I received your letter yesterday, but wanted time to ponder your questions before I replied.
You explained that your 6-year-old child —
…still loves to sit and listen to stories. His verbal/language skills are quite advanced and he has an amazing verbal memory. For example, he can recite long poems after hearing them only once or twice. However, his reading ability continues to mystify us. He knows all the phonograms and the sounds they represent, and he can read phonetically. Yet, he still has to (slowly) sound out each word phonetically no matter how many times he has previously read the same word — even words like "the", "was" etc. As you can imagine, reading on his own is a slow, agonizing struggle for him…[he] also has some particular motor delays and deficits which have significantly delayed his ability to write. Because of this, he does not enjoy reading, he absolutely hates writing, and he increasingly avoids both. (From a letter sent to me by real parents; here follows my reply to them, with some additional information for better clarity. This quote is used with the permission as the parents want others to learn, as well.)
You wrote to ask how you might improve your son’s reading and writing skills. You would like to know if a tutor would be advantageous, and you would appreciate suggestions of things to do over the summer to help the little lad.
First: Do not hire a tutor unless that person is a very skilled and experienced reading teacher; one who understands and teaches use of the systematic Code in which oral English is recorded — i.e. phonograms. A tutor should also have the skills to carefully evaluate the child, isolate the problems, then remediate those, specifically. If you were to hire someone whose MO is to simply have children practice ineffective reading strategies with nary a lesson nor repair, it would serve to solidify the mistakes and probably cause your son to reject reading, maybe forever. Instead, I suggest the following ways that you parents can help him become a competent and automatic user of literacy skills.
Now, let us begin:
Writing: Writing is so very important that it should be taught first. I suggest that you order the book, The Writing Road to Reading, by Romalda Spalding and study it thoroughly. Prepare to have the child create a spelling notebook. Order the purple and white notebook from Spalding (see photo below) which is the appropriate one for his age. The large spaces do not mean that he must write large letters. Encourage smaller, more controllable writing, but allow for expression of personality — as long as the child is accurate, consistent, and neat. Let his internal needs guide you. The notebook allows for personal differences — if written precisely.
Is the school expecting the child to write words and sentences? If so, please put those lessons on the back burner until you have him writing the individual phonograms with ease, care and precision. The Spalding book will have pictures and directions but I want to add that I use a paper plate to create a clock face. I use a highlighter or different colored marker for 2:00, 4:00, 10:00. When I teach a new letter, I liken it to the clock: "To make a u2018c’, start at 2:00 and carefully write back in a circle until you come around to 4:00. Then lift your pencil from the paper." As he writes the phonogram, have him say the sound(s) that it can represent. (The above video demonstrates this.)
If his discomfort and dislike of writing have developed during lessons in printing, then I would immediately switch him to cursive writing. Cursive has flow and is easier to learn. In addition, he will avoid any tendency to reverse letters. There are only 5 connective strokes, and then most of the letters are written very much like they are in printing …without the interruptions to the brain caused by lifting from and replacing the pencil on the paper! The main exceptions are: e, r, s, and z. Use a good cursive program (Not D’nealian), and I recommend “Cursive First."
I believe that Americans should all return to cursive and I do make my university students do so. Unfortunately, most of them never learned to write properly in elementary school, so the complaints are many. However, I have found that the use of cursive improves their skills in reading, spelling, writing, and the flow of thought. I always say, “We speak in cursive.” Really, we do! When we speak, sounds flow from one into the next, then blend into words, just as the letters flow in cursive script. The “stops and starts” of printing break concentration and do not correlate with what the speech mechanisms are doing within our mouths and brains.
Be sure to teach your child a proper pencil grip. The Spalding book will explain the best; one that will prevent hand and arm strain and fatigue. If your small child cannot manage that grip, buy him one of those rubber grips — with indentations molded to hold particular fingers — to slide over his pencil. Wean him off that later, but wait until he is has better muscle control and is not dealing with so many issues at once.
