Friday, October 19, 2007

Phonics As Mentioned By Tristi

I stirred up enough chatter with my last serious post I decided to follow it up with a longer description of the phonics program I use. I do want to make the following disclaimers, however.

1. I hold public school teachers in the greatest esteem. They work hard, prepare well, are dedicated, and I’ve never met a teacher I didn’t like.

2. I understand fully that homeschooling is not for everyone. Some children do much better in a public or private school setting and, while I have chosen homeschool for myself and gladly assist others who have made the same decision, I’m not on a crusade to make everyone be just like me. It’s not for everyone and I get that.

3. I also wish to make clear that I’m not trying to devalue anyone’s experiences. By sharing my experiences, which are different from yours, I’m simply explaining why I do things the way I do. I recognize that many people have derived great benefit from the current reading programs. I also recognize that many are not, but don't know that other methods exist. I believe that we determine, based on our free agency, what is best for us and for our own families and if you have found that the exact opposite of what I’m about to say is true for you, I respect that.

Now, that said . . . (this is where Tristi gets opinionated)

I have issues with the concept of sight words because I don’t believe they exist. When a child is taught all four vowel sounds, they can then sound out the words that are presented to them. I don’t consider sight words to actually be reading – it’s memorization and guessing, not actually reading. Reading, to me, is sounding out of words.

I also have a problem with “context clues” and “picture clues.” To me, this is telling the child to make a guess, rather than acting on knowledge. What happens when they encounter that word out of context? What if it’s on a sign, a spelling test, or is used in an unusual way? It will be unfamiliar to them. However, if they know how to sound it out, they’ll never need to wonder what it is.

I was taught using the phonics system I’m about to explain. I also taught my three older children and will teach my youngest when he’s a little older. Additionally, I taught my niece using this system, and have tutored a bunch of kids. Every one of these children has excelled using this program and I have never seen it not work.

Now, for the explanation:

The lady who wrote this program is named Betty Teela. She is a good friend of the family and has done extensive tutoring for decades, working with children of all ages and from all educational backgrounds.

Here’s how it works:

You begin with a set of flashcards that has the consonant sounds (just the first sound of c) and the short vowel sounds. A as in am, E as in end, I as in it, O as in on, U as in up, and Y as in Lynn. The child learns these sounds.

Then the child begins to sound out words, starting at the left and skating over to the right. They start slowly, then go back, reading it a little quicker and a little quicker until they feel comfortable with reading that word. As they become more proficient, they’re soon reading new words with little hesitation.

The program has a reading book made entirely of those words that are written with the short vowel sounds only. Once the child has read through that book with ease, you move on to the next set of flashcards. These cards contain the consonant teams, like sh and ch. There is also a reading booklet to go along with these cards, with stories comprised entirely of the first vowel sounds and these consonant teams and of course, regular consonants.

Then you move on to the third set, which contain the long vowel sounds. These are A as in bake, E as in he, I as in time, O as in hope, U as in cute, and Y as in type. The child learns these and then reads a booklet utilizing all the sounds learned so far.

Next is the fourth set, which is vowel teams. You learn about ea, oa, ai, etc. Same with the reading book.

And now here is the part I know you’ve all been waiting for – the third and fourth sounds of the vowels. The third sounds are A as in all, E as in vein, I as in media, O as in to, U as in truth, and Y as in baby. Now, for instance, the word “all” is on the sight word list. But when the child is taught that the A can and does make that sound, and on a fairly regular basis (think – want, wall, father, etc.) it leaves the realm of the sight word and becomes one that they can read rather than memorize. They learn to do this with a booklet that goes along with these sounds.

The fourth set of vowel sounds are A is in above, E as in the, I as in onion, O as in son, U as in put, and Y as in yes. These words are sometimes taught as exceptions, but in this program, they aren’t exceptions that have to be memorized – they’re part of the rule and can become natural.

This all sounds like a whole lot to learn, and I admit that it is. However, when it’s broken down like this, it’s not overwhelming. My daughter finished the course and was reading at a 2nd grade level when she was six. Pretty much the same for my first son. My second son zoomed through it in six months and now, at the age of six, is reading on a third grade level and is even participating in family scripture study, reading out of Isaiah.

What about comprehension, you ask? Does sounding out words take away from the comprehension? Nope. They get very skilled at sounding things out and soon it comes naturally to them. They understand what they are reading.

I have a question to pose about that. If the child is going along and they forget one of the sight words and guess at it, guessing the wrong one, doesn’t that mess up their comprehension a little bit? I think it might.

So there you have it – the phonics program I swear by. I hope I answered any questions you had, and if I didn’t, go ahead and ask ‘em.

As a final note: I have seen the difference between the way my children read and the way their friends read. I have worked with children who are so frustrated with trying to remember all the sight words that they have just about given up on reading. This has been a superior method of learning for my children, and I’ve never seen it fail. But again, this does not mean that I’m picking on anyone. There are children who are doing well in the current systems.


Lynne said...

I have to commend you - and all mothers and fathers who homeschool their children, as well as all teachers. You have a hard job. Your efforts make such a difference in children. I don't think - no, I know - that I couldn't do it. I wouldn't know where to begin. You must all have something special to be able to do this. My hat's off to all of you.

Anne Bradshaw said...

