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Allaying Fears About Friendships in Homeschooling

Allaying Fears About Friendships in Homeschooling

Allaying Fears About Friendships in Homeschooling

Advice for Undecided Parents

Allaying Fears About Friendships in HomeschoolingHomeschooling is ipso facto appealing to a lot of parents. The opportunity to get out of the conventional school system, the chance to spend more time with your kids, and the creative fulfillment of coming up with a curriculum of your own design can all be extremely rewarding. However, it’s understandably intimidating for other parents.

That’s not just because it’s a lot of work—after all, who wouldn’t do a lot of work for their kids? Homeschooling is intimidating because it doesn’t seem to present your kids with a lot of opportunities to make friends. And if you’re the parent in a two-parent household who’s hung up on that, it can put a strain on a lot of things—not just your education plans, but potentially your marriage as well.

If you find that that’s the case in your house, let us allay your fears for you: homeschooling does not have to be an asocial experience. Your kids can have a lot of opportunities to make deep and lasting friendships while homeschooling, just like they could in conventional school. In fact, we’ve done some in-depth writing on this blog to explain how.

Homeschooling Co-ops: an Opportunity for Socialization

It makes sense to be skittish about homeschooling if you’re worried about socialization. The lack of built-in school support networks, plus the ingrained stereotype that homeschooled kids are “weird”, can make socializing seem impossible.

It’s worth remembering, though, that conventional school comes with its own set of social ills. Conventional schools can breed bullying and social ostracization, neither of which you’ll have to worry about if you homeschool your kids. Conventional schools, especially daycare programs for very young children, can also lead to impulsiveness and feelings of abandonment for years down the road. We’ve written about issues around daycare before. What we want to stress here is that conventional school is by no means a free ride to social success for your kids—plus, you can save money and (counterintuitively) time by homeschooling your kids.

Besides, homeschooling doesn’t need to be just you and your kids in your house. There are a lot of options homeschooling parents can consider to help their kids make friends. The one we’ve written most about in the past is the homeschooling co-op.

Homeschooling co-ops are groups of homeschooling parents who have pooled their resources in order to teach things they wouldn’t be able to teach on their own. This can include everything from group activities like team sports (you can find a link here if you want info about whether your state allows homeschooled kids to play scholastic sports) to specialized subjects like music, and it can run the gamut in terms of formality—many co-ops are made up of five or six families, but one very prolific co-op in my hometown had its own building and offered parent-taught classes to 50 or 60 families. The co-op model is so flexible, and offers so much in terms of customization, that it can accommodate just about any social model you like, and it offers more than enough opportunities for your kids to make friends and be social.

As with any kind of social organization, it has its pitfalls, but in our post we try to walk you through how you can compensate for those and make sure that the co-op that you choose to join (or organize!) is right for your family. If you can figure that out, you should be well on your way to a fulfilling homeschool experience.

And yet. The advantage of a conventional school model is not just that it offers opportunities for your kids to make friends, but also that it teaches them how to be good friends. Theoretically, being around lots of other kids means that they’ll learn social skills and have a chance to practice them. Homeschooling, even in a large co-op, doesn’t seem like it would offer quite the same level of training on that front.

For every story of a “weird” homeschooled kid there has to be at least one story of tormentors in conventional school. Click to Tweet

Better Friendships Through Philosophy

Allaying Fears About Friendships in HomeschoolingLuckily for you, we also have posts about how to teach your kids to make good friends and maintain strong friendships. Briefly, we think there are tools that you can give your kids in the process of homeschooling that allow them to nurture friendships. One of those is the study of philosophy, which your kids won’t get in conventional school until high school or college, if they get it at all. If your kids have been taught how to think clearly and rationally about what kind of friends they want, and they’ve had a chance to put that clarity and rationality into practice in a co-op setting, you really have nothing to worry about. We’ve written about this subject as well.

After all, conventional school does not have a monopoly on friendship. For every story of a “weird” homeschooled kid there has to be at least one story of cliques, outcasts and tormentors in conventional school. Our advice to you, if you’re an undecided parent waffling about homeschooling, is to read our material about co-ops and maintaining friendships and make your decisions based on those. Homeschooling can be an incredibly enriching and enlightening experience for a child, and that’s not limited to academics—kids are more than capable of forming lifelong friendships in a homeschool setting. As with everything else in homeschooling, it takes a little extra work and customization, but the rewards are worth it.

