Chapter One: Reading Explained
Learning to read is the most important thing your child will undertake during his school years. I could say that, "it's the foundation of future learning" or "it's the building blocks to his future." But those words are too general, too cool, and lack the small pictures associated with being able, or unable, to read. What learning to read will really do is allow your child to share the information that others have written down. It will allow him to share his own experiences with others, to put his questions, his beliefs, his thoughts and dreams on paper. It will offer him hours of enjoyment, decrease his likelihood of depression, unemployment, and low self-esteem. And certainly of equal importance to him, learning to read is just one of those things he will do that everyone else can do too, that identify him with the rest of us, that prove he is capable and worthy of entrance into the realm of the educated world.
In 1993 I had been teaching reading for eleven years. I thought I understood the importance of learning to read. I thought I, better than most, understood the possible anxiety and trauma that would surely fill the life of the nonreader. I thought I knew it all, until Jack. Jack was my first adult client. At fifty-four he was the oldest nonreader I had worked with by nearly forty years. Jack changed, forever, my understanding of the importance of learning to read. He moved my thinking from big pictures like, "it's the foundation of future learning," to the small pictures like depression, unemployment, low self-esteem, and rejection. I was first contacted by Jack's son Tim, a computer systems engineer with a large multinational communications network. Tim was straightforward and unashamed when he said, "My father can't read. My mother has left him. I'm afraid he might do something awful."
Tim had grown up never knowing that his dad couldn't read, though at our first meeting he confessed that he should have known. "Dad never read to me. He had lots of books. He would keep them by his recliner, stacked on the floor. Every so often one or two of them would get moved to the bookshelf and a new one would appear at the top of the stack. But he never read to me. You know, like dads do. My Mom always put us to bed and read us a story. Dad never did."
After tests which revealed a reading level of late first grade, Jack entered into reading therapy. His avoidance of doing anything like a lesson was pronounced. For the first three sessions we did little more than talk, and his tale began to unfold. Jack had grown up, the son of the local butcher, in a small town near Chicago. He had attended a public school and seemed to be doing well until the end of second grade when Jack's teacher told his parents that he was progressing slowly at his reading and she would be retaining him in second grade.
"I'll never forget how I felt when my mother told me that I couldn't go to third grade. I was really hurt, you know? It really hurt me bad. I think that messed me up, you know. I think it hurt me more than it helped." By the end of Jack's second try at second grade things had gone from bad to worse. Jack had become a behavior problem. His parents were frequently at the school for conferences. "I spent my days at school hating that, and my nights at home in all kinds of trouble over school. It was really bad." Jack recalled, with great detail, one incident when he got caught cheating on a spelling test. "I wrote the words from my spelling list on my arm. I don't know why I bothered, she (the teacher) would have known I'd cheated soon as all the words were right. My parents were real mad. They didn't hit me or anything though. They never did that. They were good parents and all. It wasn't their fault. It was me. I guess I just couldn't remember all the words. I tried. I really wanted to read like the other kids. I guess I just couldn't remember all the words."
Jack dropped out of school when he was sixteen. "I was in the seventh grade," he confessed ashamedly. "The other kids were thirteen. It seemed stupid to stay in." Jack went into the army at sixteen. "They found out right away that I couldn't read. There were a bunch of us that couldn't. So it wasn't so bad." By the time Jack got out of the service his older brother had finished an engineering degree at Northwestern University. He had graduated in the top one hundred in his class and had been hired by a company who had just received a government contract to build a highway. He got Jack a job doing roadwork. "I dug the foundations. It was just like my fifth grade teacher said, 'Jack, you're gonna end up diggin' ditches.' I did okay for us though, you know. I did good. Pretty soon I was a subsupervisor. That's the guy who makes sure everybody is doin' the job. I never got to be a supervisor because he had to read the blueprints and all." Jack's brother was making quite a lot of money by the time Jack had been promoted to subsupervisor. He started investing in real estate around the Chicago area. He brought Jack in on many of the deals and by the time Jack retired at fifty he had a hefty investment income and a thirty-year pension. "We were sittin' pretty. The kids were both out of college and we had nothin' to do but play tennis and bridge and go shoppin'. It was good, I mean for me it was. But then my wife, well you know. She left me."
