Phonics, Spelling & Whole Language

Phonics, Spelling & Whole Language

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Phonetics – Spelling – Whole Language:
How We Put Them Together for the Best of Both Worlds

by Myrna T McCulloch

(reprinted with permission from the College of Education, University of Oregon's 1994 Annual Conference Monograph, 1994)

Editor’s note: In 1999, The Riggs Institute revised the phonograms to bring them into somewhat closer compliance with Merriam-Webster’s 10th Collegiate Edition and added plural and syllabication rules. The links used will reflect.

 – Myrna T. McCulloch

Numerous research articles in recent years have examined the merits of phonics instruction versus a “whole language” or integrated approach to teaching language skills to primary students. Indeed “the great debate” has grown increasingly shrill and pointedly insistent that the two theories must remain mutually exclusive. Only more recently a few researchers and synthesizers of research have suggested that at least portions of these two approaches to reading instruction could, and probably should, be combined for the ultimate advantage of the student. Our proposition here is to show precisely how this can be accomplished even within the ever-decreasing availability of instructional time in today’s busy classrooms. I have chosen a question and answer format for clarity, practicality and conservation of space.

Q. Why do you believe these two seemingly divergent theories of reading instruction can be combined?

  1. First, because it is makes sense to be certain that all students acquire the information they need to accomplish the work expected of them. Whole language programs do make serious demands. Adding basic skills, including phonics, simply adds to the probability of realizing the defined goals of whole language programs for every student. It does not change those goals.

Second, because I have had personal experience in administering such a program for primary and remedial instruction in an inner city, minority-populated student body. Composite class averages, grades 3 through 8, were raised approximately 32.2 percentile points, a 65.6% increase, in the first 14 months of such instruction (see the line graph chart below). Grades 1 and 2 ended that period, respectively, at the 87th and 96th percentiles. The classic “Orton” method, The Writing Road to Reading (Spalding, R. & W., 1957, 1991), was implemented in what could be called a whole language program although we did not call it “whole language” at that time but rather, “integrated” language arts. We wanted students able to read with comprehension, write creatively and think, but also to possess specific basic skills: the complete phonetic code for correct spelling, the ability to write legibly, spell correctly and analyze, for grammatical content, what they had written.

We took an additional 18 students at the beginning of our second year. These had been diagnosed with various types of learning disorders in other schools, both public and private. Unlike most special education students, we gave them standardized tests and the scores were averaged in. Language and reading scores were somewhat higher than these composite averages. We operated under the thesis that if language skills could be improved, other subjects would also follow. We still believe general educational reform must begin with improvements in language skills if it is to be effective.

Q. When you added phonetics to whole language, how did you know what phonics to teach or when and how to teach it?

  1. There was no research at the time to help us. Since the most well-known compiled research (Anderson, et al, 1985 and Adams, M. J., 1991) still fails to define the precise subject of “the great debate” — what kind of phonics is under discussion. [See “Orton” Phonograms below] The use of this system has been widely shown (empirically), to enable most K-4 students to correctly encode (spell) the vast majority of words which they can speak and understand. I submit that a student’s ability to “encode” is the missing prerequisite for success in the early composition work required of whole language students. Correct spelling, from the outset, without sacrificing creativity, takes on even greater significance for teaching phonetics, with rules, when one realizes that primary-level spoken/understandable vocabularies range from 4000 to 24,000 words (Chall, J. 1967, Seashore, R., 1940). We must enable children to use their entire spoken vocabularies to encode words they understand as quickly as possible. These skills free them for real creativity. 

Glossary As Used In This Method Of Instruction:

Phonogram – Is a combination of phoneme and grapheme. When these phonograms are spoken, they are phonemes; when they are written, they are graphemes.

Phoneme (sound/s) – An elementary sound of English speech.

“Elementary” Sound – One which cannot be further divided (these are never blends such as str, bl, or nd which simply combine two or more elementary sounds).

