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A Note on Philosophy

By Rodney Everson • Updated Jul 27th, 2023

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One problem with the curriculum in WRTR is that, because Ms. Spalding believed so strongly in having a child write words before he reads them in a book, her method does not aggressively encourage decoding of unfamiliar words.

The curriculum in WRTR is great for spelling but OnTrack's chunking method is better for decoding

Now, before Ms. Spalding's advocates storm the barricades over that last statement, let me say that her method does a better job of preparing children to read unfamiliar words than any other method I've seen, because it teaches the English code so thoroughly and well. And, given that most children learn by example, her presentation of hundreds of words in the Ayres List very early in the curriculum does prepare them to read words they've not seen before.

For example, a child learning the words light and night through dictation of the Ayres List will never be taught tight, but will no doubt be able to read it. In fact, most children will be able to figure it out long before they reach the first "igh" word in the list (tonight, at about word number 440) because they will have already learned that the phonogram igh is the /ie/ sound early in the curriculum.

Nevertheless, Ms. Spalding's philosophy was that writing of words should precede reading of words in context. That is, they should be taught the spellings of words, in isolation, and then simply pick up a book and start reading. Practically speaking, however, it's impossible to teach enough words, at a fast enough pace, to stay ahead of an aggressive reader, and most Spalding-trained children will soon be attempting to attack unfamiliar words on their own, as Ms. Spalding herself acknowledges.

In fairness, Ms. Spalding's approach with the Ayres List is an excellent way to improve your child's spelling of words even though it might leave somewhat to chance the decoding of unfamiliar words, particularly multisyllable words. By systematically going through the entire Ayres List over a period of several school years, children do indeed learn to spell exceptionally well. But, given both the time it takes to progress through the Ayres List and the high reading level of the children, chances are they've already read most of the words in the list by the time they finally encounter them for spelling purposes.

This is not the case, however, for beginning readers. There, Ms. Spalding has carefully selected books in which a large portion of the words have already been covered in the Ayres List prior to opening a particular book. In the early phase of the curriculum, children do indeed begin reading just by picking up a book and reading it; they have already learned most of the words and already know enough of the English code to help them figure out those that haven't yet been dictated from the Ayres List.

In the section, Improved Decoding, I am not advocating dropping dictation of the Ayres List; it's too valuable for spelling and reading. Instead, I'm advocating the inclusion of an extremely efficient method by which your child can decode all those multisyllable words he's going to encounter before reaching them in the spelling curriculum.

The OnTrack Reading Multisyllable Method merges exceptionally well with the Ms. Spalding's program

That method is the OnTrack Reading Multisyllable Method I successfully used to teach nearly 200 children to decode two-, three-, four-, and even five-syllable words in an easy, but systematic, way. And the beauty of it is that it merges exceptionally well with the WRTR curriculum once some coding changes are implemented, coding changes that both parent and child will find easier to understand as well.

Once quickly learned, your child will automatically chunk unfamiliar words left to right, as he should, and will then attack each chunk systematically by trying, in order, the first, second, third and even fourth vowel sounds in chunks until he successfully decodes the word. In the process, your child will be continuously reviewing the various pronunciation options for each phonogram, ensuring that they are learned well. The method is so simple that a young child can easily learn it and will experience success so quickly and so often that he will continue to use it whenever confronted by an unfamiliar word.

Furthermore, adoption of the chunking method will assist spelling. The modifications respect Ms. Spalding's attitude toward the schwa sound and emphasize that a "perfect pronunciation" be formed in a child's mind, just as she did. And the way in which a child is taught to break words into chunks also has a beneficial effect on spelling.

The next section, Improved Coding, discusses changes to the coding process that have to be adopted before the chunking method can be used. Frankly, I would make the coding changes even if I intended to stay with Ms. Spalding's syllable method for breaking down multisyllable words.

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