Remediation with Phonics

Teach Your Child to Spell Badly in 100 Easy Lessons

What do you do with an 8 year old boy with an astounding vocabulary, an addiction to books, and a reading level far beyond his years? Why, you remediate him, of course!

Huh? Remediate him? Why does a strong reader need phonics, 3 years after he has learned to read? He’s got language arts down pat! Except, of course, when he doesn’t. When I taught my son David to read, I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which is recommended by lots of homeschooling moms. 100 Easy Lessons claims to be phonics based, but it relies on shortcuts to get a kid reading quickly. The method is used in a lot of public schools, as well. (Hey, aren’t those schools turning out more and more illiterates every year? Look up in the sky! Is that a Cluebat? Don’t let it hit you, Mom!) By the 75th lesson in the book, my son was reading so well that we put the lessons away and called it good. Hooray, we have a reader!

Narration, like everything else, is most enjoyable when done upside down.

However, he’s been having some trouble with spelling and writing, and after some research on phonics and reading disabilities, I’ve come to believe that his difficulties are due to having learned to read the way he did. It seems the shortcuts in this miraculous! method of teaching “reading” are actually teaching the child to guess what words he is seeing. This works just fine as far as the teacher can tell, until he needs to produce written work of his own. Then we suddenly have a “disabled” child on our hands.

David reads constantly. He can narrate back just about anything he reads, provided you don’t mind letting him stand on his silly-boy head while doing so, so I know that he really is getting the jist of the stories he reads. But that’s not enough. He needs to be able to pick up on the subtleties of the language presented to him, absorb vocabulary (which he seems to have been getting more from his wordy mother and father than from his books), and—most importantly—he needs to be able to write his own essays and stories. At this point, I’d just settle for seeing him write the words “the” and “you” correctly.

I keep bringing up David’s advanced vocabulary, not to brag, but because it is central to the reason I hadn’t caught on to his reading problem yet. Because he has a huge word bank to draw from for guessing, it has taken me a few years to figure out what is really going on in his head. I had been thinking that perhaps he’s dyslexic, or visually impaired in some way. But he has no trouble at all identifying letters or numbers, and can see quite well, so these things seem unlikely. He also can’t form his letters very well, because of some mixed dominance issues, so that confuses things even further. He’s right-handed, but left-eyed, –footed, and –eared. (Did you know you have an earedness, just like your handedness?) With a few easy exercises for brain integration, we’re seeing some resolution to these problems. But the reading/writing problem remains.

So, if it’s not dyslexia, what is it? Because of David’s difficulty with writing and the trouble he has constructing words from letters, I’ve been barking up the wrong tree in my efforts to “fix” the problem. I thought I had a learning disabled child, but I’m beginning to suspect that I’ve merely used a faulty method of teaching him to read. He’s just been smart enough to compensate for the failure so that I didn’t catch it right away.

I’m not certain that my theory is correct, so I’m going to spend this school year experimenting. I’ll be remediating David with phonics, using the method found at DonPotter.net and a little blue copy of Webster’s American Spelling Book. I just read through the Speller, and now my spelling is so good that I don’t even care what my spell-checker thinks of me anymore. I’ve always been a fair speller, but it was intuitive and memory-based, not phonetic. (If I keep this up, by the time I graduate my own kids, I’m going to have that world-class education I always dreamed of!) If David is still unable to write words and sentences properly at the end of this school year, I’ll find a professional to help us. I’m 85% certain that I’ve got this thing figured out, though, so I’ll save him the stress of an evaluation by trying this first.

I don’t know for sure that phonics can heal my son’s brain, but it can’t hurt, so that’s the plan. While I’m doing that, I’ll also be teaching my kindergartener real phonics, not using the faux-phonetic shortcuts found in 100 Easy Lessons. I’m sure that this method doesn’t do this to every child, but I’m beginning to believe that it could account for a lot of “dyslexia” amongst otherwise very bright students. I know that this book is highly recommended by several veteran homeschoolers—it’s why I picked it up—but I’d love to know if there have been similar experiences to ours in other homeschools.

Have any of you found yourselves having to reteach reading after using this method?

Responses:

  1. I am so glad you wrote this post about this method of teaching reading. My son has the same problem and I also feel like something is “wrong” and have sought outside help. But first let me say that I have not used 100 Easy Lessons with him, HOWEVER, he spent his K-2nd grades in pubic school and this is the method they used to teach him how to read. If he didn’t know the words, he was taught to guess them by looking at the pictures. He was never taught phonics and when I started homeschooling him, I thought he was a great reader. And then I figured out he was guessing the words. And then I noticed how BAD his spelling and writing are for a child his age. I spent his entire 3rd grade year teaching him phonics and his reading has greatly improved. He reads aloud ALOT so that I can catch the problems and have him sound them out instead of guessing. I also read to him so that he can hear the spoken words. He can now sound out words he doesn’t know and usely gets it right. Now we are focusing on his spelling and writing. I am currently trying to find something that will work for him. Please keep us informed of your sons progress, I would like to know what the outcome is and if your methods are working. Thanks for a heads up on that book. I was planning on using it for my PreK’er, but after reading your post and dealing with these issues once already, I will not use it and I really do NOT recommend this method of teaching reading to any child, no matter what cirriculum you use.

