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An EQUAL and OPTIMAL educational opportunity through multi-sensory language arts.

The Riggs Power Point Script

Slide 1

The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, written by Myrna McCulloch, founder of the nonprofit Riggs Institute, adds a subtitle that speaks to the type of teaching method the manual is, as well as to its overall objectives. Using teaching practices that incorporate explicit instruction in phonological awareness and sound-symbol relationships to enhance the speed and accuracy of decoding and single word reading, this method begins with the student’s ability to articulate the sounds of English speech within the oral syntax they already use upon entering school. It is a brain-based method that begins to establish cognition in four sensory areas of the brain immediately, systematically producing complete English literacy, which, hopefully, will move considerably beyond the skills listed in the main title. The Riggs Institute is also hopeful that this title will attract the attention of contemporary neuroscientists who now have the neuro-imaging equipment to prove or disprove Dr. Samuel Orton’s theories about teaching and learning language.

Slide 2

Dr. Orton’s 25-years of research and experimentation focused on finding a way to re-teach language skills to World War I veterans who had survived losing parts of their brains. He theorized that the absent memory for various language skills could be re-established on the other side of the brain. With the help of pre Dick and Jane teachers, he proved his theories correct and expanded his experiments to include other victims of brain trauma as well - people who had suffered strokes or who had been born with physiological or organic brain dysfunction. Teachers Anna Gillingham and Romalda Spalding both worked under his close supervision and wrote teaching methods which embraced the concepts he had used. These were teachers who had themselves been trained and taught prior to the introduction of whole-word memorization programs such as Scott Foresman’s Dick and Jane.

It is reported that Mrs. Gillingham brought the phonetic organization now rather broadly known as the Orton phonogram to him in 1923. They were/are what most teachers used in the 1920's and back to the 1850's when spellings were normalized for both the Webster and Oxford dictionaries. The other individuals listed here either used Romalda Spalding’s Writing Road to Reading, which reflected Orton’s final conclusions, or influenced the content and methods of this manual in grammar, syntax and orthography. Thomas Harvey was one of the classic grammarians of the 1800's, Nina Traub wrote the Recipe for Reading, Oma Riggs taught the Writing Road to Reading from 1959 to 1977 when she trained Riggs founder Myrna McCulloch, Margaret Bishop wrote a definitive orthography text based on the 1966 Stanford University Hanna Study. Psychiatrist Hilde L. Mosse taught 1000 NYC learning disabled and psychotically-disturbed students-patients to read in the 60's and 70's. She wrote the 714-page Complete Handbook of Children’s Reading Disorders to record this experience and to explain in some detail and in layman’s language, just how she had managed this.

Slide 3

Founded by Myrna McCulloch in 1979, The Riggs Institute’s mission objectives are written here. Their goal is to help reduce illiteracy across the English speaking world.

Slide 4

This graph shows a 14-month success story in raising student achievement levels in an inner-city Omaha, Nebraska school from the fall of 1977 through January of 1979. Almost all children were of ethnic backgrounds, and approx. one-half of the children had been in the Title I remedial program the previous year. The graph shows their academic progress, grade by grade, according to SRA standardized achievement tests. After 2.5 months of instruction, the school was no longer eligible for Title I funding because there were only 7 students left with test scores below the 50th %tile. Note that the most significant class average is at the upper right, showing 2nd graders at the 96th %tile. They, of course, had never been taught with any other method.

All first graders had 850 words in their spelling notebooks by year’s end. They not only could read these words, they could also write and spell them and use them in correct oral and written sentences. They could diagram sentences with 8 parts of speech as well and they were writing bookreports once a week toward the end of the year. The top student, a small Hispanic child, came out of grade 1 at the 7th grade 1st month level and is today an attorney in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the 2nd year, 18 students were enrolled who had been diagnosed in other schools with various types of mild to severe learning disorders. With one exception, they were all brought to grade level in the second year. Oma Riggs trained these teachers and their supervisor, Myrna McCulloch in Spalding’s Writing Road to Reading.