Jack's son Tim had explained the separation at our first meeting. Jack had a bad temper. He didn't direct it at anyone. He wasn't abusive. He was just, as Tim put it, "very grumpy." "I think she just got sick of me complainin' all the time. You know, about, well, most everything. And I'm real competitive you know. She hates that, like when we're playing doubles with other couples, or bridge or somethin'." Jack recalled one of the last incidents that occurred just before his wife left him. "Timmy was tellin' me I needed to get me a computer. I got it in my head that I could use that thing to learn about stuff. You know, the stuff I hadn't learned from the school books, history, and all. Sal (Jack's wife) told me I was nuts, that I couldn't use a computer if I couldn't read. But Tim had said about all the pictures and how they (computers) talk and all, so I got me one. Timmy helped me pick it out. I told him I wanted the best one, the one that could make lots of pictures, and talk a lot. When we got it home Tim set it all up. He's real good with those things. I was real impressed. He showed me how to turn it off and on and to put in the programs. I memorized all the steps. I've got a lot better at remembering since my school days. Then he had to go. He had a softball game or somethin'. He left me with that thing and I was lost. Makin' it talk was easy. It was the words that were hard. That thing didn't ever help me one bit. I just sat there lookin' at it, gettin' madder and madder. Sal and me had a bridge match that night. I was a real jerk and said Joe (one of the other players) was cheatin'. Sal was real mad at me. I think that was the end really. I don't blame her. She tried to tell me that thing (the computer) wasn't for me." When Jack's wife left him later that week he was forced to share the burden of his illiteracy with his son Tim. He knew that he would need the help of another adult in dealing with daily life in a literate society.
Before I allow my readers to become too saddened by Jack's tale, let me share his happy ending. Jack did learn to read. His wife was so happy for him that she promised to come home if he would engage in counseling, which he did. When I last spoke to Jack he had just completed his GED and was about to start a real estate license course. He hadn't had much time lately for tennis, but he was very happy to report that his favorite activity was reading to his three-year-old granddaughter.
Since Jack I've worked with many adult nonreaders. With each new case I am reminded anew of the small pictures associated with reading failure. I've seen over and over again how these people's lives have been affected, how they have learned to cope and how the coping has taken up all of their energy and filled the spaces that might have been their lives other lives. Jack's way of coping was to compete. He once said to me, "At tennis I'm a winner." I've come to think of him in that way, as Jack, the "winner." Other adult clients coped in different ways. Soon after Jack was Tina, the dependent. In all situations Tina would immediately notify those involved that she couldn't read. This limited their expectations of her and allowed her to be cared for. Some time later there was Thomas, the specializer. Thomas could read at a fourth-grade level and was extremely intelligent. He coped by becoming an expert at breeding and training exotic birds. My current adult client is Jill, the survivor. Jill, a forty-eight-year-old convenience store district manager, has managed to become just competent enough at most everything to allow her to get by. With a reading age at intake of third grade, she set up a color-coded filing system so that all fourteen of the stores in her district were consistent in their filing system. This allowed her to avoid having to read the labels on the files.
Each of these people has brought me a renewed sense of urgency. The time to learn to read is so precious to our children. Although these people lie at the bottom of the reading ranges, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that they are not atypical. There are many at the bottom range. A 1993 U.S. Department of Education study revealed that 42 percent of our school-age children are below basic competency in reading. These numbers are staggering. They're so staggering that it's tempting not to think of them at all. It's tempting to pretend that our children are safe from these frightening statistics, that it will be someone else's child who will have problems, not ours. But there is no assurance of that. Based on the prevailing trend, two in every five children will not learn to read to a level of basic competency. They will become the Jacks, the Tinas, the Thomases, and the Jills. They will fill the spaces of their lives with coping.
Once we move beyond the doubt and accept that the risk to our child is real, it's equally tempting to rationalize our child out of the failed numbers. This is easily done by assigning some level of blame to the failed reader. "Those adults were lazy, troubled, had physical problems that inhibited their reading, came from poor families, went to bad schools," etc. But these rationalizations simply aren't true. In fact the adult nonreaders that I've worked with all came from good homes, and were exceptionally hard working. They were of average or above average intelligence, and they all reported having wanted very, very much to learn to read during their school years. They were not the problem. So what exactly was the problem? And what is the problem? How is it that our society keeps failing its children in the area of reading instruction? Could it be the method of instruction used to teach reading? That line of reasoning is equally tempting to a parent. Simply find out which method produces the best results, save up thousands of dollars, and put your child in a private school that teaches that method. Or, if you can't save up thousands of dollars, find a public school that teaches that method and move halfway across the country into that particular school district. Well, for many or most of us, these are not options. But for those who are actually considering these steps, I suggest a review of the available methods. To do this, let's look at the history of reading in the United States. Let's see if we can find a method that's worth the move from anywhere.
