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History of the Hornbook

History of the Hornbook
Tuer, Andrew W. History of the Hornbook. Amsterdam: S. Emmerling, 1896 Facsimile reproduction. Vols I-II; p.264

A variety of motivational methods, from punishing failure to rewarding success, have also had their day. We are all familiar with the image of the Puritan schoolmaster with his switch. Less familiar an image is that of the old-time teacher who rewarded success. Yet, as early as the 17th century, some teachers of reading had discovered that rewarding a child with a pretzel letter or a gingerbread hornbook for successfully naming its sound, was a productive method of instruction.

Matthew Prior mentions this method in Canto II of his Alma:

To Master John the English Maid
A Horn Book gives of Ginger-bread:
And that the Child may learn the better,
As he can name, he eats the Letter;
Proceeding thus with Vast Delight,
He spells, and gnaws from Left to Right.

One German educator was reportedly so enthusiastic about this ‘gingerbread’ method of teaching that he called for each school to hire its own baker.


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