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    Quotables: Uncovering the Logic of English

    June 12, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    Uncovering the Logic of English:
    A Common-Sense Solution to America’s Literacy Crisis
    by Denise Eide

    [W]ith some variations, the spelling rules and phonograms already are used with great success by dyslexia institutes and reading centers around our nation. For unknown reasons, this “intensive phonics” is saved almost exclusively for students who struggle. I simply cannot understand why material that effectively teaches all students has been reserved for reading centers. {p. 12}

    I am resoundingly confident that we can teach reading at a fraction of the cost, and with much higher success rates, than we currently do. {p. 12}

    English is comprised of 44 unique phonemes which combine together to form a word. {p. 15}

    This presents the first problem: the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet are inadequate to describe the 44 spoken phonemes or sounds. To solve this discrepancy, English adds 48 multi-letter phonograms. {p. 16}

    The difference between the literate and the illiterate is that the literate blame the problems on English, but the illiterate blame themselves. {p. 21}

    [S]omething is deeply wrong with how we are teaching reading. It is simply not conceivable that 22%-70% of our population has a reading disability. What is clear is that students who do not thrive in first, second, and third grade continue to struggle through adulthood. {p. 22}

    Children who are skilled readers have effective brain activity patterns and rely heavily on areas of their brains related to sounds. When struggling readers attempt to read, their brains show inactivity in these critical auditory areas. {p. 23}

    When reading is not taught correctly, many students do not make solid connections between the phonograms {the pictures of the sounds} and the phonemes {the sounds themselves}. Instead, they seem to rely heavily on the visual center of their brain. {p. 24}

    To “help” students, many schools teach “reading strategies” rather than solid phonics. {p. 25}

    When solid phonics education is combined with a foundation in the roots of words, often even the definition becomes apparent. {p. 26}

    The first step is to learn the 74 basic phonemes. {p. 26}

    When the plurals are considered, s says /z/ 70% of the time. Certainly a sound that occurs 70% of the time is not an exception. {p. 27}

    Logical students do not tolerate inconsistent rules. The smattering of phonics usually given to them is not only unhelpful; it is damaging. {p. 27}

    [T]he letter names do not tell the student anything about how a word is read or spelled. The names are best learned after the phonogram sounds have been internalized. {p. 28}

    Many educators mistakenly believe that good readers read whole words rather than phonetically. The prevailing thought is that readers who sound out words are sow, and that fast readers have actually developed instant recognition of the whole word. This is some of the theory behind the Dolch List, a commonly used list of 250 sight words.

    However, recent research using functional MRI has shown that good readers are actually processing the sounds one a time, even though they perceive it as a whole word. It is just that the brain is so fast, it appears they are reading whole words. In reality, though, they are converting the letters on the page to sounds. {p. 30}

    [E]very syllable has only one vowel sound you can hear. {p. 39}

    [E]very syllable must have a written vowel. {p. 39}

    [A] commonly taught rule is “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” Students are left confused by which first vowel sound. Long /ē/ as in heat or short /ĕ/ as in head? This “rule” also does not account for words such as great. These sorts of over-simplifications often generate more exceptions than words which follow the rule. {p. 41}

    I experienced exactly what the latest brain research has told us about how the brain reads. The best readers decode every word, almost instantly. The brain is simply not able to memorize thousands of “sight words.” {p. 65}

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  • Reply Mystie June 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    I had to look up what my phonics program (TATRAS) had to say about the issue. It is very similar to Sansari’s program and has a very, very small number of “irregular” (or sight, though they are still not really taught as sight words) words.

    The author ( says, “Sight words are words read as symbols, without conscious attention to their phonic construction. Acquiring a large vocabulary of sight words is the advanced phase of learning to read. Sight words are good and are an important aspect of mature reading. […] TATRAS uses phonics to help students acquire sight words — not sight words to acquire phonics!”

    I can’t find it now, but I know somewhere in the manual he says a beginning reader needs to phonically decode a word an average of 100 times before he reaches sight-word automaticity.

    I will put this book on my get-soon list. 🙂 I will have another phonics student soon!

  • Reply A Contrarian's Way June 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Reply A Contrarian's Way June 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      I linked to my husband’s blog, just so you could put a face with my name! That is me there, and my family, but not my blog.
      I admire all of you who are able to keep up with a blog as well! I am certainly so thankful that you do, as I have benefited immensely from being a part of the conversation. He who walks with the wise (or reads their blogs) grows wise!! Prov. 13:20
      Julie in St. Louis

  • Reply Celeste June 13, 2012 at 4:48 am

    I’m wondering–how do you think this squares with CM’s methods of visualization for sight-word recognition and, eventually, spelling? From the quotes pulled here, the author seems to suggest that “good readers” are utilizing a very strong auditory component (turning the “picture” of the word on the page into sounds to be processed) rather than relying on the kind of visualization that CM suggests children should/do use most. Does the book go into this more in depth? My library doesn’t have the book yet, but this is something I’m really intrigued in.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 13, 2012 at 5:16 am

      On the one hand, I would say that IF the findings from the MRIs are correct–and correct in a universal sense {this is true of ALL or most readers}–then we would have to say that *some* of the things that CM said about reading are not true. For instance, she believed that we memorized words once we knew them and read them as a whole word instead of as individual phonemes. I believed her on one hand, and wrote as much here and one my reading blog, but on the other hand I doubted it in the area of prefixes and suffixes–I really didn’t think that we memorized “stop” and “stopping” and “stopped” separately. That just didn’t make sense to me. So I had guessed at a combination of sight words and phonemes at a functional level, but I am beginning to be convinced that I was wrong.

