-one knew that Bob had already been teaching from day-one. Even though Mary and Bob did not know each other very well, because Bob was the only intern already teaching, Mary asked Bob to watch and critique her first teaching hour. What happened next is described in Bob’s Tribute to Mary, which you can see here.
Teaching a Class He Does Not Believe Should Exist
In 1969, Bob took a year off from teaching fifth grade to become a special education teacher. The ten boys in Bob’s special education class were there because they met the two requirements for admission – average intelligence and at least two years below grade level. Bob’s belief was that ALL children (top, bottom and everyone in between) should learn in the same classroom, with lessons tailored to meet everyone’s needs. Bob’s reason for teaching this class that he did not believe should exist was to focus on creating a curriculum of these supposed bottom students, so that he could better meet their needs in his regular fifth grade classroom
The Inkling of a New Approach to Teaching Reading
During this teaching year, Mary suggested to Bob that he look at a reading program she had heard about. Bob paid a visit to a class using the program and immediately thought of a way to modify the program to meet the needs of his special education students, while at the same time, taking away the need for the very special education class he was now teaching.
His thought - children could learn to read the sounds of words before they learned to read with letters. He shared his thought with Mary and together they wrote the program's publisher to share their idea. The publisher never responded.
In 1971, both Bob and Mary were invited to serve as instructors for the California State Specialized Teacher Project Mathematics Improvement Program, a state funded teacher training program which was called “Miller Math” for short, after the State Legislator who had sponsored the program’s creation and funding. Miller Math had an instructional staff of over 50. All but 3 of the instructors were math resource specialists. Mary and Bob and one other person (who happened to have a PhD in education) were the only classroom teachers. The participants in the Miller Math two-week long workshops in Northern and Southern California were 2,000 teachers handpicked to participate from every school district in California.
Miller Math Failure
While Miller Math brought thousands of teachers in for training and the teachers themselves enjoyed the workshops, the program’s own self-review of the effectiveness of its training was that teachers did not carry their Miller Math Experiences into their own classrooms. What was fun for teachers to try in a workshop did not really constitute a curriculum teacher could implement on a daily basis in a classroom setting.
Correcting the Failure – The 1972 Book Plan
Mary and Bob really enjoyed being Miller Math instructors and both learned a great deal from their fellow instructors. However both Mary and Bob felt that while the instructional staff was excellent, the problem was that these excellent instructors were NOT classroom teachers. They were all great at math, but not great at what to teach on Monday morning. As classroom teachers, Mary and Bob decided to combine the Miller Math activities with their own math curriculum in book form, so that teachers would have a guide to integrating the math experiences into their daily curriculum.. Actually, in two-book form, one for primary and one for intermediate. They planned to begin writing both books in the summer of 1972 .
Then The Fire
What Can I do?
Mary and Bob were both teaching in the same school, Mary in first, Bob in fifth. Mary, a morning person, always went to school early. Bob, a night person, always prepared his class for the next day before leaving. On a morning in February of 1972, Bob received a call from the vice-principal saying there had been a fire at the school. Bob’s response was “You’re not calling everyone are you.” It wasn’t a question. Bob’s classroom along with four others had been burned to the ground by a child who didn’t even go to Bob and Mary’s school. He just hated schools in general. Bob knew his classroom was gone before he arrived. Mary only knew by following the fire hoses to Bob’s gutted classroom.
Mary was already staring at the fallen walls and melted desks that were the remnants of Bob’s classroom when Bob arrived. When she asked helplessly what she could do when there was nothing anyone could do, Bob answered unexpectedly, lets finally really do the reading program we’ve been talking about. Lets do that along with the books this summer. Why he said that, he still doesn’t know. He thinks it might be because he wanted something good to come out of something terrible.
Teaching Reading Every Day Six Times a Day
Mary and Bob began serious work on creating the reading program the week after the fire. And, as fate would have it, a unique teaching opportunity presented itself. This school had never had a special education class before, but for the 1972-1973 school year, a class had been funded. Bob applied to be the teacher of this class, and because he had already taught special education, he was given the assignment. Bob’s earlier experience as a special education teacher was in a self-contained classroom with ten students. This special education class was actually six mini-classes of an hour each composed of six different groups of from two to four children each, drawn from grades one through five.
