Dear Reading Teacher…

Dear Reading Teacher, (volunteer, homeschooling parent, or paid professional),

You wrote to ask “What do you do for students in upper grades to close the reading achievement gap?”

First, consider this quote from Regna Lee Wood’s June 1996 article, “The Dumbbell Curve:

Since American teachers switched in the 1930s from reading instruction that worked for everyone to reading instruction that neuroscientists now tell us doesn’t work for anyone, school-produced illiteracy has soared. And it is illiteracy–not low IQ–that is not only responsible for decades of declining test scores but is also critically linked to every critical social problem in Oklahoma and nationwide.

I love to teach reading to teens and adults because I can make rapid repairs and the students are so appreciative.  Most have the maturity to understand that they are being provided with what may be their last chance to learn to read, and thus their last chance to acquire the means to more easily set and achieve life goals, whether academic or non-academic.  Poor readers have suffered since the day they discovered…with deep, heart-rending disappointment…that the act of reading books was not going to be as easy or as much fun as they had expected or dreamed.  Persons who can teach reading should be encouraged to do so; should be encouraged to remediate reading skills and repair fractured self esteem in individuals of all ages.  (This would make a wonderful “pass it on” project in America.)[amazon asin=0062083937&template=*lrc ad (right)]

I honed my skills while teaching reading at the local jail where incarcerated adults react with the same appreciation at receiving genuine reading lessons. My challenge there was that each time I went, the class was made up of new arrivals plus some who had already received a lesson or two from me.  I needed to teach basic introductory material again without boring the “seasoned” students, while teaching as much as possible during the restricted contact time.  My task was challenging but rewarding because it pushed me to learn how to teach more efficiently and effectively.

It was that high pressured teaching which forced me to ponder the bare bones instructional components necessary for rapid reading instruction and improvement. The education establishment approaches the teaching of reading at a snail’s pace, using a plethora of books and materials that in weight might be comparable to materials necessary for teaching rocket wiring, circuitry and assembly.  In special education classes the teaching moves at an even slower pace…when it moves at all.

In my great need for speed, I determined that there are 180 essential Tools for Reading…tiny tools that include the 26 alphabet letters…and that these reading tools are not difficult for individuals of any age to learn if they are taught with skill.  Non-college educated one-room schoolhouse teachers once successfully taught these tools to most anyone and everyone.

The greatest challenge, and the main difference facing a teen or adult delayed reader, is the need to make up for years of lost opportunities for learning language, vocabulary, knowledge, and concepts.  Not only do delayed readers lose in life from their inability to read efficiently and effectively, they lose as well from academic deprivation.

Because teens and adults do not have educational time to waste, I have written a book for the rapid improvement of reading skills in those populations with use of my method.  The book is not yet available but in the meantime…

First, explain to your students that reading problems are never, never the fault of the individual.  Reading problems are the fault of bad teachers, badly trained teachers, bad educational philosophies, bad materials, and bad schools.  I explain to my students that if they must describe themselves with a label, to consider themselves TD (Teaching Disabled) not LD (Learning Disabled).  True LD and true dyslexia are infrequent occurrences.   (As I think back through four decades of teaching, I can count my truly dyslexic students on one hand …and probably leave a spare finger if not two.)[amazon asin=0142410330&template=*lrc ad (right)]

Second, understand the importance of precise hearing and speech.  Train students for those and always expect precision in listening and speaking.  No slang or dialects allowed.  English is precisely recorded using precise spelling patterns based on precise pronunciation.  Put students though Auditory Training if necessary, covering your mouth to force them to listen closely to speech sounds.

Realize the vital importance of cursive handwriting and teach it as you teach the 70 phonograms.  Expect students to speak the sounds aloud as they practice writing each phonogram precisely.  Thereafter, expect the use of cursive for notes and every writing assignment, no matter how large or small.  The July Education Reporter , in its Education Briefs, included this quote from Psychology Today:

“In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of the brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.” Psychology Today, 3-14-13

My method is specific to the instruction and learning of the 180 Tools for Reading. These essential reading elements must be taught as soon; as precisely; as methodically; and as fully as possible and they must be taught to automaticity.  The instruction in cursive handwriting will facilitate learning because we speak in cursive!  We do not speak in chopped-up print.  We say “stop” not “s/t/o/p.”   Cursive reinforces the flow of mental thoughts and connections.


