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The Riggs Institute Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip #1:

Correct English spelling patterns for the sounds of English speech and the rules of our language, generally, have not been taught at the teacher training level in America since the early 1930's. We now have three generations of U.S. citizens who do not have accurate information about the structure of English words! This has had a devastating effect on overall literacy.

Literacy Tip #2:

According to the 1994 federal report, The National Education Goals Report: Building a Nation of Learners, 90 million U.S. adult citizens read and write at the two lowest of five levels of proficiency. By some others' estimates, this equates to functional illiteracy. The report also says, "Despite the fact that nearly half of all American adults scored at the two lowest of five levels of proficiency, nearly all American adults believed that they could read and write English well." This survey exam report claims a margin error of from 2 to 3%.

Literacy Tip #3:

Learning styles are neurologically based. They have nothing to do with the innate ability to learn. Just as we would not put a tone deaf or color blind child into a classroom where all teaching was presented only through musical tones or colors, we should not put the 'non-visual' learner into classrooms which rely on 'visually- oriented' printed materials for instruction. To do so is to invite student failure.

Literacy Tip #4:

Not all children learn the same way. Some are not 'visual' in their learning style; therefore, phonetics, spelling and reading must be taught through more than one learning avenue to the mind. The Riggs Institute uses auditory, visual, verbal and motor pathways. SEEING IT, HEARING IT, SAYING IT, and WRITING IT, simultaneously, does not discriminate against any type of learner.

Literacy Tip #5:

Classroom teachers and parents are surprised and pleased to find out that there's much more to the teaching of complete phonetics, with 47 rules for spelling, plurals and syllabication, than they had previously realized. Combining the necessary basic skills (phonetics, letter formation, spacing margins, correct spelling with rules) with writing and reading makes 'integrated' or 'whole' language goals a viable probability for almost all students.

Literacy Tip #6:

Pronouncing & comprehending are not the first tasks of teaching reading. First graders already say, pronounce and comprehend the word 'cat' and between 4,000 and 24,000 other words [Seashore, Chall, Flesch]. Teachers must teach what the students don't already do -- i.e. separate or segment the sounds of these words for instant recognition on paper by quickly teaching a complete phonemic/graphemic (or sound/symbol) phonetic system to cover the English spelling system.

Literacy Tip #7:

All 'decodable text' reading materials can be fairly judged only in comparison to the 'content' of the phonics instruction offered. Current publisher- offered and 'delayed' simplistic phonics requires that 'decodable text' be dumbed down to inferior levels in content, interest and vocabulary. Even 'See Dick run' cannot be decoded with the delayed, one-sound-for-each-alphabet-letter (average 1999/2001 publisher norm) type of instruction usually taught in an entire first year of instruction.

Literacy Tip #8:

When direct, voiced phonics instruction is eliminated in favor of presenting phonics visually on consumable and printed worksheets, it is not 'explicit' phonics instruction. Neurologically, such 'visual' instruction does not address the learning needs of up to 30% of all students because it does not make the necessary brain connection between the sound/s and the letter/s representing them on paper.

Literacy Tip #9:

A complete phonetic system teaches about 71 common spellings for the 42 sounds of speech - all the sounds needed to say one-half million English words. It is a reliable beginning for learning to spell, write, read and think. Teaching this information ahead of words or pictures (explicit phonics) is comparable to teaching the multiplication tables before assigning multiplication and division problems.

Literacy Tip #10:

In the 1960's, 'schwa' pronunciations (the 'uh' sound we hear and say for the vowels a, e, i and o, in unstressed syllables -- e.g. 'u-genst' vs 'a-gainst) were put into American dictionaries. This further separated acceptable pronunciations from their correct spelling patterns, and caused many teachers to mistrust phonics as a reliable teaching tool. When teachers learn that there is still a reasonable way to correlate speech patterns with correct spellings, they are delighted!

Literacy Tip #11:

English-speaking six-year-olds can speak and understand some 4,000 to 24,000 words - words they pronounce and listen to with understanding - according to researchers Seashore, Chall, and Flesch. They will use the same 42 sounds (phonemes) of English speech to pronounce over 1/2 million English words. Learning correct spellings for these sounds is a practical beginning and the only accurate means of 'mapping' (matching) these sounds to standard bookprint. This is the alphabetic principle.

Literacy Tip #12:

The U.S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has defined literacy as: 'the ability to read, write and spell what one can listen to and say with comprehension.' (Federal Register). To capture the attention of children who seem to prefer watching television, print recognition needs to match speech, vocabulary, and interest levels as quickly as possible. "Decodable texts" and knowing only the phonemes of English speech (about 1/3 of the phonetic system) cannot accomplish this.

