The Solution



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Some people have told us, "Your website is too wordy.  People today want bullet points and pictures and videos." But we believe that people want a REAL solution, which means REAL information about what works and what doesn't work and why.

We believe that parents need to know WHY their children are failing.  Teachers need to know WHY the Wilson method or Orton-Gillingham isn't working in the classroom, isn't scaling to meet the needs of ALL the students. America needs to know WHY something as EASY as reading is so hard to teach.

No amount of trying harder or longer hours or more experts or more money or more testing or more tricks or more jumping around and waving our arms is going to reverse the literacy crisis in our nation. In order to solve the literacy crisis and the education crisis we need an ORIGINAL SOLUTION for teaching reading to children that addresses the root, fundamental cause of the problem.  And there's only ONE root fundamental cause of our reading problem and that's our broken code!

"But wait  . . .  I learned how to read just fine," you're probably saying to yourself. "Sure, English has some funky spelling and rules, but that can't be the ONE AND ONLY fundamental cause of illiteracy."

Well, in a way, you're right.  The written code doesn't absolutely cause illiteracy for every child.  But it does cause illiteracy for tens of millions of children because every available method for teaching the code and all its crazy rules doesn't scale, doesn't accommodate overcrowded classrooms, doesn't allow for individual progress at uniquely individual rates, doesn't overcome social and economic hardships that many children bring to school with them every day and doesn't adjust for children with parents who speak another language in the home.  Bottom line: the code is so broken and so difficult, it demands exceptional social, economic, linguistic and cultural conditions in order to teach it.  It demands an exceptional curriculum with exceptional teachers who are exceptionally well trained, exceptionally persistent, and who have the support of exceptional parents who are also literate and are persistent and supportive.  The broken code also demands a teacher student ratio that allows for time and attention to be given during critical formative phases of literacy development.  As you well know, NONE of these things exist in the classrooms that serve millions of our particularly underprivileged communities.  And so, in essence, we have a broken code that is the root cause of tens and tens of millions of illiterate high school dropouts and future high school dropouts that populate our schools, our streets and our prisons today.

Now, to describe the problem a little more deeply: EVERY phonics system invented up until now to teach "legacy" English, has been a work around, a compensation for, a crutch to support our broken code.  We don't TELL children how to sound out words or SHOW children all of the sounds in a word, we make them learn inconsistent rules and memorize inconsistent patterns. We make them guess.  We make them memorize.  We slow everything down and make it tedious and boring.  We make up new rules, new methods, new systems year after year.  None of them address the missing data, none of them fix the problem and none of them scale to accommodate the obstacles outlined above that have led to our literacy crisis! 

As a misguided but well-intentioned attempt at a solution, America pushes reading on younger and younger children even though research shows that their brains aren't developmentally ready.  We NEVER teach children the 44 sounds of English and yet we expect them to associate hundreds of different letter patterns with the "sounds that shall not be named."  What we're doing is insane, but we keep doing it because we haven't had any alternative, we haven't had a better way, we've developed learned helplessness and resigned ourselves to our misery and misfortune, blaming the system, blaming each other, blaming the parents, blaming society, blaming politicians when the REAL blame lies in a historical event in 1066 when William of Normandy crossed the English Channel and brought the Roman Alphabet to England and superimposed it over a primarily Germanic language with 44 sounds.  The REAL blame lies in the code itself; and therein also lies the ONLY solution.

I love it when people tell me "there are so many ways to teach reading."  THERE AREN'T!  Unless you're deaf or blind or severely autistic, there's only ONE way to teach reading.  "But All children learn differently. They have different learning styles. Different types of "intelligences" like Daniel Goleman say."  That's absolutely true.  Everyone has different learning styles but if you want your child to learn how to ride a bike, you put them on a bike with training wheels and you tell them to pedal.  There aren't 75 different pedagogies for learning how to ride a bike, there's ONE.  "Get on the bike, pedal, steer, use the brakes when necessary."

Reading is a simple act of associating sounds with visual symbols.  "Learn the sounds, learn the symbols, blend them together, associate meaning with the words and sentences."  That's it.  It's not a kinesthetic activity, it's an audio visual cognition activity blending spoken sounds together using visual symbols. 

Reading has 6 steps.  In order to learn how to read we need to:

1) Know the sounds of the target language.

2) Associate the sounds of the target language with a sound symbol.

3) Blend sound symbols together to form words.

4) Associate meaning with those words.

5) Blend words together to form sentences.

6) Associate meaning with those sentences.

That's it!  There's no magic to it.  Reading is one of the most elegant inventions ever created by humans!  We figured out how to encode our spoken language into a string of unique symbols that could be written down, transported, and decoded (re-spoken) in a far away land.  Like fire, the wheel, spoken language and forging of metal, the written code is up there as perhaps the number 1, 2 or 3 greatest human inventions of ALL TIME!  And it's not hard.