“T” is not “Ta” “T” is just “T”
By December of 1972, Bob and Mary had advanced far enough in creating their reading program that they had decided both on the 44 separate images they would use to represent the sounds of English and that the correct pronunciation would be helped if the sounds were introduced to teachers as they occurred at the end of words. The sound the letter “T” makes is heard more correctly at the end of the word “nut” and not the beginning of the word “top”. Heard at the beginning of a word, “T” is often pronounced “Ta”. At the end of a word, “T” is just “T”.
Dekodiphukan AKA Decode-if-you-can
Over Christmas vacation in 1972, Bob wrote a storybook in rhyme that introduced the 44 sound-images, provided the rationale for why each sound-image represented the sound that it did and guided the teacher in the correct pronunciation of each sound. Bob named his storybook Dekodiphukan after the mystical land of Dekodiphukan in which the story takes place. He chose name’s unique spelling to remind teachers reading it of the reading difficulty children face as they are beginning the reading process
Testing the Curriculum
The four fifth grade classes at the school where Bob and Mary worked received several thousand dollars in grant funds to purchase a math program designed specifically to improve the test scores of under-achieving students. Bob declined to use the new program, preferring to use his own curriculum instead. Because Bob had refused to use the new program, the principal decided to use Bob’s class as the control group to test the effectiveness of the program in the other fifth grade class. For the first time in Bob and Mary’s teaching lives, there was now to be a testing of the curriculum philosophy that had produced to both their math and reading programs.
The test results showed that the program the other fifth grade teachers were using was successful in providing an average of more than a year’s growth for the fifth grade students who had taken both the pre and post-tests. The class averages were 1.1, 1.1, and 1.3 respectfully, meaning that the classes as a whole averaged between one year and one month and one year and three months of gain, so the program could be said to be a success. However, a class average does not mean that every student has made that gain. Some children had been left behind.
And Twice the Success
The test results also showed that the average score for Bob’s class was 2.2, meaning that the class as a whole averaged two years and two months of gain. In addition, EVERY child in Bob’s class had gained a year or better. There was no child left behind.
Why a Reading Kit and not a Book
Bob and Mary were writing books to share the math curriculum they had created because the materials needed to implement their teaching strategies were either already available or easily made by any teacher. However, their reading curriculum was so completely unique that none of the materials existed outside of Mary and Bob's own classrooms. These unique materials could only be provided to classrooms in kit form.
The First Eight Kits
In the summer of 1973, Mary and Bob created eight prototype kits and placed them in classrooms in school districts neighboring their own. All of the classrooms used for testing were in the same low-income, inner-city areas as Mary and Bob worked, where the reading scores of the children were substantially below grade level. The teachers and school administrators in these eight schools were asked to evaluate the program's effectiveness using any measure they might choose. By every measure used, the program was judged as highly successful in all eight of these classrooms. Every child had learned to read and to write, with no child left behind.
100% Every Year
Mary and Bob were extremely pleased that the reading program's goal of teaching every child in every class to read and to write, regardless of the child's previous success or lack of success in school, continued to be met each and every year in the eight classrooms using it. No child in any year in any of the eight classrooms using the program failed to learn to read or to write. The program’s success rate was 100% in every class in every year
Eight Was Nice But Not Enough
No matter how successful, eight classrooms was not be enough to convince any publisher to accept what was a completely new approach to teaching reading and writing, but preparing a really large number of test kits would take more money than these two classroom teachers had.
The Founding of the Center for Innovation in Education
In 1975, Mary and Bob founded the Center for Innovation in Education, with two purposes. First, to support the teachers who would be using Mary and Bob’s soon to be published books Mathematics Their Way and Mathematics... a Way of Thinking. Second, to use the royalties from these two books to support the development of the reading program. All the royalties for both books were to go to the Center and not to either Mary or Bob.
