The Project



The German Franz-Josef Koch has invented this method for teaching reading to beginners in rural elementary schools in the 1920s. After almost 50 years of inactivity Katrin Rabanus has reanimated and adapted this method to today’s needs of people with learning disabilities and any other dyslexics such as adults, non-native speakers, and mentally disabled. More than 30 years of application of this method in almost every school type in Germany has proven its efficiency with respect to the individual learner as well as to the applicability in other schools. In the meantime this method has been refined and translated into Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and Guaraní, the latter three being indigenous dialects in several Latin-American countries, as well as into Wolof, a dialect spoken in the Senegal. Current developments involve adaptation to English and several languages spoken in Arabic countries. Also, enhanced emphasis is laid on further education and training of teachers.

Recent efforts, since 1994, have started an alphabetisation campaign of exhaustive area coverage in Bolivia. This presentation gives an outline of the method and shows the convenience of its use.


The Rabanus Method

It is common sense so far for teaching literacy in elementary school, that the majority of children do learn reading and writing in spite of any method and in spite of any teacher who does the job. However, since that is true for only the majority (approximately 90%) of the children, the remaining minority encompasses difficulties in learning to read for which no particular reason can be given. It is rather a plethora of environmental, personal, and/or educational influences that cause the difficulties.

In the past 35 years as a teacher for slow learners and children with special needs Katrin Rabanus gathered the experience that most of the children from the above stated minority that enter the school for slow learners do not necessarily exhibit a lower-than-normal intelligence, but rather require a different learning style [Prashnig 1998].
To aid children to overcome the above stated difficulties she rediscovered a method that employs gestures of hands and arms to help memorizing sounds of letters and letter combinations that occur in the German language, but, as it turned out, also can be applied to any other phonetic language.

The method. The German Franz-Josef Koch has invented this method for teaching reading to beginners in rural elementary schools in the 1920s. He found, that physical motion of hands and arms facilitates memorizing the information of the sound of a letter or a letter combination in a remarkable way. The historical context of the early and mid-twenties of the last century in the German Republic of Weimar was the aftermath of world war I, the exorbitant reparation payments the German public had to pay, the horrible economic situation that it resulted in, and the ubiquitous poverty that the majority of the people lived in, especially in the industrial regions where Koch was directing his elementary school, Essen-Ruhr. These circumstances proved to be a good environment for developing new ideas and approaches that did not rely too heavily on resources which were not available at that time. Teaching children in classes with up top 60 children at a time and the necessity to abide with almost nothing forced Koch to think of new ways. He found this quasi auto-didactic method that enables the learners to go through the lessons at their own pace, offering each child the required attention individually.

However, after world war II this method was not included in the educational system of the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany. The then modern methods, described as the “holistic” approach, comprised the idea of learning words as entities. Most of the children do learn successfully with that method still up to today, but those with learning difficulties and learning disabilities were obviously accepted as “collateral damage”.
Interestingly, the modern features of many education systems today exhibit similar tendencies as Koch had found in his time: Regular budget cuts, stagnation or even declining welfare in industrialized countries and, of course, education systems in developing countries will all take advantage from this method which poses only low constraints on individual school budgets.

The gestures. The method of reading by show of hands is a method for learning to read that works with gestures for sounds (phonemes). Each sound is assigned to a unique gesture, such that the learning child can connect the figure of a letter or combination of figures of letters to their sound via a gesture.

The application of gestures in the reading process serves as additional assistance for memorizing. The inner processes of reading (optical, acoustical and articulate-motoric perception) are embedded in an external instance of action, which eases learning and memorizing. In the same way the process of sound fusion is supported by flow of gestures, and the sequence of the printed letters in the word is confirmed by the sequence of the motion of the hands and arms. Therefore the learner is forced to obey to the order of letters in a word. The gestures by Koch follow mainly the articulation of the mouth and are deliberately not derived from the letter shape, but rather from the phoneme.

Some aspects for realisation. During 35 years of application and refinement in daily school business Katrin Rabanus has developed a comprehensive course book that streamlines the acquisition of literacy one the one hand, and provides an auto-control framework on the other hand. While applying this reading method there are methodical principles that imperatively have to be obeyed to and are to be followed consequently, to warrant the effective and quick acquisition of literacy. Key component is the simultaneous handling of the three components, that means that (1) sound and (2) letter are connected by the motoric (3) gesture.

Furthermore, all syllables and words are also being written, whereat copying and writing by heart are both required and trained on a regular basis. Children that fail in their first reading lessons or have already failed several times while trying to learn that, benefit greatly from this method, because difficulties encountered in usual reading fibulae are compensated, which eases the learning process. If these aids were provided to all children - especially to those with reading disabilities - at the beginning of their learning process, illiteracy could be widely eradicated.

