Having been involved with the Home Schooling Movement since 1985, I recall that the initial reason parents rescued their children from public schools was because their children weren’t learning to read. They scoffed at the term “dyslexia” and attributed reading failure to ineffective reading methods – specifically, the lack of teaching reading with Intensive Phonics. Now, 30 years later, there is an ever-increasing number of parents who accept the diagnosis of “dyslexia” and seek help for their children who are having great difficulty learning to read.
What has caused this shift?
As a Reading Specialist for over 40 years, I have found that this shift is caused by the fact that some Phonics methods actually create the reading traps that Dyslexics get caught in.
What sets the trap?
Over the years, it became very clear that Phonics methods that teach endless Phonics rules and exceptions and numerous sounds for many of the letters and letter-combinations, along with the constant influx of “sight” words (words that can’t be sounded out), just lead to hesitation and confusion. (Ex. “a” as in cat, want, father, away; “ea” as in neat, head, great, earn, heart; “ou” as in out, soul, soup, could. young, thought; “ch” as in chin, school, machine; etc., etc., etc.). Children were confronted with the dilemma, “What SOUND does this have this time – or – is it a SIGHT word?” Consequently, they couldn’t read. Phonics is essential – but, as can be seen, you can overplay that card.
How to Unlock the Trap?
First, I found that it is essential that you teach only ONE sound for each letter or letter-combination – and NO exceptions. This RELIABLE Phonics information, which years “on the firing line” have weeded out, covers about 90% of the Phonics information needed to read. Dyslexic students are very capable of mastering this 90% of RELIABLE information – and it will give them “mastery at their fingertips.” But when an attempt is made to teach that small 10% of exceptions, it just confuses the TOTAL 100% of words.
Before introducing a single word to them, gradually supply them with the following Phonics AMMUNITION:
Consonants: (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z)
Digraphs: ch, sh, th, wh
Vowels: a, e, i, o, u (long and short) – NO rules yet.
Put these sounds on Flashcards as they are introduced and review them daily. They will easily master these sounds because, like learning to speak, the message will be consistent and repetitious.
Secondly, it is essential that you use “real English” Literature-based text such as, “This dog can run fast,” rather than “Decodable” text, such as “Sid hid a big lid,” because Literature-based text provides a meaningful “context” which assists decoding of words, as will be shown.
Now, here’s the game changer!
Never require Dyslexic students to “sound out” a word independently at this point. It has been demonstrated time and again that this only leads to struggling, hesitation, and cacophonous agony. Rather, TELL them the word. Ex. dog: This word is “dog.” Then, using their RELIABLE Phonics Ammunition, ask “What’s the Clue?” and have them simultaneously SOUND and UNDERLINE the Phonics clues from left-to-right – d o g. Ex. that: – This word is “that.” – What’s the Clue? th a t. Introduce phonetically irregular words the same way. Ex. have: This word is “have” – What’s the Clue? h a v e. Ex. friend: This word is “friend” – What’s the Clue? f r i e n d. (Just ignore irrelevant letters.). With a little prodding at first, you will find that they will soon become very adept at SOUNDING and UNDERLINING the left-to-right relevant sounds in each word. Note that in this way, we also remove the necessity for introducing “sight” words.
Introduce only words that contain the Phonics information that has been introduced. Repeat these words often enough to assist retention. And remember – if you ask them to sound out unknown words independently at this point – it’s game over.
After you have introduced about 50 high-frequency words and arranged them into intelligible sentences, begin to gradually filter in additional Phonics information. Teach just ONE sound for each of the following Phonetic components, as in each key word below. As you introduce each sound, put it on a Flashcard and review it daily:
ow (now). ou (out), ound (round), ay (day), oo (zoo), ew (new), ar (car), oy (boy, oi (oil),
ight (night), igh (high), alk (walk), er (her), ir (sir), ur (fur), all (ball), eight (weight), eigh (weigh),
aw (saw), au (auto), aught (caught), ought (thought), ange (range), tion (station), sion (mission).
Introduce words containing one of these Phonetic components as follows:
Ex. now: What’s the family? (ow) – What’s the word? (now). Ex. night: What’s the family” (ight) – What’s the word? (night).
After you have introduced about 75 high-frequency words, Dyslexic students begin to understand how Phonics decoding works. So it’s time to introduce words with Short and Long Vowel Phonograms – one rule at a time. You will note that these Phonograms can be easily sounded out by Dyslexics because vowel sounds (unlike most consonant sounds) can be prolonged. Ex. and – aaaa-n-d. It’s also important to
note that although they have great difficulty decoding unknown words letter-by-letter, they have little difficulty decoding words by these phonetic “units.” Guide decoding of these words as shown below:
Rule 1: If there’s one vowel, it’s Short.
Ex. hand: What’s the family? (and) – What’s the word? (hand).
Rule 2: “e” on the end” makes the vowel Long.
Ex. ride: What’s the family? (ide) – What’s the word? (ride).
Rule 3: When two vowels are together, the first vowel is Long and the second vowel is Silent.
Ex. team: What’s the family? (eam) – What’s the word? (team).
Continue to introduce all exceptions to these rules with “What’s the Clue?”
Ex. gone: This word is “gone” – What’s the clue? g o n e. Ex. head: This word is “head” – What’s the Clue? h e a d.
This concludes all of the 90% of RELIABLE phonics information. Now it’s time for game on – time to ignite a solution for independent reading.
Show these students how to decode EVERY word exactly the same way: Begin with the vowel each time and ask:
What’s the family?
What’s the word?”
For multisyllabic words, just go to the next vowel and proceed the same way. Ex. contain: What’s the family? (on) – Add “c” (con). What’s the next family? (ain) – Add “t” (tain). GO BACK – What’s the word? (contain). Ex ignite: What’s the family?” (ig). What’s the next family? (ite) – Add “n” (nite). GO BACK – What’s the word? (ignite).
Now how do they handle exceptions independently?
When they hit an exception, they will know it immediately because it is a “nonsense” word. Ex. said: What’s the family?
(aid) – What’s the word? (sãd)
So what do they do?
They simply fit this mispronunciation of the word into the meaningful context of the sentence. Ex. I heard every word you sãd. Fitting words into the meaningful context of a sentence is no problem for Dyslexic students at first because their verbal
vocabulary is thousands of words above their reading vocabulary. When their reading vocabulary begins to pull up their verbal vocabulary, at which time they may not be able to fit an unknown word into the meaningful context of a sentence, it’s time to teach them how to use the Pronunciation Key in the Dictionary. Then, when they can’t fit an unknown word into the meaningful context of a sentence, they can simply look up the respelling next to the word in the dictionary: Ex. bouquet (bō kã’). Ex. vignette (vin yet’). Ex. xenon (zē’ non). So there’s no unchartered waters.
This is what drives the outcome. They have a UNIFORM APPROACH, a compass, to decode every word. When they hit an exception – they know it – and they
know exactly what to do about it. And that’s the tipping point. There’s no hesitation or confusion – so SUCCESS is assured!
. . . and you’ve sprung your Dyslexic child from the reading trap the EASY way!
P.S. If this works with Dyslexics, imagine what it can do with average achievement
Mary F. Pecci is the author of At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child! (which was the Main Selection of three of Macmillan Book Clubs), correlated Pecci Reading Series (which integrates the above solution), and numerous other publications and articles. She is listed in Who’s Who Among American Teachers and Who’s Who of American Women. For more information, check out: www.OnlineReadingTeacher.com.