  2. I have found that I love A Beka’s reading/phonics/spelling program. It all is interrelated and builds upon one another. It even helped my spelling, having been taught the public school way of guessing, etc. like you described here.

  3. I plan on using that book this year for my 5 year old. However, I do plan on supplementing with phonics/spelling programs so hopefully we’ll avoid those problems.

    • I also sustitute teach for our local school district and I have to say that they really drill phonics in the lower grades. Not all public schools are doing it wrong :)

  4. We used Explode the Code (phonics program) for reading, and it was wonderful. There are many subtle disabilities that can happen just as much in extraordinarily intelligent kids with huge vocabularies as in other kids. But I do believe phonics makes a huge difference in reading, spelling, and writing. Your plan not to jump in on a big evaluation just yet seems like a good one.

  5. I was one of those students in Public Kindergarten where the school system tried new methods. My parents described it as “spell it how you think it sounds and then we will fix it if it’s wrong”. It failed so badly that they reverted back to their traditional teaching. I am an intuitive speller. When my daughter was born, my father purchased “Hooked on Phonics” for both of us! It’s great that you are catching these subtle issues early. I was an avid reader too. No one knows you aren’t sounding out complex words and instead skipping over them when you are reading to yourself.

  6. I am a mom who learned to read by sight reading words. I am a lover of books. I read all the time. However, not knowing phonics has been a great hindrance to me. I started off with 100 easy lessons with my daughter. This method just did not work for her right brained mind. We looked for a phonics based program and I found McRuffy curriculum and I have loved it. Not only is my child learning phonics, I am learning too. This has changed my ability to read more and not skip over some words, but also changed my ability to spell words.

  7. I totally get this. We have a very similar situation with one of our daughters. We used the Woodcock-Johnson test for standarized testing this year. I told the test proctor about my concerns prior to the test. I was fully expecting her to recommend more through testing. Instead she suggested a remedial phonics program. Needless to say, I will complete a remedial phonics program with her and use the phonics program that I used with my oldest for my next begining reader. I think that you are on the right track. Good thinking! If in January you still have concerns you can always revisit the testing option.

  8. I just finished reading this post to my husband and his reply was, “Wow! That sounds familiar!”

    Seriously… I could’ve written this identical post about my 9 year old! Although she was diagnosed with a convergence insufficiency & has gotten glasses… I have only seen improvement in her reading. Her writing/spelling is actually slightly embarrassing to me. :-/

    As I’ve sat here planning for our upcoming year, it *never* occurred to me that she could need phonics remediation?! I mean… who knew there were varying levels of phonics instruction???

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing this & for the link to DonPotter.net. I’ve been reading his site nearly ALL day.

    Would you mind sharing what specifics items you’ll be using from his site? And keep us updated on the progress?

    • I’ll definitely be writing more about this as I go along. Stay tuned!

  9. There is such a thing as gifted dyslexics and it is really hard to notice because they are so good at guessing the words. I really hope that it not it for your son, but it might be worth looking into just in case. My daughter tried to use that book and did really well, but when we started our lessons in MFW she really had to relearn a lot because they were so different. I got to thinking the same things and she still guesses at her words. So it may just be the book… wondering now! :P
    Here is more info on gifted dyslexics if you want to read up on it! I know I always like too much info…
    http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Ed_Gifted_Dyslexics_than/

  10. I was going to use that book, but after my second child had problems (she was not taught with it)….and I began teaching my little guy through this book…and I was already going through the same thing you have experienced, I began seeing how that was definitely going to take him off track. Teaching a child to read without words that are spelled correctly, to me, is a recipe for failure!!!!

    • Yep. You’re smarter than me, Rebecca. I kept using it, in spite of misgivings, because so many people said it just works. Well, yeah, and if you have a child of a certain kind, it might be great. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, though, because you never know which child might not do so well. Phonics, phonics, phonics from now on.