After all this serious stuff, you might enjoy the little critter staring at you on top of my blog today :-)

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I wonder if explaining all the sounds and reviewing the program with older children would help with spelling problems a little bit. The problem with sight words is that if they haven't learned the word and are trying to write something, how do they spell it? My youngest handed me a story she is working on for her grade 4 class and it took me quite awhile to decipher many of the words. I need to figure out some way to help with that.

Booklogged said...

I am a firm believer in phonics, too. Why do educational systems feel they need to change what works?! It's frustrating to be a teacher and watch things shift this way and then back that way every 10 years or so. I think most elementary teachers who have taught both ways like phonics better. My grandson is in kindergarten and is being taught sight reading. His mother and I are doing some phonics instruction on the side.

Karlene said...

My next question is, has Betty Teela published her program? Is it available to other families and/or teachers who might want to try it? If it is, where can I buy it?

Karen said...

My question is the same as Stephanie's. Will the program help older children with spelling? My daughter is 10 and I'm wondering if it's too late to do this program with her. She is not a good sight reader. Is there a book that you would recommend?

wom said...

I remember when my kids started school, it was a brand new school, and the idea was a pod system. (4 classes in one room.) it was suposto be the best for students. It proved to be a failer. and years latter the schools had to put up dividing walls. My oldest has strugled all through school because of it. I got involed after that and worked with my own children. Tristi your so right!!

mindyluwho said...

What's the name of the program and can you still buy it?

Tristi Pinkston said...

Stephanie and Karen,

Yes, it does help with spelling.

Karlene and Mindy,

I'm hunting down that information right now. Betty has been self-publishing the program for years but she moved about eight years ago. I found a lady on the Internet who, I think, is her, but I need to write her and a) make sure it's really her :) and b) see how much she's selling the program for now. I know how much I paid for it, ten years ago, and it was really reasonable but I don't want to quote a price lest I be wrong.

So there will be an update as soon as I have one to give you.

marlene said...

As a retired teacher, I've worked a lot with second grade students who had trouble reading, in fact, using a program much like the one you described. Most students do very well with a phonetically based system but there are some who do have different learning capabilities and styles--some are actually better able to memorize word shapes and all. This whole question has become kind of personal to me since some of my skills, especially spelling and word recognition(as you may be able to tell)have been effected by MS. On good days I do quite well, but there are days when I simply cannot recognize whether I've spelled a work correctly and sounding it out with phonetics simply is impossible. I understand the feelings of some students who just cannot do well reading. If I were teaching now I'd use a phonetic approach, but I'd also be very open to other things as well.

I admire the patience and devotion of parents who do homeschooling as well as teachers in the public system. Sometimes in the midst of it all it is hard to remember that you are working with the most important creations we have here on earth. You've got good priorities.

violetlady said...

Tristi, very well said. I learned to read many, many, many years ago,but I am sure it was the phonics way since that is what was done back then. My daughter learned the same way and so have my grandsons. We are all excellent readers and spellers. Thank you for linking and commenting on my blog and your name will be in the hat for the drawing at the "witching hour" on Wednesday night.

Rebecca Talley said...

I homeschooled my elementary age children for a few years because I was sooo dissatisfied with their math program.(Thankfully, we'd decided to put them back into public school when I was pregnant with #10 because his birth included a life flight for him, the NICU, and a false diagnosis that he was deaf and I could never have homeschooled with all of that stress). I used a phonics based program for their reading.

I don't send my kids to kindergarten. I keep them home and teach them to read because I do not want to risk that they won't learn how to read. I have used, "Spalding Road to Reading and Writing" which is a phonetics program and very much like the one you described. I use flashcards that have all the sounds for each letter instead of separating them. (For example, "a" has 3 sounds, short "a" sound, long "a" sound, and the "a" sound in "all"). A downfall of the Spalding program, though, is that it does not come with books. I've had to search for books to complement what we're learning.

My kids have gone into first grade reading at least two, and in some cases, 4-5 years ahead of grade level. We also spend a lot of time reading together which I think helps them become better readers.

I hate, hate, hate the sight words way of teaching reading for the same reasons you listed. Memorization of words doesn't provide tools. That's how my oldest son was taught to read (back in 1992) and I was too young and dumb to see how it failed him. I learned after him and, now insist, that all my kids learn to read phonetically because once they have the tools, they can decipher any word and once they can decipher it and read it, I think they also comprehend it, especially as they read it within the context of whatever they are reading. I also do not like the "try to guess what it is by looking at the picture" idea because it doesn't give them the tools to decipher/decode words.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for homeschoolers--it's difficult and rewarding at the same time. I also have great respect and admiration for those teachers who dedicate so much time and effort to truly teaching the kids in their classes.

One of the best gifts, besides the gospel, that we can give our children is the ability to read.

Shanna Blythe said...

As a future teacher of English (high-school) I may encounter some students who cannot read at all.

BUT. I do have a question. Is this just about how to pronounce words? I've seen students who are wonderful at pronouncing words correctly (especially ESL). They decode the word perfectly. But when I've asked them questions about the text they have no idea what is going on.

Anyway. If I get some students who cannot read at all, I just may be giving you a phone call!

Tristi Pinkston said...

Shanna, it's true that there are children who will read a sentence and not comprehend what they have read. That's a slightly different thing than just learning to read --that deals with a connection between different parts of the brain and there are other techniques you can use to help them with that. But the first step in helping them with that is to make sure that they are reading the words correctly, so that when they go to make sense out of it, they've got the right words to work with.

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