The History of Reading
In the 1700s and 1800s there was one way to teach a child to read. Noah Webster's Blue-Backed Speller sold over one hundred million copies in the years from 1783 to the 1890s. The Blue-Backed Speller focused on teaching the correspondences between the various English letters and the sounds they were intended to represent. So children learned the sound for each letter in the alphabet and then they practiced reading the sounds and making words. To teach digraphs (two or more letters that represent a single sound) like the two letters <ai> in the word 'rain,' the teacher employed rules. For instance, children were taught that generally when two vowels are side by side in a word, it is the sound of the first vowel that is read. So when the child saw the <ea> in the word 'meat,' she knew to say the sound 'ee'. She was taught that this sound was a "long e sound" as opposed to the "short e sound" in the word 'met.' To explain the fact that the <ea> in words like 'bread,' 'thread,' 'tread,' 'dread,' 'read' (and others) also represent the "short e sound" 'e' like in the word 'met,' she was told that this was an "exception to the rule." So, what the curriculum ended up being was memorization of the twenty-six letter sounds, plus all the rules, plus all the exceptions to all the rules. This phonetic approach of teaching letter-sound correspondences, along with rules for all the exceptions to the rules, soon came to be known as phonics. Phonics was a nickname for phonetics, which is the term used to describe the sounds of a given language.
In the 1700s, and today, phonics deals in letters and the sounds they represent. This requires memorization of two arbitrary items that are only paired because somebody says they should be. So the letter <t>, for instance, represents the sound 't' and the letter <p> represents the sound 'p'. This kind of arbitrary memorization of two seemingly unrelated items is called paired associate learning. Paired associate learning is very difficult for young children. It is only made easier by somehow making the two items meaningful. Let's look at language acquisition as an example. When your two-year-old fusses for no apparent reason you start trying things. You might say, "Are you hungry?" as you offer an apple. If that doesn't work you might ask, "Do you want a drink?" as you take a glass out of the cabinet. Suddenly baby stops fussing and reaches for the item that you just labeled 'drink.' Now, by having his thirst appeased while getting the two items, the pair (a glass of something nice and the word 'drink'), baby has begun to link the pair of items in memory. This occurred not because he's a genius, as you might suppose, but because the experience of getting the two items (the drink and the word 'drink') together while he was appeased, was very meaningful to him. The problem with teaching the various sounds that letters represent in a pair like this, is that there is no relevance in a sound alone. It has no meaning until it is placed in a word.
Phonics tended, and still does, to teach the sounds of the alphabet for a long time before the learner is taught how to read and spell words with the sounds. So, one problem with phonics is that it relies heavily on paired associate learning, which is difficult for young children unless some relevance is introduced in the learning formula. An additional problem lies in the use of rules to teach the sounds that groups of letters represent. As we've mentioned, the <ai> in the word 'rain' would be called a "long a sound," and would be explained using the rule that when two vowels are side by side, they represent the long sound of the first letter. This kind of contingent logic is called "propositional logic." It is of the "if, then that" variety that young children simply cannot manage. In fact, you may have even found it confusing when you just read it. It's difficult, and especially so for young children. Not only is the logic difficult to follow, but it is also frequently wrong. In fact, this rule only works in English 40 percent of the time. The <ai> "long a rule" is wrong in numerous words, such as 'said,' 'again,' 'mountain,' 'captain,' and others. These, of course, would be labeled "exceptions to the rule." So now we have the rule working 40 percent of the time and the exception working 60 percent of the time. As if all this isn't confusing enough, phonics also teaches adjacent consonants as units. So instead of leaving a child alone once he knows the sound to symbol relationship of sounds like 'f' and 'r', it goes on to teach him 'fr', as if it were something altogether different. So now he has three things to remember <f>, <r>, and <fr>.
You might look at the previous paragraph and think, My goodness, this is really confusing. How and why did the instruction become so confusing? Well, phonics evolved from the idea that the English written language is so confusing that it needs rules, regulations, and contingencies, in order to be learned. Never did the innovators of phonics ask if maybe it was the rules that were confusing, rather than the written code. In fact, these rules are so confusing that by the late 1970s, with phonics firmly in place, the illiteracy rate was tottering around 33 percent.
Big Books Take Over Reading Instruction
By the turn of the decade (1980) "whole language" arrived on the scene in a big way. Even the books were big. From "big books" (large-format books that displayed the same old story in large print) to "invented spelling" (the notion that any approximation of a word is acceptable), classroom teachers embraced the principles of whole language from the beginning. With all the rules they had been subject to and had subjected their students to under the phonics regime, it's no wonder they loved whole language. The theory behind whole language was that children do not need to know the code to read the English language. In fact, the inventors of whole language believed that the English written code is too unpredictable to be learned. Whole language innovators believed that children could learn to recognize an infinite number of whole words. Credos like,"We recognize words in the same way that we recognize all the other familiar objects in our visual world trees and animals, cars and houses, cutlery, cookery, furniture and faces on sight" (Smith, F., Reading, Cambridge University, New York, 1985, p. 57), were taken to heart by teachers everywhere. Literature was used to excite the child about learning to read so that he began to memorize the many words he saw in books. "Integrated curriculum" wove the fabric of each big book into entire units of study across curriculum areas. "Invented spelling" was allowed and even encouraged, as children were expected to "emerge" into literacy. Workshops sprang up around the country, with classroom teachers sharing their ideas and experiences with "language-rich" environments. Teacher creativity was overwhelmingly recognized as the best asset of our classrooms and schools. In addition to workshops, teachers began writing articles for teaching magazines, and even books that laid out their whole language successes. Teachers were, for the first time in the history of mandatory education, not just allowed to be innovative, but actually encouraged to be so. The momentum passed quickly from the colleges to the classrooms, and the teachers became the leaders of whole language innovation.