Grapheme (letter/s) – A written symbol (letter or letters) which represent a phoneme on paper, i.e., the phoneme /oo/ is commonly written with food, do, dew, due, fruit, through, you, shoe, neutral, two, lieu

Since spellings are considerably more uniform than are pronunciations throughout the English-speaking world, I have arranged this phonetic chart with key words [these are not taught to students with the phonograms] to show the need and applications for correct spellings. 

The following consonant phonograms were formerly taught in most basal reading methods though they were not taught “explicitly” as compiled research (BNR) has recommended since 1985. In this method, two sounds for the consonants c, g and s are taught immediately and q is taught with u with which it is always used. Only the sound/s (phonemes) are dictated as the letters (graphemes) for them are written. Students see, hear, say and write these phonograms (letter/sound combinations) using multi-sensory instruction to address all “learning styles”.  In this method, two sounds for the letters c, g and s are taught immediately and q is taught with u with which it is almost always used. Only the sound(s) are dictated as the letters (or symbols) for them are written.  

The key words shown here are for the teacher to determine the correct sounds only; key words, pictures, upper case letters and letter names are never used to teach “explicit” phonics:

b (bat) c (cat, cent) d (dog) f (fed) g (got, gentle) h (hot) j (jog) k (keg) l (lid) m (mop) n (no) p (put) 

qu (quit) r (run) s (sit, days) t (top) v (vase) w (wag) x (box) y (yet) z (zip)

Next are the vowels. The multiple phonemes (sounds) as shown in the key words are taught immediately and together, i.e., the letter a becomes aaah, long a, ah and aw. Generally, the sounds of all the phonograms are taught in the order of their frequency of use in English. The third sound of i and the fourth sounds of a, o, and u are needed early for both spelling and reading of simple words. 

Note: Vowel y takes the place of i for spelling, and is used as both a vowel and a consonant:

a (at, ate, want, talk) e (end, we) i (it, silent, radio) o (dot, open, do, cost)  

u (up, music, blue, put) y (myth, my, baby)

These common combinations are not consistently taught in most methods though they are needed for correct spelling. Very often the letter, “r” is taught as “er” or “ruh” which is incorrect. Spelling errors, poor auditory discrimination/processing and impaired phonemic awareness are already common, but seriously deteriorate by mispronouncing the 45 elementary phonemes as they are taught. The key words are taught only with this group since it is the only way to designate which grapheme is meant:

er [the er of] (her) ur (nurse) ir (first) or (works) ear (early) 

oa [the o of] (boat) oe (toe)

This grouping is taught in pairs (top to bottom listing) to illustrate their uses for spelling:

ay (pay) oy (boy) aw (law) ew (grew,few) ey (they,key) [used at the end of words] ai (paid) 

oi (boil) au (fault) eu (neutral,feud) ei (veil, receive) [not used at the end of words]

The common spellings of sounds – “sh” and “zh” – are taught before the tenth week of instruction in this method:

sh [used at the beginning of a word (shut), at the end of a syllable (push) but not at the beginning of any syllable after the first one (na tion) except for the ending “ship.” (friendship).]

ti (nation) si (session,vision) ci (special)

[all used to spell “sh” or “zh” (session, equation) at the beginning of any syllable after the first one].


The next group are 2, 3 and 4-letter spellings of sounds more commonly represented by only one letter. Children can fail to learn to read or spell because they don’t know these very commonly used alternate spelling patterns:

ck (neck) 2-letter “k” dge (badge) 3-letter “j” tch (catch) 3-letter “ch”

[all used after a single vowel which says the short sound of a, e, i, o, u.]

kn (knee) 2-letter “n” [used to begin a word] gn (reign,gnaw) [used to begin & end a word]

ee (feel) e – double e says “e” igh (high) 3-letter “i” eigh (eight) 4-letter “a” wr (write) 2-letter “r”

ph (phone) 2-letter “f”

These phonograms are rarely taught and practiced but are essential phonetic information for accurate spelling and fluent reading. Again, each sound is illustrated here in the order of its frequency of use, using this spelling pattern, in English words.

ow (now, low) th (think, this) ch (chin, school, chef)

ng (ring) ea (eat, head, break) ou (out, four, you, country)

ar (far) ie (field, pie) ed (started, loved, missed) [ past tense ending]

wh (when) oo (boot, foot, floor) ui (fruit, guide, build)

or (for) ough (though, through, rough, cough, thought, bough)



Teach the sound(s) as they are given in the key words, in the order shown, and with any instructions. It is not necessary to teach letter names at this point since they are not heard in English speech except for (sometimes) the vowels. At first, you are trying to establish the unknown symbols (letters) for the known sound/s children have been using in conversation. We sound, “k” “ă” “t” for “cat” – not “see-a-tee.”

