Volume 5 #2
Maybe it is my Scottish ancestry, or maybe it is because
I raised five kids and taught school, but I am an enthusiastic
supporter of efficiency. So when I began writing Reading
from Scratch back in the 1970’s, I wanted to find the
most efficient way of teaching spelling to kids who couldn‘t.
The current method in the schools was, and still is in many
places, is to give the kids a list on Friday for them to
memorize over the weekend and then have a test on Monday
to see how much they remembered. But that meant that at best
they only knew how to spell those particular words. Very
When I wrote RfS, I had to do a lot better than that. The
truth is that one simple spelling rule in English can cover
thousands of words, so I decided to stress spelling rules.
If, for instance, you know that a silent e on the end of
a one syllable word will turn the vowel long, you have covered
thousands of words in one pop. Very efficient.
So we go through a zillion short vowel words first, then
we add ar, er, ir, or, and ur, combining them with short
vowel sounds only, in words such as carpenter, underbrush
or transfer. Only one extra rule, a zillion new words. Very
After all that, we admit that a “short” vowel,
being small, needs protection from other vowels that might
invade his territory and make him identify himself (say his
name). Thus the doubled consonant rule, with more words available.
Still only a few rules.
There is not a lot of connected reading in the RfS program,
but after learning spelling rules, Eureka! the child learns
to read, anyhow. Yes, even sight words that we have never
taught him. Why? The left hemisphere is the literal side
that understands how to apply a rule. The right looks at
a word as a line drawing,. It must memorize the shape of
every word it learns, which is, by the way, tens of thousands
in a high school vocabulary. Very inefficient.
The last thing you want when you are straightening out
dyslexia is to involve the right hemisphere. Therefore NO
ILLUSTRATIONS, NO PICTURES. If you are teaching cat, for
heaven’t sakes don’t include a cute picture of a cat, even
if you think you are stressing the sounds of the letters. The right brain likes
pictures and treats everything it sees as one. So it tends to see the letters
as shapes, too. And don’t make the other mistake that you see frequently
in a reading program, of introducing all the letter combinations that form one
sound at once. Don’t show the hapless student mane, main, weigh,
they, and ray, and expect him to see that they all contain the long
A sound. The right brain immediately looks at such a mess, sighs, and
visualizes them all as patterns it has to remember. Extremely inefficient.
So the answer to the question of why, when you teach spelling
rules, spelling rules and spelling rules you then get good
reading is that memorizing and applying spelling rules activates
the (you guessed it)