Phonics Is Key To Another Teaching Legend

Marva Collins embodies the spirit and goals of almost every true educator in the United States. Her whole hearted to devotion to not only educating but to the development of young minds was not paralleled in her time and has yet to be surpassed. One of the main points made by Collins was that with the proper use of phonics, learning disabled children could easily be taught to read. After teaching public school for nearly 15 years Collins retired and founded the Westside Preparatory school in 1975, Collins created this school to help kids that had been labeled ‘un- teachable’ by the Chicago school system. This school started out in the second floor of Collins home in Chicago. From these humble beginnings Westside Prep grew into a thriving school that turned high risk students into excellent critical thinkers. Collins main focus in her curriculum was phonics, English, Math and the reading of classic literature. Her students reading lists included such authors as Sophocles, Homer, Plato and Tolstoy. Marva Collins achievements in the field of education were so significant that she was awarded with the National Humanities medal and had a made for TV movie created about her life. The title of this movie was the ‘Marva Collins story’ Starring Cicely Tyson as Collins and Morgan Freeman as her husband. Collins is another great educator whose views, ideals and practices helped form the education platform we use in our own reading program at New Phonics Tools. Marva Collins is truly one of the greatest people to ever enter the field of education and we, along with the rest of the world, owe her a great debt of gratitude for her contribution to us, our children and future generations.

Thumbs Up To Readable English

The sticker shock from most phonics programs would make you think of many things. "English, oh so readable" is not one of them. Yet, another corner of the web is singing this very thing. Its also the message of new phonics tools.

Does the term "linguistically accurate" mean anything to you? Me neither, until a day ago. It describes phonics rules that match the way letters are used in English words. The term was appropriately used in a discussion called logical English.

It may have been a while since you saw logic and our language on the same line. They belong together, I promise. The problem with most phonics is oversimplification.

Letter sounds that are used across the board in reading programs only explain the sounds of 60 out of 100 words. Maybe you've noticed this grim fact. It's not English. It's the phonics. Phonics rules can describe letter sounds accurately. That means they would tell you the correct sound to pronounce/ read a word.

Just how often can accurate phonics tell you the correct way to pronounce a written word ???? 98% according to the latest announcement we found!! That is even higher than our research of 95%. Truly, this is good news.

What's better news is that you don't need a degree in linguistic accuracy. The scholarly types who discuss such things do so with words like noun, consonant and syllabication. You and I are teaching children. Those words are just not needed in reading time.

English Decoder is built on phonics rules that are 95% accurate. But we achieve this with observable clues that preschoolers know. So English Decoder has more backers and English is more readable than we thought!! Thumbs Up!!

3 Ways To Get Kids Reading Beyond the Comics

Over 100 years ago L.A. Sherman got farm and city kids reading poetry. I've followed his three recommendations. They have worked. Proof: my kids read pretty widely.

Why not put these three steps to work for you?

1. Give kids the "inside scoop". Explain the format of what they will read.

2. Select written material that resembles spoken conversation.

3. Look for concrete language.

Poems can seem like a jumble of words from a printer that can't do periods. This format is mysterious. Even chapters, paragraphs and short stories can leave a young reader scratching his or her head.

The cure: Give them a map. It will make them feel smart and relaxed. Two serious motivators! Any story has characters and a conflict to overcome. The action reveals how the problem is solved. The writer's opinions will spill out along the way.

Poems do not use sentences. That's why periods are few and far between. Poems express an idea or a story in a different format. They need not be Valentine-suitable or philosophical fluff.

Introduce the author. Wouldn't you be more likely to read something written by a person you knew? Did this writer consider themselves a story teller? The reader will be entertained.

Was the pen put to work because the owner had an ax to grind? Expect that to color the pages. Did the author lead a dark and lonely life? Why bother reading what they wrote :~ !!!

20 word sentences were the norm for English speakers at the end of the 1800's. Reading selections with sentence lengths in this range were a hit.

Modern sentences are shorter. Maybe because we live in a soundbite world. Could be because our thoughts fit into narrow, phone-size screen widths. Either way, lean towards material that has shorter sentences.

Reading a page of a book will give you a good idea of sentence length for an entire novel. Authors don't vary much on this point.

Don't be a slave to any one factor. My son read the Hobbit at about 6. He loved adventure and nature. The concrete feel of the story line over powered the length of sentences.

Concrete words are better than abstract. This does not mean verse and prose must be flat nor confined to strictly familiar topics. Example: Around the World in 80 Days brings a reader to many new places.

Here's how. New scenes are referenced by people, clothing, animals and familiar officials and pieces of clothing. Even a funeral in a wild Hindu tradition seems understandable with such accessible descriptions. A sense of honor and courage comes across in the rescue. The fact is not belabored with abstract language.

"And there you have it!": Read it like you speak it, give your kids the inside scoop on format and make sure there is enough concrete language. Your kids can read beyond the comics too!!