Spelling/Encoding (putting into the Code): You must first work with your son at the phonogram level until he has the first 54 learned: for recognition by ear; for accurate written representation using the Code. This is how you should give spelling tests until he uses phonograms, both expressively and receptively, to automaticity. (The video provides a quick demonstration.)
P: “Write the phonogram that can represent these three sounds: /aa/, /a/, /ah/.”
Child carefully writes "a."
P: “Write the 2-letter phonogram that represents the sound /f/.”
Child carefully writes, “ph."
P: "Write the phonogram that represents the sound /b/ (Note: not /buh/!
Child carefully writes "b."
The Spelling Assessment Manual (at the page, scroll to the bottom) contains charts and instructions that help the parent/teacher know when to teach/write/review each phonogram. The 8 tests are great tools for assessing gains and keeping official records.
Spelling Notebook: Dictate the words and have your son think them through then write and mark them in his spelling notebook. Spalding has a DVD of a teacher teaching these lessons. It is very helpful to see the coaching and marking methods that will help the child learn. At the end of each column, have the child read the list aloud, like so:
Photo by permission Spalding Education International
/m/ /e/ — me;
/b/ /oy/ — boy;
/l/ /i/ /k/ Silent-E — like.
Have him reread the columns using clear diction and accurate pronunciation, until he can flow through the list with smoothness and without errors. That practice will help him learn to sound words out faster, because this task will not put him under the stress of keeping the meaning of a long sentence suspended, word-by-word, in his mind while he decodes. He is not ready for that kind of reading yet. Also, use the words that have been dictated as his spelling tests.
In the Spalding word lists at the back of The Writing Road to Reading, you will find information about when to move your son into real books. Suggestions for good book choices are at the back of the manual. Follow Spalding’s advice and do not worry. As soon as the foundation has been carefully and reassuringly built in a non-stressful way, your son should begin reading with confidence.
Once upon a very long time ago, when I was still a university student, a professor said — that although children might identify and read sight words, they will not actually read for comprehension until they have attained the mental and emotional maturity level of a six-year-old. I have always thought about that while observing children I have met, taught, tested. I have found that information to be generally true.
Even retarded children can be taught to read — once they have developed to a 6-year-old level. That may be when they are 8, 12, 15, or even later. Those children with IQs below 40 will probably never learn to read because their brains never mature; never develop the capacity to handle symbols in such a manner. My husband has a niece with about a 50 IQ who had good reading instruction. She reads at probably a 3rd-grade level, writes conversational letters, keeps her Christmas card list, and sends Christmas cards every year. By observing her behaviors, gait, and immature social skills, one would never guess that she is literate, but she is. I have a cousin with maybe a 30—35 IQ. He is cheery, pleasant, recognizes faces even after years of not seeing us, and….cannot learn to read. He loves jazz and has an outstanding collection of albums; knows all of the artists, but…he cannot learn to read. He has to ask a literate person to make note of a song he has found on the radio; drive him to the store; then locate the album for him. He lives far from his family, happily sharing a group home with his buddies. He works in a sheltered workshop and pays for his music collection with his own money. But his mind is incapable of handing symbols in such abstract ways as they are used in the reading process.
I tell you these stories because I do not want you to worry excessively about your little 6-year-old fellow. He is still certainly within safe time limits, especially with the fine start you have given him — by way of phonogram learning; practice in hearing and using individual sounds; the years of reading aloud to him which has developed his broad oral and listening vocabulary and conceptual base. Applause to you both!! You definitely have time to Raise a Reader. So, towards that end, here are your assignments:
1) Parents, read and study The Writing Road to Reading. If at all possible, have one of you attend a 2-week Spalding #1 training course. Following that training, you will know more about the teaching of reading that most teachers in America. You will not only be able to teach your own child to read, but others — both children and adults — as well.
