Book Reviews



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.  Just click on the titles to purchase from Amazon.

Review 1

Find the Vawol – Read the Rime – Learn to Read

 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)
Concerning guessing, and the advantage of oral spelling to prevent it, the author writes,
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)

The author recommends Leonard Bloomfield’s Let’s Read for helping struggling readers.

Let’s Read is the most dependable for a number of reasons. It is entirely systematic and thorough. It uses only words that are a decodable (no sight or irregular words). There are no 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)

Our Blend Phonics Lessons and Stories follow the same principles of not using pictures and writing specially designed stories that purposefully make it difficult to guess words from contest. All the words in the stories are taught individually BEFORE the students read them in the Blend Phonics Storybooks. 

Review 2

The Brain That Changes Itself:

Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

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 children’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 rigid, 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)

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.

Review 3

 ABC Foundations for Young Children:

A Complete Curriculum.

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.”


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.


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.

Review 4

Reading in the Brain:

The New Science of How We Read

This book is by Stanislas Dehaene. Dehaene begins, “Every child is unique…but when it comes to reading, all have roughly the same brain that imposes the same constraints and the same learning sequence. Thus we cannot avoid a careful examination of the conclusions – not prescriptions – that cognitive neuroscience can bring to the field of education (218).” [Several of my elementary principals argued that we need to teach both Whole Language and phonics because different children learn to read differently. I think that recent advances in neuroscience have exploded that common myth.]

He proceeds to discuss the, “Reading Wars: Cognitive psychology directly refutes any notion of teaching via a “global” or “whole language” method. I have to stress this point forcefully because pedagogical strategies of this kind were once very popular and have not lost their appeal for some teachers. These methods teach children to recognize direct associations between written words or even whole sentences and their corresponding meanings. The technique involves the child’s immersion in reading, and the hope is that he will acquire reading spontaneously like a natural language. Extreme advocates of the whole-language or whole-word approach explicitly deny the need to teach the systematic correspondences between graphemes and phonemes. They claim that this knowledge will appear by itself as the result of exposure to the correspondences between words and meanings (219, 220).” [It may come as a surprise to many that even handwriting instruction was largely eliminated by whole language advocates. Pace The Administrator’s Guide to Whole Language by Gail Herald-Taylor.]

Concerning the instructional consequences of whole-language, Stanislas continues, “Although its postulates may seem strange, the whole-langauge approach was grounded in a generous principle. It refused drill, which was though to turn children into automata who could only drone out silly sentences like “Pat the cat sat on the mat.” The whole-language movement was vigorously opposed to phonics because it considered that this training detracted from understanding text, which was the primary goal of reading instruction. Whole-language advocates places primary emphasis on text comprehension by quickly giving children access to meaningful stories. The claim was that children found it more fun to discover phrases than words, spelling rules, or boring letter-to-sound decoding. They would empower if they could “build their own learning environment” and spontaneously discover what reading as all about: never mind if they initially played at riddles and read “the kitty is thirsty” instead of “the cat drank milk.” For the supporters of the whole language approach, the child’s autonomy and the pleasure of understanding was what counted most, over and above accuracy with which individual words could be decoded (220).” [I was told that children who were taught to sound-out words would become “mere word-callers,” able to sound out thousands of words without understand anything. Concerning the need for accuracy, I had one teacher tell me that some of her worst oral reader were her best students because they could answer the questions on the state’s multiple choice silent reading assessment. I asked her about enjoyment of poetry and appreciation of expressive prose. I was told that those things were not on the test so we didn’t have to worry about them.]

Reflecting on the lingering effects of whole-language, ” The whole-language approach today has been officially abandoned. Nonetheless, I suspect that the issue is still alive in many a teacher’s mind because whole-language advocates are stills firmly entrenched in their positions. They are convinced that their approach is best suited to children’s needs. In France as well as in the United States, efforts to reconcile the two camps have lead to the adoption of an unhealthy compromise called “mixed” or “balanced reading” instruction (220, 221).” [This is the paragraph that first caught my attention concerning the topic of this blog. I highly suspect that the lack of phonics knowledge of students coming to me for help from reputedly phonics classrooms may be accounted for by the classroom teachers previous training in whole-language, which leads them to compromise the phonics instruction by the inclusion of a significant amount of whole-langauge pedagogy. The confused teachers are confusing their students.]

