How Torture Reading Helped Denise Discover The Logic of English

As I have spoken around the country, I have discovered a pervasive affliction: English spelling appears inconsistent, illogical, and for some impossible. This ache resides not only within our schools: public, private, and home, but within the hearts of professionals who cannot spell, parents who cannot answer their children's questions, intelligent adults who were in special education, employers who are despairing at the low literacy rates of the workforce, and on through all levels of society. The logic of English speaks straight to people's hearts and their greatest insecurities.

For language, spoken and written, is the basis of all academics and the medium by which we conduct business, science, politics and relationships. Without a firm grasp of our native tongue English, we sever the Achilles heel of individuals and our society.

My most profound insights about literacy education occurred within the blossoming homeschool world. Homeschooling changed my perspective of education. I moved out of a linear model into a relational model. Because my students are my own flesh and blood, I was not willing to explain away their learning struggles as "their problem" and label them with a disability. Rather, I saw their brilliance and scrutinized my own teaching methods, content, and style much more severely than I would if I had been employed as a teacher.

I think of my homeschool and the students I have tutored as qualitative research. As I have probed their minds, hearts, and views and sought to understand what confuses them, what make sense, and what does not, I have learned more about teaching than I learned in any methods class.

My oldest daughter learned to read easily from a beautiful phonics program. However, like me, she could not spell. Even though I was a successful student and a decent writer and I consider myself well educated, I relied heavily on spell check to save myself from deep embarrassment. Nothing in my own education, including graduate level English classes, solved my problem.

Since I did not want my daughter to be doomed to the same fate, I began buying spelling programs. I gravitated toward ones that included rules and claimed to be systematic and logical. We tried four or five programs in second grade. With each one I quickly became disappointed with the lack of logic and system. If it didn't answer my questions, I added it to the growing stack of rejects.

Then I found works based upon the research of Dr. Orton. I was mesmerized by English rules that worked! Finally there were answers, even answers to questions I had never thought to ask because I had disregarded English as illogical. I immediately began to teach my daughter the phonograms and rules. She went up grade levels in spelling overnight. Thankfully, so did I!

When my little scientific minded boys were ready to read, I pulled out my old phonics program with colorful pictures, worksheets, and coloring pages. It seemed too foreign, too difficult for young children to teach them all the phonograms, sounds, and rules. I thought it best to start simple and save the details for spelling.

To my surprise, after the kindergarten and first grade levels my twin sons could not read. We had spent hours torture reading, as I now call it, with me sitting nearby listening as they sounded out words applying the incomplete phonics they had been taught. I felt I was telling them every other word was an exception. They were quickly losing interest in reading and becoming deeply discouraged. Even I began to dread our reading times as I felt my own frustration levels rise.

So I ventured into using the "intensive phonics" method with the boys. Within a month, one of them was reading chapter books. His engineering mind needed the consistency of rules that actually explained the language. His twin brother took longer.

His brother is a strong auditory learner. Because I was on this crazy journey called homeschooling I sought to understand him and how he learned in deeper ways than I had ever thought about in my education classes. Through working with him, I learned about directionality, learning styles, consistency, and how to respect his differences and recognize them as strengths. I also learned how to teach a visual activity like reading to an auditory student. With my youngest daughter, a kinesthetic student to the extreme, I began the process all over again.

So how does the story of my children relate to the literacy crisis in our nation? The reading crisis was occurring before my eyes, in my own home. 75% of my students were not able to learn to read with inconsistent phonics combined with whole language methods. As a one-on-one tutor with a background in reading education, I experienced with my children what teachers around the nation are seeing.

In the past three years I have taught numerous reading and spelling classes ranging from 45 minutes to three days in length. The participants have included teachers from private schools and public schools, special education teachers, and homeschool parents. The response has been unanimous: "Why wasn't I taught this in elementary school? It all makes so much sense!" Many professional teachers have told me after a one-hour presentation, "I learned more in one hour than in all my methods classes in grad school." I know exactly how they feel.

The information contained in The Logic of English Series is not new. You may be surprised to learn that with some variations the spelling rules and phonograms are used by Dyslexia Institutes and reading centers around our nation with great success. But for unknown reasons, "intensive phonics" is saved almost exclusively for students who struggle. I simply cannot understand why we reserve material that effectively teaches 99% of students for reading centers. As a nation we need to rethink how we teach reading to prevent so many children from needing outside help in the first place.

As you learn more, I hope it becomes apparent that knowing the logic of English benefits all learners. I am resoundingly optimistic that we can teach reading at a fraction of the cost and with higher success rates than we currently do. One of the keys is that all students, all teachers, and all parents should know the reason behind English spellings. This knowledge is as basic to academic success as 1+1=2.