In the 1970’s, educational research indicated that less than one per cent of the population suffered what has come to be called “dyslexia” (a disturbance of the ability to read).
Now the estimate is “from 5 to 15 per cent.”
As early as 1955 Rudolf Flesch pointed out the disconnect between “modern” teaching methods and the ability to read (or spell) in Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It.
After half a century, Flesch’s book remains a thorn in the side of the advocates of the sight method of teaching children to read. Parents of young children would do well to read it.
I once tutored a child who looked at the word “April” and read it as “May.” He knew that the word represented the name of a month because he’d been taught the names of the months “in context.” He apparently did not know how to decipher it by its spelling.
Adult readers recognize words by sight. Experienced readers can recognize words if only some of the letters are showing. They can recognize them if the words are upside down. This ability comes from having seen the words hundreds or thousands of times.
Beginning readers, however, need systematic instruction in approaching words from left to right, phonogram by phonogram. To develop confidence and fluency in reading–and the ability to spell–they need to begin with words like hat, cot, and bin before encountering words like know, they, or eight. (The latter three words are on the Dolch List taught to beginning readers with the use of flashcards.)
NOTE: The use of flashcards to develop instant word recognition is a useful technique–but only after the beginning reader has been taught the phonetic elements of the word being drilled. It’s counterproductive to expose a beginner who knows only the 26 letters of the alphabet to words spelled with sounds represented by letter combinations like th, kn, ay, igh, and eigh. Relatively few of the common words on the Dolch List defy the effort to sound them out by their phonograms. Those few, like once and warm, are easily taught as exceptions.
The most efficient way to learn to spell a word is to approach it phonogram by phonogram, and not letter by letter.
A phonogram is a written symbol that stands for a sound.
The word pal, for example, contains three letters, each of which is also a phonogram: /p-a-l/. The word church , on the other hand, contains six letters, but only three phonograms: /ch-ur-ch/.
Here are some phonograms to look for when analyzing a word’s spelling:
Consonant phonograms: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z, sh, th, ch, ng, ck, wh, kn, gn, wr, ph, dge, gh, ti, si, ci, pn, rh, and qu.
Vowel (and semi-vowel) phonograms: a, e, i, o, u, y, ee, ay, ai, ow, ou, oy, oi, aw, au, ew, ui, oo, ea, ar, er, ir, ur, or, ed, or, oa, ey, ei, ie, igh, eigh, oe, ough, and eu.