All that sounds great, but what about the reading scores? Well, the problem with whole language is that it doesn't work. Children do not "recognize whole words like they recognize other familiar objects in their visual world" (Smith, 1985). In fact, reading isn't even based on a visual stimulus, but on an oral one, the sound. It is the sounds that our forefathers were attempting to represent when they invented the written code, not the other way around. Human beings can't even recall that many arbitrary images with no meaningful attributes.
Despite these facts whole language was all the rage. And what became of phonics? Out with the old and in with the new? Yes and no. When whole language came on the scene around 1980 an entire generation of teachers had been teaching phonics for the previous decade or two, and the newer teachers had been raised on phonics. A survey of teachers conducted by Patrick Groff of San Diego State University in 1989, and published in the Orton Annals of Dyslexia in 1991, reveals that phonics never really left the classroom. Dr. Groff questioned classroom teachers on their agreement or disagreement with various whole language credos. To the statement, "Intensive phonics instruction makes the task of learning to read inordinately difficult, if not impossible" (Weaver, C., Psychologists and Reading, Winthrop, Cambridge, MA, 1980), 3 percent agreed, 91 percent disagreed, and 6 percent were undecided. To the statement, "English is spelled too unpredictably for phonics to work" (Smith, 1985), 11 percent agreed, 72 percent disagreed, and 17 percent were undecided.
An independent observational study conducted by the Read America Clinic in 1993 and 1994 found phonics practices well in place and mixed with whole language practices in sixteen out of seventeen randomly selected public schools in five Central Florida counties. Based on these discoveries, it would seem that phonics and whole language have been "mixing it up" eclectically for quite some time now. Yet in the fall of 1996, newspapers and magazines were printing article after article about a return to phonics. At the November 1996 annual meeting of the Orton Dyslexia Society in Boston, Dr. Jean Chall, author of Learning to Read: The Great Debate (McGraw Hill, NY, 1967), said that in the previous three-month period she had been interviewed by over twenty national publications on the topic of a return to phonics. So what's all the fuss about? Why are school boards adopting a curriculum that never left the classroom? Why are newspapers writing about the return of a method that never went away? Why don't the headlines just read
PHONICS INSTRUCTION STILL BEING USED
IN CONUNCTION WITH CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
Because it isn't a very exciting headline, and it doesn't cry out to the public to turn and look and see the change, the innovation, the renewal in our classrooms. Instead, we see headlines like Hark! Phonics Is Back and Reading Change in the Air and Parents Lead Way in Phonics Revival. So, coming as no surprise to those of us who have been paying attention, phonics is still here or back or, as the kids say, "whatever." At any rate, we currently exist in an educational environment that has eclectically mixed whole language and phonics. What has been gained? According to the U.S. Department of Education bombshell released in 1995, not percentage points on a reading test. Under the eclectic mix of whole language and phonics, the illiteracy rate has soared to 43 percent!
The complaints of the late 1970s are still valid. Phonics is tedious and difficult. The rules associated with phonics instruction are boring and frequently incorrect. New complaints have joined the problems associated with phonics. We now know, from a twenty-year mountain of research, that phonemic awareness (being able to separate and blend sounds in words), alphabet code knowledge (knowing the correspondence between the sounds and the symbols), and an early start (five years) at learning to read are the three strongest determinants of future reading success, including comprehension. But now with a new shot at impressing the public, phonics still does not teach phonemic awareness, teaches only about 50 percent of the alphabet code, and teaches that 50 percent using methods that are logically inappropriate to a child under nine years of age. So, why give a failed method another try? Because it's "sort of" right, but then so is whole language, which says read to your kids, suround them with books. So, is the answer this eclectic mix that we seem to be caught in? No! Logically speaking, just because two methods are partially valid does not mean that together they are completely valid. Mixing phonics and whole language assumes that the 67 percent success rate of the last phonics era and the 57 percent success rate of the whole language era, when mixed will equal a 100 percent complete method, all bases covered. In fact what it does equal is an averaged 62 percent success rate. That's not acceptable. Furthermore, it may be that whatever is causing the 33 percent failure rate of phonics and the 43 percent failure rate of whole language is so damaging that it is hurting children, creating Jacks, and Tinas, and Thomases, day by day, year after year, decade after decade.