Here's how you teach a child to read:  

1) Teach the sounds of the target language. (If a language has a phonetic code, we can rely on the alphabet to teach us those sounds.  Each letter of the alphabet will have one sound and only one sound.  If we know all of the letters and associated sounds, then we have completed step one, "phonemic awareness.")

Such is not the case for English as we sadly discovered in "The Back Story." Already, you can see, we have a big problem, a stumbling block.  English is missing 15 vowel symbols, 25 total symbols and has at least 2 redundant symbols, "k" and "q."  So if we cannot rely on the alphabet for phonemic awareness of ALL of the sounds of the language, (and clearly we can't) then where do we turn?

The simple, logical solution would be to create a list of ALL 44 sounds of the English language.  We could call it the Phonibet.  Each symbol of the Phonibet would represent one of the 44 sounds of the language.  The list would retain 19 of the non-redundant consonants from our Roman alphabet. The other 25 sounds would be embodied in new symbols that make their target sound or that contain their target sound within their names.  This would create a mnemonic memorization tool that would make the symbols and their corresponding sounds easy to learn.  For example, the /ay/ sound could be represented by an Acorn, the /ee/ sound could be represented by an Eagle, and so on.  

In fact, this mnemonic encoding of sounds is how letters were originally created by the Phoenicians thousands of years ago. Yes, the people who originally figured out how to encode spoken language, decided to encode it both phonetically AND mnemonically.

Take a look at the original Phoenician letters below that became the foundation for global alphabets as disparate as Hebrew, Greek, Russian, English and even modern (Pinyin) Chinese. Note how the letters embody the target sound e.g. "gimel," the word for camel, looked like a camel's hump and made the /g/ sound and ultimately became our "g;" "daleth," the word for door, looked like a door and made the /d/ sound and ultimately became the Greek "delta" and the Roman "d."  "Mem," for water, looked like a series of waves, made the /m/ sound and ultimately became the Roman "m."  EVERY SINGLE Phoenician letter mnemonically embeds the target sound of their spoken language into the letter name. So a list of the 44 sounds of English, call it the "Phonibet," (pronounced fah-nuh-bet) would ideally embed the target sounds of English mnemonically into each named symbol.


Phoenician Mnemonic Alphabet

So solution, part 1, is to create a list of the 44 sounds of the English language in order to teach the 44 sounds to children so that they are ready for step 2 of the reading equation.  Ok, that part's done.  We did it in 2004 and it's called the Phonibet.

Step 2) Associate the sounds of the target language with a sound symbol, (a letter, or combination of letters, that makes each sound).  Here's where things get dicey, VERY DICEY. In fact, sadly, teachers can't even get to step 3, "Blending," because step 2 (associating sounds with our sound symbols) is simply, too irregular, untenable and out of control with respect to the English language. Here, my friends, is the cause of the problem, the ROOT CAUSE of the reading crisis that's tearing our nation apart!  Let's look at just one simple example: 

Here are the sounds that the letter "A" makes in the English language when used by itself or in combination with other letters:

/aa/ as in apple

/oh/ as in boat

/ay/ as in acorn

/uh/ as in was

/aw/ as in paw or ball (depending on your pronunciation)

/or/ as in boar (one of the 4 "R controlled vowels)

/air/ as in care or hair (another R controlled vowel)

/an/ as in man (though some people pronounce this "a" the same as in "apple," millions of Americans have a unique "N controlled" vowel sound for this "a."

/ee/ as in read

/uhl/ as in animal (the alveolar lateral approximant ("dark") "L")

/eh/ as in bread

/ow/ as in sauerkraut

/er/ as in Earth (another R controlled vowel)

/ah/ as in watch

/ar/ as in heart or star (another R controlled vowel)

/eye/ as in Thai or aisle

So what sound does the letter "A" make?  There is no simple answer.  It's impossible to say. There ARE no rules despite scholarly efforts to superimpose some kind of logic on top of a broken code that has been hopelessly trying to compensate for its mismatch with its Germanic roots for nearly 1,000 years.  Remember, ALL Phonics is a workaround, a crutch!

Teachers can't be expected to know and students can't be expected to make sense of even the very first letter of our alphabet.  As we said before, it gets VERY DICEY. So how do we EVER get to step 3, "Blending," if we can't even consistently associate sounds with the letter "A."

Different curricula have approached this problem in different ways.  They have tried brute force, coercion, repetition, kinesthetic spasmic rituals, memorization, or simple ignoring. Reading experts have tried to analyze our language, simplify our language, modularize our language, all with the same results: a failed ability to create a pedagogy that will scale past the 50% success rate for American classrooms.  