2,048 Reading Program Kits
It took awhile, but by 1985, the Center finally had the financial resources to publish and test the effectiveness of its reading program on a grand scale. In the years 1985 and 1986 the Center distributed 2,048 reading program kits all across the United States and Canada. The 2,048 classrooms using the program ranged from inner-city to wealthy suburban and everything in between.
Teachers using these kits were in constant contact with the Center for support and to provide the Center with feedback. Not one teacher in this group of 2,048 reported any learning failures for any child taught. In fact, the most common comment made was that the program was the best the teachers had ever used in permitting children to learn to read and to write with ease, with understanding, and with an actual love of the reading and writing process.
The Search for a Publisher
Once the initial 2,048 kits were proven to be highly effective in classrooms all across the country, the Center began searching for a publisher who would market the kits, just as the Center had found a publisher for both Mathematics Their Way and Mathematics... a Way of Thinking.
The Razor Blade Effect
Despite the proven success achieved by the program using any measure chosen by each teacher using it, publishers in the United States were not willing to distribute the program unless it was converted to a traditional textbook-workbook format. The Center’s kit was built to outlast the life of the teacher using it with no component needing to be replaced each year. What publishers wanted was what they called the razor blade effect. The money is made not by selling the razor once but by selling the razor’s blades endlessly. The Center’s kit meant no blades to sell so no publisher. The original 2,048 kits would be the only kits available.
Since the kits were durably made with no consumable parts, an unknown number of the original 2,048 kits are still in use in classrooms throughout the country. Current users are not likely to be the teachers who first used the kits in their classrooms, as the kits have been passed from teacher to teacher over the years. Retiring teachers have also on occasion returned their kits to the Center for redistribution. The most recent kit redistribution was in 2017 to a school in Texas.
One use of returned kits has been to ship them off to a particular school in India where Bob has worked with the staff. This one school has a K-12 population of over 50,000 students spread over twenty campuses in just one city. English is required to be spoken by all 50,000 students. While this is not a difficult requirement for students from middle and upper-class homes, where English and Hindi are both in use, it is more difficult for the children from poorer homes where Hindi may be the only language spoken. In this setting, the Center's program is being used to teach five and six-year old Hindi students to speak, read and write English.
Scanning in the Program
While the kit was made to be nearly indestructible, “nearly” does not mean “absolutely”. To provide replacement parts, the Center scanned in the entire program and made all of its components available as a free download through its website.
The Accidental Plus Side of the Scanning
When Bob first saw an iPad back in 2010 he immediately viewed it as the perfect devise for making the Center’s reading program available to any teacher or parent who wanted to make use of it with his or her own students or children. Because the hundreds and hundreds of reading program components had already been scanned into the Center’s computer system, all that was needed was to turn the already-scanned components into apps.
Two Years Minus One Month
Bob estimated that it would take him two years both to learn how to program from scratch and to create how ever many apps it might take to make the entire program available in app form to anyone and everyone who wanted it. It took him a year and eleven months.
The 14 Apps and an Infinity of Availability
In 2012, Bob added his 14 reading programs apps to the Apple App Store under the search term “dekodiphukan”. The apps were and are 100% free with no offers of any kind of money making upgrades. Free was and is free. The original 2,048 kits are still the only kits available in the original kit form, but thanks to the Apple iPad, the reading program itself is now infinitely available.
iOS 11.0 and the Disappearing 99,000 Downloads
By 2017, more than 99,000 of the reading program apps had been downloaded to iPads everywhere. However, in 2017, when Apple introduced iOS 11.0 as its new iPad operating system, anyone who upgraded to iOS 11.0 saw all his or her reading program apps disappear with no way to reverse the loss.
Two Years and a Little More
In 2017, Bob began the process of recreating all 14 apps. The goal this time was to have every app be compatible with both iOS 10.0 and 11.0 and whatever new iOS Apple added to the iPad. As of January of 2020 all the apps are back in the Apple App Store and they now work on every operating system from iOS 10.0 through iOS 13. Still 100% free. Still under the search term “dekodiphukan”.