Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does your curriculum require formal training?
Many teachers, parents, professional tutors, aides and literacy volunteers have no trouble implementing the method quite correctly without formal training. We do, however, offer training seminars and we are available via email or phone for questions.
2. What curriculum materials do I need to teach first graders? Does it make any difference if I have 20 first graders or only one?
The core teacher materials for first graders (for 1 or 20 students) are:
- The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, Teacher’s Edition, Level I
- The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Training Manual (to guide you through your preliminary study)
- Set of Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking “Revised” Orton Phonogram Cards with initial letter formation
- The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Phonogram CD, with pronunciations and 47 rules
- The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Student/Teacher Practice CD with Blackline Master practice, testing and correction sheets
- Blank composition notebook, 3/8″-rule
- Set of re-useable laminated 24″ x 34″ wall charts (or in the case of a small class, 11″ x 14″ size).
- The ABC’s and All Their Tricks (reference material for the teacher)
Necessary student materials are:
- 1 3/8″-rule dotted line composition notebook
- Practice Paper
- 1 each red and black, #2 six sided pencils
There are other recommended “enrichment” items for both teacher and students to enhance the program, but which are not critical to the method itself:
- The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Basic Spelling & Usage Dictionary (K-2, ESL)
- Comprehension series, the McCall-Harby Test Lessons in Primary Reading (K) and the McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading, Book A-F
3. What curriculum do I need to teach kindergarten children this same program?
The same afore mentioned materials, except use 1/2″-rule composition notebooks and practice paper for K students. This wider rule can also be used for some special education students – depending upon their IEP and for some at risk grade one and two students.
4. How can I help my fifth-grade students who still read at the 2nd and 3rd grade levels and spell and write at even lower levels? They are not yet in special education, but there are parental requests to test them for future special education placement.
Perhaps they only need to be taught the phonics and rules [Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking “Revised” Orton Phonograms] they may have missed along the way and which they need for correct spelling. Correct spellings of words are the same as standard “book print” used in reading assignments. If they have been using “invented” spellings for composition, they could quite naturally have trouble with reading as well. At 5th grade levels, if the school hasn’t suggested testing them previously for learning disorders, they were probably considered of normal development for the first five years.
For a minimal additional investment to begin, along with the phonogram cards, try The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Adaption Set ($59.00) and Adaption Instructions of the “Orton” phonograms (the commonly used correct spelling patterns). With little supervision, they could teach these correct spelling patterns to themselves using full multi-sensory instruction to address their individual “learning style.”
5. How can I help my fourth-grade students learn to spell better? About half of them are fairly good readers, but they can’t spell at all, and consequently hate to write anything.
Our explicitly taught and complete phonics organization was designed to take such phonics instruction directly to spelling applications (encoding) rather than only to reading (decoding) which prevails in adopted reading programs. Our approach is unique among phonics/reading methods, but we feel that we’ve proven, with around 120 collective years of successful use, that putting the words together through phoneme/grapheme dictated spelling lessons creates a long term memory base more quickly and efficiently than just noting what is already on the page to be read or decoded. See #4 question above for suggestions on what might be done with students to achieve a fairly “quick fix.”
Sometimes there’s a serious problem [Indispensable Elements of Reading], but quite often they only need the missing information. Some children immediately “see” the 2, 3 and 4-letter phonograms just pop out of the words; others must be shown specifically how their own speech “maps” to print through “the alphabetic principle“. You would need the Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, Teacher’s Edition, Level I, to carry the program forward into spelling, composition, grammar, syntax, etc. Older Students
6. Can you explain why you revised the old “Orton” phonograms? And then, why you 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 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.
7. We published a new program [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
8. I am a principal wondering how I might best bring your method to the attention of our staff. They have previously embraced a purist whole language approach, but now they recognize that certainly some of our students needed better phonics instruction. Recently they have tried to include some phonics using worksheets but find that this instruction is ineffectual overall — in fact, that it often seems to hurt more than it helps.
