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    Highly, Highly Recommended Reading: Uncovering the Logic of English

    March 23, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    If you have been reading here for any length of time, you probably know that I run another little blog called Teaching Reading with Bob Books. Before I began that blog, I talked about teaching reading fairly regularly. Afterwards, I relegated those sorts of posts to TRwBB, with Rare Exceptions. I didn’t want this blog to be swamped with teaching reading posts.

    Today, then, is a Rare Exception day.

    I just finished listening to two fabulous, wonderful, amazing talks from Denise Eide on the logic of the English language, which are available for download free online which used to be available for free download, but aren’t any longer. I was able to find, however, a YouTube video that, while shorter {and therefore less thorough} should still give you an idea.. If you teach reading or know budding readers–which is probably about every single one of you–you ought to carve out time to listen to these talks.

    My interest in teaching reading began at a very young age. My parents told me, when I was twelve-years-old, that I needed to have a job in the summer. No more running around playing all of the time. Now, this wasn’t a big deal–just four or five hours a week or so. They just wanted me to step it up a notch in the responsibility area, and I am thankful for that.

    I opened a tutoring business, and I never looked back. Some kids babysit or walk dogs, but I was all about the reading. {At least until I got my driver’s license. He he.}

    The reason I love to teach reading is that English makes perfect sense.

    I don’t remember being taught phonics as I began reading at a very young age. Perhaps I was, perhaps I wasn’t. But I have always thought in patterns. This is how my mind works, by noticing patterns and then noticing things that don’t conform to the pattern. In English, though, it is not that a word does not conform, but that it fits in a different pattern. I love teaching reading because I love showing children who do not naturally see patterns that all of this seeming chaos actually makes sense.

    According to Eide, somewhere between 95% and 98% of English words fit a pattern.

    They have a rule.

    I felt like Eide was a kindred spirit. She is my new best friend; I just haven’t told her yet.

    The difference between myself and Eide, however, is that she is way more informed than I am {or would ever care to be} and that she explains it all much better than I ever could.

    Jesus said this:

    A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.

    In her talk, Eide gave some frightening statistics on adult literacy in this country. How can we pass on a gift we have not received?

    After listening to Eide speak, I can tell you that she gets it. She sees the patterns, and she knows how to teach them. But a pupil will be like his teacher, which means that first we who teach must know and understand these patterns. We must know that English makes sense, that it is not a crazy language full of exceptions.

    Probably the most fascinating thing I heard Eide say was to explain functional MRIs that have been performed on children while they are reading. Good readers use different parts of the brain than struggling readers and non-readers. But here is the cool thing: after only 80 hours of teaching a la Eide, the struggling readers’ brains looked like the brains of good readers! In fact, they were no long struggling readers. Some, she says, are now defining dyslexia as a student whose brain activity does not improve after the 80 hours of instruction.

    So I am highly, highly recommending her book, even though I haven’t yet read it {I want a copy so badly!} because I am convinced, after hearing her speak, that she is helping to bring literacy back to our country. So go. Watch her YouTube video.. And buy her book. Become the teacher your children need you to be.

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  • Reply Nancy H. February 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    I realize that this is an older post but I just tried to follow the link to the audio but the link took me to a “you don’t have access to this” page. Any chance you could update the link? I’m very interested in it! Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 18, 2014 at 2:09 am

      Oh so sad! It looks like Society for Classical Learning took them down. πŸ™

      I was able to find a YouTube video that should be an adequate substitute, though not as thorough as what I had linked to before. I’m going to go through and relink the post, but I’ll put it here for your convenience:

      Hope that helps!

