Some schools claim to be adding phonics to their traditional classroom teaching approach, but as I discussed in an earlier blog (see my July 9, 2017 blog about phonics), the word phonics is being used to describe many different teaching approaches. Some are useful; some are not. When a school says that they are using a blended approach, that does not guarantee that your children will get the help they need to learn to read.
Some schools this fall are talking about brain-based learning. It’s not a new concept; it’s been around for a while. Again, like the word phonics, it depends on exactly what you are identifying as brain-based learning (for a good discussion of brain-based learning, see Eric Jensen’s excellent explanation). If the school is actually using scientific research data correctly, then a brain-based approach can be good. If unfortunately, research and brain-based learning ideas are being misinterpreted much as the open classroom concept was misinterpreted and distorted in earlier education trends, then it can be a disaster. For the record, the ORIGINAL open classroom concept was never about building schools without walls or doors or teaching masses of children in one large room. The open classroom concept was about using learning centers and hands-on-learning in the classroom.
So, you see, we can’t simply use a label to correct reading failure. We need to make sure that the programs we are designing and offering actually teach children to read. We don’t need another catchy phrase. We’ve had more than enough nifty catchy phrases. No child left behind; it failed. Rise to the top; it failed. Common core; it failed. Whole language; it failed. Reading recovery; it failed. Catchy phrases are useless.
We need a program that works, especially with children who are failing and struggling to learn to read. This program is available, and neuroimaging research with failing students proves that it works (Keller & Just, 2009, Meyler, Keller, Cherkassky, Gabrieli, & Just, 2008; Yoncheva, Wise, & McCandliss, 2015). Each of these neuroimaging studies visually showed at-risk children improving in reading when phonemic and phonological awareness techniques were used. If you’re looking for an easy to read and understand book about neuroimaging research on reading, I recommend, Sally Shaywitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia.
In my reading clinic for the past eight years, we have been using these principles from neuroimaging research. I teach vowel clustering. (See my June 5, 2017 blog post to read a more detailed explanation of vowel clustering). I teach phonemic awareness (that letters represent sounds) and phonological decoding and encoding skills, and it works.
- In 2016, we had one student move up four grade levels in reading, four students moved up three grade levels in reading, and eight students moved up two grade levels in reading.
- In 2017, we scored high again with 2 students moving up four grade levels in reading, 3 students moving up three grade levels in reading, and 6 students moving up two grade levels in reading.
No, not every child makes this much improvement in one year. Every child is different, and all children, even identical twins, learn in different ways. Neuroimaging research tells us that we need a minimum of 100 hours to “rewire,” or as I like to say “retrain” the brain. This is done by teaching children phonemic awareness.
Yes, we can teach children to read. Instead of having 64% of children unable to read at grade level by fourth grade, we could have almost every single child reading at grade level. If we would just change the method that we use to teach children to read, we could change children’s lives forever.