There is one method that has stood the test of time. It is called the Spalding Method developed by Romalda Spalding back in the 1950’s. The Spalding Method (The Writing Road to Reading) is part of our classical curriculum at Martin Luther Grammar School. Though the Spalding Method constitutes an entire language arts course of study, at the beginning levels, it is an explicit, intensive, and synthetic phonics program.
Explicit phonics means that the phonograms (that is the various sounds associated with letters and letter combinations) are taught first. Other methods begin with letter names (a, b, c, ) and whole words by which the sounds are merely implied but not directly taught. The explicit phonics approach eliminates confusing multimethod instruction (e.g., teaching “look-say” along with phonics) and superfluous images (e.g., an apple standing for the letter ‘a’) which distract the learner from associating the letter with its sounds.
Intensive phonics is a concentrated and exhaustive study of phonemes (sounds), which are the building blocks of words, and of their phonograms (letters and letter combinations), which constitute the foundation for correct spelling. Some schools claim to use a “gradual phonics” approach, which is primarily a “look-say” approach with a smattering of phonics mixed in. Such an approach is at best confusing to the student (they have to learn two methods instead of one) and at worst counterproductive (sometimes even causing reading problems). The word “synthesis” means to combine separate elements into a coherent whole. Synthetic phonics, then, combines sounds into words. The opposite approach is called “analytic phonics,” which begins with words and works backward to discover the various sounds included in a word (this is the “looksay”
approach). This latter “analytical” approach works well for the sophisticated linguistic researcher, but it is ridiculously slow and cumbersome for the 1st grader who is just learning letters and their sounds.
Explicit, intensive, synthetic phonics is both logical and proven successful in nearly 20 years of extensive testing. In fact, the Spalding Method is proven successful not only in teaching children to read and spell very well, but it is also effective in preventing or correcting reading disorders such as dyslexia. Its use is spreading rapidly in America and in Wyoming, including several excellent public and private schools in Casper and in Laramie.