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The English Language is rule based... they just don't tell anyone the rules!

As you already know, I am an Orton Gillingham reading and spelling specialist and I have developed my own reading/spelling/printing program based on my many years in and outside the classroom supporting children to be successful readers and spellers. That is truly my passion.


Did you know that the English language is almost entirely rule based. They just don't tell anyone the rules anymore, not even teachers! My program is based on the Orton Gillingham approach, a highly successful, science based teaching approach that was developed back in the 1930's to teach reading, spelling and printing that uses all our learning modalities: vision, hearing, touch and muscle movement. It was originally developed to help kids who have learning differences like dyslexia. I use the word "differences" on purpose not only because I personally don't like the word disability, but because using such a negative word to describe someone with a wondrous mind is criminal to me. I digress…

What is so amazing about the Orton Gillingham approach is that it teaches to ALL learning styles which means it captures ALL learners. Read that again...ALL LEARNERS! They can all be successful and happy! So, why are so many kids failing to excel in the classroom environment? Is it boredom, frustration, lack of confidence, low self esteem? I think the answer lies in how we are teaching. Ignacia Estrada says “If they can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

I feel so strongly about kids actually being taught in a way that makes sense to them, and that they get to demonstrate their genius in ways that make sense to them. I believe it's the key to developing amazing confident, thriving individuals. And I know how we teach makes all the difference because I've witnessed it over and over again with the kids I've supported and taught.

For some unexplainable reason, there has been this weird paradigm shift away from direct teaching kids how to read and spell to just having them guess! But by doing this, they are leaving a lot of kids behind. Around 1960 the approach to teaching kids to read and spell moved away from teaching phonics and rules to something called whole word learning. Whole word learning is the memorization of dolch or high frequency word. Some teachers call them sight words. Each word is learned based on how it’s shaped and looks. This approach was initially implemented as an untested theory. It sounded good on paper and it seemed to work for young 1st and 2nd graders as most young children can memorize words rapidly. The whole word method appeared to produce young children who learned to read quickly; however, it was only the illusion of reading. With the whole word method, textbooks and readers used by students included mostly the words these children had already memorized. But there are around 600,000 words in the English language. So, if your memory is weak or your visual perception is off, that's a LOT of memorizing. Once children get into the 3rd or 4th grade, the 1,000 to 2,000 words they have memorized are no longer sufficient for reading at an advanced level, and they have no skills to sound out new and unfamiliar words. When you teach a child to memorize the shapes of a word, they are relying on visual cues only to try and figure out what a word is. This leads to confusion and frustration. The English language was never designed to be memorized as shapes. When you teach the English language as the memorization of sight words (or whole word learning) you are in effect teaching English as if it were a character based language… like Chinese. Where each character represents a meaning and the only way to learn is to memorize the shapes of the characters. English is an alphabet-based language where the letter or combination of letters represents different sounds and these sounds combine together to make words. Words are put together into sentences to create meaning. Teaching phonics can take more effort than the whole word approach. It takes a bit longer to teach them rules and how to blend sounds together. But if you do it right…, you can reach ALL learners, even those with learning differences.


Til’ we meet again,

Norma Jean Maxwell

Time To Shine Teaching and Coaching


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