The compiled research in Becoming a Nation of Readers (BNR) states that phonics instruction, preferably, “should be completed by the end of grade two.” Our experience, and considerable empirical evidence, has shown that it is both practical and possible to do this even sooner if a multi-sensory teaching technique is used to teach the sound/symbol relationships “explicitly” as BNR also favors. This can be done in a few short weeks in a “reading readiness” (or handwriting, phonetics, spelling) phase before students are expected to read from either classic literature or the newer, vocabulary-rich whole language texts.

Q. What is meant by “explicit” phonics and please describe your application of this teaching strategy in teaching the phonograms?

  1. “Explicit” refers to the how and when of phonics instruction, not the what and why. It simply means to teach the sound/symbol relationships, in isolation, first, then apply these learned relationships to words. We do this by beginning with the students’ facility with speech when they enter school [English-speaking students are already saying the 45 sounds of English speech in their daily conversation]. To speed the process, and ensure mastery for all students, we use multi-sensory instruction to teach the 71 phonograms [phonograms are letters and combinations of letters which stand for one sound in any given word]. For example, the word, light, has five letters but only three voiced sounds – “l” “ī “t” – because igh has but one voiced sound though it is three letters. Stressing acute listening skills, we teach each phonogram in isolation (explicitly, as previously described), without key words or pictures. A card, which has igh printed on it, is held up; the students SEE the printed symbol and the teacher SAYS, “This is ”ī “i- 3-letter i”; the students HEAR this and repeat (SAY) the sound/s aloud; “ “i- 3-letter i.” and then WRITE its symbol – igh. They thus learn the information through four avenues into their minds: SIGHT, SOUND, and, kinesthetically, through VOICING, and WRITING. Sight and sound perception and kinesthetic/tactile writing and speaking reinforce each other. They have been taught through their stronger avenues which, simultaneously, remedies any weaker avenues. Children who experience any difficulty are placed in the front row, immediately in front of the teacher’s teaching station. Erasers are removed from pencils for quality control to ensure that the teacher knows what mistakes these students are making and can therefore help them to correct their difficulties. 

Q. Isn’t it difficult to teach both handwriting and the sounds together?

  1. On the contrary, it saves enormous amounts of time and is beneficial for the student’s cognitive development which in-turn encourages children and parents because it shows how much can be accomplished in a relatively short time. On the first day, we begin practicing the seven letter strokes (with which all letters are made) along with learning the position of the eight reference points: 2, 10, 8, and 4 on a clock face with a base line, top line and two dotted-middle lines. These seven strokes, a circle, and 6 lines, are practiced, and then, both the sounds and symbols for the letters of the alphabet are taught using detailed, dictated instructions to “touch the checkpoints.” Listening, processing, proper seating, pencil/paper positions, directionality, spacing and margins are stressed, thus students develop excellent listening skills and quickly learn margins and proper spacing for the words which they will need very soon for early composition work. This is done through dictation, listening and writing, not copying or tracing. To save time and frustration for both teacher and student, and establish correct neurological patterning, nothing is taught which must be untaught or re-taught later. 

Fifty-five of the 71 phonograms are taught in the first three weeks, an average of four each day. Students are learning the “print symbols” (letters) for the sounds they have put into words they regularly and routinely pronounce and understand long before they enter school. Letter names are not taught at this stage since they are not heard in speech, with the exception, of, sometimes, the vowels. We prepare students for the next phase which is to begin the spelling of 1700 hundred of the most commonly used English words

Q. Why teach spelling first and why does this particular organization of phonetics work for accuracy in spelling?

  1. Spelling is more difficult than is reading because the letters (and applicable phonograms) must be called up from a memory base (the sound/symbol relationships previously learned); our phonetic linguistic base, and the application of 28 rules, is much more exacting and reliable than a simpler phonics approach for pronunciation of words which are already on pre-written on paper and worksheets. Regardless of results of memorized weekly spelling tests, this sound/symbol (phonemic/graphemic) awareness practice and application is what students must prompt themselves to do accurately when spelling and writing independently. Its correlation in math is memorizing multiplication tables before confronting multiplication and division. 