We believe that all schools or individuals looking for change should concentrate on a more thorough investigation of the various methods offered. The Riggs Institute offers a FREE “overview” package of information to explain our concepts with many examples. This includes a finer-print copy of Myrna McCulloch’s monograph, “Phonetics, Spelling, Whole Language: How We Put Them Together for the Best of Both Worlds,” originally published in the 1994 University of Oregon College of Education’s Annual Conference Monograph. The use of the words “whole language” may be of some concern because purist whole language programs, generally, haven’t produced the promised results. However, we are talking about including the missing skills to write creatively with correct spelling and syntax, and to speak correctly and effectively.
“Explicit” phonics was covered in only one chapter of 1985’s compilation of reading research, “Becoming a Nation of Readers”; the balance of the chapters affirmed many of the concepts of whole language programs. The idea of a marriage of effective and fast phonics and skills instruction and whole language concepts garnered widespread approval between about 1989 and 1994. Just as many teachers and districts were thinking that this was a reasonable answer, the “standards and assessment” movement, legislation and state textbook adoptions, and publishers set a different course for reading reform. Suddenly “decodable” texts and “phonemic awareness” were “in.”
Apparently nearly everyone forgot to ask, “Decodable by what phonics?” We predicted that phonemes without concurrent graphemes would soon be discovered not to work (see Linnea Ehri’s research paper) and sure enough, teachers are describing and complaining about what is happening in these classrooms where phonics is far too little and too late. When phonics isn’t correct and isn’t complete, of course it won’t work.
You may also get additional information from our Publisher’s Disclosure and Curriculum Survey/Questionnaire. We can follow this with a Q & A phone staff session or sometimes send a representative in person to answer any further questions. We think that all man-made materials which can affect the human body or mind, i.e. curriculum, foodstuffs, drugs, etc., should be required to furnish full disclosure and accurate labeling. We have participated in some state textbook adoptions and talked with teachers who have volunteered to examine materials and listen to textbook publisher presentations, and we have concluded one thing: tired teachers, even voluntarily, should not be required to decide in a brief period of time the effectiveness of any pedagogy in any set of teaching materials.
This process may appear to give public institutions a proper basis for spending tax dollars, but it is doubtful that it can produce such a basis. What, when and how phoneme/graphemes are taught to address all “learning styles” is the first measure of comparison regarding just this one issue. Phonics methods are not all equal (see “Phonics is Phonics, or is it?”).
9. I get what you are saying about the phonics you teach for correct spelling, but isn’t all this other brain-based instruction a bit much?
You are right; many students can learn with ordinary methods, but if you need to address all “learning styles” why not use the best and most complete methods available? What we ask is why anyone would want to unnecessarily risk truly damaging perhaps 20 to 30% of students who must have the finest methods available or to settle for giving your top students considerably less than they are capable of learning? Our motto is:
“An EQUAL and OPTIMAL learning opportunity for every student.”
You might use this analogy:
Would you spend weeks and weeks sewing an heirloom wedding dress for your daughter, yet use only the cheapest of materials? OR spend days and days tilling your new vegetable garden, then use inferior seeds and fertilizer? You would be disappointed with the results.
10. How can I encourage or persuade a seventh grader who reads at the first-grade level to believe that “one more method” won’t be the same as all the others they’ve tried? That they won’t fail with it, too?
This is not easy, but you might read our article, “How to Motivate the Older Child Who Reads, but Doesn’t Write, Spell or Think All That Well“ and try to get its points across to the student. Though your question is about the student who doesn’t read all that well either, the concepts of this article address failure and how we can find positive ways to work around attitude. We find that such students need to have the “monkey of failure” removed from their backs. The only way to do that is to take on some responsibility for the failure ourselves as teachers. Far too often, these children have been told that they are incapable of learning – that they are the problem! There is little admission that teaching methods for them have not been what they should have been.