(An aside: I encourage literate adults to learn to use The Spalding Reading Method the teach others to read. There are non-readers and weak-readers in every aspect of life — churches; neighborhoods; local jails; homeless shelters. Why, there are thousands of them seated in the schools! It might be very rewarding to offer Saturday morning reading school in your garage for children who live on your block. Learn the skills then pass them on to others!)
2) Teach your son spelling and penmanship by following the Spalding book and having him start helping him build a spelling notebook. Consider teaching him cursive penmanship skills.
3) Read aloud at every opportunity. You can never read too many books to your family. No one, neither children nor adults, ever becomes too old to listen to a great story, well read. Never! If you run out of ideas for books to read, buy a book by Jim Trelease. The Read-Aloud Handbook is a great place to start.
I read aloud to my son until he left home. After supper, and on trips, we had a tradition. I would choose a book that would appeal to Dad, Mom, and David, then I read it aloud for all of us to enjoy (I did learn to conquer car sickness). After my stepmother died, my father came to our home at least 3 nights a week and I read aloud to everyone as we sat at the kitchen table. I read aloud just as my father’s mother had read to her family as they sat around the table; around the kerosene lamp, every night before bed. Right in the middle of very interesting parts, especially as excitement was building, Grandmother abruptly closed the book. The family had to wait until the next evening to hear what happened. She explained that the "suspended story" would provide much to fire imaginations; much to ponder and predict, which I am sure that it did. Dad said that he would dream about the books at night, then spend the next day thinking and daydreaming about what was to come. He credited those interrupted stories as being the force behind his great imagination and love of reading.
4) When you read aloud to your son; with him beside you or in your lap; using age-appropriate books; run your finger under the words as you read, allowing his eyes to take them in as his ears hear the phonemes, words, sentences. Do not even discuss it with him. Just start doing it. Until he becomes more confident with his skills, do not ask him to read aloud or sound out any words except those in his spelling notebook. Just let him listen and watch while building vocabulary and courage. Continue to provide him with many opportunities to develop mental pictures of concepts, faces, scenes. When you are reading aloud, stop now and then to ask questions: Why do you think the boy made a decision like that? Was it a wise decision? What would you have done in the same circumstances? What do you predict that the boy will do next? What does that word, "concentration" mean? How about the word "barrier"? When you feel that he is ready, hold a bookmark or ruler under the lines, quickly lowering it for the next, providing him practice in letting his eyes move more rapidly along the print; peeking forward for a clue; looking back to check comprehension.
When your son is comfortable with print and ready to read — have him first read aloud books and stories that he already knows. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales once played an important role in reading lessons because children, by reading known stories, do not have to worry about comprehension, while at the oral decoding stage. They already know what is going to happen, so they can attend to how that story is written in the Code. Also, children need to read aloud until — they do not need to real aloud any more. In the beginning, a new reader needs reassurance and confirmation from his sense of hearing, and so he reads: Pronounce Word — Hear Word — Understand Word. Once a child has internalized the reading process, he can go directly from Print to Meaning. Then he will read silently with comprehension.
Build a foundation for literacy, stone-by-stone, and you will raise a lifelong reader. Using the Spalding Reading Method, I have been able to teach so much more to so many more students. It is completely immoral that schools in America do not use the best reading program — The Spalding Reading Method. Instead, schools choose to buy the latest, unproven books from publishers that profit from the failure of children to learn. Yes, if students do not learn using Edition #245, the sales representatives gladly return to the schools and collect massive amounts of cash for Edition #246 — which will not produce an educated populace, either. It is criminal!
Thank you for writing, and I hope you find this information helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Linda Schrock Taylor
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a reading specialist (continually seeking ways to improve her methods for Rapid Reading Remediation); a former public school teacher (The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered…); and a former homeschooling parent (whose son, now 20, insisted upon growing up, putting an end to all the fun). Linda now teaches English composition at a state university and is writing her first book.