How To Teach Phonics. Get Answers Here.

"How To Teach Phonics" Covers: Flipped b's and d's, Stalled Progress, How to Blend and More.

Continue reading "How To Teach Phonics. Get Answers Here."

Teaching to read in the shadow of a revolutionary

This month a great man in the history of the English language passed away, His name was Sam Blumenfeld. In the late 20th century Blumenfeld created a groundbreaking reading system established on already existing phonics rules. Blumenfeld was also a great champion of free thinking and advocated strongly for high national literacy. Like this exceptional man, we at New Phonics Tools have put together a comprehensive program to encourage free thinking and promote literacy. In fact, Blumenfeld's works were some of the building blocks on which New Phonics Tools was established. Like Blumenfeld's works, English decoder and other New Phonics Tools products offer a new and improved aspect of the long established rules of phonics. Shout out to Sam Blumenfeld for his enormous contribution to reading and to America, may he rest in peace.

Continue reading "Teaching to read in the shadow of a revolutionary"

Who's Job Is This Anyway?

This story is about a nearly adult child. I know most people reading this have little ones under ten. I still have 1 of those :)! There are some things you just can't start too early. Here is one of them: remembering that learning occurs in your child. You can't do it for them.

My high schooler, who was homeschooled until a year ago recently got us into an invitation-only meeting. It was to an attendance warning event. Oh no! What about that great award he got in history? Anyway. I was stuck between our agreement that school was his responsibility and the state's view that it was most definitely mine. Public school was this child's choice. Hence the assignment of responsibility.

I came up with a compromise. I would write the backlog of tardy excuse letters. Then for future prevention, help in the "pre" actions. ie. I would make sure he turned his phone off at a set time. Then I would cover one topic per week with him on organizational skills. He would still be on the hook for getting feet to the floor every AM. This "kid" is 6 ft tall and driving. I am not his wake up call.

He promised to leave the house in time to get to school early from today until happy ever after. If this failed even once I ensure phone gets turned off one hour earlier. Enough said.

How do we balance our responsibility to guide, provide and teach with our child's responsibility to learn? As I said before, you can't do it for him or her. Just to note, my son had been given 2 days worth of school or extra chores on days he was "late" to homeschool. Admittedly, if I had had more calm consistency in this area instead of furious door-knocking I might not have been at our exclusive event this morning.

Still there is another applicable point. Train your child with a decreasing presence. You supervision should intentionally decrease. Stepping back is a good reminder to teach the skill behind the step you will be dropping next. This goes for everything from choosing books to getting up on time. This can be tricky when it appears that local laws put the blame on you. They do and they don't. There must be care in how you respond.

There are times when you take control back if a child goes out of bounds. The goal is to give the opportunity for your child to make these missteps while you can still have real influence on course corrections. One day that will not be the case.

Coming Soon: The practical steps of purposely scaling down your involvement in reading.

A Promise For You, If Family Devotions Are One Of Your New Years Resolutions

Does the light and glow seem to have worn off your family devotion time in the new year? Is attention waning . . . yours included :(

During Advent devotions are so easy and fun! We have a story book that we read every year. This plus candles, cookies, decorations and anticipation ... all is good! Then the tree comes down and we really miss the adventure story that led us to the Christ child in the stable.

So we tried this: Read until you hear the promise. It is so easy. I pick up the Bible turn to the book of Proverbs and tell my children to stop me when they hear a promise.

You had better believe they listen! If they are genuinely interested they hear a promise full of encouragement (usually anyway. More on that in a minute ;) If they just want it to be over they still pay attention. Once they point out a promise I am done.

This is built in participation! One surprise for you. My son raised his hand for this verse "If you trap someone you will be caught in your own trap". It's a promise!" he pointed out.

Most days cover pearls like "Search for wisdom and see wealth and honor." Of course that is the kind of promise I had in mind. We can get to those another day :)

One more benefit of read till you hear the promise plan. There is no timeline. Ever realize in February that you are still in week one of your yearly devotion plan : ( I have. Not anymore. Just pick up where you left off next time there is a lull in your day and you realize you have had no devotions yet.

I love the Christmas hymn "In the Bleak Midwinter" That is when the hope of Christmas came! This grey midwinter (January) hopeful devotions can arrive too.

All the best in 2015 from new-phonics-tools.com

The Nameless, Wonderful New Reading Skill

I think I can pin point a reading skill that may be the missing link for your child. I've never seen it identified before. Importantly, young readers need to train there eyes to pick out letter patterns in normal text.

Reading steps usually go from practicing words with similar patterns to text of mixed words. Ever hit a stumbling block at this point? I have. I've seen a child do well on upper level drill words. Then he stumbles on simple text. Hmmm! There is a missing skill here.

