About Us

About Us

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Who We Are, What We Teach, and Why

The Riggs Institute

The Riggs Institute is a self-supporting non-profit literacy agency founded in 1979 by Myrna T. McCulloch. We support our literacy initiatives (curriculum, “awareness of the issues”, training and assistance in collaborative efforts across the world) through the sale of our curriculum materials and training, which are in keeping with our IRS status as a 501(c)(3) agency. We operate under a board of directors, all of which are unpaid, voluntary positions. 


Instructional Method and History

Our method of instruction, The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking [© McCulloch, Myrna, T], is based on Romalda and Walter Spalding’s The Writing Road to Reading (WRTR). It was based on the research of Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a neuropathologist and brain surgeon who researched the functioning of the human brain in learning language (1923-1948). 

His work (with assistance from successful classroom teachers who still taught the Webster-Oxford collaboration on phonetics and correct spelling with rules of the 1850’s) involved re-teaching brain-damaged World War I veterans to speak, read, write and spell again. These teachers, including Romalda Spalding, were trained in English orthography in Colleges of Education prior to the introduction and wide dissemination of the “look-say” (whole-word memorization) Dick and Jane readers. Orton published his book Reading, Writing and Speech Problems in Children in 1937. He is considered to be the first person to warn against the discriminatory and potentially damaging effects of the “look-say” [whole word] approach to teaching reading. He said that approximately 30% of the population who are not visually oriented learners would have great difficulty learning to read from these whole-word memorization types of materials. 

According to The National Education Goals Report Building a Nation of Learners (1998), there were 94 million American adults (51% of all adults) reading and writing at the two lowest (of five) levels of proficiency, which others have said equates to “functional illiteracy.” We ask researchers to conduct studies to determine whether there is evidence to suggest that this “in born” lack of visual ability (similar to tone deafness or color blindness and having nothing to do with the innate ability to learn) could be a major contributing factor in the past and present existence of illiteracy. 

Why We Published a New Program

The nationwide “phonemic awareness” frenzy was the final thing that really pushed us into this. As you may or may not know, the original Orton program designed for normal primary-level students (Spalding’s Writing Road to Reading (WRTR), 1957), reflected 80-year old speech patterns. These deteriorated speech patterns are the problem students are confronted with when they are trying to think, write and spell correctly on their own. We teachers cannot be with them forever to lead them through the words the way people spoke them 80 years ago.

We did not make up any new phonemes or graphemes (the latter remain very constant), but we did reassign a few phonemes to the original graphemes, such as the vowels i and y now having a long /ē/ sound — just as they are shown in modern dictionaries (example: “baby”). When the controversial third edition dictionary came out in 1963, Mrs. Spalding feared that speech would deteriorate, and, she was right, of course; it has. However, she decided to ignore the new dictionary in the hopes that pronunciations would follow her lead. Her own speech reflected Webster’s 2nd revision which was much closer to spelling and syllabication patterns.

The problem is now exacerbated by the current emphasis on only pronunciations. Phonemic awareness makes students aware of what they are saying and hearing, but it teaches only about one-third of the phonetic system needed for correct spelling. If we intend to be true to the WRTR methodology (and we do), we needed to give students a way to deal with newer speech (confirmed by the dictionary in most cases) and still allow them to spell correctly — even if they were not “born” spellers. When students are trying to think, write and spell correctly on their own, this is the problem they face. We decided to do something about teaching them these new patterns and “awarenesses” if you will. The slight revision of the phonograms and a couple of refinements to the mnemonic marking system now permit this.

We began with a reality check of our own — by first looking up every single word in the Ayres List in the 10th Edition of Merriam Webster’s Electronic Edition and by admitting how we ourselves actually pronounced many of them, regardless of how we thought we were pronouncing them. Our linguist board member also uses his German, Greek, Latin and French dictionaries to look back a few centuries. What we came up with was actually closer to what Webster’s spelling patterns looked like in the 1850’s than what we’ve been dealing with since the 1920’s (see the orthography chapter in Harvey’s Revised English Grammar, 1868). It became obvious these phonograms had been tampered with considerably before Dr. Orton ever had his hands on them.

We published Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking for five primary reasons:

  • To correlate it with the revised phonograms and marking system
  • To provide for chronologically organized daily lesson plans in the order in which they are taught to students, all under one cover
  • To add and intersperse direct, Socratic and multi-sensory lessons in grammar/syntax, organizational composition skills and vocabulary development not previously addressed
  • To provide a detailed K – 7 Course of Study standard coupled with ongoing assessments of those academic outcomes
  • To provide the means for self-training for those who cannot take formal training in the method


The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, written by the Institute’s founder Myrna T. McCulloch, still teaches the phonetic structure of correct English spelling. Twenty-six letters from the 45 sounds of English speech, using 71 common phonograms (letters and combinations of letters which make a single sound in a given word). These are taught in four weeks, simultaneously with dictated letter formation instructions designed to prevent or correct common reversals and to develop cognitive visual/directional motor skills. 