What exactly is "sort of" right about phonics and whole language? Well, whole language credos which promote the use of literature are great. We should have our kids reading good children's literature as soon as they are able. And integrated curriculum is wonderful. Teachers should strive to make books meaningful across curriculum areas. But first we must teach children to actually be able to read these wonderful "big books." And that's where phonetics comes in. You'll recall that phonetics describes the various sounds in a given language, and that phonics was a nickname for phonetics. Well, phonics was correct in recognizing the importance of teaching the phonetics of the English writing system. And that is precisely all it was correct about. From that point on, phonics is confusing, often wrong, and developmentally inappropriate to young children.
Phonics begins by teaching children the sounds for all the letters. This orientation from letter to sound, from which phonics comes, is wrong. This is not a matter of opinion. This is fact. The sounds in our language existed long before the letters. The written symbols of our language were invented to represent the sounds we had been speaking for centuries. Phonics instruction is driven from the letter to the sound, as if the sounds exist to suit the letters. This direction of instruction fails to allow the child to use what he already possesses, the sounds. By age five, when somebody starts to teach him to read, he is a master of sounds. He is completely intimate with his language. It is native to him. For him to learn to read, he needs instructional activities which encourage him to learn the symbols that were invented to represent the sounds that, as we've pointed out, he already knows. This knowledge is like a magical key to written language. But phonics throws the key away and starts from scratch, teaching him the sounds as if they were something new.
The wrong direction from which phonics sets out causes problems long after the child has learned all the single-letter sounds. The entire remainder of the code, the double letters which represent sounds, is taught using developmentally inappropriate activities and tedious and inaccurate rules. For instance, the instructional example from Webster's Blue-Backed Speller mentioned earlier explains that the first vowel in a vowel digraph is the vowel that should be sounded. Developmental psychologists have known for fifty years that young children (under nine) cannot manage propositional logic. Any parent knows instinctively that children cannot handle contingencies very well. Not only does this line of instruction require the use of propositional logic, but it is often wrong (house, spoon, said, bread). These are called "exceptions to the rule" or "rule breakers." So phonics relies on logic that developmental psychologists know is inappropriate to children, and the information being taught is actually wrong; then why are we harking over the return to phonics, a method which is based upon developmentally inappropriate and inaccurate reasoning?
So What's a Parent to Do?
The method used in this book is Phono-Graphix. It has been researched and proven to work on children age four to adult nonreaders. It takes what the child knows, the sounds of his language, and teaches him the various sound pictures that represent those sounds. It does this through developmentally appropriate lessons that do not rely on propositional and other logic that children cannot understand. Linguistically based Phono-Graphix has been researched and proven to teach reading in one-tenth the time of phonics and with a 100 percent success rate. In a University of South Florida clinical study of Phono-Graphix, thirty-seven learning disabled students and forty-eight garden variety bad readers, subjects were taught to read in just twelve sessions with a 98 percent success rate. Two percent took six to twelve sessions longer (McGuinness, McGuinness & McGuinness, Orton Annals of Dyslexia, 1996). In a pilot study conducted at two childcare centers in Central Florida, the same method was used on kindergartners from September 1st to mid-November. After only eleven weeks of exposure, the average reading age of the children on the standardized Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, was first grade, first month. This average score is over nine months above grade level. The worst readers were reading at grade level, and the best readers were reading at first grade, sixth month over a year above grade level.
In a study conducted at the Millhopper Montessori School in Gainesville, Florida, twenty-four first- and second-graders received Phono-Graphix instruction in reading groups of four to nine children for ten to fifteen minutes per day. At the time of the pretest, using the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, twenty-five percent of the children were reading below grade level, thirty-four percent were reading at grade level, and forty-one percent were reading above grade level. This group was already well above the national norms, with only twenty-five percent of the children below grade level compared to the forty-three percent that is our national average. After using Phono-Graphix for eight months their scores improved dramatically. At the time of posttesting none of the children scored below grade level, seventeen percent scored at grade level, twenty-one percent were within a year above grade level, and sixty-two percent were over a year above grade level. With children who were in trouble at pretest scoring dramatically above grade level at posttest, these studies not only indicate the invention of a perfect method for correcting reading failure, but indicate that average readers can become super readers!
Now that we've found the perfect method, the really great news is that you needn't save the thousands of dollars for private school, or move halfway across the country. You can teach your child to read in the convenience of your own home. We assume, by the the fact that you've purchased this book, that when confronted with a problem you are a doer, not a wait-and-see type. Well, the first thing to do, now that you know there is something that can be done, is to follow the lessons in this book to the letter, or in this case, to the sound. You must read the following, rather technical, explanation of what reading is, and come to understand it theoretically. Why? Because in order to teach someone to do something, anything, you must understand that thing. You must know how to do that thing yourself. I would not presume to teach children to play the piano. I don't know how to play the piano. I did, however, just last week, teach my twelve-year-old how to make wheat bread. The event went fairly well. There were a few things she needed help with. She did not, for example, know what the word "knead" meant. I explained it to her, but soon discovered it required showing her. She caught on quickly. She also needed some instruction in the teaspoon <t>, tablespoon <T> symbols used in my cookbook. Once I told her what they meant she did fine. Basically, what she lacked was subskill practice and some code knowledge. She had never kneaded before (a subskill of bread making). And she did not know the big T / little t trick: nothing more than a code. Although it is based on the English sounds, Phono-Graphix's point of departure is a 180 degree difference from phonics. Instead of teaching children the sounds that letters make, we recognize that letters do not make sounds, they represent sounds. This is no subtle distinction.
