Ice the Cake in Layers

Ice the Cake in Layers: Don’t Glob it on!

Let’s talk about icing in layers

Now that we understand what the cake is (aural/oral language ability), what the icing is (neuro-linguistic mapping of sound symbols to our spoken language scaffolding), and why the cake needs to be fully baked (the neuroscience of phonemic awareness and the importance of having a complete phonemic toolkit that aligns with the spoken language before we begin combining letters and sounds to form words, and especially before we begin teaching irregular English letter combinations) it’s a relatively simple matter to lay down the proper amount of icing one thin layer at a time.

Excepting for one letter words like “I” and “a”, the simplest words to map are words that contain only two sounds, words like go, toe, no, sew, row, and bow, and words like day, say, may, way, weigh, they and pay, and words like car, far, jar, tar, bar (where the /ar/ sound is one of four phonemes in the English language labeled as “R controlled” vowel sounds.

But as we alluded to before, English phonics doesn’t lend itself to simplicity even with two sound words, and so, all modern pedagogies (reading curricula) eschew these words in the early stages of teaching reading. We believe that this is a fundamental mistake, the cause of which, is not the misstep(s) of any given individual or groups of persons, but rather, the code itself.  Without a revelatory, new approach, the code simply does not lend itself to being iced in nice, thin layers.

At the American Youth Literacy Foundation, our approach is richly transformational in that in order to apply the thinnest possible layer of icing, we created a child-friendly mechanism to teach two sound words that utilizes 44 phonetic symbols to represent the 44 sounds of the English language.

We call these symbols, in the aggregate, the Phonibet®; and we call the phonetic English orthography created by these symbols Kindercode™ or 21E® depending on the font we use (Kindercode being the initial learning font for extreme beginners and very young children).  The Phonibet includes 19 letters from the alphabet, plus 25 additional sound symbols (pictograms).  The letters a, e, i, o, u, k and q are not represented in the Phonibet.

To give an example, the Phonibet symbol “Star,” represented by a *, makes the "R controlled vowel sound" /ar/, so the word c* in Kindercode is “car.” By extension, the word J* is “jar,” the word B* is “bar,” and you can probably guess what the word F* is. 

Children are incredibly adept at learning to blend two symbols together to form two sound words. We keep the child’s attention focused on two sound words until they make what we call the “blending breakthrough.” The blending breakthrough is when a student first realizes that symbols can represent unique sounds and that blending those sounds together in a fluid manner can trigger an audio impulse that triggers a word recognition impulse in a positive feedback loop between the two hemispheres of the brain.  [Obviously, the child or student doesn’t understand the neuroscience of what is happening, all they know is that they sounded out a word and it made sense to them.] 

That the child understands the word is visually and audibly recognizable in both their facial expression and in their intonation as they identify the word that they already have in their working vocabulary.  A key tenet of our patented curriculum is that we never deviate from two sound words, nor move on to more complex words, until the student makes the "blending breakthrough."  In this manner, we never apply additional icing or glob icing on until the thinnest possible layer is set.

After the initial blending breakthrough, we can replicate this process with literally dozens of two sound words using different phonetic symbols from the Phonibet.   We can do this with /ay/ words, /eye/ words, /oh/ words, /oo/ words, /air/ words, /er/ words and so on.

Within just a few hours of the blending breakthrough, most children are capable of decoding three sound words that include ending consonants.  Three sound words would be the next, logical, thin layer of icing.  “Go” becomes “goat.” “Bow” becomes “boat.” But in the phonetic code, these words would be spelled “g” “ocean (symbol)” “t” and “b” “ocean (symbol)” “t” respectively (where the ocean symbol represents the /oh/ sound).

By simply adding an ending consonant to a two phoneme pattern that the child has mastered, we are simply adding a thin additional later of icing that is completely logical, that creates no confusion or anxiety, and that includes no irregular letter combinations.  We follow the natural progression of complexity in the sounding of words.  A word that has one additional sound (or phoneme), also has one additional sound symbol. To use another example, “C*” (car) could become “C*T,” (like a shopping cart).  “B*” could become “B*N” and “F*” could become “F*M.”  We add one additional thin layer of icing, and nothing more, until we detect strong proficiency in recognizing and sounding out any given three sound, orthographic representation. 

