Here I will be reviewing books that I have found valuable in my reading research. There will be choice excerpts that I consider of value and perhaps will encourage your to purchase a copy for yourself. Just click on the titles to go to Amazon.
The first review is the above book by Miriam Cherkes-Julkowaski, Ph.D. The author favors a linguistic approach over whole-langauge or complex, rule based phonics approaches. . . The following quotes are all very insightful.
Reading does not have to be a mystery. It is not a random collection of rules, exceptions to rules, memorized words, and guessing. Reading is a systematic code where groups of letters stand for speech sounds. The reading code can be taught directly and effectively to children by showing them how letters come together, systematically, to represent speech sounds.
Sight words, irregular words, context clues, pictures clues, theme spelling words, Dolch or other lists of frequently used words… if your child is coming home with this kind of work she is not being taught how to read. These are NOT reading:
- memorizing individual words
- visualizing individual words
- guessing at words using pictures
- guessing at words by using context clues
- predicting what word will come next (1)
Sometimes the child is so used to guessing by time this approach is instituted that she just continues to take a broad sweep through the word, hardly looking at all. … Hearing the word then spelling it puts an immediate stop to rushing through the rough visual configuration of a word. (61)
Let’s Read is the most dependable for a number of reasons. It is entirely systematic and thorough. I uses only words that are a decodable (no sight or irregular words). There are not pictures to help guess words, only the words themselves. The “stories” use many learned words and are therefore both decodable and artificial. While they aren’t very interesting as stores and don’t reveal much about narrative style, artificial stories have the large advantage of being so unnatural that there is no guessing from context. (56)
This is a great book by Norman Doidge, M. D. It was featured on the PBS’s The Brain Fitness Program. It presents very encouraging information from the exciting field of neurological plasticity, which is the ability of the nervous system to change and improve its functioning in ways that were thought impossible only a few years ago. The first quote reinforces the views and practices that I have always believed and practiced, and which are special strengths of the Blend Phonics method.
The irony of this new discovery is that for hundreds of years educators did seem to sense that the cildreb’s brains had to be built up through exercises of increasing difficulty to strengthen brain functions. Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably strengthened motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. The in the 1960s educators dropped off such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too ridged, boring, and “not relevant.” But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systematically exercise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. (41, 42)… For people, postmortem examinations have shown that education increases the number of branches among neurons. An increased number of branches drives neurons farther apart, leading to an increase in volume and thickness of the brain. The idea that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise is not just a metaphor. (43)
The next quote relates to my unique adaptation of Edward Taub’s Constraint Induced Therapy to cure artificially induced whole-word dyslexia. This is from Chapter 5, “Midnight Resurrections.” Rudolf Flesch made a recommendation in his 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do about It, that puzzled me because it flew in the face of practrically everything I had been taught about reading remediation. He recommended the seemingly radical procedure ”of removing students from their whole-word guessing environment,” which mean eliminating all outside reading and doing only phonics drills until the students overcame their guessing habit. After reading Doidge, I realized that Flesch’s recommendation was clearly a form of “Constraint Induced Therapy.” I have found this form of therapy particularly useful in my tutoring and recommend it to all. Here’s the quote:
Stroke victims with extensive brain damage in the motor area fail to improve for a long period and, when they do, nay recover partially. Taub reasoned that any treatment for stroke would shave to address both massive brain damage and learned nonuse. Because learned nonuse might be marking a patient’s ability to recover, only by overcoming learned nonuse first could one truly gauge a patient’s prospects. Taub believed that even after a stroke, there was a good chance that motor programs for movement were present in the nervous system. Thus the way to unmask motor capacity was to do to human beings what he did for the monkeys: constrain the sue of the good limb and force the affected one to begin moving. (142) … The Taub clinic always uses the behavioral technique of “shaping,” taking an incremental approach to all tasks. (147)
The “constaint” imposed on aphasiacs is not physical, but it is just as real: a series of languages rules. Since behavior must be shaped, these rules are introduced slowly. (155) … Based on his work plasticity, Taub has discovered a number of training principles: training is more effective if the skills is related to everyday life; training should be done in increments; and work should be concentrated into a short time, which he has found far more effective than long-term but less frequent training.