Almost anything you could want to learn or teach has relevant subskills and codes. Subskills are the skills required before you can perform the task. The code is the symbols used to communicate when performing the task. When I was eighteen my cousin took me waterskiing. It was my first trip. I soon discovered that the ability to balance one's body over two planks of wood while being pulled forward by eighty-five Evenrude horses is a subskill I needed lots of practice with. When I finally mastered this subskill and found myself being pulled at a speed I found unnerving, I realized that no matter how many times or how loudly I yelled "slow down," the driver and passengers could not hear me. What I lacked was the code. After I let go, was rescued, and voiced my frustration, they told me the code: a thumb up or a thumb down. It seemed simple once I knew. Later that day, when my legs stopped buckling under me and my frustration had ebbed a bit, it occurred to me that my cousin hadn't thought to instruct me about how to stand or what to do if I wanted to slow down because it was all second nature to him. He and his friends had been skiing expertly for years. For them it was like walking. Watching them ski, I understood that they were on automatic pilot when they did it. They had reached a level of expertise at which they didn't even have to think about what they were doing.
Being able to do the thing you wish to teach is not the only prerequisite of being able to teach it. To teach a thing well, the teacher should understand the processes and subskills involved in doing it. As a parent who wishes to teach your child to read, it's important that you realize that you have reached a level of expertise at reading at which it is second nature to you, just like waterskiing was second nature to my cousin. You are unaware of the subskills needed, and your knowledge of the code is mostly subconscious. The main goals of this book are to:
Teach the subskills and give you ways to help your child practice them
Tell you what the code is and show you how to teach it to your child
Let's look at each of the subskills of reading and as we do, we'll check to be sure that Phono-Graphix is teaching them in a manner that a young child can understand.
SUBSKILLS NECESSARY TO READING
Ability to scan text from left to right. Children of five and older can understand that the code moves in one direction. They may need to be reminded of the particular direction from time to time.
Ability to match visual symbols to auditory sounds, such as the symbol <t> = the sound 't'. Children of five and older can do this paired associate learning as long as relevance is added to the formula. Phono-Graphix teaches only eight sound pictures at a time, using those sound pictures to read and spell real words. By actually using these eight sound pictures to read and spell, children begin to understand why they need to know the code.
Ability to blend discrete sound units into words. As we've proven in our kindergarten study, children of five and older can blend sounds into words, once they have been shown, by example, what it is you expect of them.
Ability to segment sounds in words. Our kindercare study also shows that children of five and older can segment sounds in words once you have shown them, by example what you expect of them.
Ability to understand that sometimes two or more letters represent a sound. For example, sh. Children of five and older can understand that sometimes sound pictures are made with two letters. They cannot understand this by imposition of a propositional rule, but they easily understand that sometimes it just happens.
Ability to understand that most sounds can be represented in more than one way. For example, the sound 'ee' can be spelled in several ways: green, team, and happy, and more. Children of six and older can understand and begin to learn this.
Ability to understand that some components of the code can represent more than one sound. For example, the symbol <o> can be used to represent the sounds 'o' as in 'hot,' or 'oe' as in 'most.' Six-year-olds can understand this. To prove this we asked thirty six-year-olds the question, "Name two things this could be." · All 30 answered, "a ball or a circle." These six-year-olds understood that a single symbol could represent two different things. So we know that they can understand that the sound picture <o> can represent the sound 'o' as in 'hot' or the sound 'oe' as in 'most.'
To most proficient readers this might sound a bit excessive. You might be thinking at this point, "I don't think I do all that when I read. I just recognize words as I go." But remember, we're talking about a set of subskills that you learned a long time ago, and that you have become so adept at that you're conscious only of the skill (reading) and not of the subskills. Let's take a look at a typical passage taken from a popular children's book, to see how you read.
This Mess is so big and so deep and so tall, there's no way to clean it up, no way at all.
