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Why 74 phonograms?

Why does The Logic of English series have 74 phonograms when most Orton-based programs have only 70?

The 74 basic phonograms identified in Uncovering the Logic of English originate from the 70 basic phonograms identified by Dr. Orton. I have expanded the original list by adding four phonograms: augh, bu, gu, and cei.

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The Logic of English and STEM Education

In July Microsoft, Bank of America, and Nike agreed to invest $3.5 billion to increase the effectiveness of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in our nation's public schools.

The future of these companies and the prosperity of our nation depend upon how well we educate our children and prepare them for jobs in the new economy. Even in the midst of the economic downturn, there are an estimated 3 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. because employers are unable to find qualified employees. (America's Promise Alliance). At the same time unskilled workers are experiencing increasing difficulty in finding employment.

Before investing more money in math and science education, we must consider that 69% of eighth graders read below grade level (National Reading Panel). Poor reading ability limits the ability to excel in all other subjects - even math. The educational crisis begins in our reading classrooms and the solution resides in ensuring that all students learn to read.

Culturally we believe that children learn to read because they love books. In truth, students learn to love books when they learn to read.

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What Is Funny Phonics?

"Funny phonics" is the teaching of some of the sounds and their written representations so as to give the appearance of teaching the logic of the code. Rather than providing a logical picture, "funny phonics" generates more exceptions than rule-followers and leaves people feeling even more confused.

Though "funny phonics" programs have some benefit to helping students learn to read and are more helpful than asking students to memorize the vast language of English as individual sight words, "funny phonics" programs have unwittingly fueled the reading debates.

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Isn't Reading Comprehension the Point? Why Teach Phonics?

People often ask me, if their student learns the phonograms and rules, will they be able to comprehend what they read?

Honestly, maybe. But, if they do not learn how to decode, they will likely struggle to read what they are trying to comprehend.

In other words, reading words is different from comprehending.

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Shame and Vowels: The Story of a Struggling Reader

Vowel sounds highlight the concept of phonemic awareness and the ability to both glue words back together and break them into their individual sounds.

Recently, I had this driven home to me when I was working with a sixth grader whom I tutor. This student has been in the public schools and can read and spell thousands of words. Nevertheless, he struggles with reading and spelling and does not perceive himself to be smart. He has read and spelled below grade level his whole school career.

As I have been working with him, I have noticed he often mumbles. I had not wanted to push him too hard, because of his low self esteem. Today I realized it is his cover up for not knowing the vowel sounds. Up until this point, he has sounded out words that he already knows how to spell. He must think ahead to the spelling and as he knows the sounds of the written vowels he says them correctly when sounding them out. However, today he stumbled greatly over the word "children." He could not sound out the second syllable and seemed particularly hung up on the short E sound. Like many struggling students he began to shut down.

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Addressing Cynical Students

Providing Real Help to Struggling Readers

Many parents and teachers feel discouraged when their enthusiasm for the Logic of English is not met with equal enthusiasm by their struggling reader or speller. As the student's parent or teacher, you see the advantage of teaching spelling rules and phonograms and may feel very excited about teaching. Nevertheless you must respect your student's cynicism. Written English has not made sense to them and the years of struggle have added up. Likely this is not the first time someone has announced that a new curriculum, program, or tutor will help them. Many students have repeatedly been disappointed. They have developed a cynical attitude with good reason.

Rather than confronting their cynical attitude, embrace it as a healthy response from someone who has repeatedly met disappointment. Understand that the pain of failure in basic skills like reading or spelling is not overcome in a day or a week.

Here are a few tips for working with cynical, struggling students:

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The Dark Ages of Written English

In many ways, we are in the midst of the dark ages of written English. Okay, maybe that is a bit overstated... But humor me for a moment. Sixty percent of students read below grade level! Only three percent of adults read at the highest level of proficiency. Countless adults struggle with spelling. This is mirrored in the reality that less than two percent of educators with whom I speak know why there is a silent final E in have or why the C in trace says /s/. Yet these rules are foundational to reading and spelling in English.

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Spelling Kills Creativity!

At a recent in-service a teacher raised her hand and said, "I hate that there is a right way to spell a word. Correcting spelling kills creativity!"

This teacher expressed one of the doubts at the center of the literacy debate: Don't rules limit children's creativity?

As humans we are all creative, though many times we forget that creativity comes in many forms and is paired with an endless combination of personality traits. Sadly, many people stereotype creativity and limit its scope to someone who creates through writing, drawing, sculpting, music... without prior training and who flows freely with ideas. They often assume that learning techniques or skills will limit the flow of ideas and therefore stifle creativity. Many teachers, like the one mentioned above, believe that students who know there is a "right" way to spell a word will therefore become less creative in their writing and be hindered by the fear of spelling a word incorrectly.

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The Logic of English Made Me Cry!

Tears of relief and of untapped pain are a common response to reading Uncovering the Logic of English. The book goes to the heart and provides relief to the hurting.

Underneath the confident, poised exterior of many highly educated English speakers is a deep anxiety and pain that there is something wrong with them. They struggle with written language and try to hide their embarrassment. I believe this pain is at the root of our national debate on reading education.

Though it has been more than a decade since scientific research has conclusively demonstrated that systematic, explicit phonics is necessary for learning to read, as a nation we still do not buy it.

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Teachers Can't Spell Either: Why Spell-Checker Isn't Adequate

While speaking to over a hundred educators, I asked, "Raise your hand if you have ever abandoned the perfect word choice when writing because even the spell-checker couldn't recognize your attempt." I was shocked. More than 90% of the room raised their hands. Something is deeply wrong with how we are teaching English!

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