Slide 5

This method closely combines these language “strands. ” Children learn excellent listening and processing skills by first writing the forms of lower case manuscript letters through a dictation process which uses the placement of 2, 10, 8 and 4 on a clock face, plus 4 lines on dotted-lined paper. They HEAR the dictated instructions, SAY the phonemes aloud as they SEE and WRITE the graphemes to establish both the phonemic and the graphemic awareness needed for correct English spelling. Dictated spelling lessons of the most commonly used words are begun in the 4th week, after the first 55 spelling patterns have been learned. Individual words are encoded, recoded, blended, read, and analyzed. Spelling rules and a mnemonic marking system are applied, and the writing of original sentences or composition provides the encodable and decodable text which becomes the beginner’s first reading in context. All of this takes place in the first 8 weeks of instruction.

Slide 6

Oral comprehension is taught from day one, but specific comprehension practice and testing exercises are used beginning in about the 8th week. The balance of these skills are woven together in the one program. Prefixes and suffixes are taught almost from the beginning; Latin and Greek roots are added starting in the middle of grade two. Just as students analyze single words for their phonetic structure, syllabication and the application of rules, sentence analysis is practiced through grammar and syntax taught with parsing and diagramming -- direct, graphic and Socratic methods of teaching. The method is finely sequenced to provide the auditory, visual, verbal and motor cognitive development needed for the tasks at hand - real reading and writing.

Slide 7

The phonetic system used in this method is relatively easy to understand and teach. The 42 “pure” elementary sounds or phonemes of English speech (these are sounds which cannot be further divided) are represented by one or more of the 26 letters of the alphabet. It takes 71 letters or letter combinations (these are the graphemes or spelling patterns) to encode, correctly, an average spoken, comprehensible grade 4 vocabulary. Since some graphemes have multiple sounds which are also spelled in different ways, the phoneme/grapheme combinations number about 116. We teach these, grade 1 and up, in four of the first nine weeks of instruction at a rate of 4 per day. This is the alphabetic principle so often spoken of, but not defined.

Slide 8

I will recite the way these phonograms are taught, reading from left to right and designating which line I am reading. The teaching instruction and a representative word or words is on our set of cards for teachers.

RECITATION OF PHONOGRAMS (the ones I have just pronounced are taught, four per day, in 3 weeks.)

Students have learned them when they can write the phonogram or grapheme from only the spoken sounds. Children do not copy in this program.

Slide 9

As you have heard, the phonograms are taught in isolation; example words on the back of the cards, are for teachers only to be certain of the sound or sounds. The only picture needed to turn speech into print is the shape and form of the letter or letters which represent those sounds on paper. Since letter names are not heard in English except for the vowels’ (about 1/3 of the time) they are also extraneous to what beginning children need to know to both spell and read. What about capital letter formation: though beginners may come to school writing with capital letter formation, we delay this teaching also until the 6th or 7th week when capitals are needed for the writing of their first original sentences. After all, in an entire line of book print, how many capitals are there? Neurologically speaking, key words, picture clues, letter names and capital letter formation in beginning instruction can cause a memory overload for many children. If we teach aaah apple aaah or “k” cat “k,” each time a child wants to put an a or c in another word, they must take extra time to move past those key words, pictures, letter names already in their minds. This slows fluency which, in turn, adversely affects comprehension - the reason for reading.

Slide 10

The previous slide has described the teaching of “explicit” phonics of the only federally-synthesized research on this subject – pointedly done by the nation’s leading reading professors. With the exception of two, Drs. Jeanne Chall of Harvard and Isabel Beck of the University of Pittsburg, not only did the other 8 professors not believe that phonics instruction was a necessary component of learning to read, they had no idea of the differences between implicit and explicit phonics. On balance, after examining the cold, hard evidence, they decided that explicit phonics was favored over implicit phonics instruction for teaching reading. They defined it as “teaching the sound/symbol relationships in isolation.” Though published by the Center for the Study of Reading, U of Illinois and widely disseminated, it was ignored by most educators, and the new research money was already going to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development who were believed to have no publisher conflicts of interest.

Slide 11

In making comparisons of phonics programs, one should look first at the scope of the phoneme/graphemes presented – how completely does the program encompass the alphabetic principle for mapping sounds to correct spelling patterns? How many blends, which combine two or more of the elementary sounds of English speech, are taught, a practice which can destroy already acquired phonemic awareness, or hamper the development of processing skills?

