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All Clear on the Road to Reading

All Clear on the Road to Reading

So…after witnessing the high level of achievement, enthusiasm and well, just plain fun that the first graders in Mrs. Jean Zier’s class in Roberts Montana were experiencing from her Snowy Road to Phonics Learning Successteaching of Orton-Spalding phonics, I was compelled to transfer my son, Cheyenne, mid-year into Robert’s Public School at the behest of his adamant about the deal Gramma.

Cheyenne had been going to the public school in town that provided busing on our rural route. Taking him to Roberts meant a twenty four mile round trip down some rather gnarly county roads.

Many times we would be trucking down that county road over to Highway 212 (I survived highway 212 and didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt) for the remainder of the trip before the snow plows had even begun to clear the roads. After one particularly grueling trip, bucking snow drifts there and back, I was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee trying to calm my nerves and get my energy back up after the harrowing trip, wondering if we were doing the right thing, wondering if it was all worth it…pretty much sliding to the negative side on the deal. And right on cue I get a phone call from Gramma. (What, is she getting clairvoyant now, reading my thoughts from afar?)

‘Brrrring’…”Hi this is Verlynn”

“Hi sweetheart,” she starts off with an endearing term using the Kiss, Kill, Kiss method. “Just want to check in and see how it’s going with you taking Cheyenne over to Mrs. Zier’s class?”

“Well…” I hesitate, trying to think, before saying something rash, “its pretty tough, we have to get up pretty early in the morning to make the trip and…”

“Not any earlier than to get him onto the Red Lodge bus at seven in the morning though?”

“Uh, well, no but, I guess I just really wondering if it is worth all the driving time and gas and…”

“I’m positive it’s worth it, well worth it.”

“Oh really? What is so much different between the two schools and first grade in particular? I heard that they teach phonics at the Mountain View School as well.”

“Oh they SAY they do, but not really, what they teach are “incidental phonics” or “embedded phonics, not really phonics teaching at all. Mrs. Zier teaches “explicit” phonics.”

“Uh okay, what’s the difference, do you think it really matters?” I peevishly blurt out.

“Yes it really matters.” She say with an almost indignant tone. “What they teach at Mountain View is really just called “See, Say” or “Look Say, it’s also called “Whole Language.” It’s all about memorizing the words from sight and using that to try to learn how to spell them with a few simple phonograms sprinkled in, mostly in word blends. Mrs. Zier and other phonics teachers teach the phonograms first, before the alphabet so that they can spell any word without having had to try to memorize it.”Boys reading by phonics learning

“Well, Cheyenne already learned the alphabet!” I blurt out.

“Which, is not a good thing.” She says patiently, “When students learn the alphabet first, it’s confusing because very few of the alphabet letters sound out their names when reading or spelling words. (I’m thinking dubiously about this as she continues) “When students learn the phonograms first they can spell or sound out any word, phonogram by phonogram.”

“Well…they do learn to read at both schools don’t they?”

“Listen, from my research on the internet, the ‘look and say’ way of teaching or Whole Language will work with about ten percent of the population, failing the other ninety percent. Why do you think there is such a dearth of literate children coming out of public schools?”

“Well it could be…”

“Look, they used to teach phonics in all schools for the last several hundred years, then they veered away from it for some strange reason and literacy rates plummeted. But now, California has mandated that their schools start using phonics for teaching again. Mrs. Zier never stopped teaching phonics, has taught them for over twenty years and her students really do have records of high achievement and high levels of reading and spelling!”

“Okay” I say resignedly, seeing I’m out classed here, “I’ll keep on trucking him over to Roberts, don’t say whoa in a mud hole I guess.”

“Oh! Good!” she beams. “Since Cheyenne is a half of a year behind in phonics, I’m going to go up to Bozeman and go to a Montessori training seminar on teaching them so I can help out. I’ll be in that seminar for two weeks…talk to you later.”

“Oh…really? Well okay, Gramma, have a safe trip.”

“Okay, dear and thanks for doing this for Cheyenne.”

“Yeah, sure, no problem.”

Next morning, seven AM finds us careering down the county road; blue sky and sun coming up shining, road plowed, all clear.

Resources for Parents

Illiteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice?

photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

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About Verlynn Dean Adamson

Verlynn Dean Adamson is an artist, writer, retired finish carpenter and long time advocate of literacy. He holds degrees from the University of Montana System including a BS degree in Psychology from the University of Montana in Missoula, a BA degree in Art from Montana State University Bozeman in conjunction with Montana State University Billings where he did post graduate work in Sculpting. He is an occasional contributing writer for The Big Sky Journal and is currently working on his 'life-time achievement' bronze sculpture in his studio. For fun he paints the Montana landscape in plein-air and has been featured in many art shows down through the years around the country; he dabbles in fly-fishing, delights in walkabouts in the valley thickets of his beloved Willow Creek and 'ski-abouts' in the vast prairie coulees and Aspen groves that border his earthly home located in the lovely foothills below the Beartooth Mountain Front near Red Lodge, Montana.

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