The author then observes, “A great many teachers are so confused by the constant swings back and forth from one educational approach to the other that they borrow at random from all the existing methods. Whole-language has been officially scorned, but either out of inertia or habit it is still surreptitiously present in reading manuals and teacher instruction programs. Even if the grapheme-phoneme correspondences are now the main focus, activities dating back to the whole-language approach are still present in the classroom. These include paring of a word with an image, recognition of the overall contour of words, and sigh word recognition of the child’s first and last name (221). [I believe this is the source of the confusion that is keeping teachers from teaching phonics successfully in their classrooms. This is basically the sight-words memorization technique that is present in practically every classroom in my district, and probably yours. Virtually every tutoring student who comes to me has been subjected to intensive sight-word training at school and in the homework the teachers send home. I would urge, in the light of recent advances in neuroscience, that schools cease requiring whole-word memorization of sight-words, including the Dolch List and Fry List.]

The author goes into a detailed analysis of whole-language in the remainder of the chapter on whole-language (Chapter 5), which we will leave to our reader to pursue. Here is an excellent video by Dr. Deheane: How the Brain Learns to Read.

Review 5

Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Reading,

Why So Many Can’t and What Can Be Done About It

This recent book (January 2917) is by Mark Seidenberg. Here are some important quotes, with my observations in brackets. I hope these tantalizing quotes will lead you to click on the link above and purchase your own copy. The section on Statistical Learning and the Connectionist Model of Learning is fantastic, but my quotes will skip forward to more immediately applicable matter. Here is a summary of Seidenberg’s Scientific American article “How Should Reading Be Taught.”

First Quote (Kindle Location 2286)

However, the cultural emphasis on the importance of reading to children creates the impression that it plays the same role in learning to read as speaking to children plays in their learning to talk.

That is not correct. Whereas talking with children guarantees that they will learn to speak, reading to children does not guarantee that they will read. Children learn a spoken language through exposure and use, but reading requires systematic guidance and feedback, more than occurs in casual reading to children. In short, reading to children is not the same as teaching children to read. … Children who are read to until the cow jumps over the moon can still have difficulty becoming readers. 

Second Quote (Kindle Location 2492)

For reading scientists the evidence that the phonological pathway is used in reading and in especially important in beginning reading is about as close to conclusive as research on complex human behavior can get. The opposing view, that using phonology is an inefficient strategy used by poor readers, is deeply embedded in educational theory and practice. 

Third Quote (Kindle Location 2605-06)

Poor readers have more difficulty decoding – using phonological codes to recognize words – especially ones that are used less often. Because their decoding skills are poor, they have to rely more on guessing words from the context. This is an ineffective strategy because they also have more difficulty reading the context words and are poor guessers. 

Good readers, in contrast, are better at decoding words and therefore less dependent on context. They do not have to rely on the inefficient strategy of predicting words from context, even though they are better at it than the poor readers. Instead of guessing which word will fit, a good reader rapidly identifies each word and integrates it with what has come before.

These experiments are over thirty years old, and the findings have been confirmed many times. Yet they are still at odds with how children are taught to read, a reflection on the disconnection between reading science and educational practice that is the topic of Chapter 11. (Location 2605-06)

Fourth Quote (Kindle Locations 5125 and following)

Final set of quotations come from Chapter 11, “The Two Cultures of Science and Education.”

The people who enter the field of education are being underserved by the authorities they have entrusted with their careers. 

Parents who deliver their children to school on that momentous first day of kindergarten, proudly starting them on the venerable path to education, make a big mistake: they assume that their children’s teacher has been taught how to teach reading. They haven’t.

Teachers who jumped on the whole-language bandwagon, believing the guessing game story and not having any reason to doubt it, proceeded to engage in literary activities that inadvertently encouraged their students to read the way that poor readers do. [See Sam Blumenfeld’s essay: Miscue Analysis: Teaching Normal Children to Read Like Defective Children.”]