  11. I learned about the whole phonics thing when I was looking for a remedial program for my daughter. I found Spell to Write and Read (www.bhibooks.net) and when I got it realized it was a whole reading program. Holy smokes did I get a real lesson. Even without using the program to it’s fullest extent it has improved her reading, my son practically taught himself and even my spelling is better. The Author was able to teach a mother to teach her severly down syndrom daughter to read and spell at a 12th grade level. Another book that has some very interesting information in the begining is called ABC’s and All Thier Tricks. Did you know that a nerosergeon by the name of Dr. Orton in the early 1900′s started getting patients that complain of switching around letters. (dyslexia) He originally tried to find a physical nerological problem. He eventually treated all his patients with remedial phonics training. He said that if they had been taught how to read properly to begin with they never would have had a problem. Here’s the deal. Progressives like John Dewey were big on getting whole word instruction put into schools. In is own words it was because phonics instruction produced an independent thinker whereas whole word produced dependent thinkers who were easier to manipulate. Whole word instruction was originally devised to teach the deaf mute how to read since phonics wouldn’t help them. Now, combine real phoics intrusction, that requires a left to right pattern with Cursive instruction FIRST, that forces you into a left to right patterns and you will eliminate Dyslexia. Dr. Orton said that true dyslexia is extremely rare. Once you get rid of reading problems you will also eliminate almost all learning disabilities….even amoung theose who are actually mentally challanged. If you want a good read go to the website for Spell to Write and Read and read Wanda’s speech to the Washinton State Senate on literacy. You won’t regret it. The English language DOES make sense people! LOL http://www.bhibooks.net/f/Senate_Speech.pdf

    • “In is own words it was because phonics instruction produced an independent thinker whereas whole word produced dependent thinkers who were easier to manipulate”

      Exactly! I didn’t know he’d said that, but I mentioned to my husband that this sort of “reading” seemed like a perfect way to make people capable of following instructions, but not so good for teaching them to create and think for themselves, and I postulated that this may be on purpose. At which point, my husband got out the tin foil and made me a hat. You’d better believe I’m going to make him read your comment. ;-)

  12. LOL! Please don’t judge the program by my typing skills! I just re-read my previous post. I hate laptop keyboards!

  13. Children are different and so are their learning styles, but I have always had misgivings about the aforementioned book. Even though I was a “good” reader in school, I did way too much guesswork and had to learn phonics when I began teaching at a Classical, Christian School. We used the Riggs method called “Writing Road to Reading” and I loved the results we got. But the program is not very user-friendly. Lots of tears from Riggs!

    When I left the school I began tutoring homeschool students and used “Phonics for Reading and Spelling” which is very similar to Riggs. The results were amazing! I was taking students who were 9-11 years old, students who tested on a first grade reading level, and bringing them up to a 5th grade level in a matter of months! What was most exciting to me was the way they began to love reading in such a short amount of time!

    There’s a lot of controversy over phonics these days and I while I do agree that it is drudgery to teach, I’m totally and completely sold on the results. Every child is different, every parent is different, but I’m a phonics mom.

    • I bought The Writing Road to Reading, and I’m about to sit down with it and read. I don’t know if I’ll use it, exactly, but I definitely want to know what’s in there!

  14. Please don’t judge me for what I am about to say….I was a teacher in public schools for quite some time and on top of that I taught first and second graders. There, it’s out. I’m now embarking on homeschooling. I know, what a mixed bag. Not every public school teacher teaches the above mentioned methods. My core method was always phonics (without shortcuts). I have not read this book, but I have heard about it. Lots of homeschooling moms are using it. I think sometimes reading is something magical for a lot of us, therefore, we don’t understand how it happens. Most people don’t really remember learning to read. A book claiming your child can read in 100 lessons and easy ones at that, is intriguing for most. As a former public educator and homeschooling mom, I want to encourage all parents, regardless of how their child is educated, to not take the shortcut. How often has a shortcut left you lost? Reading is not a 100 lessons. Learning to read is not fast and oftentimes, is not easy. If you are concerned about your child learning to read by X age, start early to reach your goal. And most importantly, have fun with your child. Make reading pleasant. Give them a good foundation to start with. If you read to your child and let them love reading, learning to read will come easier for most children. Introduce them to letters early in life. Make reading important in your home. If it sounds too simple, too easy, too good to be true…it is. So put your magic wands away and put on your work clothes. You’re gonna need them. I’m so glad you wrote this post. I’ve almost bought this book several times just to see it with my own eyes, but I refrain. I think I must know it would only make my mouth drop and since I don’t like dry mouth, I’ll have to pass.

    • Some of my best friends are PS teachers! No judging here. Well…not much. ;-)

  15. Just my two cents here… I used 100 easy lessons with all three of my children. I believe success or failure with this book is not based on the book. It is based on what works best for your child. Some children have great successes in writing and reading with phonics. Others have more success with “whole language” learning. And for many, a combination will fill in all the gaps.
    I taught each of my3 boys using this book along with reading aloud to them and watching Sesame Street, Electric Company, and some other PBS shows that I can’t recall the names of now. I also had them go through a Reader Rabbit program at the same time I used 100 easy lessons. They are all doing well with reading and writing. One is exceptional with spelling, one needs some work, and the other does well for his age.
    Paying attention to what our children need is the most important ingredient in teaching our children to read and write. Each of us must do what is best for our own children to help them succeed. When something is not working we need to adjust to help them while leaving room for others to do the same.

