Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Ten)

I was lucky enough to grow up in the 1960s, when teachers were responsible for teaching and students were responsible for learning. There was no talk about malarky like "learning styles" and "attention deficit disorder" and the like; teachers had a lot to teach us, they taught it, and we read and did homework and practice drills and listened and took tests and learned.

One of my fondest memories of elementary school was SRA. I cannot tell you with certainty what it stood for, but we always said that it stood for "Speed Reading Associates." The goal of the SRA program was to encourage students to read quickly and effectively, emphasizing both speed and comprehension. And it worked remarkably well... for me, at least!

The SRA program consisted of color-coded stories and articles. The basic colors were rather simple and straightforward selections with a more restrained vocabulary; they were informative and entertaining, but there was nothing memorable about them. However, before one could advance to the better selections, one had to work through the basic colors, which I did in relatively short time. (I was always a fast reader, even before SRA--but there's no doubt that SRA made me much, much faster.)

The selections got more challenging--and more rewarding--when one moved into the blended colors. Instead of reds and blues and greens and yellows, we got turquoises and caramels and mauves and creams... and these selections actually had interesting storylines, fascinating information, and more advanced vocabulary. These were stories worth reading, and once I got into these colors, I was hooked.

The best selections of all were found in the metallic ink colors: gold, silver, copper, bronze. Once you hit these colors, you couldn't wait to finish up the selection and pass the comprehension quiz so that you could read the next selection. My goal was to read every single SRA selection, and I did just that... more than once, in fact! (Sometimes I would convince my teacher to let me re-read a favorite...)

SRA wasn't something that took up a great deal of class time. While there would occasionally be a half an hour of organized SRA time, it was generally something that we did at our own pace once we finished up with other class activities. Once I finished writing a paper or doing a math worksheet or drawing a map, I could work on SRA while others were finishing up their assignments. The system was entirely self-motivated and self-focused; the rewards were enjoyment, improvement, and pride in accomplishment. And believe it or not, that was plenty; I wasn't the only one who looked forward to moving up the color scale. We even talked about it in recess, believe it or not--it was that addictive!

I actually learned a lot from SRA; not only did it improve my reading and comprehension, but the selections featured a mix of stories and informative articles on all sorts of subjects. Even as early as elementary school, I had a memory like a sponge, soaking up all sorts of facts for potential future use.

I also came to appreciate blended colors, oddly enough. To this day, my favorite early FF covers are those that feature the FF in teal costumes rather than basic blue costumes--and I absolutely love the distinctive caramel backgrounds that appeared on some Marvel titles in the early 1960s. I'm not sure why Marvel had a more sophisticated color palette, but to this day, when I see those unique comic colors, I have SRA flashbacks.

Did SRA help me in school? Of course; by the time I had finished those selections, I was reading much faster and comprehending what I read. I had learned to take in multiple words--even entire lines--at the same time, greatly enhancing the speed with which I could finish a comic book. And of course, that meant I could read even more comic books in the same amount of time. Heck, I could even read a comic or two while standing at the racks in Conn's Grocery, enabling me to buy my normal comics and get a couple of bonus books as lagniappe.

And of course, it strengthened my passion for reading as entertainment... a passion that would stay with me for the rest of my life...

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