The Department of Justice has even gone as far as to say that academic failure, school delinquency, violent behavior, and crime are “…welded to reading failure.”
Extensive research shows that academic failure has a direct link with adolescent violence and crime. Reading failure is one of the main causes of academic failure. Weak word decoding skills, and low comprehension in reading have been labeled as strong predictors of violent and destructive behavior, hyperactivity, and anti-social actions. Preventing academic failure is one of the key tools used for reducing violent and aggressive behavior.
But violence is not the only consequence of reading failure. As I explained in a 2019 book chapter:
“The negative emotions or negative classroom events that surround reading failure increase the chances of mental illness.”
Students react to failure in different ways. Still, even though every student is unique and learns in a specific way, we can teach every student to read. So, why aren’t we? There is no reason for reading failure, other than society’s refusal to change the way we teach struggling students to read.
A 5th grade student reading between 2nd and 3rd grade with very low comprehension was sent to my reading program. After only 21 weeks of one-hour, once-a-week tutoring using vowel clustering (as taught in my new book--Why Can’t We Teach Children to Read?), the student was reading at the 6th grade level with strong comprehension scores. The student’s aggressive behavior at school improved as well.
Violence and crime are not the only problems that reading failure causes. Reading failure can also lead to mental health problems. Stress is one of the major contributors to mental illness. Reading failure certainly causes stress. Reading failure particularly damages a young child’s early development and perception of control. Academic failure, particularly reading failure, can lead to early symptoms of depression and anxiety.
What Can We Do to Stop Reading Failure?
It’s not the students. It’s not the teachers. The problem and the reason that we are failing to teach children to read is the method that we are using to teach reading. Reading failure leads to academic failure, aggressive behavior, and mental health problems. We must change our teaching methods and stop reading failure.
For more about neuroimaging research, see Why Are We Content to Allow Children to Fail in Reading?
Poor Teaching Methods Lead to Reading Failure
Look at the statistics: this NCES chart shows how poorly students were reading before the pandemic.
Proficient level on the NCES scale means students are able to read at or above grade level. Not proficient identifies students reading below grade level.
This graph does not include the new 2022 scores. You will recall from the earlier NCES chart that reading scores dropped from a score of 220 in 2020 to 215 in 2022—a five-point drop.
For links to this data, see The Nation’s Report Card Shows a Major Drop in Reading Scores. Why?
For more about this graph, see The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the first set of scores for 2022. They are not good. What does that mean for children in the classroom?
What Does This Chart Tell Us?
This graph shows how poorly our teaching methods have been working since 1992. There is very little improvement. This graph also shows that the 2020 scores are not the first drop in reading scores. Look at 2019—a two-point drop.
So far, only the 4th grade scores have been released, so let’s look at those. For 4th grade, we see that the average reading score in 2019 was 220 which was two points lower than the average score in 2017 (222). Why did scores drop? Students were in the classroom. We had full in-class instruction. This was before COVID, and yes, schools say they were already using phonics.
As one report stated,
“A 2019 survey of more than 600 elementary-school teachers by Education Week found that more than two-thirds used a balanced-literacy philosophy, although most also said they incorporated “a lot” of phonics.”
For more about why phonics fails, see Tutoring Hint #8: Stick with Real Scientific Research in Reading. Do Not Fall for Gimmicks. Scientific Research Is Helpful for Tutoring.
Why Does Vowel Clustering Work Where Phonics Fails?
The vowel clustering method uses a vowel center where children learn to match the vowel sounds. Children learn to match words with the letter sounds; therefore, emphasizing the letter sound relationship and helping children to build and connect the sounds with their oral filing system. Phonics does not.
Some schools are resurrecting phonics under its new name of science of reading, but phonics rules fail because there are too many exceptions to the rules. One of the cutest vowel rules says: "When two vowels go walking the first one does the talking." It's cute. The children love it; unfortunately, the rule doesn't work. Look at these words: heart, break, earth, head, eat, ear, tear (paper). Seven different sounds. The first vowel “does not always do the talking.” This is just one example of when a rule doesn’t work. There are many (irregular vowels) with phonics. Students, especially struggling students, become confused when they memorize phonics rules that do not consistently work.
