If you hope to successfully teach your kids to read well,The ABC's and All Their Tricks needs to be in your library. Only those unacquainted with Margaret Bishop's modern classic will find this to be an overstatement. This isn't a curriculum—the subtitle is "The Complete Reference Book of Phonics and Spelling"—but it is indispensible no matter what program (if any) you use.
The first twenty pages are an introduction discussing the deficiencies of the sight-reading "look-say" method, why phonics instruction is superior, and presenting the scholarly evidence for these claims. A number of chapters follow which describe the nature of the English language in extensive detail: long and short vowels, hard and soft C and G, consonant blends, etc.
These first two sections are very important both for the teacher and the student. All of this is for teachers to read, but after doing so you'll be able to instruct your kids in phonics and field just about any question they may ask. Bishop focuses on letter-sounds and blends, stressing the fact that irregular letter-sounds are relatively infrequent and rare.
After these foundational chapters come over two hundred pages devoted to every sound made by every letter in the English alphabet. Three or four pages are devoted to an overview of most of the letters, with etymology, the letter's various sounds, and other pertinent information. Then each sound (regular and irregular) gets a page of instruction and examples.
Finally, appendices discuss the "Dictionary Division of Syllables," "Syllables, Stress and Word Structure," "Remedial Reading," and "The Hanna Research Project" (discussing the source of the data Bishop employs throughoutThe ABC's and All Their Tricks. The appendix on remedial reading is especially useful for helping older students and adults with reading difficulties.
One of the most surprising revelations of this book is that even the irregular letter-sounds we encounter often follow a sort of logic that can be decoded using the right tools. Bishop displays uncommon common sense for those that can't: for instance, she says there's no need to teach beginning readers the word "impugn" since they aren't likely to encounter it in writing till later.
This approach builds confidence in readers. By enabling kids to decode words on their own by giving them the building blocks of phonics, and by helping them understand when and why the exceptions occur, teachers and parents can guide students away from fear of language and closer to mastery.
Probably the biggest lack in this book is the lack of an index of words. However, each sound is keyed to a Phonics Made Plain chart and cards, and since each letter is addressed chronologically, finding most words won't be difficult. Besides, this is a reference book, but most teachers would be best served reading it cover to cover to absorb as much of the information as possible.
Bishop (a graduate of Columbia University) is articulate and clear, and doesn't mess around. She covers how English came into its present form, the need for an orderly school environment, dyslexia, and much more, but never wanders into tangents. This is the best book on phonics rules currently available, and will eliminate most of the difficulty of teaching kids (and adults) to read.
Table of Contents:
To the Teacher
Letter Names and Letter Sounds
Two Styles of Spelling
Root Words and Longer Words
Vowel Sounds and Vowel Letters
"Long" and "Short"
Silent Vowel Letters
Consonant Sounds and Consonant Letters
Unvoiced, Voiced and Nasal Consonants
Hard and Soft C and G
Homonyms and Spelling Options
Alphabetical Listing of Letters
A: Dictionary Division of Syllables
B: Syllables, Stress and Word Structure
C: Remedial Reading
D: The Hanna Research Project
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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