Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

If you are a parent of young children today or you teach your children at home, chances are very good that phonics is your exclusive go-to approach to teach reading. A conviction that phonics is the ONLY way to teach reading, and success with other children with this approach, leaves you purchasing one phonics program after another for a child that just doesn’t seem to “get it” with the current phonics program. Yet still, a satisfactory result eludes you. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. Definitely showing my age now! This method did work and I got through college while maintaining Dean’s List status. After graduation, my first job was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the students and I still find it very helpful in decoding unknown words to this day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love phonics as a way of teaching reading! I “taught” both of my girls to read in our home school with an intense phonics program. Well, to be perfectly candid, I only successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics. The other one, labeled as developmentally delayed, struggled to read anything past a three-letter-word even though she mastered all 70 phonograms in isolation. I was perplexed, to say the least!

Reading is complex. The individual has to gain meaning from a string of symbols making up a word and then combine that with other strings of symbols to gain an understanding of what is written. Let’s explore from a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the skills that make a successful reader?

 

Skills of Successful Readers

1. Visual Skills:

    • Acuity – a reference to 20/20, is the eyes giving a clear picture to focus up close or focus at a distance 
    • Tracking – the eyes moving smoothly across a horizontal line without darting back or forth that would give the wrong feedback to the brain about what is seen
    • Convergence – the eyes working together, placing the image of one eye directly on top of the other so there is no distortion of the letters or swimming of word on the page
    • Central Detail Vision – the ability to see directly in front of you – children that didn’t go through the proper developmental steps to gain good central vision often don’t have good eye contact, they don’t write on a line well and often skip little words or parts of words on a page while reading. Consider this video from the  YouTube Channel – Brain Coach Tips for information about checking the eye function at home.
    • Visual Discrimination – the ability to see subtle differences between very similar words like “then” and “them” can be developed with practice – consider this  Visual Discrimination Game to advance that skill

 

2.   Auditory Processing:

A prerequisite skill to reading in general and for phonics, in particular, is auditory processing (auditory short-term memory). You may not have thought about it but phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of auditory information (sounds) in sequential order and sometimes even a rule together in your short-term memory to decode the word. The capacity to hold auditory sequential pieces of information together is called your auditory processing ability.

Without the foundational skill of auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, an individual’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be effective. An individual needs a strong level 5 or better yet, a 6 auditory digit span for phonics to work well. To get a free test kit to discover processing levels for your whole family visit  www.BrainSprints.com (scroll down to the “Tools” section). This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. When you accelerate this skill, you accelerate success in reading. Learn more: Auditory Processing-Best Kept Secret in Education

 

3.  Information Storage:

From a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the efficient storage of information or being able to get what is in that little brain out into a functional form requires proper placement of the information. It is a bit like a filing cabinet. If you put information in the 2nd drawer in the proper folder, it is easy to get it when you need it. Improper filing of a piece of paper in the 2nd drawer with no folder can be frustrating, time-consuming and energy expending to find. The same can be true of storage in the brain. For more understanding of dominance that is key to storage, watch “You Knew It Yesterday!” 

 

An Alternative Approach

Many families have found help with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach.

While you are working on the child’s auditory processing for two minutes twice a day, teach “sight words” by flashing cards and telling the child what the word is. If your child is an emerging reader, consider  3Rs Plus with the accompanying flashcard and detailed instructions. Beginning readers are very encouraged when they tell dad, “I read this whole book!” Granted the book is only 12 pages long and contains one to two sentences on each page but in their mind, they did read the whole book.

Children reading at 1st-grade level, I recommend Pathway Readers and the flashcards developed for the first few books in this series.

You can also read a sentence or two and in some cases a paragraph or a full page and have the child read the SAME selection after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence! For leveled books that will work on reading recognition as well as comprehension, just search “Reading” at the  Brain Sprints Store.

 

Bringing This Information Together

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? First, you realize that we are all sight-readers. Let me ask you this – Do you read all the words phonetically when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be extremely slow and laborious to do otherwise.

Secondly, rest assured that as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, you can go back to the phonics approach. In the meantime, your child has developed a really good sight word vocabulary and will feel encouraged by a new ability to read. The best of both worlds is now achieved! Your child has a head-start on identifying a word immediately and then will master an ability to phonically decode unknown words. 

