A Fourteen-Point Checklist for an Outstanding Phonics Reading Program

Are you shopping for a good phonics program? Want to supplement your current reading program? Here is a blueprint and guide to what in my experience are the best features to look for in a good phonics reading program:

1. One Letter at a Time

Short-vowel sounds are the very foundation of our English language. They can be difficult to learn and are best taught first, one at a time, in isolation. Focusing on only one sound at a time develops reading accuracy and prevents guessing.

(Beneficial for everyone—especially ELL, LD, or hearing-challenged students.)

2. Illustrated Letters

Every letter should be illustrated with pictures of objects beginning with the sound. At first many children are unable to hear these sounds within a word. Multiple illustrations add a depth of perspective that is similar in effect to a 3-D hologram, and depict the subtle variations of each sound.

(Multiple pictures beginning with each sound also develop and strengthen phonemic awareness.)

3. Large Letters

Even with proper glasses students often struggle with smaller letters when first learning how to read. It’s easier for everyone to learn from large letters initially. This feature is especially useful to beginners, LD learners, or those with vision challenges.

(Once reading is well-established it is much easier to read finer print!)

4. Phonemic Awarenes

Phonemic awareness is a precursor to phonics but should never be confused with phonics. Teach phonemic awareness with letters at the same time for maximum efficiency. “Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it is kept simple and when it includes letters.” ~Timothy Shanahan, Director, University of Illinois Center for Literacy

(Phonemic awareness teaches only sounds. Phonics teaches both letters and sounds.)

5. Multisensory

A multisensory approach ensures success for everyone, regardless of their learning mode. How students learn may be different—but what they learn should be the same. Everyone should be able to decode long words by syllables whatever their learning mode. A multisensory method has the synergistic effect of addressing the strongest mode while reinforcing the weakest.

(After all, visual learners still must hear the word, and auditory learners still must see the word!)

6. Blend Consonants With Vowels

When teaching consonants, blending them with a vowel instead of teaching them in isolations eliminated the extra “uh” sound heard in voiced consonants, such as “d-uh” when trying to say the sound of “d.” This strategy begins to develop smooth eye-tracking skills and prevents choppy reading. Students read “di-g” not “duh-i-g,” or “ca-t” not “cuh-a-t,” etc.

(Reading two-letter syllables before reading whole words will also remediate and prevent reversals.)

7. Build Words ASAP

Building words as letters are learned provides concrete exemplars for what can otherwise be confusing and abstract rules and sounds. It prevents the “reading-without-understanding” syndrome sometimes seen when all phonograms are learned first, prior to reading a whole word.

(Memory experts have long known it is easier to remember something new if you can connect it to something already known!)

8. Build Sentences Gradually

Blend letters into syllables, then gradually build words, two-word phrases, and finally sentences of slowly increasing complexity. It’s too big a leap for many students to move directly from reading words to reading complete sentences. Graduated reading practice jump-starts reading for everyone, especially for dyslexics.

(Just because we’ve learned all the piano notes does not mean we are ready to play a sonata!)

9. Teach Spelling With Reading

Reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as an integrated unit. Learning how to read and spell in systematic patterns develops clear, analytical thinking which spills over into other disciplines, such as math. Spelling today is taught randomly—what if we had to learn math randomly, 12 x 7, 6 x 9, 8 x 4, 5 x 11, etc.?

(When we learn how to read and spell by pattern math scores frequently improve without tutoring!)

10. Only One Spelling at a Time

Teach only one spelling of a phoneme at a time, beginning with the simplest spelling. It’s more difficult to teach and learn multiple spellings of a phoneme all at once, such as all seven spellings of /A/.

(Don’t you remember names better when you meet people only one at a time instead of being introduced to a whole roomful of people at once?)

11. 100% Decodable Practice

Early practice readings should only be comprised of sounds and rules already learned. The left brain acquires knowledge in small, sequential parts (letter sounds, math). The right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (sight words, illustrations). Activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses activity of the mirror-image area on the other side!

(Once decoding is automatic we are able to see the whole word at once~the gestalt.)

12. Add Sight Words Gradually

After the mechanics of reading are established, sight words can gradually be introduced, a few at a time, such as “I” and “a” Example: “I had a fat cat.” Limited reading skills should be reasonably fluent before sight words are introduced.

(Our attention is limited to being able to focus on only one thing at a time. It cannot be directed to identifying letters at the same time that we are trying to comprehend the meaning of what we are reading!)

13. Teach Sight Words by Pattern

Words learned in patterns are grouped and filed in one “folder” in your brain and quickly retrieved. Words learned randomly are filed in separate “folders,” and take more time to retrieve. Example: sight words “could, would, should” are best taught with other /oo/ words such as “took, book, look,” etc.