The persistence of ideas despite the mass of evidence against them is most striking at this point. In normal science, a theory whose assumptions and predictions have been repeatedly contradicted by data will be discarded. That is what happened with the Smith and Goodman theories about reading science, but they were theoretical zombies that cannot be stopped by conventional weapons such as empirical disconfirmation, leaving them free to roam the educational landscape. 

These theories nurtured the sense that comprehension is an enormously complex process; word recognition looks simple in comparison. They also suggested new pedagogical possibilities: perhaps learners could benefit from instruction targeting these components, for example, teaching children about “inferencing” or building a “story grammar” Teaching reading comprehension because a focus of research, pedagogical innovation, and classroom activity.

On the science side, the story is the exact opposite.  Basic skills are difficult (…) and thus the area where instruction matters most. For the beginning reader, comprehension does not require instruction because they already understand speech.  

In short, theorists on the education side also had the instructional demands of acquiring basic skills and comprehension backwards. Generations of teachers were then taught that skills come naturally and that comprehension requires extended instruction. That inversion made learning to read more difficult for many children. 

Reading Recovery is as controversial as whole language because it is more of the same thing… My perspective is that, having popularized a reading theory that hinders many children’s progress because its core assumptions are mistaken, proponents of the approach developed an expensive remediation program based on the same principles. Fewer children would need Reading Recovery if they had received appropriate instruction in the first place. [I have taught many former Reading Recovery students to read with phonics. I have also taught many students who were in the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Reading Intervention.]

Fifth and Final Quote: (Kindle Location 6055)

An introductory course in linguistics should be a permanent requirement for teaching children. [I certainly agree with this suggestions. In fact it was a course I took in Linguistics for Missionaries in 1975 that prepared me, more than any other course, to be a successful language learner and reading teacher.]

Review 6

Reading Intervention Behind School Walls:
Why Your Child Continues to Struggle

This 2017 book is by Faith Borkowsky. I will be reviewing the Kindle edition. It was written by a highly experience teacher. Her experiences in the classroom during the rise of the Whole Language Era was the same as mine, as are the solutions she proposes.

When one small changes leads to drastic results the results is known as the Butterfly Effect. … This reminds me of how one small change in American education led to out-of-control literacy rates more than an any other change – the marginalization of phonics in the kindergarten through third grade classrooms. [I agree 100%!] (3)

America used to be one of the most literate countries in the world, despite poverty, crime, unsafe neighborhoods, and other adverse conditions. (3) [Webster’s spelling books was largely responsible for the former high literacy rates in America.]

If we look at the one “small” change that is fundamentally at the core of the problem, we can see that the teaching philosophy espoused today is not aligned with how all children whether affluent or disadvantaged, can become successful readers. Rather than assume children will learn to read through osmosis, strong, bottom-up principles are needed that begin with teaching how sounds in our language are represented by letters, followed by left-to-right sequences of letters that make up words, and leading to an understanding of organized words that make up sentences and represent coherent. (3) [The Phonovisual Charts explain the sound-to-symbol correspondences and my Blend Phonics teaches left-to-right sequence and word identification.]

Children should not be left to “discover” how words work. For a while, I was optimistic that the tide was turning with scientific research that supported early instruction in systematic phonics. Unfortunately, what we have now is a mixed-methods approach that waters down the intensity needed to make a difference. When children are encouraged to look at context and “search for meaning” before they have mastered the letter and sound correspondences, we create confusion and failure. The flap of this butterfly’s wing produced a functionally illiterate society, and there is no end to the damage that continues to be inflicted on emergent readers and writers. (4) [This is a good summary of the situation in most schools today. At the time of this posting, I am currently working weekly with students from 13 schools in my district. All are confused by the mixed method mentioned here.]

But is every child struggling to read, write, and spelling dyslexic? Can we honestly say that so many children have learning disabilities? Isn’t it possible that children are just not being taught a system that allows for smooth learning of the alphabet principle? Could it be that the balanced literacy programs used in schools are not as balanced as we hope? Couldn’t it actually be what many of us refer to as “dysteacahia,” poor or inadequate teaching which results in poor reading, writing, and spelling that can look like a learning disability (29) [My mentor, Samuel L. Blumenfeld, called this artificially induced dyslexia.]

