If the phonics structure of English consisted mainly of Basic Code, two things would happen. First, virtually all teachers would teach the phonics code faithfully and, second, almost all children would easily learn the phonics code. As a result, nearly every child would become capable of decoding most unfamiliar words they encountered.

But English is Messy, Really, REALLY Messy!

Unfortunately, most English words are not constructed just with Basic Code. Instead, all sorts of complications arise, for three primary reasons.

The first complication arises because English words utitlize about 43 sounds that need to be represented by letters, but we only have 26 letters (and a few of those were wasted, besides.) A one-letter to one-sound system obviously can't work when you run out of letters before you run out of sounds. The solution to that complication was to create digraphs. A digraph is just two letters (or even three or four) standing together to represent one sound. For example, th, ch, and sh are digraphs used for representing three more of the 43 sounds.

The second complication arises because the English language borrowed so many words from other languages, and also dropped sounds from older forms of English, but retained the spellings. The result is that we have many ways of spelling almost every sound. For example, the /m/ sound can be spelled mn in hymn, mb in lamb and mm in common, as well as the Basic Code m in mop. Some vowel sounds have as many as seven or eight common spellings.

And the third complication arises because we use the same letter or digraph to represent more than one sound in words. This is the part that really challenges curriculum designers. How do you handle the fact that the digraph ou can be the sound /ow/ in cloud, the sound /oe/ in soul, the sound /oo/ in soup and the sound /u/ in touch?

Three Choices

I'm aware of three reading programs that attempt to address all of the above complications. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Reading Reflex has an Advanced Code section that will cover all three complicating factors discussed above. The advantage is that you might already have purchased the book and used it to teach the Basic Code. The disadvantage is that the program doesn't rigorously teach the various options involved in the third complication discussed above. Too much is left to chance.

The OnTrack Reading Advanced Code Phonics Workbook, together with the workbook instructions available free here on this website covers nearly all of the common spellings of sounds and does so in a manner that the various overlap options discussed in the third complication above are made clear to both the child and his instructor, be that parent or teacher. At the end of the curriculum, your child will be well aware of the various options for each spelling and will be both demonstrating and practicing that knowledge during the multisyllable part of the curriculum that follows the Advanced Code instruction.

A third reading curriculum is laid out completely in Romalda Spalding's book, The Writing Road to Reading (WRTR). I mention it here for two reasons. First, it's an excellent full-classroom method that's stood the test of time. It's rigorous and constitutes a complete reading and writing curriculum. The second reason I mention it is because WRTR had a strong influence on how I structured the approach taken in the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program. The advantage of using her program is its comprehensiveness. The disadvantage is that it is not easily used as a remedial program; it takes a long time to implement and is better for initial instruction. A parent is likely to have some difficulty working for so long with an older child, especially with one who has been struggling all along.

In the process of examining The Writing Road to Reading, I did a reasonably complete analysis of her program. By the time I had finished I'd used techniques from Reading Reflex to devise changes in the WRTR curriculum that would make it a more consistent method throughout. The changes simplify the somewhat confusing coding process that Ms. Spalding devised and also, as an option, incorporate the multisyllable chunking method that I use. In the section of my website, the OnTrack Reading Program for Homeschooling, I organized the suggested changes in a format that should be relatively easily for a parent to follow, especially if it were being used by several parents in a homeschool group.

That wraps up the Advanced Code discussion. The final step in the decoding process is to learn to tackle multisyllable words. On the next page, Multisyllable Instruction, you will be introduced to what I believe to be the best reading curriculum you will find when it comes to teaching your child how to approach long, unfamilar, words.