Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind
Why Johnny Can't Read:
Why Johnny Can't Read
Frank B. Withrow, Ph.D.
Attention DeficitsThe increase in the numbers of children who are classified as children with attention deficits can be a result of many different things. However, characteristics of such children include hyper activity, failure to learn to read, and short attention spans. As a result of their lacking the basic skills of reading their full participation in formal education is limited at best. The late Mildred A. McGinnis developed the Association Method to work with both adults and children who had suffered a head injury. She quickly associated some of the same behavior she observed in her aphasic patients with children that she diagnosed as having childhood aphasia. The Association Method reinforces a range of auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic sensory stimuli that are associated with the development of reading.
In her early stages of work she believed that you should use cursive writing rather than print. The advantage of cursive writing is that letters are clustered together in word groups. Everyone has seen the example of a first grader printer who when they learn to print will run the words together as in "Thedogranhome." As opposed to the spacing in the cursive of "The dog ran home." Further the developing of printing requires greater hand eye coordination than does cursive writing. She also used color to alternate sounds and words. In the simple sentence above the verb was in a different color. She used a phonetic system developed by Caroline Yale, a teacher of speech to deaf children. With the assistance of Alexander Graham Bell the Yale Charts were developed to teach speech to deaf youngsters. The 26 letters of the Roman alphabet were arranged in clusters of letters that most frequently represent the 44 sounds of English. Unfortunately English spelling combines the 26 letters 196 ways to represent the sounds of English. This is especially confusing and counter productive in teaching reading. In the Association Method the colors of letters are alternated to denote the sounds in a word. For example, the word blackboard is made up of eight sounds represented by ten letters but only eight sounds. The assumption of the Association Method is that if the learner learns the phonetic coding system they will have the word attack skills that enable them to decode any printed word. If you have the right tools to master the system reading becomes a simple learning task. The Yale Charts give the learner primary, secondary and alternate ways to pronounce printed words. If the person can say the printed word then they can recognize it.
The Association Method uses a full range of auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic stimuli to associate words with the real world.
The Yale Charts cluster letters that have the same sound. There are some letters such as "p," 'b. and "m" that have a clear and consistent sound to letter value. In other words they are always pronounced the same way. A cluster of letters represents other sounds. For example, a-e, ai, ay all represent the same diphthong as in words like rate, wait, and way. The diphthong a-e is further confusing because it is the name of the letter -a-. The letter -a- is most often pronounced as the "a" in cat, rat, fat. The old saying that AEIOU and sometimes Y are vowels is a myth and phonetically inaccurate. In the Association Method the learner intuitively learns the true value of vowels and diphthongs.
Speech sounds can be classified in several ways. There are breath sounds, voiced sounds and nasal sounds. P, B and M are all made with the same lip, tongue and teeth positions and differ only in that "P" is a breath sound, "B" is a voiced sound and "M" is a nasal sound. Consequently, for a deaf person speech reading single words without the breath, voice, or nasal cues the following words will all look the same (bags=packs, market=bargain, etc. The understanding of breath, voice and nasal sounds is important for hearing people also since in combining sounds there are some sounds that effect the value of the sound that follows. For example, once a child learns that "ed" added to a verb denotes past tense he has made a terrific linguistic generalization However, if the verb ends in a voiced sound then "ed" is pronounced as a "d" sound as in bagged or flagged, but if the verb ends in a breath sound such as kicked then the 'ed" is pronounced as the "t" sound. The same rule is in place in adding 'es to denote plurals. If the sound preceding the "es" is voiced then the "es" is pronounced as "z" otherwise it is "s." Flagz, ragz,panz,padz etc or lamps, flats, bats, etc. are examples of this rule. This rule also accounts for irregular verbs such as 'put' or 'cut' since phonetically it would be difficult to pronounce put "t" or cut "t" if "ed" was added to make them past tense. In speech we make these normal transition intuitively. It is only when we go to the written format and when the written format has not followed the logical phonetic system that we have trouble.
If I had a magic wand and could create a 44-character phonetic alphabet with the sound to letter value consistent then teaching anyone to read would be simple. Actually the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was created over 100 years ago. There was a great expectation that it would replace existing alphabets. It obviously hasn't done so. Part of the reason for its failure has been the ingrained amount of materials printed in traditional English spelling. However, with computers it is a simple matter to develop a translation program that goes back and forth from IPA to traditional English Roman alphabet spelling. This would not only assist the teaching of reading, but make synthesized speech and speech recognition by computers easier. If such a system were developed it would then be possible to do what Sir James Pitman hoped for. That is to begin reading in a pure phonetic alphabet and then switch to traditional English spelling. Electronic publishing offers us a painless way to have such a system. Eventually the IPA would dominate publishing. English is the most used language in the world. However, English spelling is archaic and limited by its fixation on the dictates of the printing press and has not grown with the expansion of the language. The computer offers the best chance of breaking out of the bondage of a non-phonetic system of spelling. The Yale Charts do provide us with a key to the spelling of English and consequently can be of help to thousands of children who have not mastered reading.
Every child must learn to read if they are to have the maximum benefits of the public school system.
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