As Dr. Sally Shaywitz (see Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2003) explains, “Children do not learn to read by memorizing a word list. Most children, especially those who struggle in reading, do not learn to read by memorizing phonics rules” (p. 78). We have the knowledge, the research, and the ability to teach every single child across the nation to read, so why do we cling to failed teaching methods and force students to continue to fail in reading?
For the past 25 years, nationwide testing has clearly shown that over half of the children and teens in the United States cannot read at grade level by 4th or 8th grade. The Nation’s Report Card (NPC) (see my post of 1/2/2018) stated that only 37% of 4th graders and only 36% of 8th graders across the nation can read proficiently at grade level. That is less than half. The rest of the students were shown to not be able to read at their respective grade levels, and most of these students, 78%, never catch up (NCES 2016). When we link reading failure, retention, and dropping out of school before graduation, we have a serious problem that often leads to aggression, violence, and even crime, especially when you consider that 70% of American prison inmates cannot read above the 4th grade level (National Center for Adult Literacy 2007). Depression and anxiety often accompany academic failure and reading failure, mental health and wellness problems that begin in childhood can last a lifetime.
We owe it to children to use the most effective way to teach them to read, because when children fail to learn to read that failure increases the likelihood that they will drop out of school before graduation, have trouble finding jobs, or even get involved in criminal activity. As Michael Brunner (1993) of the Department of Justice clearly explained, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” We can change that because we can teach students to read. If we use the correct teaching methods, neuroimaging research proves that even children who have previously failed can be taught to read. Neuroimaging research shows that intensive training in phonemes (letter sounds) changes the “brain and the way it functions.” This change through phonemic awareness training allows even struggling at-risk students to make significant improvement in reading (Meyler, Keller, Cherkassky, Gabrieli, & Just, 2008).
The word cat is a common example for teaching phonemic awareness. Neuroimaging research shows that it is much better to teach students to sound out the word cat (one letter sound at a time) than to teach students to memorize or simply recognize the word cat (Yoncheva, Wise, & McCandliss, 2015).
The method that I use is vowel clustering. Vowel clustering incorporates phonemic and phonological awareness by teaching students to decode or break words down into letter sounds and then to encode or reassemble those sounds back into pronounceable words. Vowel clustering does not stop at simply decoding and encoding. Vowel clustering also teaches spelling, oral reading fluency, comprehension, and writing. Vowel clustering has been tested and proven to work with struggling, at-risk, and failing students (Clanton Harpine & Reid, 2009; click on the .pdf link). I’ll also be publishing a new study on Camp Sharigan in 2019 showing that students preparing for end of the year testing through Camp Sharigan outscored students who followed traditional test-prep methods. Camp Sharigan works.
I’ll be teaching a free training workshop on vowel clustering, January 26th at 10:00 AM in Corpus Christi, Texas. Come join us. I’m also starting a ten-part series here on vowel clustering. If you have questions, contact me. (Click the mail button on the top right.)