And remember this: homeschooling is easier now than it’s ever been before. With resources like Khan Academy, the Open Yale program and other open-access programs from large universities, and Ron Paul’s homeschooling curriculum, high-quality education is available, in many cases, for less than the cost of gas to and from PTO meetings. So if you or your spouse are waffling on whether or not to homeschool your kids, ask yourself a few questions: will my kids really get a better education ins conventional school than they will at home? Will they really be better off socially? Will they really have more friends? I suspect that if you think about those questions in detail, you’ll realize the answers aren’t as clear-cut as they seem at first.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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Explicit Phonics and Eradicating Illiteracy

Explicit phonics

Explicit Phonics and Eradicating Illiteracy

Eradicating IlliteracyExplicit phonics: you may have heard the term, and maybe you sort of know what it is, but you couldn’t really put it into words.  In its basic form, it is a systematic way of teaching the sounds that letters and combinations of letters make.  These sounds are then used as a strong foundation from which to build.

The idea of explicit systematic phonics is mostly missing from many reading programs.  Of course, sounds are taught eventually, but they are not practiced often and are frequently forgotten.  In younger grades children are more encouraged to memorize groups of site words than to sound out a word.  This strategy can work to a point, but has many draw backs and severe failings.

“Why Reading Programs in Massachusetts are Failing”

What Can Explicit Phonics Help to Accomplish?

It helps the youngest of students learn how to sound out words, even words that they may not know already.   From the sounds you build a systematic word list that becomes a reading list, which then becomes a familiar vocabulary list.  From this list simple to complex sentences can be written.  From those sentences great paragraphs can be created, and from there you will branch out to read great books.

From the National Reading Panel:

The following book titles: “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” (1955) “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read and What to do About it,” (1986) by Rudolf Flesch and, “Why Illiteracy is Still a Problem in 2007,” by Bruce Deitrick Price, essentially say the same things.  “Whole word methods do not work,” and, “Children need phonics to learn to read.”   They also point out that nearly “everyone” says that they teach phonics, but it is not explicit and systematic.  It is not used properly or enough, and the way that it’s being presented isn’t working, STILL.

Orton-Spalding methods (and others) of teaching to read, write, and spell use what are called, “phonograms” to teach the explicit phonics.  The phonograms are foundational to any legitimate and worthwhile reading program.  Without them there would be little footing on which to build.  It is safe to say that using a systematic explicit phonics approach to teach reading, writing, and spelling would nearly eradicate all reading problems in the culture.

[quote]..a systematic explicit phonics approach to teach reading, writing, and spelling would nearly eradicate all reading problems in the culture. Click to Tweet[/quote]

Lightening the Mood

To lighten the mood a bit, read the poem below to help you to think more about the importance of explicit phonics.

Are you home for the holidays, kids underfoot?

Festivities over and your vigor caput?

Are you concerned about the education break,

 How to keep your smart kid from becoming a flake?Explicit phonics

You are in an elite group, a league of your own;

You want what’s best for your child until they’re all grown.

No worries, no fears; I have a good idea.

Explicit phonics could be the panacea.

Youngsters can brush up on foundations of reading;

Rest easy and know that they will be succeeding.

To explicit phonics is where you must now flee.

Of sounds and their symbols: the phonograms are key.

Words are just phonograms joined simply together;

Knowing this helps a child feel light as a feather.

So go on and get started, it’s never too late,

Review the basics; help a young person be great.

Review, Review, Review

It is always a good idea to review foundational building blocks with your young students or with older ones who may be struggling a bit.  Learning and reviewing the phonograms, or the sound-symbol relationships in words, (explicit phonics in action) is very helpful in solidifying writing, reading, and spelling concepts for a greater reading experience and a better school experience overall. As a matter of fact, go ahead and use our free learning tool to review the 72 Orton Phonograms and their sound sequences.