After the first 55 phonograms are learned — relatively well — we begin the spelling process by again using dictation to teach the words. The first word is me. It is used in a sentence and then each sound is asked for, i.e. “What is the first sound you hear when I say, me?” The students, together, answer “m” (the sound) and are requested to write m (the symbol) on their paper. Accurate spacing, margins, etc., are again stressed, but this is now easier because of the previous practice when the phonograms were taught.  Instruction continues, “What is the next sound when I say, me?” Again, they answer together, “ē” and are then asked, “Which ē will you use?” [At this point, they have already been taught three ways to spell the sound “e”] They decide it is “ĕ”,”ē” — meaning a single e phonogram — and write that next to their “m.” The students then dictate back to the teacher who writes the word on the board (or overhead), going through the same questioning process, and the students compare their me to the teacher’s. The teacher then tells them, “I am going to teach you how to underline [the vocabulary of instruction is illustrated and defined here as we always do with any words we are using in the instructional process]. “We are going to underline the e in this word because, ‘Vowels a, e, o, u usually say, “ā” “ē” “ō” “ū” at the end of a syllable’.” Together, they begin to learn the first of orthography rules as they are taught the application (not rote) in a particular word. This is the first of three ways that a vowel says its name in English words. They learn the other two very quickly and these are illustrated in their student-prepared resource notebooks. [Examples of the 47 rules of orthography as shown on page 8 of this publication]

The phonetic organization of this program is certainly not the only workable model, but it elegantly incorporates the correct spelling patterns for the 45 elementary sounds of speech sufficiently to encode over a half million English words, and facilitates teaching the application of the rules of the language. Since this method of instruction also accommodates many nuances of sounds heard in all dialects of English world-wide, it can be used to teach both Webster’s and Oxford spelling conventions.  Phonemic segmentation and auditory processing skills (the basis for two currently diagnoses for learning disorders) can be more precisely and efficiently taught through spelling applications than haphazardly through “implicit” phonics applications in pronouncing words for reading only. 

Phonics for reading applications alone gives only approximate pronunciations for many words. The goal, of course, is automatically and accuracy. “The mind ‘frees up’ for comprehension operations only after decoding operations become automatic” (Farnham Diggory, S., 1986). Picture and word associations — which slow the mental process for mastery of the sound/symbol relationships — are eliminated for a few weeks while the phonograms are taught and initially applied. Strange as it may sound, children who enter school without having learned the names of the letters or capital letter formation (two more interferences), learn these sound/symbol relationships more easily; they have nothing to unlearn. Early mastery of spelling patterns allows primary students to write with precision and creativity.  Conversely, they can then read at their interest and speaking vocabulary levels and enjoy quality literature early which helps further to enhance vocabulary.

Q. What about the teaching of blends? I notice your phonetic organization does not include these familiar consonant clusters and mentions 45 sounds rather than the more traditional 42 sounds.

A. We do not teach consonant clusters or blends [there are hundreds of these] as part of the phonetic system since they merely combine two or more of the original 45 sounds but still retain those individual sounds within the combinations. These clustered consonants do need to be practiced as they are blended to form words for both spelling and reading, but we believe it is counter-productive to teach them, in isolation, as separate sound/symbol relationships. In fact, the too-common practice of “collapsing” these consonant clusters (i.e., str, spl, nd, cl, etc.) together, as blends, may be one of the great difficulties many children have in developing and maintaining good auditory processing skills. Because they have been taught these “collapsed” sounds as phonemes, our experience shows that non-auditory learners may very well have a more difficult time “hearing and being aware of the separate sounds”  within these blends or clusters when they are prompting themselves to spell accurately during creative writing. This speculation has been drawn from our own observations. 