I wish I had some catchy last name to lend to this skill:) Alas, Scott is rather run of the mill. The amazing skill I am about to paint in detail, remains nameless ;)

Picture this: Johnny learns how /i/ can make different sounds. At the top of a drill page he briefly sees "oi says the first sound in oil". He repeats this sound to read many similar words. Here is what he does not learn: how to identify this sound on his own.

This is clear as day to the experienced reader. The growing reader may be wondering: "Was it i + o that makes the oil sound, or i and a or maybe ie?" or "Maybe i in the middle of any longish word sounds like oil. Maybe its only when it comes first or in very short words like oil."

Next Johnny looks at words with all the patterns mixed up. Soon he gets all mixed up too. His mind jumps to o patterns. He begins to say the oil sound when he reads oa. Johnny is frustrated. His mother wonders if he is having a bad day :(

Now insert this skill to the above scenario. Give Johnny a highlighter. Let him color over every oi in a given text. Now he can go back and read these words (without the in between text even) one after the other. Viola! the drill book skill is systematically applied to normal text.

Those questions about which combination of letters make the oil sound are answered. In effect you are teaching Johnny to identify letter patterns on his own. This is different from copying one identified for him.

If you are in no-man's land between drill and real reading this simple skill could be the missing piece!! Oh if it only had a name :)

Guided Oral Reading: What it is and is not.

A 2000 landmark meta-study, called the Reading Panel, recommends Guided Oral Reading. This is as easy as looking over your child's shoulder while they read out loud. Two questions: Should this be systematic? aren't you just telling your child the words?

Guided oral reading means you listen as your child reads. If they make a mistake or get stuck, you step in. I like to base how much help I give on the number of mistakes a new reader makes:1 is just fill in the word, 2 review the rule, 3 is frustration. Stop here!

If you get to three put the book away cheerfully and try something new to reteach. Going over the rules here will make them hate it.

The study also found that presenting letter sounds in a planned order is better than pointing them out as they come up in a book. Hmmm, most children like stories better than plain words. Solution: use real books and keep in mind sounds your child already knows.

You fill in words using other sounds. This way you can have your context and system too! (I made this a little easier in our phonics book by putting words my child should know in bigger letters. I read the rest.)

Q:So should you just be telling your child the words?

A: No, they could parrot before you started phonics:)

I have read some teacher manuals that tell you to do just this. In these books (most have titles that include the word "fluency") they tell you to read to the child and have them repeat each word while looking at it in print. This is in context word memorization. It would take a huge memory or a very few number of words for this to work.

When I researched key words that people are searching for on-line, fluency did not make the list. I am not surprised.

Guided oral reading is probably what a parent or grandparent did with you if they helped you learn how to read. You sat next to them or on their lap and they helped you sound out the hard words.

Interestingly, carrying on this simple tradition is what brings many parents to phonics. They ask their child what sound a letter makes while helping them read. They find out their child does not know. Mom and Dad hit the books, and phonics programs are born:)

Stop! "Well, at least they're reading" Is A Trap

I know I've been there. I've said that. It's so easy to ignore content. After all, I rationalize, the rest of the entire world-wide population of children consists of video gamed out couch potatoes. At least mine are reading!

What is wrong with my thinking (and maybe yours sometimes:)

First, this is a sign of a Mom burnt out. Second, most of the world's population lives without screens. That rules out having video games or couches to grow roots on. Third, it might not be a triumph to just be reading.

If a young brain and heart are absorbing junk, reading is destructive. All brain food is not created equal. Some text is better off not read. Just like some food (like maybe Monster for your 5 year old Egad!!!) is better off not consumed. After eliminating "text sensitivities" a good balance of material is a worthy goal.

What not to read: Anything containing language you don't want repeated at the dinner table, first off. For older children I have made exceptions. Language that is in emergency context and is realistic (ie. military people on the front lines swearing)gets read in our house. Unless a battle (as in real shooting soldiers vice a squabble over the last biscuit) breaks out over the meal, children are not likely to get confused into thinking the just-read rough dialogue is appropriate for them.

Next, eliminate books that take something you say is bad and depicts it in a light that seems worth emulating. So say you teach "violence is bad". Clear out magazines that make it look heroic and inviting. The same is true in reverse. You may be promoting faith in your home. A book with the Christian as the judgmental dolt will be working against you, especially if its well written. Again, more leeway for older children. For them such a book could open the way for valuable discussion.

What constitutes a healthy reading diet? It is easier than a food pyramid: )

- One part challenge- One part applicability/ usefulness- One part interest

So unless he's sick Hardy Boys for your sixteen year old is like a stale potato chip. Encourage it only if you're really desperate. That wonderful book you just read is good to pass on only if there is interest (or maybe as a school assignment) I love it when my kids pass books on to each other. They read so much faster based on the sibling recommendation.

Entertainment is useful. Again keep it in balance. Our children loved Red Wall books. I don't really even like fantasy. This was passed on by a friend whose opinion I value so we read them. There is only so much to be gained from reading about talking mice (I think that's what the characters were. Maybe voles or something) Anyway, this needs something added in for reading list variety.