  • Reply Axon L. Parker April 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Brandy – My first little boy is five-years-old and I am starting to plan his Kindergarten year. Originally I hadn’t planned on having a “curriculum” for Kindergarten, but we live in Maryland (at least for now – we are hoping to move home to Montana the beginning of next year!) and we are required to register and state a curriculum. I am also starting to experience that self-doubt everyone told me would come. I was homeschooled myself and was a teacher, so I thought I could avoid the anxiety….but….no. Anyway, I feel most worried about teaching him to read. I was an intuitive reader myself, and was taught phonics, but that was a long, long time ago. Per your review I bought Eide’s book (haven’t read it yet) and am wondering if I could form a curriculum myself? I am not adamant about him learning to read this year, as I am definitely in favor of waiting until he is ready, and my instinct tells me he is not ready. But I feel the pressure to teach SOMETHING, and I want that something to be inexpensive, simple, and correct. Also – handwriting? He writes crazy print on his own occasionally. Do I dare start a cursive program? Gosh. So many questions. But I have read your blog for some time and I value your philosophy. I know you are busy, but if you have any Kindergarten wisdom to share with me….Thanks so much:)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      Yes! I really think you can form your own curriculum! In fact, I *have* and I put it on my other blog, Teaching Reading with Bob Books. Actually, I wouldn’t call it a curriculum. It’s more like a method or study. Anyhow, if you read the tabs across the top–about, are you new here?, etc., you will get an idea of how I have set up our reading lessons.

      I have never paid for a reading curriculum. I must say that even though I had been teaching and tutoring phonics for years, Eide’s book really helped everything come together for me, and I’m changing the way I do things based upon her suggestions.

      I honestly feel so sad for you that you are *required* to do Kindergarten because it puts so much pressure on you the first year!

      I would also look at the reading posts from Joyful Shepherdess. CM had a lot of things she suggested for children less than 6, and that might be especially helpful in your situation. What if, instead of formal writing instruction, you spent a year writing in the mud? πŸ™‚ I’m only half kidding.

      There are a number of pre-writing activities listed in her posts that might apply for you. And then you could begin cursive in first grade? I don’t know how strict your state is, but I think doing the writing exercises using gross motor skills (holding a stick and using your whole arm to write in the mud or sand) is more developmentally appropriate than using a pencil and writing on paper. Unless, of course, he is already showing aptitude in that area. Then I wouldn’t worry as much.

  • Reply Anonymous April 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    ABeka has cursive writing books for K4 students and beyond for those of you looking to start cursive young. We are using them with my 4 yr old son.

  • Reply Pilgrim April 6, 2012 at 4:54 am

    So glad that you recommended this book. I requested it for our local library and it should be here shortly. I have enjoyed the earlier comments too. I am actually trying to use Peterson to teach cursive right now. So far I have taught the lowercase letters to my 5 year old and will start trying to do capital letters soon. I don’t think Peterson uses the clockface and I have borrowed that concept from Cursive First to help him remember where to stop (2 o’clock) or start. I might use Eide’s ideas for capital letters – not certain yet. The four strokes of Peterson for lower case are genius – my son got it immediately and if he forgets how to form it I just remind him “roll top” and he can do it. I have glanced at Memoria Press’ cursive program which is designed to teach 1st graders. My son actually has pretty good handwriting – all the grandparents are impressed. It is a little tough though because all of his friends can only print so he wants to print too.

    I think that you probably could teach reading this way without a curriculum if you get the principles. SWR and WRTR both have some good resources that might make it easier to implement (like the flashcards she recommends and a page with all of the spelling rules). Spalding’s book is in lots of libraries and worth looking at. I do like SWR because it is laid out – however I think it might be overkill for some kids. As with everything – you need to tweak. But learning more about this approach to teaching reading has given me confidence so that when we run into issues I can better explain and teach through it instead of saying “I don’t know” or “just memorize it that way”.
    I think Eide’s point about many teachers being “intuitive readers” is true and it might make it harder for them to break it down for struggling readers. I fell into that category and have learned a lot from SWR – although it does have a learning curve to get you started. Eide’s talk does discuss many of the things she mentions.
    If you are looking for a presentation of the letter sounds and actions to watch (although there is debate about whether you should use “actions” in the learning process) I really like this one: If you scroll to the bottom of the page you will see Phonogram DVD and can watch them.
    I don’t know if you have read any of Diane McGuinness about teaching reading. She has a slightly different take on it and really focuses on the 44 sounds and the multiple ways you can write those sounds (so you learn e and then all the ways you can make that sound – e, ee, ey, etc.). My main issue with her program is that I haven’t figured out how kids are supposed to know which letter combination to choose when they write a word. In Spalding, etc. they teach you the sound in frequency order – ah, ay, aw and when you learn the word you indicate which form of the letter it is using. They have used her work in the Core Knowledge Reading program that is currently under development. Her “how to” book is called Reading Reflex but she also has a few tomes about her research into reading.
    So literacy is a passion of mine also! My hubby is a librarian so we are a good fit.