Most reading curricula have resigned themselves to a sad compromise, an ineffective combination of all of the above: brute force memorization of "sight words," creating lists of common words gathered up by statisticians in days of yore, some rote memorization of 2 letter phonograms like ea and ee, further rote memorization of phonics patterns like "ing" and "ick," ignoring things that don't fit into any of the above categories, and a variety of dancing, waving of arms, singing and other full bodied modalities that appeal to the "different learning styles" of our disparate children.  We prefer to call them "desperate" children, who really only need one thing: a fix for our broken English code.  Call it "filling in the missing data."  Call it "training wheels!"

So what if, instead, we could teach children to read using an entirely original methodology based on an ancient Hebrew and Arabic solution created 1,000 years ago. We would create training wheels using diacritics that would fill in the missing data that children desperately need to decode our irregular English words. But before we began applying diacritics we would teach the first step of reading, the 44 sounds of English using the Phonibet. Then we would teach the second step of reading using a phonetic code.  Let's call this code "Kindercode." Kindercode would have 44 symbols.  Each symbol would make one and only one sound.  Each symbol would be written in one and only one way, eliminating print and script, upper and lower case fonts.  

This code would, in fact, be built entirely from the Phonibet itself, the list of the 44 sounds. Children who learned the Phonibet would already know the 44 pieces of the written Kindercode. The only thing we would need to teach them would be the concept of blending sound symbols together to form words (Step 3 in the reading equation).

Imagine if children could 1) become aware of the target sounds of English, 2) learn the Phonibet, AND 3) master the fundamental concept of blending sound symbols together in 12 hours or less of classroom time?  What if they could go from being non-readers to learning how to read a phonetic English code in 12 hours or less?  Would this be something that would create immeasurable, jaw dropping value, setting nearly ALL children on the path to reading success?

Well, I'm sure you've guessed by now, it already has! For the past 7 years, our students have been learning the Phonibet and Kindercode and have been developing basic reading skills within, on average, 12 hours or less. They break through the fundamental barrier of learning how to read and master phonemic awareness AND sound symbol association AND blending in just a few short hours, days or weeks!

So solution, part 2, is to bypass traditional English script temporarily, and instead, associate each of the 44 sounds of the English language with a single mnemonic sound symbol from the Phonibet, which enables children to quickly move on to part 3 of the reading equation, which is to:

3) Blend sound symbols together to form words. Kindercode allows children to do just that.  They associate symbols with sounds, they blend sound symbols to form words and literally, within seconds of forming words they:

4) Associate meaning with those words. And within minutes of associating meaning with those words, they:

5) Blend words together to form sentences. And within seconds of blending words together to form sentences, they:

6) Associate meaning with those sentences.  And so it is, that children can easily learn the 44 sounds of English, the symbols that represent those sounds, how to blend sound symbols together to form words, how to associate meaning with words, how to blend words together to form sentences and how to associate meaning with those sentences in less than 12 hours, regardless of how many years they have been struggling to learn how to read.  And so it is that children can learn how to read in less than 12 hours; and we know that this methodology scales and that it remediates even worst case scenario students.

But now, if you are astute, which you certainly are, you are asking the final question.  You are staring at the elephant in the room and asking the all important question, "What has this got to do with learning how to read ENGLISH?"

By now, many of you are intrigued by this exercise in novelty and by the tangential rabbit hole that we have taken you down called the Phonibet and Kindercode.  But how, pray tell, does this help a child learn phonics, memorize phonograms and phonics patterns, decipher and decode Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland in our traditional, what we call "Classic," written English code?  

And the answer is very simple, as simple as the question itself.  Because the answer is the same answer that the Hebrew and Arabic scholars so brilliantly devised 1,000 years ago. Simply put, one merely puts a set of temporary training wheels on the English written code, training wheels that come off as easily as they went on.  Training wheels that come off, for different children at different times when each child is ready.  (There may be only ONE way to teach children how to ride a bike; but that doesn't mean that every child learns at the same pace.)  

Our "training wheels" fill in the missing data.  We create a "diacritic" learning support mechanism that engages the children, takes the guesswork out of phonics, eliminates the stress and anxiety associated with having incomplete information, and allows the brain of the child to imprint the underlying English letter patterns over a period of 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 impressions, until they no longer need the diacritics to accurately recognize the word, and can read as fluently as you and I do when we read English text.  

This is the mechanism that has been used to teach children Hebrew and Arabic for 1,000 years, and this is the mechanism that we have been using to teach children how to read English for 12 years, with unparalleled results. 

This isn't a crutch or a compensation for the broken English code.  This is a FIX for the broken English code!  We fix the code while children learn to read.  When they're ready, we take away the fix and they read the broken code as fluently as you and I do.  This is how Hebrew and Arabic children learn how to read their broken codes.  The code is repaired for beginners and when they become fluent, they go back to reading their broken codes that contain no vowels.  Hebrew and Arabic newspapers have no vowels!

This part of our curriculum, our diacritic fix is called "FUNetix."  First we teach phonemic awareness; then we teach reading (Kindercode); and finally, we teach children how to read English using FUNetix!