Overlook garbage content? It's a trap! Don't let it undo all your good work towards healthy intellectual development.

What Happened To 97% Literacy?

Did you know that 97% of Americans could read back when Thomas Jefferson was president? Today the number is 86. More amazingly, no one studying that old literacy figure pointed to teaching methods! Nope. Nearly universal reading was connected to one nearly universal practice.

The practice? Most fathers read out loud to their families every morning. Obviously not because people could not read for themselves: ) Dad read the Bible, and a newspaper if one was on hand. "One" is the key word here. There was normally only one of each item per household. Reading aloud meant everyone could enjoy the information at the same time.

How could this lead to literacy if no one taught? Maybe Johnny and Susy looked over their parent's shoulder as he pointed out the words. Possible, but I don't think that is what happened.

I see two things passed on during this sunrise ritual. One, kids saw that reading was a normal. They expected to follow suit. Two, they soaked in vocabulary. Dad was not reading the funnies. If he read current events of importance he probably discussed them with his wife. Adult vocabulary flowed all around the table and little ears.

The "how" of reading instruction is important, no doubt. Jeffersonian age Americans understood its impact. We know this because so called "Blab schools" were still in the recent past. They had been phased out on purpose. The intentional change in teaching style means people were aware that reading could be taught in the wrong way. Still, what researchers found made the difference in high reading rates was the language children heard at home from the printed page.

Visit Our "Not A Quiet House"

We read a lot. I tell you all about it. You might think our house is a quiet place. You would be wrong : ) Pause here for passing soccer ball. Yes, really it's inside (which is against all the rules!) Here is the two minute tour of our not so quiet house.

I'll start from the back. We have two large bookcases. I can't close the door to the room that holds them. The chin-up bar on the door frame is in the way. We have other door frames but this one is near the sideboard - "The better to rest my feet on" say my sons!

Through the door, under the chin up bar and past the sideboard is the kitchen table. This is strategically set up with coffee and PM (ie. 3:15 ish) snacks. You need one of these if you want conversation to happen with male teenagers. Food is the key. Talking is noisy and important!

About talking. We have two girls in the house. Here endurance is the critical element. Daily reminder: must stay awake and listen to my 20 year old. It's not that I am uninterested. Its just that I am 20 years older than her!

Then there is the dinner table. The place where I plan for balanced meals and intelligent discussion. Instead, endless spills and way too much teasing ensue :)

Next to the table is a piano and a pile of soccer balls. I was sitting here for paragraph one ;). They are in constant use, so is my phrase "No cleats in the house!"

As you can "see" this is a reading house, but it is not often quiet. Reading takes place early and allows for the energy build up that explodes in chores and play. Then, once fed and conversed (and cleaned hopefully) tired readers can gather here. Who would have it any other way ?

Parents Tip The Balance

What do notaquietlibrary.com, Maryland inner city schools and an entire segment of studies have in common? They all point to parents! All else considered, parents reading with children tip the scales in favor of success. Nothing new. Just can't hear it enough!

A Garden City library did a great 6 part series on the building blocks of reading. Vocabulary made the list, by the way !!! Anyway, the entire phonological awareness segment was aimed at parents. Every idea was something a Mom or Dad could do daily.

I just enjoyed a video about great strides in a Baltimore preschool. The clip focused in on this teacher comment: "You can tell which children [in the class] are read to at home. From how they speak, to how they interact with words and even to how they can pay attention and listen to a story, it makes a difference."

A popular reading site had a whole research section about parent qualifications for teaching. Results: home speech and reading interaction sets the stage for reading.

A parent forum had this to say " I believe we are past the point of leaving everything to the school." I don't think we were ever there!

Still Learning On The Umphteenth Re-read

My youngest children are enjoying Heidi read out loud. Not surprising. I have read this book dozens of times. I am learning a lot! That's stunning. Here is the kicker. I am picking up parenting tips from all people . . . the Grandfather. Let me explain.

I have not grown a beard or begun raising goats. The goats part is not a bad idea though. I picked up on this phrase "The Grandfather did not agree with Heidi's plan." This is a very European way of saying no, as I understand it.

I had just been talking with a teenage child about expressing an opinion without "throwing down the gauntlet". Here was the very language that I needed as a parent to be an example of this. How often does my "no" draw a battle line. "I don't agree" might suffice.

I think I picked up this lesson on the latest reread of Heidi because I had recently been introduced to "I don't agree." in a parenting book called Raising Bebe. It covers an American's reaction to French parents.

These European parents instruct children on such things as table manners with "I don't agree with throwing your peas on the floor" or "We all eat our fish." Ignoring the parents would have a consequence. Beyond that are two really impressive lessons here. One, what action is acceptable. Two, that the action is the child's decision.