So, what can go wrong? In the first instance the “word-solving” strategies are based on a “cueing system.” Instead of reading words, children are encouraged to use cues in the context to figure them out. This method actually encourages children to jump around the page to figure out how to read words, which frequently results in guessing. If anyone has seen the beginner books in a leveled literacy program, one will see that the pictures and repetitive use of “sight” words or memorized words will basically give the story away. There is really very little need for phonics to be used. So even if phonics is being taught, and I say that loosely since there are many ways to teach phonics, children will not use this skill to read and will not get practice in understanding the sound-symbol relationships. The phonics program of choice becomes an isolated exercise when combined with guided reading and strategies that are espoused in a leveled literacy approach. In essence the children are not so much “reading” as guessing with a little help from cues. (30) [This has been my opinion concerning leveled literacy and guided reading for nearly 20 years. It breaks my heart to see children clawing their way through the leveled readers only to find themselves regressing down the slippery slope called guided reading.]

Unfortunately, the training that children receive at the beginning of their schooling is how their brains will learn to read. (31)

Without handwriting instruction, these children who figure out what letters “kinda” look like, and draw the letters from the bottom up, or worse, have different starting points until it looks correct. These are the children who write poorly and only use simplistic words that are in their sight vocabularies. (31) [Faith has this exactly right. I have tested hundreds of students for letter writing legibility and fluency. I have NEVER tested a student struggling to read who did not also have problems writing, but responded well with my free programs. Shortcut to Manuscript and Shortcut to Cursive.]

Interestingly enough, we have not learned much over the years. We still expect children to learn to read sight words, predictable text, and guided reading books. We encourage them to read “fluently” before they even know how to read accurately. (37) [This is the crux of the matter. From the Look-and-Say of the 1930’s to the Whole Language of the 1990’s to the Guided Reading of the 2000’s nothing has really changed, other than the terms used.]

SIGHT WORDS CAN ACTUALLY BE DETRIMENTAL FOR BEGINNER READERS. Although English is phonetic language, there is still a school of thought that wants children to memorize a certain number of words by the time they finish kindergarten. Some people would argue and say that it can’t hurt, or is part of a “Balanced Literacy” program. But I would say it is actually extremely damaging while children are learning sound and symbol correspondences. (39) [Again, I concur 100%. At the time of this post (Jan. 1. 2018), EVERY first and second grade student coming to me for tutoring from the local school district is REQUIRED to memorize sight words (Fry or Dolch), and the parents are required to be accomplices in this travesty by timing them every evening on the words for homework. I shudder to think of the harm that has been and is being done.]

If reading is taught sequentially, cumulatively, and directly, most children will be reading by the end of first grade. However, if sigh words are stressed in early grades with the skills of “sounding out” a word being ingrained as the primary strategy for word reading, many students will begin to use whole word reading as the preferred strategy. (39)

It is confusing to learn phonics and sight words at the same time. Adults view his differently from young children. Adults believe that children will need sight words to help them become fluent readers. This is not the case as the context becomes more complicated and words are not in their sight vocabulary. Many children begin believing that all words can be memorized and stop trying to sound out. Struggling readers might be successful with this technique in the early grades because the text is simple and words are relatively easy to figure out based on pictures and context. If they continue thinking that this will serve them well in the upper grades, they begin to see quickly that this is a flawed strategy. This is when guessing habits start, “comprehension” issues arise, and they choose not to read for pleasure. ( 39-40) 

Weak decoding can be, and often is, the root cause of comprehension problems. Research shows that most reading difficulties are the result of unresolved word reading and word recognition difficulties. (51)

For children who struggle to read, it is extremely important for parents or caregivers to continue to read aloud to them often in order to develop their vocabularies. (53) [This is one of the most important statements in the book.]

Reading aloud to children and classroom discussion should play a big role in the early grades.” (54) [One of my greatest joys in life is reading great literature to my students.]

