The Fifteen Percent
What we found in practice is that while the eighty-five percent would have learned to read anyway, use of this program accelerated their learning, made them more enthusiastic readers and writers, and made them better spellers, too. Even more importantly, the fifteen percent learned to read and write just as well as if they had been the eighty-five percenters all along.
The rationale that follows indicates the kinds of problems that face the fifteen percent of children who experience difficulty in learning to read and how this Reading Program makes what goes wrong go right.
If we wish the child to make sense out of 4 + 3, then we would introduce the manipulatives before we introduce the symbols. We would begin, for example, by having the child count out a pile of four blocks, then a pile of three blocks and then slide the two piles together and recount them to get the seven block total. Once the counting, sliding, and recounting process was mastered, we would then introduce the number symbols to record the counting experience that would now already have meaning.
In reading, unlike arithmetic, when children are not yet able to make sense out of the letter symbols which form the word 'cat', there has been no way for us to provide a set of experiences equivalent to math manipulatives that allow children to understand what the letter symbols represent before the symbols themselves are introduced.
To compound the problem, the letter symbols from which the child is to draw meaning offer at least three levels of difficulty not to be found with the more straight forward numeric symbols with which we record arithmetic concepts. These three levels of difficulty are:
1) Visual discrimination (perception)
Visual discrimination as a problem means the child has difficulty distinguishing or identifying letter shapes. In the word 'cat', for example, children with perceptual difficulties can confuse the letter 'c' with the letters 'u' or 'o', and the letter 't' with the letter 'f'. Letters like p and b and d and q (among others) are constant sources of confusion. The reading efforts of the child who has perceptual difficulties are doomed from the outset if the child cannot know with certainty which letters are in the words which he or she is trying to read. Dyslexic children add the additional visual discrimination problem of reversing or confusing the order of the letters.
Auditory association as a problem means the child has difficulty in connecting or matching the phonetic sound to the appropriate letter symbol. Assuming the child can recognize the symbols, he or she must still identify the sound each symbol makes in a particular word. In the word 'cat' for example, the child must know if the 'c' sound is to be the one heard at the start of the word 'city', or the one at the start of the word 'cut', or maybe even the one at the start of 'child'. Is the 'a' the same as in 'said', or 'above', or 'cake', or 'saw', or 'father' or maybe even 'eat'? The list seems endless to the child. Is the 't' in 'cat' from 'top' or 'the' or 'thin' or who knows what else? A child who has difficulty making the appropriate sound-symbol associations becomes overwhelmed by the choices which must be made for even the shortest of words.
Sound blending as a problem means the child has difficulty in taking the information produced once the problems of the first two areas are surmounted and combining it to form a word. As an example, for the word 'cat', even if the child correctly recognizes the three letters and is able to identify which sound each letter makes in this particular word, the child who has difficulty blending the sounds into a recognizable word won't read the word as 'cat'. Instead, the child is apt to blend the sounds "c a t" and then say "cow" or "at" or something else.
The Reading Program...
Sounds as Images - Sound Pictures
When these three sounds are placed side by side, they form a word. Can you read the word? If you have difficulty in reading, remember to start at the left of the word and say each sound in order. If you have any difficulty remembering what sounds the pictures represent, review the description above for the sounds each picture makes. Once you have said each of the sounds in order, blend the three sounds together and see if you can hear the word they make. Try not to add any extra sounds into your blending and don't drop a sound out either!
If you read the word, congratulations! If not, find a friend with whom to share the experience and try again. Learning to read is not as easy as it seems to those of us who are already readers. As you were trying, either successfully or unsuccessfully, to read the word, you were facing the same kind of problems a child faces when attempting to read the word 'cat', with two notable exceptions:
First, the visual discrimination (perception) problem associated with letters is no longer present. Each picture in the word is visually quite distinct from the other pictures in the word. All the words in the English language are formed by a combination of 44 unique sounds. The 44 sound-pictures in this reading program represent the 44 sounds of the English language and each is designed specifically to eliminate opportunity for visual confusion with any of the other sound-pictures.
Second, the auditory (sound-symbol) problem associated with traditional letters is no longer present. There are forty-four sounds or phonemes in English that form the building blocks for every word we speak, read, or write. In this program, each of these 44 phonemes is represented by its own unique sound-picture. There is, therefore, a one-to-one ratio between the sounds and the pictures that are used to represent them. When a child sees a picture, he or she does not have to wonder which sound the picture represents this time. The sound for the picture is always the same.
Use of sound-pictures instead of letters as a starting point provides children with a much more manageable learning experience than they encounter when presented with traditional words and letters. It is the third area, though, which may have given you the most difficulty as you attempted to read the word represented by the three sound-pictures above.
In reading or attemting to read the three sound-pictures above, you had to take the information produced by the visual and auditory cues and combine it into the forming of a word. Depending upon the difficulty you had, or are still having, in forming the three sounds into a recognizable word, you may have had the opportunity to observe first-hand that being able to recognize the symbols and say their sounds correctly does not automatically guarantee you would then recognize the word cat once you had separately vocalized each of its sounds.
Third, Using sound-pictures simplifies the sound blending learning process for the child. It does not, however, eliminate the need to teach the child the process of blending sounds into words. Using the sound-pictures allows the child to concentrate on the single area of blending, without yet having to focus attention on the two parallel stumbling blocks of visual discrimination and auditory association.
Comprable to Using Manipulative Materials in Arithmetic
The process of progressing from reading and writing with sound-pictures to reading an writing with letters is described in the Overview, Sequence-Part-1, and Sequence-Part-2 sections.