Research of records from one-room schools across the Midwest indicates that during the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, the student population ranged in age from six to seventeen years, with the median age at ten and a half. Typically, all students began at the primer or first reader level regardless of chronological age upon entering school and progressed through the reader levels with several students in the same reader regardless of age. As a result, it was fairly common for students (or scholarsas they were then called) to be grouped into three or four reader levels for instructional purposes. Additionally, the levels would often vary for reading, arithmetic and spelling instruction.
Therefore, for student visitors in the twenty-first century to savor the tone of a day in a one-room schoolhouse, it is important that three or more reader levels be represented. To achieve this, the teacher should divide the group and arrange to have accompanying adult volunteers serve as "eighth graders" who will mentor the scholars during the seatwork portions of each study period. The teacher can then assign work from the readers, spellers and arithmetic texts by the respective levels, keeping in mind that an individual student may be placed in a different level for each of the subjects noted above. In turn the teacher will call each group up to the teacher's desk, chalkboard, or recitation bench for the recitation period.
It is important for both the teacher and the students to note that neither the levels of the McGuffey Eclectic Readers nor the McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Books match grade equivalency levels of the twenty-first century. Indeed a typical rural school scholar might never progress beyond the third level reader. Thus when planning for the day the teacher or docent must select materials which are appropriate for the students in the groups, keeping in mind that the selections in the fifth and sixth level readers represent works studied in high school classes today.
Similarly, arithmetic texts were also considered Readers and arranged by
level. It was entirely possible for a scholar to be at a different level in
his arithmetic work than in reading or spelling. Much depended on what books
were available during the terms in which the student happened to be enrolled
and on how many other scholars were capable of working at the same level. If a
scholar were the only one in his particular level, chances were good that he
would receive instruction at a lower level or in a different subject matter
area. Furthermore, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mental
math was the norm. Students would drill and recite, copy and solve, listen and
calculate without the aid of electronic or mechanical devices. Since many
never progressed beyond the third arithmetic level reader at age ten or eleven,
mastery of basic mathematical operations had to take place at a very early age
lest youngsters lack the requisite skills for entering the world of work.