  • Reply Harmony March 27, 2012 at 5:03 am

    These talks are fantastic, Brandy–thanks so much. I didn’t get a huge amount of formal English education in my homeschooling, but was a pretty intuitive early reader, and I guess more visual than I realized, because I learned spelling almost entirely without study just by reading a lot! But I also like rules and managed to pick up some of the spelling rules she mentions along the way.

    I will definitely be getting my hands on her book and passing this recommendation on to others.

    I was going to ask you about cursive also, since I’ve seen you mention that you were interested in teaching it first… let us know what you come up with. I was taught italic handwriting, which seems easier to me–not as many crazy looking letters, which is to say they all look pretty close to the print forms. Any thoughts on that? My own handwriting is now atrocious (comes from too many years in graduate school scribbling frantically, and then more years writing in charts frantically!) but I do join my letters in the italic method at least 70% of the time still. I think I may try to teach my son to write that way.

    I also wanted to ask whether you see yourself changing how you approach letter learning with your son O. I’ve been teaching capital letters to my son (2 1/2) and planning to do lowercase next; he knows all the names now but only a few of the sounds they make. Would you change to teaching (lowercase) phonograms instead of names first? The only negative to that approach that I can see is just that there are many more phonograms to learn. Too late for my son to switch anyway.

    • Reply Harmony March 27, 2012 at 5:12 am

      Hm, just found this:
      “Teaching italic penmanship within a Charlotte Mason framework”
      “The transition between printed italic, called basic italic, and cursive italic is very easy. It is the only method that does not have drastic changes between the two.”

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      At this point, I think I am going to try and use Peterson Directed Handwriting with my 7yo–who has not been progressing in regular writing really at all–and see what happens. So much of what was said in these talks reminded me of her. She is *not* intuitive in these areas, and I think all the muscle memory exercises will be so helpful. There is a free ebook on the PDH site that explains how to use the muscle memory training, and it even has big letter pages for arm tracing, etc. I need to go through the web training first, which will take a couple hours I think. My big resistance to teaching cursive first has been that (1) I wasn’t sure how exactly to do it and (2) my first student was very intuitive so I dismissed it as unnecessary. Working with my second child has opened my eyes to how a child can get hung up on things like this, and I want to help her. She told me just yesterday she wants to learn to “write pretty” like me, so I think she’s ripe for it.

      As far as letter learning and learning all of the phonograms in the very beginning…I am still undecided. I really like what I have always done, which is to teach a few sounds, and let them read a book that uses those sounds (like a Bob Book), then teach a few more sounds, and let them use those sounds, etc. etc. Being able to “read a real book” right away really engages students who aren’t into it.

      With that said, in How to Read a Book Adler mentions that the alphabet used to be learned differently that we learn it now, and that it was more phonetic and letter combinations. I wish I could find a book that explained how it was done! But unfortunately I have yet to see one. If I was going to move toward something like that, I’d probably move toward something used in the past during a time of high literacy (like what Adler mentioned) rather than toward Eide’s model of using the flash cards with the various sounds on them, at least until I knew what the differences were between the two.

      I think some of what Eide says works better when children are not beginning reading instruction until six or seven as well. My problem is that my children have all (so far) demanded reading instruction far earlier than that, even 7yo who is not an intuitive reader. But I can’t imagine sitting down with a 4yo who wants to learn to read and doing phonetic flash cards before reading anything. Of course, I might have misunderstood…

      I think your point about italic writing is worth consideration, for sure! Also, from what I have read about CM’s handwriting training, she also did individual strokes before full letter formation, and no tracing, so I definitely see precedent for what Eide is saying. It is funny how we can move forwards by going backwards!