If you were really paying attention to what you were doing when you read the passage, the first thing you noticed is that you started at the left side of the line and scanned to the right as you went. Next you analyzed the letter symbols, matching sounds to sound symbols. And you blended as you made your way through the words, pushing sounds together to make words. You also performed analysis as you progressed, processing the <th> in 'this' as one sound not two ('t' 'h'). All this might seem simple enough to the experienced adult, but presents numerous challenges for the young child. The word 'this' contains three sounds, yet it's spelled with four letters. That's necessary as there is no single-letter symbol in English for the sound 'th'. Continuing on in the same word, you found the letter symbol <I> which could represent the sound 'i' or 'ie' (and a few less common possibilities). How do we know that the second sound in the word is 'i' rather than 'i-e', as in the word 'wild'? We know because 'this' is not a word. Even the <s> could represent two different sounds, 's' as in 'this' or 'z' as in 'is.' As you can see, the reader is actually balancing three variables when reading this word:
- When to process one letter <t> <h> or two letters <th> to get a sound
- Whether <I> represents the sound 'i' or 'i-e'
- Whether <s> represents the sound 's' or 'z'
In addition, she has to remember to scan from left to right, and to blend as she goes.
If you continue to analyze the text in our sample passage, you'll see that anytime two letters are bolded they represent one sound. With some thought, you'll realize that these sound pictures are predictable in that they reoccur in text in numerous words. So that's easy, right? Wrong! Although the sound pictures reoccur over and over again, like the sound picture <al> in the words 'all' and 'tall,' which would also be found in the words 'chalk' and 'talk,' there are frequently numerous sound pictures for one sound. That same 'al' sound in 'talk' is represented with the sound picture <aw> in 'fawn,' 'lawn,' and 'awful,' and <au> in 'August,' 'fraud,' and 'fault.' To make matters even worse, some of the sound pictures can represent more than one sound. The <ea> in 'clean,' for instance, represents a different sound altogether in the words 'great' and 'steak,' and yet another sound in the words 'bread' and 'thread.'
So, even at this simple level our young reader must analyze as she makes her way through each word, making numerous determinations as she progresses, as to whether letters stand alone or work together to represent sounds. This requires combining visual (What do I see and which parts work together?) and auditory (What is the sound it represents?) analysis no simple task for a six-year-old. In addition, based on our above inventory of challenges, she must sometimes stop and try two or even three sounds in a word before meaning is achieved (as in our <ea> example where this sound picture can represent three sounds, such as in 'thread,' 'steak,' 'clean').
For you readers who still insist that you simply breeze over text, instantly recognizing each word as you proceed, we've prepared a special, modified Cat in the Hat just for you. Our intention is to increase the level of difficulty, thereby simulating the experience of the new reader. We hope this increased difficulty will slow you down enough to notice that you are performing all the subskills itemized in this chapter.
This Gallimaufry is multitudinously gargantuan, puisantly capacious and inefffably Junoesue and in consequence of such Protean tribulations and in such psychotic contravenion of stereotypical consuetudinary hygieve, there exists the infinitesimal exiguity of a satisfactory reolution to this cataclysmic dilemma.
As you can see, when reading this passage it's necessary to track through the word slowly, blending the sounds as you proceed. It's also necessary to stop and determine which letters work together to represent one sound, and which stand alone. In addition, you likely had to try more than one sound for some of the sound pictures in many of the words. You no doubt slowed a bit when you got to the <au> in gallimaufry, but your subconscious knowledge of the code allowed you to push on with the sound 'o' in mind. When you got to the <y> in that word you might have tried the sounds 'ee' and 'ie', both possible sounds for that particular sound picture. In reading this passage, you likely did not attempt to apply rules.
You might be wondering, "How did I ever learn to read? I wasn't taught all this." We're not saying you can't learn to read when improperly taught. Children try to make order of chaos, and frequently succeed. But this is largely a matter of luck. What we're saying is that Phono-Graphix teaches the subskills of reading in the right order, from the beginning to the end. Unless adults take the time to understand the processes and subskills involved in reading, they should not attempt to teach young children to read. The danger that exists in assuming that children can just be taught to recognize each word as it occurs is considerable. The beliefs of adults affect children's behavior and performance. Comments like, "You know that word. Come on, what's it say?" drive the child's performance. The message is, "You've seen that word a few times now. You should have memorized it. Memorizing whole words is what you're supposed to be doing. That's what reading is." And before too long the child begins, consciously or unconsciously, to attempt to memorize whole words. That would be alright if it worked, but it doesn't. The typical person can memorize only about 2,000 to 3,000 words. That's enough to perform at about a first-grade level. That's why so many children can fool their parents and teachers until they get to second grade. If you add in other crutches like using the pictures for clues and trying to guess the story line based on what just happened, the child might be able to fool her significant adults until about the middle of second grade. But eventually her visual memory load will bottom out and the big bad wolf will be huffing and puffing and blowing down a horse instead of a house, because the words look a lot alike. We call this particular strategy for learning to read "globalizing." The global reader anticipates and guesses, but rarely or never actually decodes text.