Statistic Verification
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy
Research Date: 4.28.2013


U.S. Illiteracy Statistics Data
Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read 14 %
Number of U.S. adults who can’t read 32 Million
Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level 21 %
Percent of prison inmates who can’t read 63 %
Percent of high school graduates who can’t read 19 %

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Using the Scope and Sequence for YesPhonics Express

Kids learning phonics using DVD

Kids learning phonics using DVDUsing the Scope and Sequence for YesPhonics Express

Anything new can seem like a foreign language and stun us into Zombie Land for a little while. When I home schooled my children I was often dazed over the new curricula that I had purchased. I was usually paralyzed for a time until I was brave enough to open the pages. I chalked most of it up to my procrastination tendencies, but I have since talked to others who had the same issues. Were we all waiters of the last minute?

Fear of Failure

I had a fear of failure before I had begun. I was afraid that I wouldn’t do a good job. And I found everything to do, but crack open a book! You know: wipe the counters, start a load of laundry, dust the furniture, eat something, think about the books, stare at the books, pace, worry, fret, pray, and worry some more.

Just Open the Book… C’mon, You Can Do It

Isaac Asimov has been quoted as saying: “…difficulties vanish when faced boldly.” Yes Phonics has two special tools to help your difficulties with it vanish. Crack the code and take the anxiety away from the new looking foreign substance staring up at you begging to be used. Open to the “Scope” and then the “Sequence”.

Start with the Scope and Sequence

If you can’t bring yourself to read anything else from the special white box, pull out the Express Teacher’s Manual and turn to page 8. That’s where the Scope begins. Becoming familiar with it will give you a short summation of what the program is all about. The Scope will also help you get acquainted with the language of YesPhonics.Sequence #1

The Sequence is a Useful and Necessary Tool

The “Sequence” is found on pages 17-27. Then it is also explained within the spelling list through which you dictate and teach. The Sequence is the order of how and when to teach what; the first step in tackling the unfamiliar and making it your true companion and helper. The more familiar you become with the language and layout of the book, which is your tool; the easier it will be to implement. Even before you understand it all, reading through the Sequence will help you to learn about every aspect of the program one step at a time.
The first step, Sequence 1, is easy: “Read to your student every day.” Pick a book, a fun story, or a classic piece of literature a little above their understanding, and read a few pages or more each day. Voilà, step one is complete.

This is also a major step toward imparting the love of reading and good literature to your students.

Sequence 2 is all about teaching manuscript writing, known as printing. You are given what to say and how to go about it. Using lines and points on a circle makes it as concrete as possible for the young learner or for someone struggling or encountering English printing for the first time. This step is helping you to set preliminary ground rules for writing, spelling, and reading in a systematic way. Moving from manuscript to cursive is shown as an easy transition and is recommended for the second grade. See the article from YesPhonics on how to physically write the phonogram letters.

The Sequence section of the teacher’s manual is simply laid out in short paragraph form. Everything you need is there from abbreviations and their meanings to what to teach next. Some steps in the Sequence may be on going like reading every day and always reviewing the phonograms. Other parts may take a day or three, or even a few weeks.

Sequence #2YesPhonics leaves it up to the teacher to determine the pace, although there are general guidelines to follow. That’s what makes the program so flexible for different teaching venues, i.e. public or private schools, home schools, and tutoring situations. It also helps a teacher, mom, or tutor, to know that each child can learn at his or her own pace; there are no stigmas to falling behind or going ahead.

Sequence Scan

An added bonus to using the Sequence is a two page chart that can be seen at a glance. This can be a quick reference tool to see where you are in the scheme of the curricula. It can be helpful in your planning if you want to finish in a school year or quickly refer to a page number for a sequence you wish to turn to. You will see how far along you are and where you need to go.

So go ahead and get started. Grab a cup of coffee, turn to page eight of the teacher’s manual, and begin reading about how to embark on the life changing experience of teaching your child or anyone how to write, spell and read. You can view a snap shot of our comprehensive Express manual on Google Books:

At the End of the Day

Our mission in life is to eradicate illiteracy, it has no place in this world.

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Overlooked Classroom Management Techniques

Classroom techniques

Overlooked Classroom Management Techniques

Classroom techniques When establishing a strong foundation in any subject it is of the utmost importance to have a student’s full attention. This is not always easy with the K-3 crowd. Classroom management (even at home) is the key.