  16. What you are describing is not dyslexia, but disgraphia.
    Half of my kids are dyslexic and the other half normal to above average readers.
    I taught my first with my old 1st grade A Beka reader phonics and nothing but phonics in four weeks. She’s now working through the Robinson book list, reading extremely fast.
    My second is totally immune to phonics. I was totally flabberghasted when she wasn’t picking up reading like her sister. She couldn’t tell if you words rhymed, because she didn’t HEAR it. That’s what an auditory processing disorder does. She also had speech issues that we ironed out, and it took a looonng time to get her to where she is now. At age nine, she doesn’t write on her own either, she dictates, and then copies. I got her the Secret Stories which is phonics for dyslexics and she really enjoyed that. Each phonics sound has a story behind it to velcro it to the mind.
    I used 100 Easy Lessons with my third, because I needed something EASY, with two older to teach and two younger running around TPing the house, you tend to not become a purist anymore. I noted the parts to him where the shortcuts took place and when we got done, we went to the McGuffey Reader. Now that’s a good, free book you can get on google. It has the phonics to be practiced in a row up above the story, plus the new words. It works great for my dyslexic and non-dyslexic kids.
    I recommend Dianne Craft’s site for help – she has a writing lesson plan ( I only used the reading plan), but it’s a great place to start:
    http://www.diannecraft.org/tutor3.htm
    I also like Shurley English, my dyslexic really enjoyed it!

    • I don’t think dysgraphia explains why he spells so strangely, though. Is Shurley English as scary as people make it sound? ;-)

      (Oh, and the Diane Craft website is where we got the brain integration stuff. Very, very helpful!)

      • My very fast reader is a very poor speller. She most certainly doesn’t have dyslexia, especially after witnessing it with her little sister. But we went through Spelling Power and no matter how much we practiced a simple word like “very”, she would spell it verry. She doesn’t double the consonant at the end ie. shiping.

        Shurley English is so much fun, it really does break the parts of speech into manageable bits. The kids really do enjoy the songs, and then I end up singing the songs. It is not so intense on the writing, you can circle, use abbreviations, etc. Except the end of Level one has paragraph and letter writing. I had to get her to dictate and then copy that. I am hoping that she’ll be able to write on her own more this year.

        I can tell you that real dyslexia is genetic and no phonics program will “fix” it. My mother has dyslexia and it takes her a loonnng time to read anything. Her dad and aunt had pretty bad aphasia, which I’m touched with. Before dyslexia was understood to be a sensory integration/brain thing, my mom was evaluated in elementary for hearing problems because she could not distinguish between the sounds enough to read. I used Earobics to work out my kid’s auditory processing problem. Thanks so much to HSDLA who clued me into the resources to remediate this stuff myself. I simply could not afford a professional unless I wanted to get into the school system. If you are a member, you can email the struggling learner dept at HSDLA and ask them about it, they always seem to know what to do.

        • My dad is dyslexic, too, and I don’t really see a lot of the same things with my son that my dad has experienced. But they are strikingly similar in their strengths and interests, so I wonder how similar their brains might be. There are a lot of learning disabilities in my father’s family, mostly among the boys. Only 2 of the 7 boys in my dad’s family seem to be without some difficulty. I may just have a little boy who needs a lot more phonics practice, huh? Spelling isn’t his bag, that’s for sure! I’ll definitely make use of the HSLDA. Thank you!

  17. This may be going in a different direction, but you might look at Sequential Spelling, to augment your phonics remediation. I wouldn’t say my boys love it, but I can see a lot of benefit :D

    Julie G

  18. Thank you SO much for this post!
    It describes my 9 year old daughter so well. While she’s never been a voracious reader or a book lover, but reading ability level has always been “average to good” and she can get by just fine. Her amazing vocabulary fooled a lot of us into thinking she was doing great, but I have been increasingly concerned over the years about her horrendous spelling plus I have noticed more and more as she got older that when she reads out loud, she guesses at a lot of words and completely skips words that are 3 or more syllables, or words that she doesn’t instantly recognize. She never tries to sound them out, she just skips them altogether or makes a wild guess. Bless her heart.
    After a long chat with the testing administrator yesterday after having been tested using the Woodcock-Johnson and seeing no improvement whatsoever since last year, I began suspecting either an auditory processing problem or a plain phonics deficit issue.
    I’m so thankful to have found your post because it is so similar to our story that I couldn’t help but see the correlations, and it makes me feel so much better knowing I’m not the only one!
    We are re-visiting phonics beginning today! I’ll be checking in regularly for new ideas, encouragement, and to see what is working for you and what is not!

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