The second item to consider is the sequencing of the program. When are the sound/symbol relationships (phonograms) taught? Are children asked to read books and stories before they are introduced? Are the phonograms spread over several years through embedded or implicit phonics, taught in tandem with words, pictures, and through workbooks? Or, if are they taught by the teacher, when and in what order? What are the applications for use and practice? Is instruction tied to reading, to writing, to spelling, etc.? Third: How is the phonics presented? With workbooks or direct instruction? If with workbooks or worksheets, it is implicit phonics because as soon as one tries to show phonics instruction on paper, it is no longer isolated.

Slide 12

In this method, phoneme/grapheme relationships are taught before the reading of words, sentences, stories and books. They are presented with multi-sensory instruction to address all learning styles without risk of discrimination, and they are presented through direct instruction. Students are aurally and visually engaged as the teacher shows the grapheme while voicing the appropriate phoneme (or phonemes). They repeat the sound (or sounds) aloud as they write the grapheme, thus engaging their oral and kinesthetic neural pathways as well. For example, the card with the grapheme a is held up; the teacher says, “This is aaah a ah aw.” The students repeat together and write the form of this letter through dictated instructions. At certain intervals, after students can write the correct graphemes when only the spoken sound (or sounds) are dictated, the mastered phonograms are recorded on erasable wall charts, which students help to prepare. Older students write them into notebooks from teacher-dictated instructions. All students are beginning to prepare the information that will permit them to become independent learners.

Slide 13

While we all gather, assimilate and store language information using our visual, verbal, auditory and motor neurological pathways, children come to school with various strengths and weaknesses in these areas of their brain. Multi-sensory instruction teaches the content through the stronger pathways while simultaneously strengthening any weaker ones. Instead of compounding any beginning problems with less efficient teaching techniques, we provide every student with an EQUAL and OPTIMAL learning opportunity. When instruction is correctly sequenced, one skill building upon the last, such instruction establishes cognition by “wiring” or connecting those same areas of the brain together through a process called synapses. This is what can be viewed in red and yellow on a computer screen through brain scanning while teaching and learning is in progress. We invite your interest and commentary.

Slide 14

The term “direct instruction” has been associated with the old Distar program with which some may be familiar. The basics tenants of direct instruction are really completely generic; it is not a proper noun; in our program direct instruction, as opposed to worksheet instruction, has the teacher engaging all students simultaneously, focusing on learning objectives, illustrating first practice, guiding first student practice, and continually checking for correct practice in order to note progress toward mastery or the need for re-teaching. There is no time consuming one-on-one instruction, though harder to teach students are placed next to the teacher’s teaching station. Ths method of whole-class direct instruction is a great saver of time and commands attention because all children are expected to answer every question and to participate fully.

Slide 15

Classic Socratic instruction is named for one of the great teachers of all time, Socrates, who taught through questioning rather than informing. He induced his students to find answers through experience, inquiry, logic, and sometimes, the process of elimination. Why? Because logical, step-by-step questions demand logical answers, something students must seek out and prove to themselves under the teacher’s guidance. We begin such instruction in kindergarten. For primary levels, answers come chorally rather than individually; the very young are taught how to find their answers from set analytical patterns which is excellent practice and training for higher level thinking skills later. Far superior to lecturing, when children can learn to anticipate these set questioning patterns, such instruction commands and maintains attention. Students must be quick and sure, and they are. To spell a word from dictation, for example, the teacher says a word and has the students answer a series of questions regarding which sound they hear first, which spelling pattern to use to represent that sound, which sound comes next, etc. Once the word is on their paper, students dictate the word back to the teacher, sound by sound and phonogram by phonogram, again responding to a set pattern of analytical questions. To begin sentence diagramming, questioning begins with a simple sentence “Birds fly.” This is written on the board; then students are questioned, what or whom are we talking about here? And what is that something or someone doing? What do we call this? How do we graphically demonstrate it? Students thoroughly enjoy these challenging and productive tasks. They produce excellent work and acquire a real and lasting sense of self-esteem from having done so.

