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American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

An online exhibition of the Cubberley Education Library, Stanford University

From Oral Performance to Silent Reading

Overview of From Oral Performance to Silent Reading exhibit case
Detail of left side of exhibit case

"From its origins until almost the end of the 19th century, reading instruction in the American classroom was built around oral activities. By 1925, however, silent reading was strongly emphasized, even to the point where silent reading was sometimes taught from the onset of instruction" (Venezky, 1986, pp. 149-150).

"By the middle of the nineteenth century the elocutionary guide, which generally composed the fifth or sixth levels of the reading series, had grown into a thick compendium of expert advice on articulation, inflection, accent, gesture, cultivation and management of the voice, and verse reading. But with the Civil War, elocution especially the mechanistic style, began to lose favor in American life. And with declining illiteracy, oral reading became less and less required as a means of conveying information within families" (Venezky, 1994, p. 587).

Detail of left side of exhibit case

"The emphasis on meaning in reading instruction, which Horace Mann and other nineteenth-century educational reformers promoted, led by the end of the first decade in this century to a change in instructional emphasis from oral to silent reading" (Venezky, 1984, p. 21).

Monroe's Vocal Training, p. 14 Monroe's Vocal Training, p. 15 Image of Horace Mann
Thorndike-McCall Reading Scale directions, p. 6 Thorndike-McCall Reading Scale, Form 6 Thorndike McCall Reading Scale Tabulation and Graph Sheet

Monroe, Lewis B. [1884-5?]. Monroe's new fourth reader. Philadelphia: Cowperthwait & Co.

"Silent reading…was assisted in gaining a permanent hold on the reading curriculum by the development of silent-reading tests in the period during and just after the First World War" (Venezky, 1994, p. 587).

Silent Reading Hour cover Silent Reading Preface Silent Reading Steps p. 36
    Silent Reading Hour, Plate 1

Buswell, Guy T. 1923. The silent reading hour: First readers. Cambridge, Mass: Ryan and Buker.