Literacy Tip #13:

Literacy is much more than the mere ability to read. We must teach children to listen intently, to pronounce precisely, to comprehend both speech and print, and to express themselves -- both orally and in writing. The latter is the best way to clarify their own thinking. They need to develop their vocabularies, learn correct grammar and syntax, legible handwriting, capitalization and punctuation.

Literacy Tip #14:

Educational reform should begin with improving the way we teach our own language. All other learning of significance relies upon well-developed language skills. Many who promote educational improvement talk about reform, but have not yet identified the root causes of illiteracy, and, therefore, are unable to prescribe a specific cure for the illiteracy problem upon which all other learning depends.

Literacy Tip #15:

English is a sound/symbol system; it is not a pictographic one. 71 letters (and letter combinations) commonly spell the 42 "pure" sounds used to say over 1/2 million English words. For efficiency we need to teach these correct spelling patterns first. Dr. Linnea Ehri, CUNY, calls this 'graphophonemic awareness' (see her 10-page research paper linked to from this home page).Teaching these initially -- without key pictures or words - is called explicit phonics, the type of phonics instruction recommended by the federally compiled research, Becoming a Nation of Readers, 1985.

Literacy Tip #16:

Teaching letter names, key pictures and words can be counterproductive in beginning reading instruction. For instance, teaching 'aah' - apple - 'aah' or 'k' - cat - 'k', using both words and pictures, requires two extra thought processes each time the student wants to use /a/ or /c/ in other words. Adding letter names and capital letter formation adds another two extraneous thought processes not needed at this point. All four delay fluency in word recognition, a prerequisite for comprehension -- the purpose of reading.

Literacy Tip #17:

Purist whole language programs (still the prevailing thought among America's reading professors and thus our teachers) rely primarily on memorizing whole words. Their authors claim that if children learn speech by being spoken to, they will learn print skills -- reading, writing, and spelling -- by merely being exposed to print. This happens with a few visually gifted learners, but the norm is that the human brain is prewired for speech, but not for print skills.

Literacy Tip #18:

'Invented spelling' programs were/are popularized by the demand for early primary composition. Students in such programs place incorrect en grams in their own brains through encouragement to practice writing (arguably the strongest modality) with wrong information -- as does wrong practice on a piano or computer keyboard.
Write the words: food, do, flew, blue, through, fruit, you, two, shoe and neutral using oo for the correct spellings of long 'oo' to see the mis-programming of the brain when only phonemes are taught. Current "phonemic awareness" programs encourage invented spellings.

Literacy Tip #19:

No one can tell positively which way/s children learn best. Simultaneous instruction through sight, sound, voice and writing automatically teaches through an individual's stronger neurological pathway/s while it remedies the weaker ones. Most of us are born with some weaker avenues. For optimal cognitive development, acceleration of the learning process, and prevention of learning disorders, multi-sensory teaching should begin at early primary levels using only correct, complete and properly sequenced information.

Literacy Tip #20:

Most programs teach hundreds of consonant blends such as str, ld, pr, etc. as separate phonemes of English speech, which they are not. When they are "collapsed" as one sound/symbol relationship for the purpose of blending, true phonemic awareness related to the alphabetic principle can be lost. The student's focus is now on the sound of the blend rather than on the sound/symbol relationships of each individual letter. To spell words, each sound of each letter must be recognized. Blending for reading is better handled at the point of decoding rather than teaching isolated blends as part of the phonetic system.

Literacy Tip #21:

Each letter of a consonant blend retains its own "elementary" sound/s even when blended. Programs that incorrectly combine these consonants, also often neglect new sound/s that are formed when some other letters are combined. For instance, /au/ in one syllable is never sounded 'aah' - 'uh,' but forms a new sound by being combined: 'aw' as in fault; igh is not 'i' - 'g' - 'h', but is simply sounded as a long 'i' in the word fight. This type of faulty phonics instruction makes for serious problems in the minds of very bright children who can then fail to learn to read anything beyond 2- and 3-letter words.

Literacy Tip #22:

An effective and complete phonetic system should immediately teach two sounds for the graphemes (letters) c, g and s, and then, quickly, the rule which says, 'if c comes before e, i or y, it says 's'.' Very young children can then immediately sound out and read words like cent, city and cycle. They can also recognize that short words such as: as, is, was, hers, his and the /s/ used to form the plural of hundreds of words ending in a vowel or a voiced consonant sound are pronounced with the second sound of /s/, which is 'z.'

Literacy Tip #23:

The letter r is often mistaught as 'er' or 'ruh' -- both of which are incorrect. We do not take an 'er-ride' or a 'ruh-ide' downtown. The phoneme /er/ is one of the 42 elementary phonemes or sounds of English speech, but it is commonly and correctly spelled with the graphemes er, ir, ur, wor (after some w's), and ear. If students have been taught that r says 'er', then spell the word burn as brn, think of their frustration when they get it marked as incorrect!