      With that said, I do not underestimate the power of CM’s methods. For instance, I once heard a speaker say that he spelled incorrectly *because he did not pay attention.* This was someone who read well–quite well…he was a great books scholar–but whose spelling was atrocious. I know that Eide is saying that reading and spelling go together, and in one sense they do, but how many of us know great readers who spell horribly? There has to be a missing piece there, and I think CM’s visualization methods probably fill that gap, and that is also probably why there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence from parents who say that nothing worked until they tried Seeing Stars or something similar.

      I, personally, do not use a lot of visualization when I teach reading, but I *do* teach my students to attend to the word. A lot of sloppy readers are not attending–they are thinking about other things, looking at the pictures on the page, or letting their eyes wander across a paragraph. Visualization probably nips this in the bud. I really should read more about it.

      With that said, I think that the effectiveness of intensive phonics is pretty much indisputable and so that might be why certain folks in the CM camp who think that teaching a few basic sounds plus basic word building plus visualization are going to produce great readers end up disappointed or concluding that their children are dyslexic. Eide basically defines dyslexia as someone whose MRIs do not improve after 80 hours of this type of instruction. That is a pretty daring thing to say…unless it’s true!

  • Reply Crunchy_Conservative June 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    If this is to be a series, I’ll be following it with interest. I am curious about the author’s claims that good readers are processing phenomes in words “almost instantly,” and also about her claim that “The brain is simply not able to memorize thousands of ‘sight words.'” Our brains are capable of thousands of functions, many going on at the same time. I would like to look more deeply into her claims that we cannot memorize thousands of words.

    I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a proponent of a pure sight reading program. I think phonics are a helpful tool. However, I have also read more than once that studies show that the best results are obtained when children are taught with a program including both phonics and sight words. (Perhaps because it gets them reading more quickly? Perhaps because we teach reading so young in this country that children are not able to process and sort through the varying phonetic rules?)

    At any rate, I will continue to read with interest, and I look forward to your own thoughts on the matter.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 13, 2012 at 12:36 am

      I have to admit that I was surprised by this, too! I had always thought of phonics as a tool to help us learn *new* words, and then assumed that eventually we know them by sight because, like people we first meet, we eventually become friends and we recognize them. I don’t know if your thinking was along these lines, but mine definitely was.

      It did, however, always mystify me in regard to my oldest, who was basically hyper-lexic {I did some basic phonics, but he was reading chapter books at 4 and he taught HIMSELF–I cannot take credit for this.} His mistakes were consistently a misapplication of phonetic rules–such as pronouncing Charlotte as “CHarlotte” rather than “SHarlotte.” I would correct him and correct him, but he did it over and over {when reading Charlotte’s Web}. I finally told him that ch made three different sounds {/ch/, /sh/, and /k/} and it was like a lightbulb went off in his head. He read it correctly from then on.

      Anyhow, anecdotal speculation aside, this is interesting: 10 Years of Brain Imaging Research Shows The Brain Reads Sound By Sound. It explains the MRI imaging she was talking about in the quote. Let me know what you think!

    • Reply SoundBytes2Read June 13, 2012 at 3:07 am

      Skilled readers actually look at words and see letter patterns. Since good readers recognize these patterns so quickly, they are unaware of the process. Often they will recognize misspelled words immediately—because they are visually and mentally processing the entire string of phonemes (Chapter 6, Beginning to Read, by Marilyn Jager Adams). If someone writes the word “fried” when they meant “fired” (as in you just lost your job), a good reader instantly knows the word was spelled wrong. When they see the pattern /sh/ in a word they know that it makes a different sound than the /s/ and the /h/ when they are separate. Children can be taught to read phonetically at a young age and they do not need to learn the “rules” to learn to read. They should learn a few sounds and words at a time, and then practice reading using what they have just learned.

  • Reply A Contrarian's Way June 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I listened to her two talks that were on line awhile back, and was duly impressed. I am taking it from all of the quotes, that you found the book worthwhile reading? Are you going to share more about it in another post?
    Julie in St. Louis

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 13, 2012 at 12:27 am

      I definitely find the book a worthy read so far! It is helping me personally as I have a few words I consistently misspell, and I have figured out that it is because even though I was able to figure out *most* of the rules, I was unable to figure out *all* of them, and my remaining spelling errors tend to be because of an ignorance of rules. Learning the rules is helping me self-correct.

      I will definitely share more quotes, and I hope to write a review post at the end…

      By the way, I see you are no longer anonymous! Have you always had a blog, or is this a new venture for you? {Or are you are *different* Julie in St. Louis??} 🙂

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