To add another layer, we introduce consonant blends like “st.” “ST*” is the word “star” which can become “ST*T” when we add another layer of icing, another layer of complexity (a consonant blend AND an ending consonant.  “ST*T” becomes “ST*RTS” when we add still another layer of icing or complexity, and so on.  With practice, repetition, and dozens of examples, children quickly catch on to the concept of blending sound symbols, to the idea that words can be broken into pieces, and to the reality, that ANY word in the American English language can be created with just 44 pieces of sound.  In this way, most children are “reading” a child-friendly, phonetic version of English, within just a matter of hours; and we’ll discuss how we transition them to our “Legacy English” writing system in a moment.

The preferred, next step in the reading learning process, is to turn the child's attention away from words, per se, and towards complete sentences.  Letters are interesting, but not as interesting as words.  Words are interesting, but not as interesting as sentences.  Sentences are interesting, but not as interesting as a story; and stories are interesting, but not nearly as interesting as a story that is about you or created by yourself.

By teaching children immediately how to read “Real Speech™” sentences, we create increasing complexity and increasingly compelling content. The human brain is designed to measure, decode and navigate through a complex world.  We sift through thousands of human faces to find one friend or family member. We navigate complex terrain, mountains, forests and oceans.  We manipulate thousands of everyday objects with unparalleled manual dexterity.  We process language and speech to find meaning through vocabulary and incredibly subtle variations in tonality, we dedicate massive brain power to deciphering thousands of human facial expressions and we are simply not genetically designed to be interested in the least, in brute concepts, as simplistic as, “The cat sat on the mat.”

It is not complexity that suffocates the child’s ability to read, but rather the simpleton nature of our outdated reading curricula.  Without real speech, real concepts, real sentence and real stories, children have no REAL incentive to browbeat themselves with rote memorization of an antiquated and imperfect, language encryption methodology.

From Real Speech words and Real Speech sentences, we move quickly to create Real Speech stories, allowing the children to dictate as we transcribe, and using this jointly authored text as a powerful, compelling learning tool that they can read to themselves and practice over and over (something they’ve already taken proud ownership of, namely their own ability to communicate, in a written form, within the first few hours of learning how to read). 

By creating and conforming our curriculum to the natural developmental timelines and pathways of the communication centers in the brain, we allow students to achieve mastery of each neuro-linguistic skill such that it becomes foundational for each subsequent skill.

We work with children to master speech production.  We remediate minor childhood, as well as ESL/ELL language specific, speech pathologies through gentle feedback, modeling, repetition and encouragement.  We clean up the neural buckets for each of the 44 phonemes of American English and then lay the groundwork and preparation for orthographic mapping.

Our first layer of icing codifies each phoneme of the English language and gives each a unique symbol or representation.  The entire list of these phonemes is codified in the American English Phonibet®.

We utilize the Phonibet to engage children in the process of letter/sound mapping upon the already developed aural/oral neuro-linguistic framework, conveying the basic concept of sound symbols. 

The Phonibet provides teachers with additional audio/visual feedback loops to help children properly parse and reinforce their unique neural network for each sound of the English language.

The Phonibet plays a key role in segmentation exercises, enhancing children’s ability to develop phonemic awareness, including, especially, awareness of the individual sounds embedded within words.

The Phonibet becomes a phonetic orthography called Kindercode.  We use Kindercode to teach the children the basic concept of blending sound symbols together to form words.  By using a phonetic code, blending individual sound pieces becomes imminently logical.  Children make the “Blending Breakthrough” within just a few hours of becoming familiar with the sound symbol associations. 

We call Kindercode our “Secret Code,” and we make it a fun, intriguing game.  

We continuously move children through a progressive corridor of reading skills development.

In short order, we introduce a more sophisticated, handwritten form of the phonetic English orthography called 21E®.  21E is the script version of Kindercode, and Kindercode is the print version of 21E.  A handwritten code allows for teachers and students to generate work product and engage in activities on whiteboards, smartboards and/or notebook/scratch paper.

When children achieve a certain fluency in the phonetic orthography (which is quite rapidly) we begin to transition them to English.  Notice how many steps we have already taken before we begin to show children English orthography and its disparate anomalies, otherwise known as “phonics.” 

At its core, phonics is simply the mapping of symbols to sounds.  However, English phonics is particularly complex and confusing because of its disparate anomalies.  English's disparate anomalies are primarily the result of the fact that English is missing 75% of its vowels.  English is missing 75% of its vowels primarily because it is a 44 sound Germanic language that is clumsily mapped to a 26 letter Latin orthography.  Historically, this clumsy mapping could have been done better but 1,000 years ago, no one had the foresight to apply a logical solution; and now it’s water under the bridge.  Legacy English, as we prefer to call it, is a forever broken code.

