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Level One Readers - Why are They So Difficult to Read?

Two weeks ago, I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased thirty early readers. I wanted to analyze the phonograms and spelling rules found in books that parents and teachers ask young students to read. What I found amazed me.

Seemingly simple books in English, are not so simple on a linguistics level. These books may have a limited vocabulary, however, found in their pages are an astonishingly high percentage of the 75 phonograms and 31 spelling rules that describe written English.

In the United States it is common practice to teach a student some of the sounds of the A-Z phonograms and then expect them to begin to read. Yet, when opening a Level 1 reader students encounter dozens of non-A-Z concepts in each book. It is no wonder they struggle to read fluently.

For example, a classic Level 1 Reader is The Adventures of Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. On page one students will find eighteen non-A-Z linguistics concepts. There are forty-nine linguistics concepts needed to read just the first story, "What Will Little Bear Wear." The second story, "Birthday Soup" introduces an additional eleven concepts. The book is simple to read once students know the phonograms and spelling rules, however without them it is no wonder so many teachers resort to teaching sight words. These simple readers seem to prove that English is illogical, if the teacher only knows an oversimplified version of phonics.

Morris Goes to School has twelve non-A-Z concepts on page one.

The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat, which based on the title appears to be simple, has seventeen non-A-Z concepts on page one.

Since these books are more classic children's literature, I decided to look at some of the books designed to teach students to read. The Bob Book, My School Trip has four non-A-Z concepts on page one, eight on page two, and 63 total phonograms or spelling rules that must be known to read the book with ease. It may be that these books were designed to be read after the boxed sets of Bob Books, however, even these introduce linguistic concepts with a dizzying speed.

And so it is with all the books I have analyzed.

The reality is that to construct a grammatical sentence in English, writers must be able to use more than A-Z. And in order to read real books without rote memorization of words, students must know foundational concepts such as: English words do not end in V, therefore add a silent final E; the vowel says its name at the end of the syllable, and OU says the five sounds /ow-ō-ö-ŭ-ü/.

I believe it is the complexity of English, even at the most basic level, that has misled teachers into thinking English is best taught through the kill and drill of sight words and patterned readers. However, there is another way; teach students the rules and phonograms that describe English. It only takes a few months to introduce students to the basic concepts of how English works. With these tools they are prepared to read any English word and equipped to move into the higher skills of reading: vocabulary development, fluency, and reading comprehension.

Join us in changing how reading is taught and ensuring that all students in this generation know how English works.