The lack of growth in reading comprehension in high schoolers can be partly attributed to the leveled readers they were given as children in elementary school. … Research by Hirsch and Tim Shanahn, highly respected professors of literacy and  national speaker, has shown that there is no firm scientific basic for using leveled readers to build reading comprehension, develop student interest, or make better readers. (55)

Just because districts promote and package their intervention services with an impressive sounding plan or familiar program name does not mean they are working effectively in practice. (68) 

Readability is measured using formulas that do not take into account the influence of reader’s prior knowledge and motivation. … Keeping children in leveled groups and only exposing them to instructional leveled text can be limiting, as evidenced by the number of children appearing to be making process and yet not reading proficiently in upper grades. (76)

Improvement in spelling will directly improve reading ability by  allow the children to read words quickly and confidently. (95)

When handwriting is taught while learning letters and sounds, children get the added benefit of a kinesthetic (movement) style to reinforce learning. A multisensory approach uses more than one modality – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile, to help all learners, especially ones experiencing difficulties. Motor memory helps the body and brain learn together, which is proven to be more effective that relying on the brain alone. Students will also retain the information and be able to recall it easier with this type of instruction. (96) [Teaching handwriting and phonics/spelling is one of the hallmarks of my Blend Phonics method.]

Proper letter formation is another skill that should be automatic, without conscious thought. Writing letters accurately and fluently frees us to focus on the message and how we want to say it, rather than thinking about the mechanics. (96) [Again, my Shortcut to Manuscript and Shortcut to Cursive will help any student acquire good handwriting.)

Review 7

Failing Students or Failing Schools:
A Paraent’s Guide to
Reading Instruction and Intervention

This is Faith Borkowsky’s second book. See Review 6 for her first book. The books are similar, but the second book is much longer and more detailed. I will included some new quotes here that will hopefully tantelize your literary taste buds to buy the book for the full deal.

This reminds [the Butterfly Effect] me of how one change in American education led to out-of-control illiteracy rates more than any other change – the marginalization of phonics in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. (2)

Instead of assuming children will learn to read through osmosis and guesswork, a Structured Literacy approach begins with strong, bottom-up principles that include teaching children how sounds in our language are represented by sounds, how similar sounds can have different spelling patterns, how some letter combinations can have more than one sound. Indeed, there are forty-four sounds in the English language linked to the twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and without being explicitly taught these sounds; many children never pick them up. This is the foundation of a phonics approach to reading instruction, and it has been proven time and again to be effective for all children. (3) [This important quote merits careful attention.]

The phonics component incorporared into most Balanced Literacy curricula is usually woefully inadequate in that it does not teach chilren how to truly read words in a systematic, cumulative, and structured manner. Moreover the books used to teach phonics skills have the effect of keeping children stuck in low levels until they somehow overcome their reading difficulties ften by memorizing the preditible text. Even worse, struggling readers are generally given interventionss focuse on variety instead of instruction of instruction targeted toward the real culprit, an inability to decode. (5) [Faith penetrates to the heart of the problems with the fine sounding concept of Balanced Literacy to reval the sere inherent inadequacies.]

In all my coursework, phonics was hardly mentioined. (6) [Faith began teaching in 1986 at the age of 21. I started subbing in 1985 and got my bilingual certification in 1990. That was during the time of the tragic Whole Language Tsuami. My college reading teacher mentioned phonics only once and said we would not need to use it much. In fact when I took my Orton-Gillingham training, the instructor told us that only the dyslexic students would need phonics! For many years, my inservice workshops were almost all Whole Language. This is why I say that Faith’s classroom experience and mine were practically the same.] 

Schools were discontinuing the Open Court basal reader, a successful, phonics-heav progrm that hasd been used for many years, discarding the books and removing all vestiges of he program from the school, including every letter/sound card hanging on the walls. (7) [I taught Open Court to my son in the early 1980’s so I am well aware of what a fine phonics program it was. This happened in schools all over the country. When I started teaching, I knew several older teachers who tenaciously held on to their old phonics materials, teaching it behind closed doors!]