These parents I had read about caused children to think about guidelines rather than fight them. I was trying to impress a very similar point on my older child. Here I had a book, Heidi, that I first found at a book fair in third grade. It contained example after example of expressing an opinion in a non-offensive manner. Just what I needed to learn a few decades and 38 reads later.

What a gem! What a helpful discovery! We will never come to the end of what we can learn from reading . . . and re-reading: )

Reading Comp. Follows Vocabulary

"Vocabulary instruction leads to gains in comprehension." Great advice from the National Reading Panel. When you know more words you understand more of what you're reading! You knew that all along didn't you? It makes so much sense. Still there are questions.

Q: Do you get vocabulary from reading or do you need vocabulary first, in order to read?

A: You use speaking vocabulary to read. Then you add to your reading vocabulary by reading.

As we discussed once before, you can identify a new reading word faster if you have heard it before. Words you recognize when you hear them are your speaking vocabulary. How do you get one of these, and does it hurt?

You get a speaking vocabulary by listening to other people speak words. Painless, really : ) Most often this is done through audio books or out loud reading. Even better is through daily dialogue.

Written words that you can connect to a meaning make up your reading vocabulary. You may or may not know how to say these words correctly. You grow this list by reading. Like this: A new word appears surrounded by familiar ones. The known words explain the new word.

Now you have a snow ball! You hear words and grow a spoken word bank. This means you understand more words when you read. Now you grow a reading vocabulary.

If you have an environment where you can practice expression without ridicule you will try these words in written or spoken sentences. This increases spoken vocabulary and again improves reading. The process happily repeats itself.

After Over A Decade Of Looking, I Found It !!!

In 1966 Hanna and Hanna released a landmark study. For over 10 years I have been trying to get my hands on the word list they used. 17,310 strong it may be the best sample of modern English vocabulary.

You can find it, just like I did today! (in all its typewriter glory) at eric.ed.gov: educational document number ED128835.

For some reason I searched today by the study's title, Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement, rather than its authors, Hanna, Hanna, Rudolph and Hodges. Small wonder the author names had always won out in earlier searches : )

These just fewer than 20k words started out as Thorndike-Lorge Teacher's Word Book from the mid 1940's. This was updated decades later using the Meriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary 6th edition. Hardly the open source Gutenberg Project, but very much worth uncovering. Here's why:

First, its sheer size. The original Thorndike-Lorge list held 30,000 words for reading and vocabulary. By comparison, the contemporary Dolche reading list, still used today, weighs in at several hundred words.

Second, the breadth and quality of literature used. This will sound unusual to modern ears, but the first book used for words for every American school child was the King James Bible.

Words made the list's first cut if they occurred one or more times per million words in the Bible, "children's literature, children's magazines and magazines read in the home." 1

Again, the original list needed updating even in 1966. Still, what a document to language preservation and promulgation. It is worth updating and using again so we can have grade schoolers with quality vocabularies 30, 000 words strong!

1. The ABC's and All Their Tricks; Bishop 1986

Neuro-Research Confirms: Scientific Minds Fare Worse

Remember that post about current phonics starving scientific minds? Here is confirmation: "We need all the inventors, engineers and scientists we can get...their abilities are diluted by inadequate reading and spelling." - Dorothy van den Honert.

Link to the full article at the end. It agrees, phonics abound. Still, the most scientific among us fail to read well. Van Den Honert found a different reason than I had.

The mechanically minded are more likely to be dyslexic. My findings are that would-be engineers are stunted by rules lacking consistency and detail.

The neuro-research, explained in this Eagle article, found a sure physical indicator of dyslexia. What's more there is a simple way to fix it. The indicator is out of sync timing between left and right brain.

Simply put: if one of your child's eyes blinks faster than the other he or she is dyslexic. Better news: they may be carrying the potential to cure cancer. Get that kiddo reading!!!

If you are dealing with dyslexia follow up on this link. Details to the "fix" are not given. It would be worth the time to dig them up. It is worth all our time to make sure the scientific among us learn to read to potential.

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/opinion/ci_25040148/dorothy-van-den-honert-dyslexia-and-science-school?source=rss_viewed

Guiding Your Child To Wise Internet Use

I wrote this article based on my own very real challenges. It was published as a post on Trivium Pursuit's blog. I love this site!!! It is still getting traffic a year later. I am linking it here. People seem to like it : )

http://www.new-phonics-tools.com/learning-environment.html

If You Are Reading Give Yourself An A!

My New Year parenting resolutions are fading. Now I tend to start thinking of new words. "failure" is one of them. Those phrases drifting into your thoughts too? I've got a story for you.

This may come as a shock to you. I don't have as much one-on-one time with my 4th and 5th children as I did with my first. I was contemplating how these poor kids are doomed for life the other morning. I know better, but the goofy idea snuck in anyway : (

Just then my beautiful 4th born came up to sing me a song she had written. Completed were two lovely verses in an incredible melody. I just cried.

Next I walked to the store to buy a notebook with my 8 year old. Keep up with their needs goal in the works here. He is number five in the birth order. "Poor guy" went my wrong thinking.