If a phonics approach or the sight word approach is not effective in teaching a child to read, one must explore other root causes by looking at how the eyes are working or where information is being stored in the brain. For more individualized direction consider a  Free 15 minute Consultation with a Brain Sprints’ coach.

 

 

 

 


Did you benefit from this article?

Would you consider a small donation to support the ongoing work of SPED Homeschool?

Click Here to Donate Today

 

Please follow and like us:
error


By Jan Bedell, PhD, M.ND

We all want our children to read so they can read God’s Word and get along better in the world. Much of learning comes through the ability to read. As moms, we often make it “our mission” for our children to read well. This is an admirable mission.

The Truth About Phonics
I am going to say something controversial now and get it out of the way. Are you ready? Here it is: Phonics may not be the best way for you to teach reading to a particular child. Unless foundational skills are in place, phonics will be ineffective. I know it may be a shock to hear me say that about phonics. This was quite a surprise when I first heard it as well. I had diligently been trying to teach my daughter with special needs to read with a phonics approach for five years!

Before my own attempts at this reading quest, the public and private school were also trying to teach her to read with phonics. She was a phonics dropout, but she was a phonogram champ! She knew the sounds of all 70 phonograms, even the ones like “ough” that have six sounds. Even though the sounds of the phonograms were solid, she couldn’t hold the sounds together past a three letter word to read anything! This was rather confusing, and I have to admit extremely frustrating.

I found out after my five-year, miserable struggle with phonics that she had low auditory processing. That meant she couldn’t hold the pieces (phonograms) in her short term memory long enough to put them together to get the word out. We were in an endless loop of sounding out the same word over and over until something sort of like the word came out. So, by the time she got to the end of the sentence, she had no clue about the meaning of what she read. WOW!

The Auditory Processing Disconnect
For some children, learning to read using the phonics approach is a breeze, but for others it is a huge struggle like it was for my daughter. When children have low sequential auditory processing abilities (an inability to hold a series of items in consecutive order in short-term memory), phonics doesn’t work well. Why is auditory processing so important for using phonics? Phonics is an auditory learning system, meaning the child must be able to hold all the pieces of the word and the rules together in his brain long enough to get the word out of his brain. Phonics is a fabulous way to learn to read for those with good auditory sequential processing! I love, love, love it! For those with low auditory abilities though, it can be a nightmare for parents and students alike.

When auditory processing is low and words get longer and more complicated, the child gets lost by the end of the word and starts guessing. There are also some developmental issues with the eyes that can make reading in general difficult. You can listen to Podcast #17 – Make Reading Easier for a better understanding of other developmental challenges. Number 17 at  www.BrainCoachTips.com will also help you learn how to raise your child’s auditory processing abilities so he can be more successful with phonics in the future.

Some Brain Coach Tips for More Reading Success: 

  • Determine if your child is struggling with low sequential auditory processing by ordering your Free Auditory Processing Test Kit. Your child should have a strong 5 digit span and preferably working on a 6 digit span before reading with phonics is effective.
  • Do some auditory processing activities twice a day for two minutes (instructions included in your free kit). In my opinion, this would be the best investment of your homeschooling time that you will ever make! The benefits go far beyond phonics help.
  • Read to your child with him following word by word. Then have the child read the same sentence or paragraph immediately after you (Echo Reading). I know this sounds a bit like cheating and memorizing, but prepare for another shocker that you might not have realized yet: We are all sight readers! Once we know a word, we don’t sound it out again. I know that is hard to believe, but read the statement at the end of this article: Phonics vs. Sight Reading. Now tell me if you read it with phonics. 
  • Don’t let your child struggle. Tell him the words he doesn’t know or sound it out for him.
  • Have your child listen to auditory books daily and read aloud daily. At least an hour a day of listening will help develop the auditory processing.
  • Teach your child sight words while building auditory processing levels. Then work more successfully with the phonics approach when the foundation of processing is set. Find resources here. We become sight readers once we know a word, so by combining these approaches you have the best of both worlds and a happier, more successful reader.

 

 

 


Did you know SPED Homeschool is 100% donor funded?

Donate today

 

 

Please follow and like us:
error