But I would say it is actually extremely damaging for children to learn sight words while they are learning sound and symbol correspondences. (32) [I agree 100% with Faith here.  It is important to realize that the term “sight word” has two meaning according to who is using the words. The common use of the term  refers to words memorized by sight without reference to the letters and the sounds they represent, which is the practice we oppose. The other, and more scientific use of the word, referrs to ANY word that has been decoded so many times that the process of word idenfication  has so blazing fast that it appears to be instantaneous.]

Unfortunately, the training that children receive at the beginning of their schooling is how their brains will learn to read. [This is my favorite quote. The quote is written from the perspective that the kids are receiving poor instruction. (53) [It could be written from a positive perspective: “Fortunately, the good phonics training that children receive at the beginning of their school is how their brains will learn to read.”  I agree with Faith that initial instruction in large measure determines the ultimate outcome, another example of The Butterfly Effect. The last few years more and more parents are sending me their preschool children to start them on the correct road to becoming great readers. I have been privileged to teach numerous kindergarten students to read. In every case, they not only started reading early, but they kept that lead in the upper grades.]

Review 8

Sense of Phonics: the hows and whys

by Isabel L. Beck and Mark E. Beck

This is the second edition (2013) if this major resource for phonics instruction. The main difference between Hazel Loring’s Reading With Blend Phonics for First Grade and Making Sense of Phonics is that Beck emphasizes the use of phonics flashcards and I emphasize the use of handwriting, otherwise their approach to teaching phonics sequentially and with “sequential blending” is just the same. I was thrilled years ago when I read the first edition of this book and saw that Beck was recommending essentially the same approach. Here are some quotes and comments.

All children need to know the letter names, and the schools are responsible for making sure that they do. Research shows that not knowing the letter names is strongly related to having serious difficulty earning the sounds that are associated with the letters. (53, 54) 

But most researchers who have conducted empirical studies concluded that knowledge of letter names facilitated learning the letter sounds…. When it come to the order of teaching letters, most professionals who study alphabet issues have no objection to using alphabetical order to teach the letter names. .. We believe that letter names should be taught and established before letter sound are introduced. … We believe that letter names should be taught if for no other reason than the pragmatic use of letter names in classroom talk. (54, 55) [Alphabet Fluency Exercises]

In order to dress short-term memory issues at the initial stages of the decoding process, we strongly recommend successive bending (which has sometimes been called cumulative blending). In successive blending, students say the first wo sounds in a word and immediately blend those two sounds together. Then they say the third sound in a word and immediately blend that sound with the first two bended sounds. The strong advantage of successive blending is that it is less taxing for short-term memory because blending occurs immediately after each new phoneme is pronounced. As such, at no time must more than two sounds be hed in memory (the sound immediately produced and the one that directly precedes it), and at no time must more than two units be bended. … Consider what crust would be like if an individual were using successive blending.
/c/ /r/ /cr/ /u/ /cru/ /s/ /crus/ /t/ crust
The underlined portions show where blending occurs and illustrates that no more than two sound are needed to be held in sort-term memory.

The point of teaching children to blend is so that they have a procedure in their repertorie that they can call on if they need to. Once a child can independently engage in the steps of blending a new word, there is no need for the child to continuue to blend words overtly. Blending is a little like saying “A little salt is good; too much is not healthy.” Once children can demonstrate that they know the procedure, they doi not need to engage in it routlinely. ( 72, 73) [At first the blending goes slow, but then picks up speed. I can often teach first graders as many as  50 words in a single 30 minute tutoring sessions – and I generally use cursive at my school and manuscript with kids from public schools. Beck uses flashcards instead of handwriting.]

A strong advantage of the successive blending chain is the precise information available to the teacher in terms of locating an error. … The availability of precise error information enables the teacher to go right into where the probem is and deal with it. This is in contrast to simply knowing that a child can’t read back or set correctly. (75)

As noted earlier children who have difficulty with decoding tend not to pay attention to all the letters in a word, as required by full alphabet decoding. The progressive minimal-contrast activity – one letter changes and a new words results – inherent in Word Building. [This relates to Mr. Potter’s Secret of Reading, “Look at all the letters the right way, and no guessing.” I also have a big “No Guessing” in the front of my room. The Blend Phonics Fluency Drills and the Lessons and Stories have lots of Word Building exercises. Interestingly Rudolf Flesch’s 72 Exercises were very strong here are were the Hegge-Kirk-Kirk Remedial Reading Drills.]

