Reading is the fundamental skill for anyone who hopes to learn anything. If you can't read, the majority of knowledge is unavailable and there's no way to get it. But the problem is deeper than that, even—without the ability to decode words, learners haven't had the chance to develop the skills necessary to make mental connections between ideas and concepts.
According to Dr. S. Farnham-Diggory who wrote the foreword to the 6th edition ofThe Writing Road to Reading, there are six stages of reading skill development. Stage 0 is prereading, Stage 1 involves alphabet recognition, Stage 2 is reading automaticity, Stage 3 involves reading to learn, and Stages 4 and 5 involve development of analytical and synthetic reasoning.
Farnham-Diggory, a learning psychologist, says that most college students today have never mastered Stage 3 (comprehension mastery) simply because Stage 2 has never been mastered. The focus ofThe Writing Road to Reading, therefore, is on Stages 1 and 2, which lay the foundation for every stage thereafter.
This isn't to say that Stages 3-5 aren't important. Indeed, these upper stages are the most important in the sense that all reading instruction is meant to lead up to these stages. But they will be out of the grasp of every student unless the lower stages are first mastered, and this book is meant to help teachers ensure their students have done so.
How Does This Work?
The Writing Road to Reading is a one-volume course built around the phonogram approach. Phonograms are the smallest sound units produced by the English language, and according to Romalda Spalding's rubric there are 70 of them. Farnham-Diggory avers that these are "correct by modern linguistic standards," meaning that arbitrary blends have been left out.
This is an integrated approach. Students learn the phonograms by sight and sound, and by writing them out. Spelling, writing, and reading are taught simultaneously, cementing more firmly the foundation on which students will build their knowledge. The goal is reading automaticity; once that's established, students are able to work more and more independently.
Not only because it's a beginning reading program, but also because it's a fairly complex program,The Writing Road to Reading is teacher-directed. Teachers or parents guide kids each step of the way, introducing the 70 phonograms and the 29 spelling rules, and using the Spalding education philosophy and methdology to shape students's learning experience.
Everything you need is in the book, with the exception of flashcards, pencils, and notebooks for each student. Supplements are available, including DVDs helping educators learn to implement the course. Be aware that this is not a collection of lesson plans, however—you'll have to cull the appropriate information from the text and form your own lessons.
Chapter one ofThe Writing Road to Reading is, in fact, a guide to creating these lessons. Spalding discusses creating a learning-conducive environment, what to teach in spelling, writing and reading, and "Four Steps to Effective Lesson Planning." There is no scripting provided, but there are examples to help you develop your own lesson scripts.
Subsequent chapters in Part One discuss delivering instruction, assessing and evaluating skills mastery, why this method works, and how to advance literacy. Part Two focuses on recommendations for children's literature, information on the phonograms, spelling rules, morphology, word lists, scope and sequence, and much more. Basically, Part One tells you How and Part Two provides all the What, the content of what students are to learn.
This isn't exactly a phonics program. While students do learn to read through word and sound identification, breaking words into smaller phonemic parts, they don't spend a lot of time on the many phonics rules. There are 29 spelling rules for students to learn, but the focus is on the phonograms.
And again, students learn to pronounce and write letters and words at the same time they learn to read them. This multisensory approach is one of the things that makes the Spalding method so effective—because they hear, speak, see, and make sounds and words, they are much less likely to forget what they learn and much more able to move forward.
Learning in this way also ensures students will be able to decode words they're unfamiliar with. In the phonetic method, kids are at a loss when they encounter a word that defies the rules; in the whole language approach, they're lost anytime they see a word they haven't memorized. But withThe Writing Road to Reading, they have the appropriate tools to work with.
Our Honest Opinion
We can't hide the one glaring fact that this is a very difficult course for many to implement. It takes a lot of work both to figure out and to put into practice. Not only do you have to make your own lessons, you have to navigate Spalding's philosophy and methodology in a very in-depth fashion. The text is dense both in terms of content and writing style.
But, as with many difficult things,The Writing Road to Reading is also an excellent beginning reading course. Because it is so thorough and systematic, and because it implements the phonogram approach to reading instruction, properly executed this is one of the best programs of its kind we've seen.
Just be aware that it's a time investment. If you've got multiple kids, have a job, or are just plain too busy, you'll probably want to look for another course (such asAlpha-Phonics orThe Reading Lesson). However, if you have the time and the stamina, this course will almost certainly help you shape confident and excellent readers.The Writing Road to Reading has also been very successfully used with learning-disabled children because of its step-by-step multisensory approach.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviewshere.
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