CPC Way of teaching reading Method: Towson University Professor James M. Furukawa's learning 'system' goes against many of the rules put forward by educators who push systematic phonics.

EDUCATION BEAT

June 14, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

AT THE Jonestown Day Care Center in inner-city Baltimore, children are learning to read the James M. Furukawa way.

That isn't what the 72-year-old professor at Towson University calls it. The "CPC Way" is the title he's given to the learning "system" he has been trying to perfect for much of his adult life.

Perhaps because Furukawa is a psychologist, his methods violate many of the rules laid down by the deadly serious educators who push systematic phonics.

Five-year-olds start out in the CPC Way with a heavy dose of old-fashioned spelling. They learn all the letters of the alphabet in the first 16 days of instruction. One of the first words they learn is "fox" -- a clear violation of the rules of phonics instruction, "x" being a troublesome letter that isn't taken up until later.

Other aspects of the CPC Way: Beginners learn three words a day. The first sentence they learn is: "The quick brown fox jumps over my big lazy dog." (Touch typists will recognize this from keyboarding drills. It contains all the letters of the alphabet.)

Nor does Furukawa shy away from "context clues," such as illustrations, that help children learn new words. Guess, the professor urges. Visually oriented children need such clues, he says.

His program seems well-suited for a day care center like Jonestown, which is located amid the housing projects of East Baltimore. Many Jonestown youngsters have health and learning problems that require "much more than baby-sitting," says Ann Lofton, center director.

"Jim and I met years ago," Lofton says. "He was interested in helping our children become better achievers, and that was right up my alley. So we sat down and talked, and he showed me his program. I brought it to the attention of my teachers, and we decided it was what we wanted."

Lofton says Furukawa's method is superior to other beginning reading approaches used in the past at the 16-year-old center. "It's simple, very simple. There's not a lot of frilly stuff, and the children like it. It takes a step-by-step approach. They don't move to another step until they've mastered the material."

The CPC Way, Furukawa says, is derived from years of studying how children learn. Its "C" is for capacity. Children aren't asked to learn things in amounts that exceed their capacity -- that is, how much they can be expected to memorize. (Thus, three words a day at the beginning.)

The "P," for pyramid, means outlining, with simple, concrete words at the bottom and powerful, more abstract concepts at the top. "It's how we organize material," Furukawa says. "Organized material is easier to remember than unorganized material."

The final "C," for chunking, puts words in a single, meaningful chunk. The quick brown fox jumps over the big lazy dog.

Furukawa also incorporates mathematical words in beginning reading. Many children have trouble answering written arithmetic problems, he says, because 80 percent of math words aren't on standard reading lists.

"Why do we ignore math language?" he asks. "It's still reading. It's still vocabulary."

Furukawa says he has California Achievement Test scores to demonstrate the effectiveness of the CPC Way. He's developed teaching materials covering every stage from early childhood to college.

But this isn't McGraw-Hill. Furukawa has yet to become a rich man on the CPC Way. The Jonestown Day Care Center gets the materials and teacher training for free. Marketed by the Towson DTC University Foundation, the CPC Way is also in one other city elementary school, a Baltimore middle school and two schools in Furukawa's native Hawaii.

"American schools tend to run with something without looking at the evidence," says Furukawa, who was drafted into the military at 19 and didn't begin formal higher education until he was 29.

"I really got into this when I read years ago that an entire high school in Florida had switched to team teaching. At the end of the year, the principal halted the experiment. He said it needed more research. I thought, 'What a waste!' "

Students make pledges to read in many forms

Sylvan Learning Systems asked students in its Maryland tutoring centers to pledge a summer of reading. Hundreds replied, and the company posted many of their written pledges at its Inner Harbor East tutoring center.

Most pledged to read five to 10 books, but Alexis Barbera of Abingdon promised to read 22 books. Brendon Ricketts, a student at the Eldersburg center, said he would read 3 1/3 books.

Our favorite pledge came from Jessica Covington of Columbia: "I pledge to read 20 skinny books."

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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