Because we have a broken code that will not be fixed in our lifetimes, we have taken an entirely different approach to introducing English to children.  Recognizing that the English written code is missing 75% of its vowels and numerous consonants, we realized that the fundamental problem with teaching phonics was the shortage of information, the shortage of data, missing data, endemic to EVERY English word. 

Our approach has been to create a hybrid pedagogy that first teaches reading and then teaches English.  We first teach reading using a completely phonetic version of English called Kindercode and 21E; then we apply a 1,000 year old concept from Hebrew and Arabic and fill in the missing data for children using a diacritic pronunciation system called FUNetix®.  This is what we earned our patent on: a mnemonic, phonetic, diacritic decoding system applied to the English language.

The diacritics we use, small pronunciation symbols place above English words, are the Phonibet symbols themselves, the 44 child-friendly sound symbols of English.  Our “Secret Code” BECOMES our “Magic Decoder” for children as they transition to English phonograms and morphologies. 

From a neuro-linguistic standpoint, this positioning of diacritics as a pronunciation guide serves like a set of training wheels, allowing the brain time to develop an underlying recognition of complete audio/visual signatures while simultaneously beginning to see repeated usage of common phonograms in the English orthography such as oo, ea, ee, ie, ce, etc.  English phonics then becomes somewhat automatic, assimilated by visual recognition and repeated sightings with commensurate pronunciation cues, without a need to digress to meta analysis and rote memorization. 

The in-line pronunciation guide provided by diacritics fades away as the child no longer needs it, other than to decode novel words.  Our progressive reading curriculum weans the child from the use of diacritics after several revelations of a given word.  This is how ALL Hebrew and Arabic children learn how to read and have learned how to read for the past 1,000 years. Both of these respective orthographies have no vowels in their adult reading format, such as books and magazines.  Both orthographies are both missing the essential data that is necessary for early reading decoding and early reading success.  Israeli and Arabic children are allowed access to the critical missing data, namely, the vowels, in grade school, and their brains map the underlying audio/visual signatures until they are made permanent through a plentitude of repetitions and neural connections.

At the American Youth Literacy Foundation, we approach reading English from the standpoint of common sense and basic logic.  The English code is much more complex and more difficult than our child-friendly phonetic code that we call Kindercode™ or 21E®, so we wait until students have the basic reading skills they need before we move into English.  We "teach reading first, then we teach English."  

Whether it's piano, tennis, ballet, riding a bike, video games, or reading, all humans learn best through measured progressions from simple concepts and skills to those more complex.  Simplicity engenders success, and success builds upon success.  But success will be short lived and limited if complexity and compelling content is not quickly added into the mix.  Unless we make the connection to Real Speech early on in the reading learning process, interest will fade and progress will revert to regression.

Phonics (the mapping of sounds to letters and to letter combinations) is a part of virtually every modern written language; but phonics is made particularly difficult in English by our broken orthography replete with anomalies.  By using mnemonic, phonetic sound symbols in the form of diacritics we’re able to overcome the phonics barrier to reading by creating a mechanism whereby children can see the delineation between unique phonemes (represented by disparate phonograms) within a given word. 

We give children the phonetic information they need to decode every word; and they effortlessly learn how English employs a variety of letter patterns and phonograms to denote its phonemic pieces.

By layering the icing on the cake in logical thin layers, we avoid the unfortunate malady of “globbing.”   Globbing is when you simply put too much icing on at once.  Try to spread it around and the cake starts to tear and crumble.  “Globbing” is reading pedagogy speak for “information overload,” too many rules, too many exceptions, too many sight words that fall completely out of the "rules and exceptions" rubric and, frankly, any word that deviates from the thin layer of icing known as two-sound words, before the blending breakthrough has occurred. 

By layering, we avoid globbing; and by fully baking the cake, we avoid the worst of all possible scenarios, globbing icing on a partially baked cake.  Oh, NO!

Using the American Youth Literacy pedagogy, English phonograms (letter combinations) don’t all have to be learned at once; they don’t have to be memorized; we don’t teach “rules.”  We break all the rules because we don't teach rules!  There's no need to.

English letter patterns are simply "revealed" as they’re introduced in "real speech" children’s stories and books.  They’re revealed by the diacritics (called FUNetix®).  A child reading with FUNetix is able to accurately decode any English word without the assistance of an adult or any other person who knows that word.  In almost all cases, once a child is able to fluently pronounce a word on a page that’s within their working vocabulary, they’re able to recognize it and categorize it and put it into context (comprehension). 

After a relatively small number of impressions, words are learned, phonemic patterns are learned, English phonograms are learned, phonics is learned, without any need, whatsoever, for the application of any rules or memorization.  It’s all about familiarity and impressions.  