Orthography certainly belongs with spelling, but it also belongs to reading. Indeed, reading and spelling go hand in glove. Children need be asked to spell and write words the words that they are learning to read. Spelling is an excellent way to focus attention on orthography because spelling requries learning the details of sequencces of letter srtings. (125) [Blend Phonics Lessons and Stories have 636 spelling words that practice all the spelling patterns in the program. I use both oral and written spelling to reinforce and access.]

Sight Words. Sight words is  thelalbel given to some high-frequency words that are taught as wholes, purportedly because they cannot be sounded out. Additionally, high-frequency words, including function words (e.g., a, my the,  to, like, he, come, get, this.), are included because they are necessaryto develop stories. Sight words and the way to teach them became institutionalize by Edward Dolch (1948) who published a llist of the 220 most frequently used words in children’s literature and the way to teacah them have become 


Review 9

The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understand
How the Mind Reads

by Daniel T. Willingham


It seems at least plausible that you would use the same orthographic representations to read and to write. Thus we might expect that instruction in spelling of words would help orthographic representations develop. Indeed evidence shows that such instruction does improve reading. So that’s a reason to include spelling instruction in schools, even though we all use word processors with spell-checkers. (70) [This is why I added 636 spelling words to my Blend Phonics Lessons and Stories. My reissue of Florence Akin’s 1913 Word Mastery: Phonics for the First Three Grades is the very best spelling program available in 2018.]

If orthographic representations develop through self-teaching, then they won’t develop as well if children don’t get prper feedback. Thatis , if a child sees “bear” but sounds it out as beer, that’s going to slow progress in developing the right orthographic representation. That, in turn, suggests that his aspect of reading will be more effective if students read aloud, rataher than silently, at least until they can sound out pretty reliably. The quality of feedback they receive matters too – gains are larger when adults provide feedback than when a peer does. (70f) [This is the advantage of my one-on-one tutoring program.]

Remember that links between a word’s meaning, sound, and spelling are tight. So when the meaning becomes marginally active, so too does the sound and spelling of the word. Note that this experimengt shows that the process by which associated words become active during reading is very rapid – it happens between th time that you’ve read the first word and when you start to read the second word (86). [This is why we always have the kids make up a sentence (associate meaning) when they sound out a word in Blend Phonics, spell the word with letter names, and write the word in a journal.]

Teaching reading comprehension strategies that require the coordination of meaning across sentences does improve comprehension, but it is seems to be a one-time improvement rather than a tehnique that can be practiced to continually improve reading comprehension (127) [In my experience schools spend far too much time trying to teach comprehension skills when they should be teaching content.]

The prominent role that background knowledge plays in reading comprehension ought to make us think differently about reading tests. We might think that reading tests provide an all-purpose measure of reading ability. But we’ve seen that reading comprehension is really knowldge tests in disguise (127) … Teaching reading is not just a matter of teaching reading. The whole curriculum matters, because good readers have broad knowledge of civics, drama, history, geography, science, the visual arts, and so on (127). [This is what I alike about our A Beka Book Curricluum, which integrates each subject.]

..research shows that positive childhood experiencers ewith booksd are associated with later reading (140). [This whole section is worth reading. I almost lived in the wonderful little Carnegie Library in my home town. I loved everything about it. I still love books and libraries.] It’s worth noting that, because reading attitudes are mostly emotional, logical appeals about the value of reading won’t do much. [I used to read to my own children every evening, great literature like the Narnia Chronicles, The Hobbit, etc.]

There is not much evidence that the digital age has prompted an intellectual renaissance among kids (168). [Concerning the impact of digital reading Willingham writes,] We really don’t know, but our theories of reading would predict little benefit. Reading improves comprehension through the acquisition of broader background knowledge and better representation of words, but most of what the average kids reads on screens is not content-rich because most of it is no ebooks. … To my knowledge the relationship between use of digital technologies and the development of fluency has not been investigated. (170).

Can Reading Comprehension be Taught? (2014)

Daniel Willingham – Science & Education

Five Videos related to the book.


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