There are inherent components to teaching that are difficult to capture in a curriculum guide or in lessons plans. Often these ideas evolve as teachers gain wisdom from experience.

Five overlooked or under used techniques that I have found helpful are: do not allow others to tell you the strengths or weaknesses of your students, allow students to move, make eye contact, the teacher needs to move, and keep up a good teaching pace by establishing memorable tunes, rhymes, and rhythmic sayings.

Use Your Own Judgment

One of the most helpful techniques that I have used in a classroom is this: Do not believe wholly what someone tells you about a student’s learning abilities whether positive or negative. Often the information passed on about a student is negative and you instinctively treat him or her differently. My most memorable teaching experiences have surfaced when I was able to get a child to respond to something that he or she Overlooked Classroom techniques wasn’t supposed to be able to do.

Allow Students to Move

You must have the child’s full attention, but that does not mean that he or she has to be sitting still. Learn to allow for some movement and wiggles. Movement does not make a child attention deficient or hyper; it is normal. It can also stimulate the brain and help attention span. Playing with an eraser, Velcro adhered to a desk, or chewing gum (Spry would be our recommendation, and no we’re not being paid to promote this chewing gum) can be helpful for concentration.

Make Eye Contact

Another important tool in a teacher’s arsenal is to make sure you have eye contact from every student. Eye contact is central in the foundational learning process for a student. A student hears with his eyes and ears. For instance, if you are teaching the phonograms, the sounds of the English language, the eyes and ears see together.

When a child looks away, the sounds of the /f/, /s/, /th/, and /v/ can be very similar or even the same, but they are formed with different parts of the mouth or voice, and it is crucial to learn them correctly.

Overlooked classroomAchieving eye contact from every student can sometimes be more of a challenge than you might think. Build a little extra time into your lesson for it. In the long run it will take less time to teach when everyone is focused on the teacher.

Move About the Room

It is good for a teacher to move about the room. In the role of mentor-teacher during observations I have noticed something. Many teachers are not viewing the classroom as a whole. Often they do not see the kids in the back or off to the sides that are discretely not paying attention in some way. When I point this out in my observations, most of the time, the teachers were not even aware of the situations.

Moving around the room allows the teacher to connect with students and to make closer eye contact and tap lightly on the desk to bring a child to attention without saying a word. Giving a personal wink and a nod in close proximity to a student helps to establish a more trusting relationship. The teacher may also call on students who don’t normally answer. Last but not least, the teacher can correct mistakes as they are happening.

Use Tunes, Rhymes, and Rhythmic Sayings

A more time consuming teaching strategy (only in the planning stage) for classroom control is to keep the day moving by using memorable techniques. The more lag time, the more time for trouble to occur. Come up with fun tunes, rhymes, or rhythmic sayings to make transitions from one subject to another. This cuts down on chatter and out of order behavior. Once they are established they become part of theClassroom routine.

Tunes, rhymes, and rhythmic sayings are also useful for learning important information, definitions, procedures, rules, or applications. Rhythm and song are highly effective tools as mnemonics to help students remember information that they may not understand completely at the time of introduction. With repetition students will enjoy recalling factual information that will help them with their homework, writing assignments, on a test, and future learning.

Putting it All Together

There is much more that can be understood about classroom management. The five techniques described in this essay will make any teacher more savvy and accessible to his or her students. Treating students as individuals, allowing for those wiggly worms to wiggle, establishing eye contact at every instance, and creating memorable tools to recall information will gain and keep the attention of your students.

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English Spelling Rules and Foreign Words

English Spelling Rules#1

English Spelling Rules and Foreign Words

Gasp! Can you believe there is someone out there who does not like the YesPhonics method of teaching? It is true that we cannot expect everyone to like what we write. However, someone wrote a negative critique of the YP program, and on behalf of YesPhonics I would like to respond to it.

The Essence of the Critique

An Orton-Spalding method is one of the best ways to teach reading writing and spelling. Yes Phonics is one of those methods. I would like to address the censures offered by Ms. Alison Clarke by including information on the method and give explanations of some of the misunderstood criticisms.

Over 24 years of experience in teaching and tutoring children and parents I have learned that no curriculum is known completely until it is actually used. I have used three of the most widely used Orton-Spalding methods (there are more than that). The most recent one is YesPhonics.

