A task that for some students becomes insurmountable by the supposition that all learners have a memory system that is compatible with a memory-based learning methodology. My forty-years of empirical study has demonstrated, that just as PC and Mac computers do not share the same operating systems, at-risk learners do not share the same learning format as natural learners.
Louis Moats touches on this subject when she says, “One of the most fundamental flaws found in almost all phonics programs, including traditional ones is that they teach the code backwards. That is, they go from letter to sound instead of from sound to letter.”
This fundamental flaw often begins at home when young children, who naturally perceive words as sounds, are taught the ‘Alphabet Song’ as a prelude to reading in order to format their brains to think of words in terms of letters.
Because letters have no intrinsic meaning, children in school learn to link each letter’s name with its sound using pictures of objects that begin with the letters’ sounds, i.e. ‘a’ is for apple and ‘b’ is for ball. In this way the letter is presumably imbued with meaning ‘by association’ with a tangible object. For at-risk learners, however, the dichotomy between a letter’s shape and sound still remains. The shape of the letter gives no clue to its sound and its name gives no clue to its shape. Research literature suggests that only about 20% to 30% of children learn to read relatively easily using this traditional letter to sound format.
The reality is that words are made up of sounds not letters! Letters are a visual representation of sounds that when arranged in established patterns form written words that mirror spoken words. The English Language is built on this principle known as “The Alphabetic Principle”.
For at risk learners, the first task should be to teach them the pure sounds of letters in a way that makes the letters’ visual form suggestive of their sounds, orientation and function. The second task is to teach these learners to recognize the individual sounds of letters within spoken words. It has been my experience that, because our brains look for ‘meaning, only when the letters themselves are imbued with ‘meaning’ does the at-risk learner’s brain recognize the individual sounds of letters and ultimately the letter units that form words.
Most students come to school understanding and communicating in spoken language. A disconnect occurs, however, when at-risk learners are taught that sounds of words have ‘something’ to do with letters. It is this ‘something’ that educators cannot agree upon that turns, a simple 1-sound 1-letter correlation in 90% of words into a convoluted formula that very few understand making learning to read and spell a difficult task for most students.
Not only do we teach the code backwards from letters to sounds, we teach the code upside down – from single syllable words to multi-syllable words. In multi-syllable words two clear rules for vowels replace the deluge of rules used in single-syllable words.
However, the most problematic flaw is that we teach in reverse, from the ‘outside in’. Children are not empty vessels to be filled with information; they are repositories of life-experience, which is invaluable in the facilitation of new learning.
ALPHabiTunes is an ‘inside out design’ that teaches students how a letter’s sound(s), shape and emblematic behavior when amalgamated, personify their life’s experience. As a result, students begin to identify with the letters and are able to predict letters’ behavior based on this characteristic understanding versus vague rules.
ALPHabiTunes’ “inside-out” design also sets the stage for Socratic teaching where:
- students again become problem-solvers, a learning format that served them well as children.
- teachers learn to ask strategic questions that teach the critical-analytical thinking skills students need to construct and unlock more than 90% of the word in the English Language.
- the focus is not on the “right answers” but how students “arrive at the answers”.
- there are no “Wrong” answers only “Golden Learning Opportunities” that:
- provides teachers with the opportunity to
- probe into students’ minds to see how they are processing learning
- identify concepts that need to be reinforced
- diagnosis and correct erroneous learning.
- provides students with the opportunity to:
- analyze their answers and decide “does this work and if not why?”
- hone critical thinking skills to target and solve any problems
- become skilled ‘problem solvers’, who are confident and independent once again.
ReadbyGrade3 Reading and Reading Disabilities
Louisa C Moats American Educator/American Federation of Teachers Spring/summer 1998