Culture

Self-Paced

When I was in Primary School back in the 1970s in Western Australia, I went to a school that taught reading comprehension in all the usual ways but also used an American teaching aid that we referred to colloquially as SRA cards, but an hour or research on the ol’ internet has persuaded me that I was, in fact, one of millions of Gen X (and 2nd Wave Baby Boomers) who encountered the SRA Reading Laboratory Kit.

SRA was Scientific Research Associates a Chicago based publisher of Educational materials (thank you Wikipedia). But their tautologically named teaching aid was kick-ass for a word nerd like myself. I recall it as a box stuffed with cards. Each card had a short segment of writing on it and then some comprehension questions. You’d answer the questions on a separate sheet they provided and if you were correct you got to move on to the next card. This was self-paced learning at its best as far as I was concerned.

Boring, si? NO! Because the genius part was this – the whole system was colour coded! There were – I dunno ten levels in a box and each one was a different colour and there were perhaps ten cards in a level. If you were in purple level then once you’d answered your card correctly, you got to fill in a square on a progress chart in purple. Each level had an appropriately coloured pencil in the box, with the cards. You could chart your progress card-by-card and coloured square by coloured square.

My memories of precisely how the system worked are a little hazy, but some fella called Richard B appears to back up my memory on a Yahoo Answers UK & Ireland (ellipses indicate my editing)

I remember SRA extremely well (… )Every junior year had a different box each containing (I think) 12 sets of 12 cards, each set being of a different colour (…) We teachers loved it because we really didn’t have to do a lot as the cards were marked by the children and all we had to do was to record each mark in our record book while the children recorded the cards they had completed on a 12 x 12 square on the front of their exercise books. SRA was very popular in the late 60s and early 70s and then, like so many educational gimmicks, it disappeared.

I thought they were excellent because I got to read simple paragraphs and was rewarded with colouring in. Even at the time I recall more than one teacher casting aspersions, suggesting that they were too simple. While researching this I came across a blogger who is still rather annoyed at being made to use these when her reading level was exceptional for her age. Amazing how these things can rankle, decades later.

The old iconic 1957 Lab Kit is often sighted and cited online, but interestingly no one claims to own one and I have only been able to find one jaggy scan of an old SRA card (seen below). So unfortunately we can’t see what kind of subject matter two generations of children in Australia, NZ, UK, the US and no doubt Canada were exposed to.

Personally I don’t care if they were the fast food of reading skills, I enjoyed them immensely. And it turns out Ricard B isn’t strictly correct. SRA was bought out by McGraw Hill and a form of the reading system still exists. Click here.

Elevate the Insignificant

Mr Trivia

4 thoughts on “Self-Paced

  1. HEy, I remember these! I used them in the late 80s. They were awesome! I remember doing a gold level card in year 4 and thinking I was a total star. They had great multi-choice questions beginning with: "Sometimes you can tell the meaning of a word from the words around it"…

  2. I remember these as well! It was either 1994 or 1995 that I used them. I decided to look them up on the internet because of a conversation I was involved in regarding the origin of the sandwich. I remembered that I learned from an SRA card that the Sandwich was invented by a man called Mr. Sandwich who wanted to eat while not disrupting his game of billiards. Either through my bad memory of the inaccuracy of SRA cards, this fact is only a half truth. Anyway those cards I was reading must have been a relic of the past, and the teacher probably only got students on to them when he couldn’t be bothered with making an effort!

  3. You have better memory than I do, Mick – I can’t remember a single piece of information that I learnt from these cards. As a teacher myself of (of secondary school age) if there was any way I could get away with just chucking a box of these at the kids, I would.

    I guess in the end, they did their job as far as you are concerned because you eventually got the full Sandwich story 15 years later! Thanks for the comment.

    Cheers, Mick.

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