Note that the 2-, 3-, and 4-letter phonograms previously shown fall into two categories: 1) they form a new sound, or sounds, by having been combined (au, oi, ch), or, 2) they spell a sound more commonly represented by only one letter (r/wr, f/ph, n/gn). These are important facts to know for correct spelling. Two of the “Orton” phonograms, ng, and the third and fourth sounds of ough, “f” and “off,” each incorporate two of the conventional “42 sounds of English” to create three additional sounds. This organization created a more workable linguistic base for spelling applications and explains the variance. This “working set” of phonograms incorporates, for teaching purposes, the phonetically significant (as opposed to merely the phonemically significant) single-voiced sound units used in spelling.

Q. What about saying the consonant sounds “in isolation”? I was taught that this is nearly impossible to do.

  1. Yes, it is unless one simply holds the breath as the sounds are said. This way one can isolate the separate sounds, and will not produce a cŭhbŭhdŭhfŭh or wŭh etc. This is a critical point for accurate blending and spelling later. If one teaches that b says, bŭh and then tries to put it with read, we get 

bŭhread.  For many phonemically aware children, this will never yield bread because the extra uh or “schwa” sound is there. Later, we may diagnose this same child with auditory processing problems. We should mention here that one cannot accurately sing consonant phonograms because we sing on the breath, not by holding it. Some other sounds are frequently taught incorrectly such as r saying either rŭh or er which are both incorrect. We do not say, er ĭde or er ŏse or rŭh – ide or rŭh – ose. The correct sounds for r (and l) are called sub-vocals. They come primarily from the throat, but the tongue must be correctly in place to cause a deliberate, partial obstruction of the vocal cords.

Q. Can you elaborate further on the “schwa” sounds you mentioned? I find that this frequently causes spelling errors.

  1. We find it most productive to call special attention to the “schwa” (the up-side-down e[added to most American dictionaries in the 1940’s which made it legitimate to sound, ‘ŭh’ for the vowels a, e, i, and o in unstressed syllables), but to teach around it for correct spellings. For instance, the word against is pronounced, ŭgenst.  With this program, the student would think, write and spell, ā gāīnst, just as our British friends still say it. The word, button would be pronounced, butn or butun as we hear and say it in the normal rhythm of speech, but students would think, write and spell, but tŏn, sounding both t‘s for spelling. Which “ŏ”? It would be, ‘ŏ’ – ‘ō’- ‘oo’ – ‘aw’, the phonemes (sound/s) the students have already learned for the phonogram /o/. This way they are specifically taught which vowel to use in the unstressed syllable, and are thus aware of the schwa pronunciation but, conversely, the correct spellings involved. It is really the use of a mnemonic device or memory aid designated by a caret ^ over the vowel. Various regional pronunciations are treated the same way It addresses what we think of to spell a word like Wednesday. We think, Wed ness day, but say, “Wenzday.” These types of mispronunciations need to be addressed for correct spelling applications, recalling that spelling is relatively uniform whereas pronunciations have become a provincial potpourri in some areas of this country as well as the world.

This problem was specifically addressed by the International Reading Association’s Dr. Drew Cassidy at a June 7, 1984 hearing before the Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities, (page 216 of the published hearing testimony), on the subject of reading as a major problem if one teaches “phonics.” Her testimony, however, made it abundantly clear that she apparently had never taught “phonetics” specifically for spelling. The misunderstanding of what “phonics” we’re discussing and how to teach it is the crux of the matter, and probably accounts for many teachers believing that phonics is no longer a reliable decoding tool. The pro-phonics spokespersons at the same hearing, incidentally, had no plausible explanations for how this issue should be addressed. The great debate should begin again with the premise that, for beginning children, ‘pronunciations” are already known whereas spelling needs to be specifically taught with careful attention to phonetics, rules, syllabication, prefixes, suffixes, and origins which often account for the diverse spelling patterns we find in English.