As we have already said, the English written code is a sound symbol code, not a word symbol code. That's the game. If you're going to play it you might as well play it right. After years and years of reading we most certainly will end up with a pretty good visual inventory of words. But if we were properly taught, we will also know the code (at least subconsciously), and be able to decode when we encounter new or difficult words, unusual names, etc. Allowing a child to memorize words without teaching him the code actually creates a deficit for him. Imagine that you're six years old and that you are given the choice of memorizing the 20,000 words that you'll use in your daily vocabulary, or memorizing the 134 sound pictures that represent the various sounds used in English. Which do you think would be an easier task? Many children never get that choice. They are taught so badly that they come to think that memorizing words as pictures is what they're supposed to do. It becomes their strategy. One hundred and one of the 193 subjects ages five to sixty-one who were tested by the Read America clinic in a three-year period read the word horse as house. The attributes are not that dissimilar, if you are looking at the word as a word picture. But, if you understand the nature of the written code, and look at the word as a set of sound pictures, things get much simpler. There are, of course, some words in the English language that do not decode properly. My favorite is 'yacht.' In fact, there are about 55 such words. The other 19,950 words that we use and spell daily are predictable and decodable if one knows and uses the English written code.
Many parents who have been working with their young readers instinctively realize the importance of teaching the written English code to their child, and meticulously teach all the single-letter sound pictures but fail to explain to the child that sounds are sometimes represented with two or more letters, what we call the advanced code. These children often have the right strategy (sound out words), but lack the advanced code knowledge to be very successful at it. Children who are taught the subskills but not the advanced code develop a one-to-one strategy. One-to-one readers read each letter sound, completely unaware of the advanced code. My favorite example of this was seven-year-old Cybil, who read me a story about a horse named Midnight, which when sounded out one letter at a time sounded like the "'h' 'o' 'r' 's' 'ee' 'm' 'i' 'd' - 'n' 'i' 'g' 't'." By the time a young reader reaches fourth grade, about 60 percent of the text he encounters will be advanced level text. If he doesn't know that part of the code, he will never read above a 40 percent accuracy rate. He may even eventually determine that sounding out words is a waste of his time as he is so often inaccurate in his attempts. That would seem an unnecessary and unfair fate for a child when it is so simple to teach him the entire code.
"It's not so simple," you say, "I've been trying to teach my child and he's still struggling." That's where this book comes in. It's not so hard to teach a child to read when you know exactly what to do. The Phono-Graphix method of reading instruction set out in Reading Reflex is a natural method that works in accordance with the developmental capabilities of the learner. It reveals the written language to the child in such a way as to make the code clear and show how that code fits together into meaningful words. This is not just another method. The research conducted on this method (Orton Annals of Dyslexia, 1996) reveals it to be the most effective remedial program available, bringing previously failed readers, 40 percent of whom had been previously diagnosed with learning disabilities, to grade level in only twelve sessions. The KinderCare study conducted in 1996 showed that the same principles and techniques used on failed readers effectively teach beginning readers much faster than the national norm. In short, Phono-Graphix is a pure approach to reading instruction an approach that works for everyone.
Reading Reflex is intended to meet the needs of two kinds of students. It is for young children, age five or so, who are ready to learn to read, and elementary-age children (grades one through five) who are struggling at reading or spelling. If your child is a young child, five or six years old, you will use this book over the next several years, as your child matures and shows the competence to move on to the next activity. If you are working remedially with an older child, you will want to make your way through the lesson plans as quickly as possible so that she can begin reading at grade level and doing well at school.
The following chapter will tell you what you'll need to get started, and will offer some suggestions about setting up your in-house reading school. Chapter two will also give you some helpful information about how children process information and what motivates them. Chapter two also contains four tests which will help you determine which of the reading subskills your child needs help with. Chapters three, four, five, and six are the actual instructional parts of the book. From an explanation of the challenges the chapter brings, to specific lesson plans and word lists, these four chapters will guide you as your child moves toward the reading reflex.
A Note to Teachers and Tutors
If you are a school administrator, a classroom teacher, or a reading therapist working clinically, we invite you to call us at 1-800-732-3868 or at 352-735-9292; fax us at 352-735-9294; write to us at P.O. Box 1246, Mount Dora, FL 32776; e-mail us at RAchat@aol.com, or visit our Web site at www.readamerica.net. There are numerous support materials such as our classroom supplement, classroom curriculum, more coded stories, games, and computer programs that can be used in conjunction with the materials in this book. Read America operates a training institute offering our certification course in Orlando, Florida, and London, England. In addition, Read America maintains an international membership organization and distributes our membership publication ParenTeacher Magazine. For a free copy please call us.
Since the writing of this book Phono-Graphix has been implemented in many classrooms and districts around the country, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. An update is offered in the preface.
Copyright © 1998 by Read America, Inc.