This doesn’t mean that certain mini “phonics” lessons can’t be given to emphasize a particular phonogram.  Teachers can certainly compile examples of a given phonogram (the “oo,” for example) and show words that use the “oo,” and the two different sounds that the “oo” can make (the b/oo/k sound, like book and the sp/oo/n sound, like spoon).  So that’s certainly welcomed and accretive.  But the key to success is to lead the child gently, but persuasively, through the blending breakthrough, build a familiarity with Kindercode and then 21E, and engender an understanding of how sound symbols can be blended to form words and words blended to form sentences. 

Once a child has achieved a certain amount of fluency in Kindercode and 21E, we begin focusing more on English.  We demonstrate how English letter combinations can create certain sounds.  We demonstrate how FUNetix and diacritics work.  We begin filling books and worksheets that children use, with diacritics, so that they can work through the sounds, and work through the words, and work through understanding every word on every page.

Teachers can do assessments, can individualize the amount of support students get, can create tailored materials that have a variety of different support levels built in, and can fine tune the gradations of support within any given document or book or series of books. 

Following our comprehensive curriculum, the children transition to English with unbelievable rapidity and without fear. The students accelerate because the data is readily apparent and available to them, the methodology is supportive, and words they don’t know, they can decode using their toolkit, using their in-line support, using their training wheels, using their “Magic Decoder.”  

Our students enter the world of reading with a Magic Decoder.  We teach them the Secret Code which BECOMES the Magic Decoder for as long as they need it.  In this manner, we can now consistently and effectively teach reading ready children how to read in approximately 12 hours; and if you've read this far, you already know, that now, we're building an app that does ALL the heavy lifting!

It is our experience, having worked with thousands of children over the past 15 years, that the amazingly complex and elusive science of reading English, can be unraveled by focusing on four essential factors:

1) Proper aural / oral language development (baking the cake);

2) Letter sound mapping upon the aural / oral framework by teaching the linguistics (sounds and sound symbols, including English phonics) of the target orthography (icing the cake);

3) Understanding and applying the neuroscience of speech processing, speech production, and visual encoding/decoding capacity in the student’s brain (not icing the cake until it’s fully baked);

4) Implementing a compelling, engaging, logical, progressive, practical and rewarding pedagogic philosophy (cognizant of the above three factors), that targets the key developmental milestones of ALL children, yet adapts to each learner’s strengths and weaknesses (layering the icing instead of globbing it on).

As part of an ongoing, ten year mission to teach ALL children how to read, the American Youth Literacy Foundation, 501 c 3, has developed a nationwide training and tutoring program that has redefined effective intervention and remediation of the ENTIRE neurolinguistic reading equation.  To that end, we have developed a completely unique, patented curriculum designed to meet the student exactly where he or she is developmentally, and guide him/her through the transition process to understanding English written code.   Furthermore, we can do all of this in less than 20 hours and typically, in less than 12 hours; and now, we will do it with a smartphone app!

In summary, our program helps students surge into reading, break through the initial "reading decoding gauntlet" and exit unscathed, enthusiastically consuming books, and well on their way to becoming lifelong readers, with the "keys to the castle," untethered from fear, and with almost zero chance of regression into illiteracy.  

We invite you to explore our website for comprehensive background information and a look at our curriculum.  Most of our curriculum and training is free and open source for non-commercial use.  Our app will be FREE and downloadable worldwide!

We hope that this short introduction to the neuroscience of literacy and the Four Golden Rules of Reading, will prompt you to explore our website and the stories that we have compiled together to best and most completely explain the entirety of reading English, why children are failing, and how, using a revolutionary curriculum that takes into account the very best that scientific understanding of the brain has to offer, we can completely and absolutely reverse the reading crisis in America in the next 7-10 years.

Thank you for your interest in what we believe is the most tangible, obtainable, practical and viable opportunity for massively accelerating human achievement, human potential and human interpersonal communication, that we have seen in generations.



Disclaimer: All thoughts presented are exclusively the opinion of the American Youth Literacy Foundation.  The American Youth Literacy Foundation’s FUNetix® “Real Speech™” Reading Curriculum is patented and proprietary and, while much of it is open source and free, certain key components are NOT open source for commercial and business enterprise applications and use; however, they are available for licensing.  Youth Lit will be showcasing this curriculum extensively, as we continue to develop a smartphone/tablet "independent learning" app that will teach children how to read with minimal adult participation.  All inquiries, please contact American Youth Literacy Foundation, R. Kali Woodward, Executive Director,, 215-868-1098.