[Preview starts from p. 84] Copyright © Elaine Clanton Harpine
“… every ea sound is different, and only three of the sounds are actually e sounds: eat, breakfast, hear. The ea combination uses the long vowel sound for ē in the word eat, the short vowel sound for ĕ in the word breakfast, and the ear (îr) sound in the word hear. The words break, heart, and tear [tear paper] all use letter a sounds (break-- ā, heart--är/as in car, tear--âr/air sound), and the word earth uses the ûr sound.” I pointed to each section on the ea vowel strip as I explained these different sounds. Then, we practiced the 4 steps with each word.”
Children use the vowel chart to play Match the Sound.
For more on vowel clustering, see Helpful Summer Tutoring Hint #3: How Do You Adjust Your Tutoring Curriculum to Fit the Needs of Your Student?
Vowel clustering teaches struggling students to both see and hear different vowel sounds. Vowel clustering is both visual and oral. Students can see and hear how words change their sound.
The vowel center organizes words by sound. The vowel center also demonstrates visually how the same letters can combine but represent different sounds.
With vowel clustering, there are no rules to memorize. Vowel clustering shows how words are spelled and how they are pronounced. Students learn to work with vowel sounds.
Research has proven that memorizing word lists will never teach children to read. Unfortunately, unless you can memorize an entire dictionary, memorization is doomed to fail. Yet, many schools continue to use whole language or balanced literacy.
What Is the Best Way to Teach Students Vowel Sounds?
Vowel clustering teaches all the vowel sounds in clusters. Remember, there are seven different sounds for the letter a, and the long a sound is just one of those seven sounds. The long a vowel sound can use: ea, ai, ay, ei, ey, eigh, and silent e. Of course, the letter a can also make the long a vowel sound when it stands alone, as with the word apron. So, if you are only introducing students to the long a sound through silent e, you have created a problem and confused struggling students, especially when you come along later and introduce irregular vowel sounds. Irregular vowel sounds that are thrown in later is how most students get lost while learning vowels. This is one of the main reasons that phonics fails with struggling students.
Remember, we are training the brain, building pathways in the brain; therefore, it is important to organize the way we teach so that the students can organize how they learn. We want to work with the brain, not against it. If we teach in a haphazard fashion, struggling students become confused. Vowel clustering uses a vowel center game board, that uses an auditory learning technique through oral reading and spelling of new words as they are matched to their letter sound on the vowel clustered vowel center. This enables students to see and hear the letter sounds. Vowel clustering also teaches handwriting because it is very important that students write the words correctly as they practice reading, spelling, and matching letter sounds at the vowel center.
Today’s struggling students deserve the very best we can offer in the classroom.
As one mother told me, “She’s addicted to reading. Before your Camp Sharigan program, she never wanted to read. Her reading grade in school has gone up 20 points. She can’t wait to get home and read.”
You, too, can help children become “addicted” to reading. Change the method that you use to teach children to read. I use vowel clustering, and it works.
Today, October 10th is World Mental Health Day. To improve mental health among our children and youth, we must correct the root causes of their mental health problems. Reading failure is an early developmental contributor to mental health concerns with children and young people. Reading failure is one of the most destructive stages of early childhood. Reading failure controls and destroys the mental state of children, youth, and even adults. Reading failure is a lifelong problem. Learning to read is critical for a child’s mental health. Reading failure for teenagers often leads to violence and crime or depression and suicide. Reading failure has even been linked with dropping out of school before graduation. Reading failure is a root cause of many mental problems, but we can prevent reading failure.
If we change how we teach struggling students to read, then reading failure will not occur. A first grader who went through the entire year in first grade and did not learn two words using systematic phonics started learning after only one week with vowel clustering. Yes, we can teach struggling students.
Reading failure can also be corrected for those who are failing. A 15-year-old who had failed for 9 years in school learned to read using vowel clustering. She had a terrible record of violence. When ask why she stopped fighting at school, she said, “she taught me to read.”
If we start teaching students to read, using a method that works for struggling students, we can stop violence and mental health problems before they start. Reading failure is a tragic lifelong problem, but we have the power to stop reading failure, if we just change how we teach.
Help a child today on World Mental Health Day: teach a child to read.
If you have questions or need help, contact me I’m always happy to help.