Q. How long does it take to teach the sound /symbol system and what do you after teaching the beginning spelling words?

  1. We teach the first 54 phonograms in the first three weeks of instruction while teaching listening skills, letter formation, spacing, margins, etc. Simultaneously, we are teaching many cognitive sub skills such as auditory and visual discrimination, sequencing, memory, and association and visual/tactile spatial relationships, directionality, linear eye movements, comparative analysis, etc. Articulation, rhythm, inflection and enunciation are stressed for correct speech. Our daily lesson plans show the specific activities used for these cognitive developmental processes.

Spelling, with the application of the rules and a mnemonic marking system has begun in the fourth week. Children are read to daily to pique their interest, enhance their vocabularies and expose them to proper voice inflections, phrasing and proper modeling of articulate English speech, but pointedly they are not held responsible for reading themselves at this point. They also learn some poetry emphasizing phonemic awareness practice but are primarily engaged in learning the sub skills they need for legible handwriting, spelling, composition and reading. Together they first write from Socratic dictation (encode), then sound back to the teacher (read and encode) phoneme/grapheme by phoneme/grapheme and then read six new spelling words from the board each day (reading words in isolation) for mastery and automaticity after each day’s spelling lesson. The goal is to develop an automatic sight vocabulary [one arrived at through phonetic analysis and the application of rules rather than a whole-word, rote memorization process], which frees the mind for comprehension. They then volunteer to give oral sentences, using their spelling words, and in the seventh week, begin to write simple sentences, using said spelling words, which they then read aloud to the class. This is their very first reading in context! They must write their own sentences because only then can they, their teachers and parents be assured that they will be successful in their first attempt at reading — an accomplishment critical to their self-esteem. In the tenth and eleventh weeks, they can be given interesting literature, to accommodate their beginning speech and interest vocabularies, i.e., their whole language selections, etc. The more difficult words, which present pronunciation or spelling problems, can be added to their spelling list to facilitate automaticity and comprehension. We have found this particularly critical for bilingual or ESL transitional students. As the program progresses, it becomes more and more individualized which nicely handles the various ability levels in a normal classroom without the specific use of ability groupings.

Q. How is vocabulary developed and do you correct oral or written errors in spelling, grammar and syntax?

  1. Vocabulary is developed through using spelling words in context. with words from literature being read to and by students, from their own compositions, the “language of instruction” vocabulary lessons and speech which is modeled in class by their teacher. Exercises specifically geared to vocabulary include making homograph, homophone, and antonym wall charts or notebook pages as well as charts designed for their independent use in composition, i.e., subject and object pronouns, irregular verbs, formation of past tenses, kinds of sentences. etc. All concepts are first defined, then illustrated on the wall charts or notebook pages and are constantly added to and referred to as needed. Spelling rules, and the use of the phonetic system, are also illustrated on wall charts or notebook pages to aid students in correctly completing their own work, and/or in making corrections after teachers have checked their work and noted errors. For corrections, we always make note of the number correct rather than incorrect and ask students to find answers to correct their own work. In this way, students feel responsible for and confident of the work they are doing because they are taking direct responsibility for its accurate completion. They maintain their own portfolios of work, their spelling and composition notebooks and post work of their own choosing on their bulletin board space daily. 

Grammar and syntax concepts are introduced as they are needed for the composition work involved. Each step carefully builds upon the one previously taught. The Riggs Institute’s Spelling and Usage Dictionary is introduced in the ninth week. It is not diacritically marked since the grade K – 2 child already can pronounce its 4832 words. Its purpose is to further aid the student with vocabulary development, usage, grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, and ideas for creative writing. Whole language activity books give additional ideas for composition projects and in working the language lessons “across the curriculum” thereby saving or making the direct instructional time needed to successfully develop this skill-based whole language curriculum. If the assignment is to write a report, it can as easily be about yesterday’s science project as something less useful. Children also learn that language skills are valuable tools with which they are enabled to do “real” work — a great motivator.


Q. What curriculum materials are available to assist the teacher to teach the method you have described for a skills-based whole language approach. What is the cost and how does a teacher obtain the necessary training to do this?

