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Why traditional methods of teaching reading and writing fail to help most dyslexics learn to read and write
See also: AVKO Philosophy

As a rule, dyslexics tend to be highly logical.  They also tend to believe what they are taught.  When dyslexics apply logically what they have been taught and when it doesn't work, they become frustrated.  Normal people just don't worry about being logical.  Normal people don't worry when the rules don't work.  They just read.  

Let 's go through just a few of the traditional concepts that almost all reading experts will agree on.

  • 1. We read from left to right.

  • 2. We should teach the alphabet before we teach reading and spelling.

  • 3. Whatever phonics is necessary to be taught should be taught in the first two grades.  After that, phonics need not be taught.  Children learn to read in the first two grades and then read to learn after that time.

1. Left to right?  What's that?  (/hwuts/) Our language has many sound reversals.  When we say /hw/ we spell it wh.  If you don't believe us, just check your dictionary and look at the wh- words.  With the exception of words like whole and who in which there is just the /h/ sound to start the word, all the words are /hw/.  

Let's demonstrate another interesting fact about the word little.  Note:  The first two letters and the last two letters of that sentence are LE.  If our language were to consistently go left to right then they should be pronounced the same.  But obviously, they're not.  Normal people don't worry about such little things as le being pronounced as /ul/ as in nickel but spelled LE as in pickle.  Dyslexics do.

Let's demonstrate that letters to the right of other letters often determine how they are pronounced.  Concentrate on the sound the second letter (e). Say: de, dem, demo, demon, demons, demonstrate, demonstration, demonstrative.  Ouch!

How about the letter c?  In cat it's hard like a /k/.  In city it's soft as an /s/.  Okay, let's play with MA, MAG, MAGI (pronounced Madge eye), MAGIC, MAGICIAN.

Does this mean that we should not teach phonics?  No.  It only means we should teach phonics properly.  The patterns are consistent but not the single letter correspondences.  Notice all one syllable words ending with the letter a rhyme.  Da, fa, la, ma, pa, and spa.   All one syllable words ending in -ag will rhyme, e.g.,  bag, rag, brag, drag, lag, flag, etc.  Polysyllabic words ending with the /ik/ sound will not use the ending k.  Polysyllabic /ik/ words end ic while single syllable /ik/ words are ick words.  Pick Nick to run the picnic.  Polysyllabic words ending -an are pronounced "un" and usually indicate a human, as in American, Canadian, Christian, Indian, and fireman.  The ician words always rhyme with "ish un" and mean the human that makes the first part as in a musician makes music, and electrician makes things electrical, and a magician makes magic.  Good readers and good spellers somehow learn to apply these concepts without really knowing them.  They are tuned into the language and not turned off by rules that don't apply.  Dyslexics need to learn the patterns--not rules.  For a listing of the phonic patterns that are not taught in any school's curriculum check THE PHONIC PATTERNS NOT TAUGHT.

2.  We should teach the alphabet before we teach reading and spelling.  That's traditional.  And it works for a lot of children.  But for dyslexics, that's the beginning of their problems.  If all we had to do was to learn 26 letters, that wouldn't be much of a problem.  But, as I learned when teaching one adult dyslexic who had no problem reading the word BAR but couldn't read bar or bar or Bar or Bar or  bar, the letter a takes many shapes as do all the letters of our alphabet.  If a person is taught to read a word using just one set of letters, it doesn't mean he can read the word when written in another set.  The young adult dyslexic in question knew the word BAR because he loved to imbibe.  What AVKO has discovered is that dyslexic children can learn to read and spell AS they learn the alphabet, not AFTER.  The exact sequence of teaching the letters and the words and sounds that the letters make can be found in both Let's Write Right and The Teaching of Reading (and Spelling): a Continuum from Kindergarten through College.

3. Whatever phonics is necessary to be taught "...should be completed by the end of the second grade for most children."  You can find this stated on p. 118 in Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading.  Whether or not phonics is taught or how phonics is taught is the first two grades, there is no way for a logical person to make the leaps from the simple patterns of the story telling language used in these grades to the sophisticated patterns found in the curriculum from the fourth grade on up through college.

For example, how can we expect a logical person (a dyslexic) who can read the word fish be expected to read the letters fici as "fish" in the words official, beneficial, and sufficient?!?!  The experts on reading just "know" that context is enough!  The dyslexic who is logical knows that the letters ish are in fish, dish, and wish.  But where is the ish in Commission?  Miss rhymes with kiss.  An ion rhymes with "eye on."  We have had dyslexics attempt to read the word commission as "Calm Miss eye on.  Yet, the only way the sound "mish" is spelled in words of more than one syllable is missi as in mission, permission, submission, transmission, etc.  (Okay, in Michigan, the "mish" sound is spelled MICH, but that's the only exception I know of.)

In conclusion, traditional methods are doomed to fail the dyslexic child when they insist that:

  • 1. We read from left to right. 

    That is too simplistic.  Single letter/single sound left/right is not true.  What is true is that Words follow one another from left to right or top to bottom.

  • 2. We should teach the alphabet before we teach reading and spelling. 

    No.  Dyslexics will learn better if they learn to read and spell AS not after they learn the alphabet in a very slow systematic multi-sensory manner.

  • 3. Whatever phonics is necessary to be taught should be taught in the first two grades.  After that, phonics need not be taught.  Children learn to read in the first two grades and then read to learn after that time. 

    WRONG.  Learning to read is a continuum.  The phonics taught or caught in the first two grades is insufficient to allow a dyslexic in the third grade to read the word insufficient.  Indeed, it is a rare third grade child who can read the words insufficiencies, cuisine, or psychiatric.

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