He brought a dollar with him to purchase the upgrade of a horse cover. I budgeted .70 cents for a plain notebook. After 15 minutes of contemplation and selection I told him we had to go.

My guy stunned me. He took my notebook and also bought a journal for himself with his own money. He began spontaneous journaling that day. I think that's what it's called. I have never seen it before.

One forgotten fact that is not surprising (in hind site): I had been reading out loud a good bit lately. Every time I do, the children's imagination and independent learning potential blooms.

Even if I am doing little else to spur on academics, reading works. If you are doing the same thing give yourself an A on your self-evaluation as a parent : )

When Phonics is Meanness

There is a serious downside of phonics. It is pretending that standard reading rules work all the time. For certain learning styles this fact is like an error in the universe. Failing to address it can feel mean to a child.

Think of it this way. What if multiplication tables did not work out to whole numbers all the time? Would it be fair to not explain a few decimals? A budding mathematician would be lost in utter frustration. The same is true with inaccurate letter sounds.

If you find this hard to believe you are likely an audio learner. At second guess you have a great memory. In either case words that do not exactly match phonics rules are not a big deal to you.

Then there are readers who understand the world by how the parts fit and work together. Words that do not follow rules that you taught are at best trick questions. At worst they appear deceptive.

Can you see how teaching in this situation could feel like meanness to a child? It is amazing but true : )

Are Educational Toys Worth The Money?

When looking at a toy to teach reading compare the information taught to the dollar amount. If the same topics can be taught with flashcards go for creativity/ attention span growing items instead.

Most reading toys are expensive, breakable, noisy boxes that review the same standard phonics sounds. I do not think they are worth while.

If a game goes the next step and teaches blending give it a second look. If it blends sounds and gives feedback for a correctly identified word it is a real teaching tool. Purchase as your budget allows : )

The best options for expanding little minds are really great books and building or imaginative play toys. These will peak interest and expand attention span. Put your smart money here!!!

Independent Learner Success Story

Thank you, thank you to my 19 year old daughter. She saved me a late night trip by driving her father home from work last night. (I had the other car).

I want to tell you what she was doing while she was waiting around for Dad. She was studying. I am really proud.

My ingenious husband arranged for her to wait in the training room for nearly 2 hours. She hauled in an armful of books and engaged her brain.

There is one bit of information I need to leak. She will not be getting a grade. She does not even have a date for turning in an assignment. She is studying midwifery/EMT totally on her own!!!

Yes,she will take a test for her EMT certification. She also has to attend 100 births to be qualified. There are benchmarks to be reached.

Aside from those she is doing a self-study course without anyone looking over her shoulder.

I am prone to think all my children are exceptional. In this case, I think one of them is just acting normally.

Reading should not be for another's approval. It is more like working out and eating well. It keeps us strong!

Boys Just Want To Rule The World

Since the onset of video games girls have outscored boys in reading. Why? Video games offer the chance to rule the world with the press of a button. In my experience boys like that.

In contrast what does reading offer in most schools? A gold star. "Oh ho hum", our sons are saying, "No, thanks".

There is one exception to the boys scoring lower trend. It is in home schools. Here, where many professional school administrators fear that traditional gender roles will squash us all ;), girls and boys read on equal footing.

I have a feeling that this equal reading zone is in part based on stronger internet restrictions. Homeschoolers tend to limit media intake.

I have another theory for why boys taught at home read more. Homeschoolers, almost universally, want to raise both sons and daughters to be culture shaping leaders.

In effect homeschooling says: with the turn of the page you can impact the world. Having raised 2 daughters and 3 sons I can say they all like this.

Want equally successful boy and girl readers? Let your sons and daughters both know the pen is mightier than the sword ! : )

The Role of Vocabulary In Reading Part 2

I considered how a native speaker would handle new words compared to a second language speaker. This really nailed down the role of vocabulary for me. I knew it was big, but I had been leaning more towards the idea of comprehension vice attack skills as its key contribution.

Consider this: Vocabulary is what gets a new reader out of the "should I pronounce this word /vocabulary/ as vocAbUlary or vOcabUlary? dilemma.

What I mean is this. Even with accurate English Decoder phonics there are still about 5% of words that have a rule pointing to two sounds. /Vocabulary/ is one example. In order to select the correct sounds, a reader has to try two options and see which ones makes sense in the word. English Decoder cuts the frequency of this scenario way down but it still comes up.

How can a child see which pronunciation makes sense if they have never heard the word? When a non-native reader looks at a winter scene, pronouncing the word under the picture as "snO" or "snOU" would each make equal sense. The rule for ow says it could make either sound.

For native English speakers, words with more than 6 letters require the "test and see response" most often. In these words a e i o u can each make two sounds. Position and companion letters rarely give good clues. For instance the i's in justice and entice are in the same position and do not sound the same. If you have never heard of either word either i sound makes sense.