(Having to learn words randomly results in slow and laborious reading, and children seldom read for pleasure.)

14. Include ALL Spelling Rules

Linguistic awareness eases learning and develops logical, analytical thinking. Example: “Why are some words spelled -able and others -ible, as in appeasable, horrible, etc.?” It’s so much easier knowing one rule for many words than it is learning each word individually!

(Critical thinking sharpens, and spelling improves dramatically!)

Happy Shopping!

 

 

Illiteracy and Outsourcing?

Much has been said and written about American jobs being outsourced  to other countries, and many reasons have been given as to why this is so. Here is one more reason to add to the list — illiteracy.

What on earth does illiteracy have to do with outsourcing? What’s going on, anyway?

According to a recent article by Robert Reich (http://robertreich.org 7-18-12) America isn’t educating enough of our people well enough to get American-based companies to do more of their high-value added work here. He states our K-12 school system isn’t nearly up to what it should be, and that American students continue to do poorly in math and science relative to students in other advanced countries.

Take a closer look at Apple, for example: low wages are not the major force driving them abroad. The components Apple’s Chinese contractors assemble come from many places around the world with wages as high if not higher than in the United States.

More than a third of what you pay for an iPhone ends up on Japan, because that’s where some of its most advanced components are made. Seventeen percent goes to Germany, whose precision manufacturers pay wages higher than those paid to American manufacturing workers because German workers are more highly skilled. Thirteen percent comes from South Korea, whose median wage isn’t far from our own.

Sadly, workers in the United States get only about six percent of what you pay for an iPhone, which goes to American designers, lawyers, and financiers, as well as Apple’s top executives.

And the share of R&D spending going to the foreign subsidiaries of American-based companies rose from 9 percent in 1989 to almost 16 percent in 2009 according to the National Science Foundation.  (http://robertreich.org 7-18-12)

And to think it all begins way back in first grade, with teaching reading! Because first, you read. Everything else follows. And if you can’t — it doesn’t.

The mightiest mountain in the whole world is easily climbed by taking only one small step at a time and keeping on going, and the biggest book in the whole world is easily read blending one letter sound at a time into syllables, words, phrases, and sentences using direct, explicit phonics.

Teaching reading is really very easy — anyone can teach it, and everyone can learn!

Multisyllable Word Practice

Question:

“I was wondering what resources I should use now with my 3rd grade reader.  We have finished Phonics Pathways, but I still feel he needs more instruction in decoding, especially big words. Also, he also doesn’t always apply the rules or know when to apply the rules.”

Answer:

Good question! Just because a child may have had phonics and is able to read simple words does not mean he is therefore automatically able to read multisyllable words. It takes practice — graduated, sequential and progressive practice — moving from simple multisyllable words to more difficult combinations.

Consider getting Reading Pathways — it is specifically designed to develop ease, fluency, and accuracy when reading long, multisyllable words. Words are built one syllable at a time, and read first with a phonetic spelling and then with the genuine spelling. You can see sample pages on my website www.dorbooks.com

Reading Pathways begins with simple word pyramids, progressing to multisyllable word mini-pyramids, and finally to complex four-syllable multisyllable word pyramids. Students love the pyramid format and tend to think of it more as a game than a reading lesson!

As far as not applying the rules or knowing when to apply them, it sounds to me as though he may need more review. Phonics Pathways is deceptively simple, and it’s very easy to go through the book too quickly. However, it’s important that every lesson should be automatic in recall before proceeding to the next one.
Whenever you get to a place in his reading that he stumbles on or seems unsure of, review. Review, review, review! It’s so important to read accurately and not guess at multisyllable words!
Recently someone wrote to me saying her son had thrown his food wrappers on the grass as they walked in the park. When she corrected him, he said “It’s okay Mom, the sign says “Dumping Permitted.” But the sign actually said “Dumping Prohibited.” As Mark Twain said:
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug!”

 

Kiwi and Josie (off topic)

Question:

Do you still have Kiwi? Can you give us an update about her? It was so cute the way she cuddled with Dewey in the picture.

Answer:

Many of you have written from time to time asking about Kiwi, the sweet little pussycat shown with Dewey in the front of Phonics Pathways.

Sadly she is no longer with us. But you can read her life story here, and see a few more pictures as well. We will remember her forever in our hearts!

Josie

Now we have a black and white tuxedo kitty, named “Josie” in honor of my publisher Jossey-Bass. She follows us around, keeps a close eye on all our activities, let’s us know when it’s time for bed, and converses with two blue jays in our back yard. They “talk” back and forth all day long. She’s a dear little thing and we love her very much! This picture shows her getting a reading lesson, and here she is taking a break: Josie.