    • Reply Mystie March 27, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      I do the vertical phonics, all sounds at once, and start immediately with Bob Books as soon as they can blend. So I don’t use TATRAS exactly as directed (it has word lists). Though, both my boys always get to a point of guessing what the page says based on the picture, rather than attempting to read, so when they do that we move to the word lists for awhile. πŸ™‚

      But I start with 3 or 4 year olds; whenever we sit down with an alphabet book, I say, “A – a, ay, aw” “B, b” and have them repeat. So we do names and sounds all together with alphabet books off and on, without drilling or worrying about memorizing them. Then when I really add “phonics” to their plate, most of it is familiar. We keep with the alphabet books, and also use the TATRAS page which has the 9 most used sounds (including th). So then from the very earliest time they read, even “the” isn’t a sight word. We’ve never done any sight words.

      Do most people really not know the rules about hard and soft c and g? That’s a phonics rule in TATRAS that I grew up with, and even the BJU spelling my mom used had rules like that. No wonder people struggle….it boggles my mind that that isn’t common knowledge.

      I like Penny Gardener’s italics. I don’t know if you saw it, but she has YouTube video lessons for them, too. That is helpful if you ever feel like you’ll go insane if you have to say “start at the top” one more time. πŸ™‚

      So far all my children love to draw and write, and so I guess I’ve not seen the need to start with strokes. But I did like Eide’s point about starting with the elbow movement. I might incorporate that with my next student. My boys both wrote and drew so much and all the time on their own that their muscle memory is all wrong and I still waffle on how much to get angsty over handwriting.

      *The* problem with handwriting is that I have to sit and superintend every – single – movement. It quickly drives us all batty. And do I *ban* them from writing on their own? There’s no way 5-10 minutes with me will out-train their hour+ a day free work (not even assigned!). But, I should probably start intentionally with my 4yo now and maybe prevent her from forming the same habits. She follows instructions with less resistance anyway. πŸ™‚ After listening to Eide, I was thinking about starting the Penny Gardener cursive section with her, but making it big. She’s already filling pages with lines and O’s on her own.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 27, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      Interesting that you connect the phonics to the letter learning. I don’t know *why* I never thought to do that, but I didn’t! I remember one time Cindy saying in an email that her children didn’t really learn the letter names–they were at the optometrist saying letter sounds! HA! I might try that with my last Guinea Pig. πŸ˜‰

      My girls both began writing really horrible looking print letters before I ever taught them. And they make all of the mistakes Eide details in her talks–letters within words spaced too far apart, but words crammed too close together, to the point where sentences look like one long, punctuated word, etc. My oldest never really tried to write on his own, so this wasn’t an issue. He learned to print from ME. But the girls…sigh…and this unteaching thing isn’t really working at. all. At least, I don’t see progress.

      I was thinking about what Eide said, that most children come to the classroom with maybe years of poorly formed print letters making up their muscle memory. That is DEFINITELY my daughters. Her thought is that going straight to cursive allows us to teach them to write beautifully, and who cares how they write in their spare time at 6 or 7? So I’m going to try it after I do the training videos.

      I think that *with cursive* the 5-10 minutes per day will be effective for my 7yo because it is new. But I agree that trying 5-10 minutes in print per day is certainly not doing anything here for us.

      As far as people not knowing the rules about hard and soft c and g…um…YES. At least people here about my age. When I was in school, the California public schools had moved to almost all sight words. The rules I often give are rules that I noticed myself! No one taught them to me. Thankfully, in listening to Eide, I am not too far off. {!} I also think that intuitive readers can end up not learning all the rules because people assume they can read {which they mostly can}. I saw this with my oldest who at age 6 or 7 was calling Charlotte’s Web “Sharlotte’s Web.” I drilled him on it, but after listening to these talks, I think I should have sat down and reminded him that ch could make three different sounds–understanding the Greek versus French origin would have been interesting to him, and likely helped him remember–because then he would have known the *rule* rather than reading the individual *word.*

  • Reply Mystie March 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Thanks for the link! I’ve listened to the first one, and was reminded that I have failed on the handwriting front. Sigh.

