Why Learning About “Why” Helps Us All to Read

I can’t tell you why a “c” sounds like an “s” in the word certain. Without Googling, I can’t tell you why certain patterns of letters make a specific sound. Ask our daughter. She has an understanding of alphabetics, phonemic awareness and she understands the particular rules that make letters and letter combinations make certain sounds. She can tell you why.

The Phoenicians Can Tell You Why & I Can Tell You a Little

The alphabet and connecting sounds to letters have been around a long, long time. The Phoenicians were the first to start breaking down sound into letters. The earliest evidence of their work dates back to 1000 B.C.! The Phoenicians may not have written a structured literacy approach to reading, but it seems like they were moving in that direction. The Phoenicians invented the alphabet, and they can tell you why.

I learned to read easily and naturally. Over the years, as I’ve discovered more and more about how all of us should learn to read, I’ve rediscovered the joy of the English language. I’ve learned to tackle long, confusing words that I would generally skip or try to figure out in context. I break the words apart or look for the meaning in the parts. I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you a little.

Who’s Hiding the Secret

For decades, science and research have proven that learning to read with a specific understanding of the rules of how certain letters and letter combinations sound and recognizing those patterns in print is how we need to learn to read. Understanding all of these patterns, how they sound and how they look on paper benefit all of us, but they are how struggling readers need to learn to read. They must understand the “why.”

Parents and teachers have witnessed the miracle of the “why.”  We have all seen the student or child who struggles and struggles until they receive the right reading approach or approach and services, and suddenly they get it and begin to read. It’s nothing short of miraculous except it’s not a miracle. It’s an understanding of alphabetics. The “why.”  Once we see the “why” in action, we have drunk the cool-aide. We believe. We join the choir.

It’s not only parents and teachers who partake in the cool-aide. Speech pathologists, cognitive psychologists, neuropsychologists and other professionals know about the “why,” and they believe. Unfortunately, with all of their valuable knowledge, the silos are too high to get the “why” into the classrooms.

This past summer I was laid up in bed with a raging sinus infection, and I binged on “True Blood.” There’s a scene where one of the adult characters who, most likely deemed unteachable, learns to read. He proudly announces to his mother that you can connect letters to sounds.  The line may have been subtle, but I heard it loud and clear.

Why Can’t We Collaborate

With ancient history and research telling us how to read, why are so many kids still not proficient, and many others, such as kids with dyslexia still struggling? Last year I concluded 2017 with a wish list of some of the usual suspects; higher education is not training enough teachers, K-12 not identifying struggling readers, not implementing the right approach to reading early and not providing adequate training with fidelity. We know all of this, and Emily Hanford has clearly articulated the issue in her APM report, but there’s another perspective on the “why.” Us.

There is no doubt that we have the solutions to teach all kids to read and to help struggling readers like kids with dyslexia, get the help they need. Cost, policies, teacher training, and higher education are barriers, but there are enough individuals and organizations with solutions to at least give us a stop-gap until teaching kids to read based on a science-based approach is the norm.

To help more kids learn to read we need to collaborate and empower students, teachers, parents and other professionals with education. There’s a role for all of us. Parents especially can help their kids if they have a better understanding of the “why.” Some parents and teachers figure out the “why” on their own.

Do you know why the “c” in certain sounds like an “s”? A “c” sounds like an “s” when an “e” “i” or “y” follows a “c.” Education will empower us all. Of this I’m certain. Happy Holidays!

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