  1. Materials recommended by and available [sole source] from the Riggs Institute consist of: The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking , Level 1 Teacher’s Edition (McCulloch, M., © K& M Publishing) The Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading & Thinking Revised “Orton” Phonogram Cards (McCulloch, M, © Riggs Institute Press) with sounds, spelling rules and handwriting instructions along the Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Revised “Orton” Phonogram CD, Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading & Thinking  Basic Spelling and Usage Dictionary (McCulloch, M, © Riggs Institute Press), student notebooks and paper (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.

Students use a composition notebook each year, appropriate practice paper, and red and black pencils. Though comprehension is stressed throughout the course, the McCall Harby/ McCall -Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading series, published by Teachers College Press, are recommended and are available for additional practice and ongoing evaluation. 

Teachers and parents can train themselves to use this method as they implement the daily lesson plans. This approach follows the dictates of compiled research in effective teacher in services (Joyce, B., Showers, B., 1980) which outlines the five steps required for effective training in services:

  • theory
  • demonstration
  • practice
  • application
  • feedback

Q. Does the multi-sensory teaching technique of this method make it adaptable for remedial classrooms and other upper grade levels where better language proficiency is needed to accomplish whole language goals?

  1. BNR did not discuss the benefits of using a multi-sensory teaching technique at early primary levels though Reading, Writing and Speech Problems in Children (Orton, S. T., 1937), had been available for many years. Most learning disability professors, teachers and other specialists are aware of these important findings, and of the organization which bears Dr. Samuel T. Orton’s name, The Orton Society for Dyslexia. Dr. Orton, a neuropathologist, spent almost his entire career studying how the brain functions in learning language. Supervising teachers Anna Gillingham, Nina Traub, Romalda Spalding and others who taught organically impaired individuals, he devised a specific system of teaching through four neurologically-proven “avenues of learning” which could address all learning styles. He discovered that teaching through these pathways, if done as a simultaneous process, not only successfully remediated but also made early intervention for the prevention of learning disorders a proven option. 

The Writing Road to Reading (Spalding, R., 1957/1991) reflects his final conclusions as does the manual and teaching aids we offer. It follows that the method can be, and has been, successfully and widely adapted for nearly every type of remedial need though it was written originally as a program for normal primary-level students.

The late Dr. Hilde L. Mosse, (1982) former head psychiatrist with the New York City Public Schools, wrote the encyclopedic 714-page The Complete Handbook of Children’s Reading Disorders in which she chronicled 1000 case histories of emotionally-disturbed, psychotic and disabled children whom she personally taught to read using The Writing Road to Reading. She describes why the WRTR method worked with these students, psychologically, neurologically and, of course, from the pedagogy itself. The late Dr. William Cruickshank enthusiastically endorsed her “compendium of significant information” which is available through the Riggs Institute or your library. Oregon’s own Dr. Barbara Bateman writes a foreword in the on e-volume paperback edition which our Institute published in 1987. She says, “This is the one source that is essential. One cannot be fully informed about reading disorders without it. A monumental contribution.”

Q. What recognition has The Riggs Institute received in support of their materials and training programs as described in this paper?

  1. We were recognized in a federal study (Groff, P., 1987) as one of twenty-seven private sector organizations “having a proven track record of success in assisting teachers in translating recommendations for reform in reading instruction into reality.” Our materials are favorably reviewed in the current research (Stein, M., 1993), and are included in the current ASCD Materials Directory. Our standard training seminars have been accredited through twelve universities and colleges throughout the U.S. during the past ten years, with an ongoing and current accredited status with the University of Oregon’s Department of Continuing Education. Our affiliation with Southern Arkansas University accredits the 360-hour teach-as-you-learn training practicum.


Adams, M. J. (1991). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print.  

Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Anderson, R.C., Hiebert, E.H., Scott, J.A., & Wilkinson, I. A. G. (1985). Becoming a Nation of Readers. 

Champaign: Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois.

Cassidy, D. (1984) Hearing before the Subcommittee on Education, Arts and the Humanities of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, United States Senate Ninety-Eight Congress Second Session (p.216). Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Chall, J. (1967). Learning to Read, The Great Debate. 

New York: McGraw Hill.

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