26  ABCs

70  Ways to Spell the

44  Voice Sounds used in American English[amazon asin=014240425X&template=*lrc ad (right)]

6  Types of Syllables (Open, Closed, E-Controlled, R-Controlled, Vowel-Team, Consonant+le)

2  Types if Questions (Literal and Inferential)

3  Types of Writing (Narrative, Informative, Informative-Narrative)

29  Spelling Rules (Only 29.  Not the gazillion that we were miseducated to believe!)

(Some detailed explanations:  Six Types of Syllables and The Absolute Need for Phonics for Teaching/Learning a Phonetic Language like English.)

Additionally, go to and read everything there.  Order the book/manual The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding and study it carefully.  Order a set of Phonogram Flashcards….small size for individual and small group instruction; large size for classroom.  If at all possible, take a Spalding training class.  It will be the best money you ever spend.  I have been through two different Spalding classes and I learned more in those two two-week sessions than in all the “teacher training” (not!) offerings that I was forced to endure at university.

Order a set (A-E) of the McCall-Crabb reading test lessons (plus the instruction booklet + answer keys, and a pack of answer sheets).  Analyze the books and decide which levels you should order for your students.  Once you have enough books for a class, begin each instructional period by having students read silently (and answer the questions) of one 3-minute story.  I trained my students to get book, black and red pencils, and answer sheet as they entered the classroom. As soon as the school bell rang, I announced “Ready…Set…Read!” and pushed the button on the timer set for the 3 minutes. When the timer rang, the students put down their pencils.  I called out the answers while they corrected with red. We went right on to the next story, and tried to do a third story.  Following the readings, we discussed any problems or questions about the stories.  Every day.  Without fail.   The results were that reading scores went up and up and up and the students became more attuned to the world, its history, and its workings.   I cannot stress enough how valuable the McCall-Crabb readers are for teaching concepts, history, language, vocabulary and…reading skills!   I refer to the books as Reading Practice That Educates. [amazon asin=B00005N913&template=*lrc ad (right)]

Following the readings,  I methodically taught the entire Code for written English using the phonogram flashcards;  I led practice in instant decoding of words at all levels of difficulty by using the logic of the 6 Types of Syllables;  I led the way in methodically and logically analyzing each spelling word on the week’s spelling list.  We then turned our attention to non-insulting fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and materials; relative-to-life fiction and nonfiction. Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl was usually our first basal reader.  After that we read Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer and A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck.  Once skills were developed using such books, I dug literature anthology textbooks out of storage bins where English teachers, enamored with some Progressive Foolish Fad, had dumped them.  My students read poetry, short stories, plays, essays, writings of various authors, all selections chosen towards the goal of helping students “catch up” culturally and educationally.  We studied Greek mythology; read a prose version of The Odyssey, then watched the movie The Odyssey with Armand Assante.  We constantly researched and learned new words using The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology. Always we worked to close knowledge and language gaps by reading for content, comprehension, and vocabulary.

With elementary-aged students, I teach almost pure Spalding. For teens and adults, I adapt Spalding for increased speed in instruction.  I teach the logic of language, which teens and adults find so interesting and so “learnable”; I make even more use of word etymologies; I provide more specific instruction in the use of Greek and Latin roots towards rapidly broadening vocabulary, especially for science classes and comprehension. With little ones, I teach spelling first, which is absolutely the right process.  With adults and teens, I teach reading first with logical spelling lessons woven into reading lessons. With adults and teens, reading gains will come about quickly.  Spelling skills will develop much more slowly.

Spelling is a vital aspect of reading but must be approached differently with students who have not been readers.  Poor and delayed readers have not read enough to notice and learn correct spelling patterns in English.  They, themselves, have spent years making so many spelling errors that they have never formed accurate mental word images against which they can check and correct spelling errors.  Poor readers must be taught to Spell-by-Logic rather than by memorization.  They must be trained to listen more precisely[amazon asin=0824207459&template=*lrc ad (right)] and choose phonograms with thought and skill.  They must be taught to think more about the meanings and origins of words and use those as tools for making spelling decisions.  It is too late for delayed readers to develop the ability to easily spell by rote.  They must be trained to analyze speech and meaning to wisely match sound to phonogram.  They may need to strategize before spelling most words; may never spell any but the simplest with automaticity.  Actually…all of us would be better spellers if we were taught to accurately hear and logically analyze words rather than to memorize lists of nonrelated words.

This is what I “do for students in upper grades to close the reading achievement gap “. I hope that you find my techniques useful and applicable to your students and your teaching style.  I wish you great success in your teaching because our teen and adult delayed readers need now, more than ever, to develop much better Receptive Language Skills (reading, listening, vocabulary) and Expressive Language Skills (spelling, writing, vocabulary).   With improved reading, vocabulary, knowledge,and cursive instruction, students’ brains will develop a greater ability to think, judge, assess, weigh, determine, evaluate, create, imagine, problem solve, …