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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 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


Anonymous said…
I too loved the SRA kits. I was an elementary student in the early 1960's in Rhode Island. My friends and I would have races to see who could complete the levels first. I raced through other work just to have free time to do the SRA readings. I was an advanced reader also but to me it was a sweet reward!
Mr Trivia said…
Thanks for your comment Anonymous. Your feedback is appreciated. Good to see some of us have a positive memory of these.

Another thing I remember in a similar vein were special 'readers' provide by the Readers' Digest. The RD actually edited Digest stories futher for school children and the stories would have a number of SRA style comprehension questions afterward, although nothing to colour in!
I remember using these "SRA cards" (as we always called them), back around 1978-1982 (they were available in multiple grade levels), at a pair of elementary schools in Northern California. I'm sure they would work just fine today, but then the government wouldn't be able to waste our tax dollars on new-fangled crap that costs way more (as opposed to the "SRA cards," which were free, since they already had them, but doubtless threw them all away), doesn't work half as well, and has the sole (and dubious) virtue of doubtlessly mentioning "diversity" in every other sentence. Sigh.

But thanks for the nostalgia blast, all the same.
Mr Trivia said…
You're welcome, Jake!.

In addition to the SRA cards we also had 'abridged' copies of the Reader's Digest for kids. These used to have reading comprehension questions at the end of every story. Learning to read at my school certainly involved a solid amount of Americana!

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