The act of reading makes people more intelligent. For their wellbeing, all students should be able to read all the materials that adult life will hand to them. For any child with whose education you have been entrusted, you must make sure that literacy is part of their tool kit. Can you succeed in teaching reading without specialized knowledge? Yes you can, provided you supply the student(s) with:
- The intellectual building blocks of reading
- Enough time to master the material, including enough independent practice time.
- The emotional support of a teacher who finds teaching the student and what the student is reading meaningful.
Certain students are going to find reading easy regardless of what reading instruction method you use; these kids are more “reading ready” than others. But if you have a struggling reader who needs help, or you have a classroom with mixed abilities and you don’t want to leave anyone behind, I recommend using the classical method of teaching reading.
If you apply this method consistently and for enough instructional time, even, in most cases, if the child has learning difficulties, the child will read. In fact, Romalda Bishop Spaulding, who researched these methods in the 1950’s, claimed that dyslexia and other various reading disorders would not happen if pre-reading skills were taught systematically and to mastery.
What is the classical method of teaching reading? The classical method relies on memorization, recitation, writing and discussion. [i] Its foundation is a phonics program based not on letters but phonograms, which are the written representations of the sounds in English. In English, letters make different sounds depending on the letters they are positioned next to, but it’s not as confusing as it initially appears. There are only about 70 letters and sets of letters the student needs to memorize to read almost all English words. That’s because other letter sets can be easily sounded out by combining standard phonograms. To decode well, you really only have to know the most common phonograms.
The most authoritative phonogram set is called Orton-Gillingham phonics, and has somewhere in the vicinity of 70 phonograms with single, double, triple and a couple of four or five letter phonograms or written representations of the sounds. I sell a set of cards and a powerpoint with the complete set of phonograms at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Let me explain more, however. In order to read, the student will have to memorize, and know to automaticity, all the phonograms. That means you hold up the card or show the powerpoint slide, and they say the sound or sounds almost before you can snap your fingers. Memorizing these sets of letters will get the child to be able to decode the words found on the page. Also, you should be able to say the sounds the letter makes, and the student should write the letter or letters that match the sound. Once they reach this stage, they will be reading, but will they understand what they have read? This takes us to stage two of reading instruction.
[i] I’m going to assume that the child speaks English. If the child speaks limited English, it will be more difficult for him or her to sound out the words, as he or she often may not be able to use verbal word recognition to self-check. In this case, use rhymes, songs and games, along with repeated reads of the same books, to help the child build English vocabulary and grammar awareness.