Why can’t we teach these students to read? Well, we can. The problem is that we are using teaching methods in the classroom that have been proven not to work effectively for all students. Research shows that the method you use to teach a student to read can determine whether the student succeeds and learns to read or fails and does not learn to read. (Chronis-Tuscano et al., 2015).
Research proves that whole language, phonics—even systematic phonics, and balanced literacy are failed teaching methods. Yes, I know, some children do learn to read using phonics and some even learn to read under whole language, but, if over half of the students across the nation are not learning to read proficiently at their grade level, then something is wrong. We need a new teaching method. As neuroimaging research has proven:
Whole language doesn’t work.
- Louisa Moates says that the problem with whole language is that it doesn’t work.
- Yoncheva, Wise, & McCandliss (2015) show that whole language does not teach children to sound out words—decoding and encoding are essential for effective reading.
Phonics does not work for many students, especially struggling students.
- Jeanne Sternlicht Chall (1967) stated that phonics leaves many students failing.
- Sebastian P. Suggate’s 2016 study showed that phonics was not as effective as phonemic awareness teaching techniques.
- National Reading Panel (2000) stated that even systematic phonics wasn’t effective with “low-achieving readers in 2nd through 6th grade.
Balanced literacy doesn’t work, either.
- Louisa Moates says that balanced literacy is simply a failed idea.
- Merely combining whole language and phonics together as balanced literacy does not correct the problems of either teaching method. As Dr. Sally Shaywitz (see 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).
Why do these teaching methods not work?
1. “Until recently, almost everyone thought that we store words by having some type of visual image of every word we know…. Many teaching approaches presume this…. [both whole language and phonics make this assumption]. We assume that if students see the words enough, they will learn them. This is not true…. I believe this assumption that we store words based on visual memory is a major reason why we have widespread reading difficulties in our country." (David Kilpatrick in Equipped for Reading Success, pp. 29-39).
2. “In order to read, a child must ‘enter the language system;’ this means that the child must activate and use the brain circuits that are already in place for oral language…. “ (Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2003, pp. 59-68).
3. “The letters of our printed language are supposed to represent the sounds of our spoken language…. We use our oral-linguistic filing system as the basis for word recognition…. orthographic mapping will only occur if the student has adequate phonemic awareness/analysis. If he cannot pull apart the sounds in words, he cannot align those sounds to the order of the letters…. Mapping must not be confused with phonics. Mapping and phonics differ in some very important ways….”(David Kilpatrick in Equipped for Reading Success, pp. 29-39).
What teaching methods do work?
We do have teachings methods that have been researched, tested, and proven to work for all students. Researchers are beginning to develop teaching methods based on the oral language system. One such approach being used with dyslexic students is the Davis Program.
I use vowel clustering in all of my reading programs. Vowel clustering has been proven to work with all ages, with students who have failed for multiple years, and even for students from low socio-economic neighborhoods. (Clanton Harpine & Reid, 2009). Vowel clustering (See my book After-School Programming for At-Risk Students Clanton Harpine, 2013) teaches students to decode or break words down into individual letter sounds and then to encode or reassemble those sounds back into pronounceable words. Vowel clustering also teaches students to build new words from a common letter sound. There are no rules to memorize and students are never allowed to guess at a word. My vowel clustering method also teaches spelling, handwriting, oral reading fluency, comprehension, and story writing
Vowel clustering works with the brain and helps students relate letter sounds to their oral language system. Vowel clustering uses visual, auditory, and hands-on teaching techniques. Vowel clustering teaches students to match consonant and vowel sounds with their corresponding letter symbols. This emphasizes the oral letter-sound relationship. Remember, we are training the brain, building “pathways” in the brain. When these neural “pathways” are developed, reading can take less than half a second. Therefore, it is important to organize how we teach so students can organize how they learn. We want to work with the brain, not against it. Vowel clustering is a teaching approach that presents a visual and oral picture that struggling students can immediately identify with. Visually, students match words by how they sound not by how they are spelled. This teaches children that words can be pronounced one way but spelled another. This visual-auditory learning technique allows students to both see and hear letter sounds (phonemes). Vowel clustering also teaches handwriting because it is very important for students to write words correctly as they practice reading, spelling, and matching written letters to oral sounds.
All of my reading programs teach vowel clustering. Vowel clustering has been tested and proven to work with struggling, at-risk, and failing students. A student who failed for nine years using balanced literacy and phonics, learned to read in 3 ½ years using vowel clustering. I have even had struggling students move up four grade levels in one year using vowel clustering. These were students who had failed multiple years in schools that taught whole language, balanced literacy, and phonics. So yes, we can teach students to read, but to do so, we must change the methods that we use to teach reading. (see my 2019 book, After-School Programming and Intrinsic Motivation, hitting the book shelves in a couple weeks).