Phonograms at the Foundation

The foundation of any Orton-Spalding method is the “phonograms”. Simply stated, phonograms are written sounds, either single letters or combinations of letters (if when the letters come together they make new sounds). For instance an /a/ by itself has three possibilities as in the words: “have”, “a”, and “ball”. But when an “e” is added in front of an “a” /ea/ there are three new possibilities, such as in the words: “eating”, “bread”, and “great”.English Spelling Rules

While laying a firm foundation in the teaching method, students use all avenues into the brain for learning by seeing, saying, hearing, and writing the phonograms.  These are first learned by rote and then are used in a systematic way through a word list for the understanding to come into focus. Even before total mastery, students are using the words in oral and written sentences, reviewing the phonograms, learning new phonograms and new words, creating paragraphs, and reading their own work.

Some of the Criticisms

Ms. Clarke mentions: “Unfortunately, the information about use is sometimes inaccurate as in the above example for ee, (/e/ double /e/ always says /e/ peek).”  She asks, “What about “fiancée”, “matinee”, “puree”, and “toupee”?”  These are great questions and observations, and the answers are fairly simple. First, these particular words are not derived from English.

English Spelling RulesStudents are taught, “How we say it” and “How we think it for spelling”. How we think the /ee/ in the words mentioned by Ms. Clarke is this way: “We say “a” (the long a sound), but we write two e’s because in these particular French words the double e sounds like a long /a/ vowel sound.”  And then an X is written above /ee/. Whenever a student sees the X he or she knows that a rule is not being typically followed and something is different about the pronunciation of the word.

The word is practiced in sounding and writing, (modeling what the teacher writes), plus it is used in oral and written sentences.  The word is also reviewed during a reading of previously written words daily. The system uses the strengths of the student and builds up the weaknesses.

What About These Phonograms?

The /ou/: it is taught like this: “/ow/-/o/-/oo/-/u/ that we may not use at the end of English words.” This seems negligent to Ms. Clarke.  The truth is that many of the 28 words she points us to that end in /ou/ are not English words, but as they come up in a spelling list they are simply taught that sometimes we DO use ou at the end of a word, especially of French derivations.

The easy thing about the words “caribou”, a Native American word, and “Bayou”, a Louisiana French derivation, is that of the 4 sounds the /ou/ makes, the 3rd sound of the /ou/ is spoken. So we underline the /ou/ as a multi-letter phonogram and put a 3 above it.  The frequently used word, “you” is an English word and the /ou/ would get marked in the same way.English Spelling Rules

The /sh/: For the /sh/ the explaining words are the same from Spalding as they are for YP.  The only differences are the key words with the picture/art that was added by YP as a mnemonic device for students. I reference Spalding here because Ms. Clarke positively sites the Spalding method in at least three places on her site.  They use the same method, phonograms, and ways of “thinking to spell” that YP does.

The /ei/: The /ei/ is taught as saying long /a/ and long /e/ as in the words their and leisure. Many Americans say leisure with a long /e/ sound, but the English, Australians and others may say the /e/ sound as a short e. In this case we would tell the student to think of the “i” as silent and the e as the first sound in /e/, (as in “help”).

We would teach the words mentioned by Ms. Clarke such as, “glutei” and “nulcei” as three syllable words and the two letter phonogram /ei/ would not be used here.  We would automatically use the method of… “We say…..We think to spell….” as always.  The /e/ and the /i/ would each be underlined separately (nu cle i) and spoken of as vowels saying their names at the end of a syllable.

Will My Language Challenged Students Understand?

If you think that your students are capable of learning to read at any level, then yes; they will understand and flourish. They do not have to comprehend everything at first.  You will be defining and using the same language and patterns many times over. The review is built into the teaching method so that it does not get forgotten.  The method is the key and it is employed in every lesson.English Spelling rules

Ms. Clarke states that perhaps the key word captions should be more “interesting and relevant”, such as “prick a pickle”. They are merely and magnificently memorable phrases, words, or sentences that get applied as each sound is spoken, written, spelled, or read.

The Voice on the DVD Recording

A quick word about the voice being employed by YesPhonics: Gary Ferguson is a renowned author of many books and other writings.  He has won awards and travels nationally on speaking events. Perhaps the problem is colloquial or just a few words here and there that are widely known to be spoken differently in different parts of the world.