The course. In the above mentioned systematically designed reading course, which has been developed by Katrin Rabanus in the practice of classes, the children work out the sound-letter-relationships with aid of the sound gestures. This course, comprising approximately 200 pages (spanish version 150 pages), contains a pre-course with that children acquire basic requirements for learning to read. In particular, that is connecting seamlessly letters and sounds. In this rather technical difficulty the main problem of children with reading disabilities can be found. In a first step there are offered syllables and their combinations on a level of 1:1-assignment of sound and letter. Extraction of content (semantics) is not focused on, yet. The letters are assimilated sequentially and by synthesis built towards syllables and later towards entire words. The application of gestures is here especially helpful for control of the order of phonemes.

In all reading primers and spelling books that are usually applied in elementary schools, very early full words are offered for reading and content extracting reading is presumed to be one of the early skills of the children. That drives children with learning disabilities towards learning by heart rather than synthetic reading, because they have not yet understood nor acquired the principle of reading. If the texts become longer and longer as the mainstream fibula courses move on, learning by heart becomes more and more difficult since the volume to be learned increases. The children become “losers” in reading in their classroom, which has a negative impact on other school-related performances as well as on social behaviour.

For building up achievements in reading it is tremendously important that children see fast progress which motivates for further efforts. This reading course achieves that by proceeding in exceptionally small steps. Sheet by sheet it provides a small learning progress and thereby remedies the lack of self-confidence acquired previously.
In the further process of the reading course the difficulty levels of the learning process are taken into account by adequate selection of the sequence of introduction of the letters and intense exercise offers.

The reading course after Rabanus exists already for the languages German, Spanish, Aymara, Guarani, Quechua, English and Wolof (Senegal) and is copyright protected worldwide. The pages of the course to work through are designed with the aim to cover the following aspects of training. (1) Introduction of sounds (and the referring letters or letter combinations), (2) Discrimination, (3) Reading, (4) Handcrafting.


Where can I apply this method?

This method is applicable in elementary schools, institutions for adult learning, in logopedia practices and in therapeutics for speech development. In any of these forms or types of schools there should be set up a system for tracking the learning progress while the reading course is applied. There are certainly several way to accomplish that, but in case of frequently changing teachers, or in institutions with a greater number of volunteers, individually helping only once a week, it has been of great benefit to track the learning progress on a record card, where one line, starting with the date and followed by the page number the child is working on, corresponds to a single learning session of the child.



How can I learn this method?

Teachers as well as students that want to become teachers, therapeutics for speech development and other interested should learn this method in dedicated two-day seminars. Please contact us for current seminar schedule. Taking part in one of these seminars is necessary precondition for a successful and efficient application in schools an institutions.
Every child that shall learn to read with this method needs to be supplied with one copy of the exercise books in which she or he will work under guidance of the teacher. The exercise book in the Spanish version comprises about 150 pages. According to our experience, a child with normal intelligence can work through 2-3 sheets per 60-minute-lesson, assuming a frequency of three lessons per week. That results in a completion of the course -and herewith the acquisition of reading skills- within about 6 months. This span of time may be significantly larger, though, in case that the child works less than 3x per week on it or with inadequate supervision: A routine learning effect would then lack.



Recommendations and remarks for deployment

This method for teaching reading can be applied on several institutional levels. Unless the language for deployment is Spanish, German, Quechua, Guaraní, Aymara or Wolof, there still is the need of transformation of the method and its materials into the new language. For a description of the steps to be taken to achieve that see Chapter “New languages”.
Basic deployment would be on a per-school-basis in case that a school decides to adopt this method. This scenario would require the training of the teachers, supply with exercise books for the children, and tutoring visits of experienced trainers from time to time in the first year.
Deployment on a next higher level, e.g. based on a decision valid for a whole school district or a city, can be implemented in the same way. However, schooling the individual teachers requires slightly more coordination of the training seminars, since many teachers should gather for seminars at central places.
Needless to say that a nation-wide deployment will require adequate coordination in terms of logistic accompanying of the training campaign and application of the method in schools.



New languages

For transforming this method into a new language other than Spanish, German, Quechua, Guarani, Aymara or Woloff, there is the need to work closely together with native speakers. Note that it is not just a translation of the method. Different languages exhibit various numbers of phonemes, hence the extent of the exercise book, defined by the numbers of gestures to learn, and the manual for the teachers will vary from language to language.
From the experience during the transformation of Rabanus’ method into indigenous languages in Latin America we estimate that approximately 60 native speaker teachers are required for one full week to accomplish the transformation into a new language. For deployment in Spanish speaking countries other than Bolivia a marginal effort for adaptation of national idiomatic peculiarities in the exercise books are required: Possible pronunciation differences of sounds and locally different meanings of words have to be corrected for.



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