These sound/symbol relationships are then applied in the dictation of 2100+ of the most commonly used spelling words. Forty-seven rules of spelling, plurals and syllabication are stressed along with a memory-aid marking system. This method begins where English-speaking primary level children are in their spoken and comprehensible vocabularies (4000 to 24,000 words) when they begin first grade. The intent is to enable them to spell, write and read what they can already say and understand by the end of grade two.

Methodologies Used

To address all “learning styles” without risking discrimination, Orton, Spalding and Riggs (mentor to our founder/author Myrna McCulloch) say we must use four pathways to the brain:

  • sight
  • sound
  • voice
  • writing

We teach using multi-sensory, classical direct, Socratic instruction and dictation, thus teaching through the stronger avenues while remedying any weaker avenues without the necessity of pre-testing. Direct and Socratic instruction includes presenting the concepts through questioning rather than exclusively telling, illustrating those concepts, helping students to practice the concepts, using teaching charts which are created with the students, then assigning and assessing work to determine mastery. Dictation is prominently featured in this method to build comprehension and the requisite auditory and phonological awareness and processing skills necessary for students to think, spell, and write on their own.


We recommend challenging literature which imparts knowledge, builds vocabulary, stretches the mind and entertains. You may customize your selection to your own taste, requirements and need. On page 209 in the Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, Level I, McCulloch writes:

The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking is a skill-only method that permits total freedom to choose literature to support any individual philosophy, taste, or legislative mandate. However, we recommend against the newest ‘decodable’ text literature which has been written, not for interest or to expand vocabularies, but, undoubtedly, to accommodate the very slow pace of concurrent phonics instruction. Teaching the revised Orton phonograms in the first nine weeks, and using the students’ own original sentences for first in-context reading assignments, will permit you to skip ‘decodable’ text readers. . . We endorse any classic literature which has an expanding and rich vocabulary that accommodates your students’ oral vocabularies, and that consequently meets their interest levels.”

Integration of Language “Strands”

The WSRRT fully integrates listening, speaking, initial letter formation and cursive handwriting, spelling (with complete “explicit” phonetics [simultaneous phonemic/graphemic awareness]and 47 rules of orthography), creative and organizational composition skills, reading, comprehension, vocabulary development, basic grammar (through parsing, direct instruction and diagramming) and analytical and inferential thinking. It also includes cognitive developmental auditory, verbal, visual, and visual-motor (tactile-kinesthetic) sub-skills necessary to prevent or correct most learning disorders AND to provide for acceleration in the learning process.


Our local, national and international instructional services include:

  • Accredited Teacher/Parent/Tutor/Aide/Administrator/Literacy Volunteer 30-hr seminars for mainstreamed and remedial students of all ages and abilities.
  • Theory
  • Demonstration
  • Guided Practice
  • Classroom Application
  • Feedback and Coaching
  • FREE follow-up conference call services upon request. Send teacher questions by email in advance.
  • Curriculum materials (including non-consumable manuals and cards for teachers and notebooks and correct practice paper for students). See our catalog or call 1-800-200-4840 to order. Materials recommended by and available [sole source] from the Riggs Institute consist of: 
  • The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, Level I, Level II, Level III Teacher’s Editions (©McCulloch, M., K&M Publishing) 
  • The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Revised “Orton” Phonogram Cards, with sounds, spelling rules and handwriting instructions and Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Revised “Orton” Phonogram Sound CD (©McCulloch, M, © Riggs Institute Press) 
  • Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Basic Spelling and Usage Dictionary (©McCulloch, M, Riggs Institute Press), 
  • Student notebooks and paper; students use a (one) composition notebook each year, appropriate practice paper, and red and black pencils.  (© McCulloch, M, Riggs Institute Press). 
  • From other publishers, a primary-level grammar text with key and a set comprehension books. [see catalog pages] The materials from the Riggs Institute are priced at $157.90. The Riggs Institute materials listed are a one-time-purchase per teacher and/or parent, for use with any number of students, year after year.

FREE curriculum evaluation materials: 13-page Curriculum Evaluation and Overview

Margins and spacing, as well as letter formation which prevents or corrects early tendencies to reversals, are taught with the sound/s using oral dictation [the graphemic symbol/s (letter/s) are united with the sounds immediately], dotted-line paper and 8 checkpoints.”

© Riggs Institute