Thursday, February 17, 2005

How to Teach Children to Read, Part 2

According to the educational establishment, you teach children to read by exposing them to a variety of great literature, have them do a lot of writing, and even let them make up their own spelling. It's called, Whole Language. Over the years, they've come up with lots of different programs that show teachers different Whole language ways to teach. Actually, there are only a few ways and they've been repackaged and recycled over the years. The Whole Language proponents claim that these methods, properly taught, will get children to read and to love reading.
So one has to ask, after many generations of Whole Language teaching methods, why is American society becoming continuously less literate? Ah, claim the Whole Language proponents, students watch too much TV, play too many video games, they are victims of poor parenting, not enough money is going to the schools, they have ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities.
Don't you believe it!
After 16 years of elementary classroom experience, I can tell you that students aren't reading because they aren't being taught correctly. Students have to begin at the beginning with a strong phonetic foundation. English is a sound/symbol language. The letters are symbols for different sounds. These sound/symbol relationships have to be taught. Some students can figure them out on their own, but many can't and don't.
By beginning with phonics, I don't mean worksheets where students have to guess that the first letter in cup and cat is "c". I'm talking about intensive study and lots of, you will excuse the expression, drill and practice until students know what sounds the letters and letter combinations make. This can actually be done for most students in only a few weeks in first grade. Drill and practice is not the only teaching method, but it should be part of a teacher's bag of tricks.
The best phonetic method I've found, and I've done a lot of research on this is, The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, published by the Riggs Institute, It begins with students learning the sounds discussed above, then using those sounds to begin spelling. Anything a student can spell, they can read. Once a certain number of words are learned through dictation, not copying, through multi-sensory study and practice, students begin using these words in their own individually decodable sentences. This leads to reading, and finally in lesson 46 to the reading of "real books".
There is a lot more though. This is an entire language arts method covering two years of grammar and writing, and four years of spelling, that when taught properly (take the training, it's worth it) advances students way beyond what is traditionally taught in a public school classroom.
That was the short version. In addition to parents and teachers studying the Riggs website, I also recommend, and the book, The Schools We Need, and Why We Don't Have Them, by E. D. Hirsch. When he described teacher education, it read like he was there with me in teacher's school. Also, Marva Collins' Way, by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin is highly recommended.

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At 5:05 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

The research you have done on this topic is amazing! My sons are currently enrolled in a private school which teaches the Riggs method and they LOVE reading! They are learning so much and we are very happy with the Riggs method. We are looking at making a famiy move which will take us away from the area and the school we love. In the area we are looking to move to we have found a school which states they use the Orton-Gillingham method to suppliment thier phonics instruction. I know the Riggs method was based on some of the research of Orton. In your research of this area how do you find these two methods compare? Are they essentially the same thing?


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