I have found the Blend Phonics Reader: Standard Edition a perfect tool for applying the full effectiveness “Constraint Induced Therapy.” The students are “removed from their whole-word guessing environment” (Outside reading, since it reinforces current guessing habits, is eliminated.), and they are put on a program of daily phonics drill – not the kill and drill of mindlessly practicing sound-to-symbol associations – but rather sounding-out regular phonics words in intensive daily massed practice where the elements of English orthography are presented by levels of increasing word processing difficulty. The “constraint” is the elimination of sight-words and outside reading. In as little as five hours of 15 minutes daily drill, students have improved their grade level performance three grade levels and more. The method even works even when the students are just removed from the “whole-word guessing environment” during the tutoring session, but completely stopping all outside reading is ideal. I realize it is hard to create the ideal freedom-from-outside-reading environment during the school year. The Blend Phonics Reader is also available in an inexpensive spiral bound edition from Cafe Press.
Flesch was ahead of his time. The improvement on the Miller Word Identification Assessment (MWIA) for artificially induced whole-word dyslexia is always impressive. I trust that someday fMRI studies will verify the effectiveness of our “constraint induced therapy” procedures with Blend Phonics. I call the MWIA “a poor man’s fMRI” because I think there will prove to be a close correlation between fMRI scores and improvement on the MWIA.
Another book that deals with neuroplasticity is The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffery Schwartz and Sharon Begley. The section on Quantum Physics and Mental Force is speculative but interesting.
This book is by Marilyn Jager Adams. Dr. Adams is well know for her 1990 synthesis of research on beginning reading: Beginning Reading: Thinking and Learning About Print, which is noted for its clear introduction to the connectionist view of reading and parallel distributed processing.
From her 1990 book, I learned the following thoughtful axiom: “Both theory and data suggest that instruction on neither sounds of letters nor recognition of whole words should be earnestly undertaken until the child has become confident and quick at recognizing individual letters.”
THE BAD NEWS
From her 2013 book we receive the bad news, “that only a minority of children are able to name or write all the letters by the end of first grade, and that the number who know the letter sounds is still smaller.” (3)
Putting the axiom and the bad news together, we come up with a very disheartening picture of young children’s lack of readiness to begin reading instruction. My own experience, as a very busy reading tutor, confirms the bad news. Absolutely none of the children coming to me for tutoring with reading problems have an adequate knowledge of the letters of the alphabet. All of the children are expected to memorize sight-words and learn phonics BEFORE they have a firmly established knowledge of and fluency with the letters of the alphabet: a sure prescription for failure for many.
THE GOOD NEWS
Mrs. Adams’ new book provides THE DEFINITIVE SOLUTION to the lack of alphabet knowledge by providing a complete curriculum for teaching children before first grade to
1. Recognize and name all the uppercase and lowercase letters.
2. Print both the uppercase and lowercase letters.
3. Produce the primary or most frequent sound for each consonant.
4. Identify which letters represent the five major vowels and know the long and short sound of each.
I especially like her very detailed handwriting program. It pays close attention to proper stroke production. She uses a very innovative and helpful “sound effects cueing system” for the strokes of each letter. Although it is just a coincidence, she uses the same excellent method of letter formation that I have used for many years. Anyone who knows my students can testify to the effectiveness of this method.
The assessment program is complete and tied directly with the instruction. Parents, teachers, and administrators will be able to evaluate how well the children are mastering all the dimensions of alphabet knowledge.
I totally agree with her method of teaching students to write all the uppercase letters before beginning the lowercase letters. This eliminates confusion and assures success. Many students coming to me for tutoring mix uppercase and lowercase when writing the alphabet.
I highly recommend ABC Foundations for Young Children to all teachers and parents who are teaching Hazel Loring’s Reading Made Easy with Blend Phonics for First Grade.