They are very discouraged, depressed, and often extremely hostile. They fail over and over again because most of their school hours are spent being asked to do things no one has yet taught them to do. This is very demeaning to them. “Invented” spellings are a sample of this type of so-called academic activity. Dr. Barbara Bateman, Professor Emeriti of “Reading, Learning Disabilities and Law” at the University of Oregon, calls these mis-teaching practices “academic child abuse.” These are strong words, yet these children’s bodies and minds are too often divided up to go with the various pots of money bureaucratic misdirection has provided instead of spending available time learning language skills first – the tools of all other learning.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on C-Span in early February of 2001 to address a group of teenagers on the importance and absolute necessity of learning English language skills. He went on and on, at great length, to get this one point across to them. In so doing, he told them that he had not learned English well at all until he went to college. He gave a distinct impression that he is passionate on this subject. We simply must make these children know that the methods used with them previously have not been correct and have not addressed their particular “learning styles.”
This method has been known to bring the reading comprehension scores of 13- and 14-year-olds up four grade levels in four weeks in a 60-hour summer spelling camp. We think it is due to the method, but also due to the intensive, uninterrupted work on nothing but explicitly taught complete phonetics, spelling (with rules) and the rudiments of English grammar and syntax. We can send an e-mailed proposal for such a summer intervention program at your request. We call them “Super Summer Spelling Camps” – a name which appeals a good deal more than “remedial reading.”
11. What can you make available for staff meetings or to individuals to learn about or study the concepts of this method of instruction?
Contact us for the following:
12. We would like to implement your method in our school, but we need to have “scientific, controlled research” you can cite proving its efficacy in order to obtain the grants we need to pay for the materials and training.
We would like to work with you, but sadly, this is our toughest question. We have no such research by that designation, which is now written into almost all funding legislation regarding reading reform efforts. Most of it now further stipulates that such research, with at least one control group, must be overseen by a “disinterested” third party, garner peer review and be published in “juried” journals which are mostly owned by the “reading establishment.” Since 1923, when Dr. Orton first began his research, his work and that of all his protégés who have written or worked with methods that are derivations of his techniques, have been completely ignored by the research community.
In 1997, the Reading, English and Communications ERIC Clearinghouse made a link directly to this web site, and they have published many of our curriculum materials and education reform position papers on microfiche, but that is still not enough to qualify for grants. All the “Orton” based programs have hundreds of years of collective “empirical” evidence that proves that they are very effective and perhaps the best methods for academic and cognitive results in the English-speaking world.
It has been suggested that we “buy” our own research, but we think that doing so would make us like any other publisher who buys their own research. It would be tainted with our own “vested interest” which is not the purpose of research. We further believe that those who already have billions in taxpayer financed research funding should be looking around for promising projects; for instance, instead of the NICHD only researching to find deficiencies in the human brain we think they should also be interested to discover what kind of instruction and content produce very high proficiencies.
13. I do not understand the differences in your kind of phonics and how it is taught versus the phonics being taught in my child’s first grade classroom. Can you tell me what it is?
Riggs teaches all phonics, in isolation or “explicitly,” in 4 of the first 9 weeks of first grade instruction. That is: 71 “phonograms” using the 45 “pure” elementary sounds (phonemes) of English speech, taught in tandem with the 71 spelling pattern combinations (graphemes) for a total of 118 letter/sound combinations. This is the “alphabetic principle,” or how speech can be made to spell fourth grade oral vocabularies (or “maps” to standard book print for reading). This instruction, taught with dictated letter formation, is much like teaching the multiplication tables before giving the math problems that require them. This phonics instruction is followed by dictated spelling lessons and 47 rules of spelling, plurals and syllabication. We use multi-sensory (neurologically addressing all “learning styles”), direct and Socratic (questioning rather than telling) teaching techniques.
Most other “phonics” programs teach about 1/3 of these phoneme/grapheme relationships (with little emphasis on the graphemes) over a 4-year period of time and do it as an embedded or “implicit” process using key words, pictures, letter names and consumable worksheets. They most often permit, and even encourage, “invented” spellings through the end of grade 3.
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