Phonetic Support

By: Linda Schrock Taylor - July 7, 2003

When I introduce a new group of students to my reading class, I explain that there are two main ways to teach reading — with sight words or with phonics. I tell them that I will present them with some information, and let them decide which method they wish me to use.

I explain that with the sight word approach (Dick & Jane, whole language, balanced instruction, balanced reading, re-packaged whole language, re-named whole language,) the student only needs to memorize about 250,000 words, for instant sight recognition, in order to be a very good reader.

I explain that it is difficult for the human brain to achieve this feat, so the reading level of many people taught using the sight-word method — except for those individuals who see' the Code without being taught to do so, and learn to use phonics without the teachers even understanding the basis for the reading success of these students — tend to top out by the middle of elementary school, leaving those students unprepared for the increased reading and information requirements in the following grades. I point out that deaf children, lacking the ability to access auditory and phonetic information, often top out at the same level. A high third/low fourth grade reading level often seems to be the upper limit for the sight word approach, minus phonetic assistance or insight.

I then explain that for my reading instruction, students will need to know these "Keys for Unlocking the Code in Which English Speech Is Recorded in Print":

These 175 items are so manageable, and set the stage for students to see the logic of English and to begin making fast and effective gains. When knowledge and automatic usage of these are in place, I begin teaching 100 word roots that come from Latin and Greek. Vocabulary knowledge and usage begin to expand, as reading comprehension improves, and students find themselves actually feeling' their reading level rise as they rapidly handle increasingly more difficult reading passages.

Needless to say, the students opt for my way.' Since they usually know the important ABC's (Not Athletics, Band & Cheerleading') I begin by teaching the 44 sounds and the 70 spellings for those sounds. I do this by using the Phonogram Cards from Spalding. These should be used until the student can, when shown any phonogram card, automatically give all of the sounds of that phonogram, in the right order. For example, the student is shown the card

I introduce a few phonograms at a time, explain the rules for usage that are printed on the back of the cards, and practice until the students can automatically respond to any card without error. This instruction is reading/decoding.'

For spelling,' I use the same flash cards, but do not allow the student(s)t to see them. The student has a marker board or a piece of paper. I say, "Write the phonogram that is the two-letter /f/." The student writes ph'. "Write the phonogram that is the two-letter /a/ that I may use at the end of the word." The student writes ay'. "Write the two-letter /a/ that I may not use at the end of a word, and the student writes ai'. Continue instruction and practice until the student can write every phonogram accurately upon request.

The 29 rules (**From The Spalding Reading Method, with some of my own input) are extremely helpful, even if some are not 100% dependable. Many readers may be surprised to see that the rules are quite simple. The more knowledgeable the teacher and students are about the foundations of English, especially its Latin and Greek heritage, the more often the rules will make sense and assist the reader/speller.

**The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding, Mary E. North, Editor, 5th Revised Edition, Quill/HarperResource, 2003, pgs. 223-225.

The rules do not need to be memorized. Rather, they are to be taught and discussed as needed. I suggest that those wishing to teach by this method should purchase a copy of The Writing Road to Reading and a set of the phonogram cards; should become knowledgeable with the information on the Spalding website, and if you are lucky enough to live where a Spalding course is being taught, take the class! For assistance in understanding the foundational structure of English, I recommend, Speech to Print by Louisa Cook Moats. For help in teaching the Latin and Greek bases, I recommend English From the Roots Up by Joegil K. Lundquist, available in a book, or in a set of flashcards, from Rainbow Resources Center.

Automatic decoding of the code, in which the language and speech of English are recorded into print, is vitally important for success in reading comprehension. When these skills are developed to automaticity, the brain need no longer worry about decoding, and can focus totally on comprehension of the text being read. The invention of the alphabet was a remarkable achievement. With this alphabetic code, mankind can record its history, discuss its present, and plan its future. To quote Rudolf Flesch (Why Johnny Can't Read) — "it flies in the face of common sense" that teachers of reading; that college instructors of teachers of reading; would cast aside the marvelous invention that the alphabet is, and turn generations of students into word-guessing illiterates.

July 7, 2003

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