Literacy Tip #24:

Phonics and spelling rules are necessary for children who simply cannot "sight memorize" whole words. Of some 47 spelling, syllable and plural rules, beginning children need to know, very quickly, the three distinct ways that vowels will usually say their letter names in English words -- and the reasons for five silent final e's at the end of words. This allows spelling and reading of the many words already in their oral vocabularies, which could be a complete mystery otherwise. Delaying real phonics instruction is almost as harmful as not teaching it at all if we want
children to enjoy reading at their interest and vocabulary levels.

Literacy Tip #25:

Nationwide, test scores begin to decline at late 2nd and at 3rd grade levels. This causes frustration and mystery for teachers, students and parents alike. A plausible reason is that early reading, taught through sight memorization of a few hundred words and a too-little, too-late partial phonics approach no longer works when words become longer, pictures fewer, and contextual clues less reliable. Then, it is a rude awakening to discover that the child really doesn't having independent decoding skills after all, and these scores come at the exact point when our national education goals say that "every child will be able to read."

Literacy Tip #26:

Bilingual or ESL programs can be made highly effective by simply translating a proven English spelling/reading/writing method into the bilingual or ESL student's native language -- for a half-year transitional program. Pertinent research says that English teaching will move much further and faster if students have become somewhat print literate in their native language. They need to know how their native speech sounds 'map' to book print before learning a foreign language (in this case English). We should revive bilingual education across the nation with these ideas in mind.

Literacy Tip #27:

Children or adults who have regularly attended school, but who have not learned to read, are generally confronted by two major issues: First, about 30% of students may not be strongly 'visual' (Samuel T. Orton) -- the primary method of teaching English for the past 70 years, with the intermittent use of consumable worksheets. Secondly, they have not been given sufficient phonetic information to be able to spell and read words at their vocabulary and interest levels.

Literacy Tip #28:

In 2001/2002, most teachers and parents now believe that children are again getting real phonics instruction. Nothing could be further from the truth! The 'standards' movement, the monopolistic state textbook adoption processes, the dumbed-down 'decodable' texts, and testing to match continue to produce failure. The textbook industry is now positioning itself to eliminate phonics instruction as unworkable (see Ed Week's "The Story of Phonics," 2-14-01).

Literacy Tip #29:

We need to fill the known gaps in research and finally discover what has been amiss for 70 years. It is truly senseless to announce that "all children will learn to read by grade three" when monopolistic textbook adoptions make it impossible to approve curriculum except where legislators continue to empower those who have caused the present failure.

Literacy Tip #30:

Whole language programs rely primarily on memorizing whole words. Their authors claim that if children learn speech by being spoken to, they will learn print skills -- reading, writing and spelling -- by being surrounded by print. Maria Montessori and prominent brain researchers have said this likely will not happen for up to one-third of the population.

Literacy Tip #31:

Beginning first graders can already say and understand from 4000 to 24,000 words when they enter school (Seashore, Chall, Flesch). The average first grade reading program teaches sight memorization of about 375 words and uses a necessary, but repetitious, sight vocabulary in assigned controlled vocabulary literature. This is far below interest levels, thus many children lose their beginning enthusiasm for reading.

Literacy Tip #32:

Children or adults who have attended school but have not learned to read, generally, are missing two things. Firstly, their learning pathway may not be strongly 'visual' - the major method of workbook type instruction for the past 60 years. Secondly, they don't have sufficient phonetic information to be able to encode (spell) or decode (read) words which are at their vocabulary and interest levels.

Literacy Tip #33:

Neuroscience researchers should include brain scanning to picture the human brain in the learning process in classrooms where there are no failures as well as concentrating on only those students who have failed and are diagnosed with learning disorders. The latters' brains are said to show abnormalities and we agree that after years of mis-teaching or lack of teaching, both the memory en grams and the cognitive development needed for certain skills are simply not there. How could it be otherwise? This obvious fact does not prove that these abnormalities were there at conception or birth.

Literacy Tip #34:

Time management in the classroom has not been the subject of educational reform efforts. There's been no effort to connect time management with questionable mandates for class size reduction. When teachers are forced to teach at each individual desk (when students use consumable, printed worksheets) it naturally follows that effective instructional time suffers. Conversely, direct instruction (engaging all students at once) allows teachers to teach more effectively, with less time and materials costs involved; therefore, it is more efficient in all areas.

Literacy Tip #35:

Teachers, Tutors, Parents:

Illiteracy now invades one of every three American homes. Too many Johnnies can't read, write or spell! The question is: "Why not?" The information now available through The Riggs Institute is important to YOUR future. Nearly all students can learn to read, write and spell English well! Phonics is a part of the answer, but, before you act, get the facts you need for all types of learning by calling The Riggs Institute at 800-200-4840.