An Appeal

There is much more that could be offered in explanation of the YesPhonics program. I trust that some, if not all, of Ms. Clarke’s concerns have been fairly and clearly explained. Spending more time investigating YP would benefit her readers greatly. If your curiosity is piqued please look into the Express Program further.

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Frustrated with Phonics?

YesPhonics comes to the aid of frustrated teachers teaching phonics

How can such a brilliant teaching system be impossible to learn?

YesPhonics comes to the aid of frustrated teachers teaching phonicsRomalda Spalding’s “Writing Road to Reading” has long been considered the seminal work in bringing phonics to the classroom. Phonics has been widely embraced as the best tool to teach children to read, spell and write by learning sounds and sound combinations.

The big frustration with phonics, however, continues to be that teachers need to go to special training just to learn how to teach it, and parents who home-school their children are simply being left in the dust.

One home-school parent said this about her frustrations with “The Writing Road to Reading”:
[quote style=”boxed”]I searched so long to find a user-friendly way to do Spalding Phonics. The method is unmatched, but “The Writing Road to Reading” is just so cumbersome to learn, plan and implement. With three children under 3, I’m just too busy to do it justice.-C.H. Omaha[/quote] Without the right tools, a teacher, tutor or parent can be totally lost in the labyrinth of phonograms and mnemonics. Which is tremendously unfortunate, because phonics is a highly efficient and effective educational tool when presented properly.

Not only does phonics teach exponentially more words than the whole language (see-say) method, but comprehension and enthusiasm for reading increases with phonics. Students learn more, test higher, build confidence, and achieve greater academic success.

Phonics also provides tremendous opportunities for achievement in dyslexic students, reluctant readers, and students studying English as a second language. (In fact, students who suffer from dyslexia or other learning disabilities often gain in learning faster than their peers without these challenges.)

But if every teacher must take time out of the classroom to learn how to present phonics, or a tutor or home-school parent is left to their own devices, phonics often becomes more burdensome than effective.

One teacher skipped teacher training altogether when she found the step-by-step YesPhonics™ Express Program online. Carmen Cobbett, B.SC., Certified TEFL Instructor and GraduateTeaching phonics with mnemonics of University of Michigan, reported, [quote] The YesPhonics program works fantastic with my [ESL] students and they are doing quite well. Ironically, my dyslexic student responded the best among the other ones who do not have reading problems. It’s working out so well that I’ve decided against going to the Spalding class.[/quote]

It is the wish of every parent for their children to read with enthusiasm, speak intelligently, comprehend their education, think critically, and embrace learning as a lifelong endeavor. In short, this is the very gift phonics offers to parents, teachers, tutors and children. On the surface, phonics simply provides the sounds and sound combination you need to teach language arts. Deep down, however, phonics proficiency offers a lifetime of learning, the joy of literature, and the fulfillment that comes through learning read and write.

Learn more about phonics, how to teach phonograms, and the special tools that help teachers deliver a comprehensive and effective phonics language arts program.

Whatever happened to that frustrated parent in Omaha, by the way? … [quote style=”boxed”]I am thrilled to find your [YesPhonics] program, and now that my 2-year-olds can even get some use from it, I couldn’t be happier.” -C.H. Omaha, NE[/quote]

Link here for more testimonials that illustrate how YesPhonics solved parents’ frustrations with “The Writing Road to Reading.”

*A note about YesPhonics: With teaching guides, flash cards, spelling rules and more, YesPhonics gives teachers, tutors and parents everything they need to teach the 72 Orton Phonograms, the Ayres Spelling List of the 1,000 most common words (+300 additional words), and manuscript and cursive writing skills. No special training is required.

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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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The Not So Lonely County Road to Phonics

The Not So Lonely County Road to Phonics

Back in the day when my son, Cheyenne, was half way through first grade in our local public school, I was one day sitting around resting from work, minding my own business, (which is rare for me, not sitting around resting, but minding my own business that is) when I got a call from “Gramma”. (My mom and Cheyenne’s Grandmother, Pauline). “Hi,”Teaching Phonics in Rural Public Schools she says, “we need to talk.” (Uh oh, I’m thinking.”)