Slide 16

The use of charts or notebooks is the bedrock which holds the instructional sequence together for students while simultaneously allowing them to become independent learners. Charts or notebook pages serve to illustrate and separate the pertinent information they are learning - the information they need for the written and oral work they are required to produce in other content areas. This information is always available on the wall charts or in their notebooks, and these charts and notebook pages help to prompt the teacher during teaching moments. For example, if students make mistakes on their spelling tests or while writing a science report, they can be directed to find and correct their own mistakes by using the appropriate pages in their self-made resources. Since teachers and students can constantly refer back to the previously recorded content of what they are learning, charts or notebooks also ensure continuous review of the key concepts and information that must eventually be memorized.

Slide 17

Currently there is much concern across the nation about how to adjust teaching practice to correct student deficiencies. Admittedly, this is difficult because it requires almost constant assessment and adjustments. We measure mastery though daily phonogram and spelling tests. For spelling, six new words are introduced each day. Thirty words per day are tested, and missed words are marked for study the next day. (Students would use their charts or notebooks to find and correct their own errors.) The oldest six words are dropped off and the newest six are added each day, and there is constant review of the spelling-vocabulary list. While comprehension is taught in all lessons, there are also separate 3-minute lessons in practicing and testing reading comprehension. The McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading are used 2 to 3 times per week for this purpose. These are classic tools that have been published by Teachers College Press since the 1920's; they were renormed in 1979. There is also a normed Riggs Orthography or Spelling Scale Assessment given once monthly, and our Level II Teacher’s Edition, which is used after the skills and concepts in Level I have been mastered, has ongoing assessments for grammar and syntax. Each 10 days, a skills and performance checklist makes it easy for the teacher to note deficiencies and re-teach anything not yet mastered.

Slides 18 & 19

The important distinguishing features of this program are:

  • It teaches how to read through writing and spelling because cognition is more efficiently established in building the word through dictation. It equips students to think their way through the same process when writing and spelling independently
  • Phonemic and graphemic awareness (the alphabetic principle) and cognition are established simultaneously by writing and repeating dictated spoken sounds. This awareness and cognition occurs while phonograms are being taught and while spelling words are dictated and tested.
  • Automaticity or fluency in both reading and spelling comes from word study and from the students producing their own “encodable” and then “decodable” text. What they write and spell correctly, they can also read. We cannot guarantee that text written by others will be “decodable” for every student.
  • We solve the knotty problem of the differences between correct spellings and the pronunciations of words. Correct graphemes are always the same; they remain constant whereas phonemes vary widely from 42 “pure” sounds to over 250 nuances of sounds in all the dialects of English spoken worldwide.
  • Independent habits of mind in processing, thinking, writing and spelling are produced in the student through the scientific process used to teach skills and concepts.
  • The method saves enormous amount of student and teacher time through the use of direct, multi-sensory instruction and the use of reference charts and notebooks. Very little one-on-one instruction will be necessary.
  • By teaching phonics explicitly, without needless interferences, children read fluently much faster. This frees their minds for comprehension.

Slide 20

The management and motivation concepts shown here become a reality made possible through the use of direct, Socratic and multi-sensory teaching techniques. Teachers find it easy to get and maintain attention.

Slide 21

Approximately 2.5 hours per day are required to implement this program to its full advantage. Since our students quickly learn a complete phonetic system, they can soon decode almost anything and much of this time can be spent practicing real reading and real writing in “across-the-curriculum” assignments in science, social studies, health, etc.

Slide 22

Many of our clients, including parents, have trained themselves in the use of these materials. Cooperative study groups are popular. We suggest 2 - 3 hour sessions once a week using a separate manual complete with training objectives and assessments. We also offer school-sponsored training seminars across the U.S. and in some foreign countries. These seminars are patterned after the 5 major research-validated steps you see in this slide. We ask for some pre-study, then recommend an 18-hour training, then implementation in the classroom for 2 to 3 months, and another 3-day session which includes classroom observations.

Slide 23

For additional information, we can send a FREE 1-hour taped/visual aid overview package which is suitable for individuals or groups. Staff meetings are ideal. We invite you to visit our very extensive website and give us a call We’re always happy to answer questions.