    TATRAS ( is the same principle as Spell to Read & Write, but simplified and not nearly so intensive (for student or teacher) and also has directions for using it with an older, remedial student. It’s what my mom used and what I now use, too.

  • Reply Jennifer March 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks, Brandy! Nearly every day, Jackson asks me about an “exception”- so confusing for a new reader! I will be listening to these talks so I can give him intelligent answers!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 25, 2012 at 3:04 am

      You are very welcome! If Jackson is asking about exceptions, you might want to give his teacher a copy. πŸ™‚ Eide mentioned that a lot of teachers tend to be intuitive types when it comes to language, which typically translates into not *needing* to know all of the rules…which means they naturally think words are exceptions that aren’t. Just a thought. Have fun! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Sharlene March 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Thank you for giving the link to the talks. I am looking forward to listening to hers as well as the others. This is the information that I have been looking for. Thank you for making an exception and posting about reading. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Anonymous March 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I’ve listened to the first talk, and all the things she talks about are in three different curriculums (two of which I have used): The Writing Road to Reading (more written for classrooms); Spell to Read and Write (excellent but very labor intensive); and All About Spelling (easiest to use, IMHO, and most graphic). You might want to look into the last one. HTH!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 25, 2012 at 3:03 am

      Interesting! It will be good to know that if anyone asks me for suggestions. I have never used a curriculum when I have taught, but I know that most people need them, so it is good to have names.

      I actually wonder if some parents could read Eide’s book and just teach based upon that knowledge, which would probably be the least expensive way to go about it, if someone is on a tight budget.

  • Reply Meredith in Aus March 24, 2012 at 6:23 am

    I look forward to listening to her talks. I think I am an intuitive reader (and speller), although I really benefitted from following LEM Phonics (an Australian English adaptation of The Writing Road to Reading). It taught me the rules behind the patterns. Fabulous.

    However…I taught my eldest this way, but she just didn’t respond – at least not in spelling. She reads well – does well at comprehension – although at 15, she tells me that she gets nothing if she has to read aloud. It uses too much brain space to both read and comprehend. She also seems to squint a lot. I’m taking her to have her eyes checked by an optometrist who also specialises in dyslexia. Her spelling is shocking. She just will. not. sound things out. She is constantly missing out whole sounds in words and swapping them around when she writes them, yet, for the most part, she doesn’t have trouble reading. Go figure!

    Eide’s book blurb says something about helping kids who are good at maths to do better at reading. Unfortunately, my daughter has trouble with maths too! Argh. I guess I’ll listen to her talks before I buy her book! Even if it is no help for my eldest, I’m sure I will learn from her.

    BTW, my younger children do not have the same problems.

    Thanks for another interesting link!

    In Him


    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 25, 2012 at 3:01 am

      I don’t know if Eide would help your daughter or not, but it’s worth a shot! I wonder if your daughter would find it interesting herself, actually. My sister had an optometrist who really helped her reading when she was in her early teens.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 23, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Eide would call your daughter an intuitive reader. What she also says, though is that not all intuitive readers are intuitive spellers–Eide includes herself in that category. But it *sounds* like Eide remediated her own spelling by learning all of the reading/spelling rules for the language! You might find it helpful for yourself. I know that there are a few words I struggle with in spelling, and I bet her book will help me figure out what rule I haven’t identified.

    You will have to let me know what you think if you get a chance to listen to her talks.

  • Reply Books For Breakfast March 23, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    I’m adding this book to my amazon wishlist. I have always struggled with spelling because I don’t see these patterns. My daughter sees and hears patterns in everything, a gift I often marvel at. She is a good reader and we’ve not done any formal phonics. Very little anyway. I wonder if this is how she does it. She rarely misses the same word twice, and if she learns a blend in one word, she easily spots it in another. Thanks for this recommendation. Wow!

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