“Why? What’s up?”
“I’m concerned about the quality of Cheyenne’s education.”
“Oh, what’s there to be concerned about?”
“He is not learning how to read.”
“Well…he’s only in the first grade.” I reply incredulously.
“From what I’ve researched, he should be well on his way by now.” She says adamantly.
“Oh, well I think…”
“Listen, I have heard great reports about the achievements of Mrs. Zier’s students down through the years.”
“Mrs Zier?”
“Yes, she teaches first through third grade down in Roberts public school, she has been teaching Orton Spalding phonics for twenty some years and has a reputation for turning out children that are highly motivated and excel in school and getting college scholarships.”
“Huh? Orton Spalding phonics…I don’t…”
“Listen, she has received numerous prestigious awards on a statewide and national level. She has also been voted best teacher by her students several years in a row.”
“Well that’s cool but Roberts is like twelve miles from here at the Ranch…six miles of it on county roads.”
“Is there something more important for you to do than make sure your son gets a good education?”
“Well, no but..”
“Listen, all I’m asking you to do is to go down to Roberts and observe her class, then make your decision after that.”
“So you want me to just waltz on into her class and…”
“I’ve already made arrangements with her, you are more than welcome and she is expecting you.”
“Well, um, I don’t know, I…”
“Tomorrow, eight o’clock room 109, check in at the front desk, they will be expecting you as well.”
“Well I was supposed to go to..”
“This is something you should do for Cheyenne, and I want you to do it for him.”
“Just show up dear.”

Teaching Phonics with Flash CardsNext morning finds me driving down the lonesome county road with snow blowing and swirling, making drifts that my old Ford pickup bucks through, my windshield defroster working hard to keep up with the ice.

I’m late, I walk tentatively into the school wondering what I’m doing here. The secretary at the front desk sizes me up and greets me with “Hi! You must be Verlynn!”
“Yup, I…”
“Mrs. Zier is expecting you, just down the hall on your right, class is already under way so just go in and take a seat.”
“Okay, thanks.”

Thinking I’m probably not going to enjoy this very much, I quietly enter the room and scrunch up in an old fashioned student desk chair at the back of the class. What I see is amazing, incredible. The students are so engaged they don’t even notice me. Mrs Zier is showing them a flash card (which I perceive as just the letter A in the alphabet) and several of the students are holding their hands up as if to say, “choose me! pick me!” And wonder of wonders, they are all, every one of them, smiling and paying attention.

Mrs. Zier chooses a precious little girl and says “Okay, yes Mary.”
Mary says, ” a’, ay, ah! Have a ball!”
“Very good, you all know these quite well now…how about this one?” She holds up a card that has on it: IE. The students again enthusiastically raise their hands. “Yes Michael?”
“eye, ee.” Piece of pie!” The class all goes “That we like to eat backwards!” all of them giggle and think this is hilarious. I’m stumped. What the? (Turns out that what is so funny is that the phonogram is spelled IE but the pronunciation is ‘e’ [long e as in ‘piece’] and ‘i’ [long i as in ‘pie’])

So Mrs. Zier has invented mnemonics for the phonics. Catch phrases to help the students remember the order of use frequency of the sounds of the phonograms. In spelling or reading if the student goes to the first sound of the phonogram they will more often than not be right to sound out or spell a word.

Mrs. Zier holds up another flash card, which I perceive to be nothing more that the alphabet letter C. “Yes Barbara?” Little Barbara says “K, Sss. “Cat in the City.”
“Very good Barbara! Now everybody take out your spelling notebooks and we will start the dictation of some new words for you to spell and sharpen your pencils if need be.”

As the students prepare for this exercise, Mrs. Zier comes back to where I’m sitting, I stand up to meet her and she says…”Hi Verlynn, nice to meet you…so…what do you think?”
“I’m sold.” I grin.
“So we’ll be seeing Cheyenne in class soon?”
“As soon as possible, he’ll be here with bells on.”

And so began our journey into phonemic awareness…by the end of the first grade Joseph could sound out as well as spell most any word that was presented to him. It was rather like a miracle, well worth the drive down that now not so lonely county road.

photo credit: Alex Rabb via photopin cc