The Alphabet’s Power to Ward Off Evil
A 10th Century BCE stone was found in Israel that has the earliest known specimen of the Hebrew alphabet, written out in sequence, emerging from it Phoenician roots developed a few centuries earlier. The stone was imbedded in the wall because of a belief in the alphabet’s power to ward off evil.
Those ancient Phoenicians and Hebrews were absolutely right. The alphabet can ward off the evil of “whole-word,” “balanced literacy” methods of teaching reading and the “invented spelling” approach to teaching writing and spelling, none of which teach the students accurate sounds of the language ands how they are represented in English by letters and combinations of letters.
English is 87 percent phonetic. Most of it can be taught in an organized, step-by-step approach, simultaneously using all the pathways of learning—seeing, saying, hearing and writing. Then the student can put the sounds immediately into words. Writing and sounding out should precede reading.
For beginning reading instruction, all children, no matter from what social or economic group, thrive on good, systematic, phonetic instruction that makes use of all the sensory pathways.
Comprehension begins with the word, proceeds to the sentence and then to the paragraph. As words are written, their meaning can be discussed. Teachers can help students examine the words closely for meaning from first grade on. For example, Wednesday was Wotan’s day and Thursday was Thor’s day, both Norse gods. Children are fascinated by this and it is the beginning of a wonderful intellectual journey, leading to wide reading of myths, history, science and art.
We hurt privileged AND inner-city children when we cling to unproven teaching methods. We don’t need to return to the 10th Century BCE. We just need to be mindful of the brave professor and author Jeanne Chall, a tiny woman who took on the whole educational establishment with her impeccable research: in 1990 she wrote her book, collaboration with Vicki A. Jacobs and Gabe E. Baldwin, The Reading Crisis: Why Poor Children Fall Behind.
“The needs of low-income children are not essentially different form those of children from middle-class homes. Indeed, our findings suggest that low-income children benefit most from programs that work best for most children—a strong reading program that provides for learning of skills as well as wide reading in the primary grades, and a combination of structure, challenging and direct teaching, and practice in the reading of many books on a wide variety of topics in the middle grades.”
Heed those words and ward off the evil of the use of unproven methods of teaching, reading, writing and spelling that are used all across the country today.#
Sandra Priest Rose is a founding trustee of Reading Reform Foundation, a twenty-five-year old not-for-profit organization.