The role of vocabulary then is that it makes the "try two sounds and see which one makes sense" skills work. A large vocabulary helps you to recognize which pronunciation makes sense.

The try and see attack skill is not practical really with standard phonics because it is required in every other word. Beyond that, sound choices in standard rules are not even limited to two. I have purchased flash card that list 5 sounds for the letter a with no clues to distinguish between them. We don't use those cards : )

English Decoder rules have one and only one sound 95% of the time. The try and see plan is a viable option for the remaining 5%.

Thanks Suzanne for inspiring conversations. Thanks to my Mom and Dad, who treated out entire extended family to the vacation, (sorry, you can't be adopted : )for a great time at the beach!

Are We Starving The Minds Of Our Scientific Children?

A 2011 Washington Post article ended the bemoaning of declining science test scores in the US. "They are not falling." the paper states. "They have always been bad." Small comfort : (

I found the article while trying to confirm my own theory on low science scores. It goes like this: the US reading system is wholly unsuited to instruct the scientific/ mechanical mind. Therefore, our science scores are bad because the children with the most science potential fail to read.

Testing my hypothesis will take a lot more research into when our nation's science potential began its downhill trend. In the mean time my own experience leads me to this conclusion: inaccurate phonics weighs all children down. The mechanically gifted and scientific minded are harmed the most

In more specific terms: Standard phonics is built on rules that do not work 50-75% of the time. Many children learn to read with these rules anyway. How?

I have observed audio learners pick up clues in the rhythms of words. This allows them to figure out exceptions. This describes one daughter of mine and me as a little girl.

I know many children with strong memories just remember words. It makes no difference what curriculum they use! My husband was one of these.Then for mechanical learners there is nothing. Nothing exists to help them connect sounds and letters in words that do not follow rules.

What is worse for these exact thinkers is that their teachers are humming! No, scientific types don't hate music. They do thrive on exactness. No, they must have exactness to live!

A humming teacher is likely audio inclined. He or she can gloss right over words that are exceptions to the rules. Their natural sense of rhythm informs how they read. They may not even notice unusual words.

How on earth could a person who is created to fix things learn from such teacher? In the eyes of the mechanical learner an exception or irregular word is obviously broken. A teacher who ignores this fact is not paying attention or may be untrustworthy : (

This was the situation between my son and I. He was convinced phonics was not a system at all. He was on his way to assuming deception on my part!! Maybe I was just making this idea of systematic letter sounds up.

What if this situation is repeated thousands of times around the English speaking world? What if we are literally starving the minds or our most scientifically gifted children?

It is worth considering. The results of my theory are this. Many children will learn to read better, faster and more easily with more accurate phonics. Sadly for the mechanical mind, reading success may occur no other way!

Sell Mom Sell!

I am interrupting a bumpy budgeting session to write as a means of stress relief : ( My hopefully useful topic is: as a Mom I sometimes have to "sell" the tough calls to my kids. Here is a marketing plan for the slogan "You should all plan how you spend your time and money." Thankfully, there are no wagging fingers or hands on hips required.

Right after I add up the long columns of off budget spending (no, I will not be running for Congress : ) I will be making a catalog. This catalog will be full of pictures of the things we can buy with thoughtful actions and planned spending.

In effect, I will be making a visual version of our short terms spending/ savings goals. Our savings and delayed spending is providing the purchasing power for these items. Now, I will put the catalog in the living area next to the thermos of coffee. (A smart trick I learned from my mother-in-law) My wonderfam (short for wonderful family) can read at will, and consider the items they would like to "buy" with our cooperative fiscal self control.

If this works you will soon want to elect my miracles of spending discipline to Congress! With all my savings I will be able to contribute heavily to the campaign.

I think this too could work in time habits. What are you purchasing with a spare 20 minutes today? Could you and your child be securing a future of independent learning skills? All that takes is a start with phonetic reading.

Perhaps you can picture a living room of avid readers enjoying a quiet evening. Invest 30 minutes to reading a beefy book in view of your kiddos. Yes, they will be deeply impressed today. Down the road they may be following your example. Then your reading time will be doubly well spent!

There are tough choices for us and our children to make. Sell your family on the right ones Mom!

You Can Have Your Phonics and Context Too!

Many parents have flash card flashbacks. They remember eons of dry phonics while the wonder-filled moment of meaningful comprehension was still ages away. We can put fears of inflicting such tragedy on our children to rest.

A "break through" solution involves an adult looking over a new reader's shoulder. The adult reads the words that are too hard for the child. The child sounds out those they can. The happy pair has phonics and context too. Why did this seem so hard?

I am not sure why this simple solution seems so distant, but I snatched it right up and employed it in English Decoder. To do it, I needed this high tech tool: variable size print. Really! that's all it takes.

Right after a reader learns a new rule they use the rule in context. All the words that they should be able to read are in big letters. The ones likely to be beyond them are in smaller print. This aids both parent and child in knowing who should read what.

I have mentioned before that some children will prefer words lists and the like. These are in English Decoder too. Such learners need interesting reading material that they are likely to pick up on their own. Sometimes a few times reading an item aloud to them can prompt a solo read. In any case the meaningful comprehension will come, just likely when they read on their own.

Read On! in confidence that phonics and context go hand in hand.

When I Try To Think About Planning . . . Nothing Happens : (

My 10 year old started spitting out days and dates the minute an event was mentioned. She switched to planning mode smack in the middle of a conversations. I got lost in the transition.

I asked (when I caught up to her) "Does a planner just pop up in your head when we mention doing something?" She answered yes, of course.

What happens in my head when planning? Nothing, nothing happens!!! Result: Everyone else enjoys anticipation-filled conversation. I try to remember what day today is. I have often wondered what is wrong with me.

Could similar vast differences exist between mental processing of text? I think so.

Many people appear to understand words, sounds and letters as easily as breathing. I organize numbers this effortlessly. I have had a visual representation of numbers in a line, grouped by tens in my head since the second grade.

The remembrance of my mental number line prompted me to ask others if day timers popped into their heads. Some people have a built in compass and a natural sense of direction. Yet when everyone changes gear to reading, in these same sharp minds it is possible that "nothing happens".

Here are some internal thought mechanisms that I have observed in people, young and old. Some individuals have an inner prompt to put away work because it is time to go. No clock is needed. I knew a child who described the color spectrum to his mother this way "You know, the way the crayons are lined up in the box when they are new". A child who could sing harmony tried to explain: "You know those other sounds that ring in your head when someone else plays a note?" No one else knew what he was talking about.

There are two lessons here. One, is the amazing variety built into us by our Creator. Two, the common assumption that everyone is experiencing the same mental response.

Solution for parents: When you begin reading to your child does it appear that nothing is happening? Try to notice what steps you go through in deciphering word pronunciation. Ask your child questions based on investigating your own thought process. You will gain insight into their thinking as a result.

Is reading already a sore spot? Try discussing thought processes in another area and convert what you learn to reading scenarios.

Phonics Rules For Spelling

Yesterday, my daughter helped her friend study spelling. Today I got all the details. Girls! : )

The story: " B_____ kept spelling /would/ with a /wh/ even though her mother had told her not to several times.

Q:(from my 10 year old) "Why didn't she listen to how her Mom told her to spell it?"

A.(Me) "Because B____ does not spell by recalling the voice of her Mom telling her how. She spells by remembering groups of words with similar spellings. She has made a mistake and grouped 'would' with question words like "when, what, where and who".

Our neighbor needed someone to teach her the correct group for "would". ie. would, could, should.

Our friend across the street links words into groups. Other children notice patterns in reading and spelling. Both, need rules to speed up the learning process and correct them if they come up with a faulty pattern on their own.

Growing up I could not remember letters in order well at all even though I read a lot. We did not use spelling rules. I spelled /very/ correctly one day and wrote it as /verry/ the next.

Later in life I came across phonics for spelling. Before this time I was in constant confusion when I spelled "very". I was stuck between:

(1) a vague pattern in my head that told be to double the r and

(2) my memory, which told me one 'r'.

I learned that the pattern I had picked up on my own was correct but "very" did not follow it. The fog lifted!

Spelling rules based on phonics would help my neighbor group words correctly too. Normally, the /ou/ = uh sound is taught as: "the ou sound in would, could and should."

Phonics is simply the most clear cut way to discuss written language. This is true even if we need to adapt our explanation of rules to the way our children think : )

The Role of Vocabulary In Reading Part 1

I just had a great vacation with my cousin who is raising her family in Munich, Germany. We have not seen one another for 20 years yet we discovered enormous similarities in our choices of education, health ... You name it!

She teaches English as a second language and so we talked about reading extensively.

Her view: English is easy to learn initially but it is hard to get beyond the basics. The culprit? Vocabulary. English has a huuuge number of words to learn. She finds phonics helpful but not accurate enough.

Yes, there is really such a thing as DIY Phonics

A favorite blog, Generation Cedar (that features us on their sidebar : ), mentioned in a recent post that they use phonics to teach reading but sans curriculum.

Just like any DIY project good tools can make or break success.

Introducing: The English Decoder Card. It's our latest New-Phonics-tool. 7 pages of "Just the facts, Ma'am".

It's a great introduction to the English Decoder phonics rules. For DIY-types it might be all you need.

In alphabetical order I listed the English Decoder rules. They will tell you the correct letter sounds for just about any English word.

Did I mention an introductory price? It is under $10. Wow! Try that on for size when you are looking at a big box phonics package that calls for insurance and a mortgage agreement : (

I am really excited about putting this powerful tool into the hands of anyone able to download.

This is the heart of what we spent 6 years researching. Check it out on our tool store right now!