At the Vancouver Learning Centre, four different methods of teaching the phonetic code are included in the programs of children who need to learn to read. The method chosen depends directly on the tested and targeted needs of each learner.
- Selma Herr Phonics(a traditional method of teaching decoding).
Best features: It uses a systematic (letter by letter, bigraph by bigraph, trigraph by trigraph) method with lots of practice.
- The Queensland State Reading Program (a program used over decades to teach hundreds of thousands of Australian children to read).
Best features: It uses common and funny imagery (Australian humour) at the primary level to attach sound to symbol. e.g. “a is like an apple on a twig, c is for cake with a bite taken out. Reading Comprehension is integrated immediately using wonderful stories from classic English literature to teach both meaning and the values of good citizenship.
- Renée Fuller, Ball-Stick-Bird Reading program.This method simplifies the decoding process using capital letters first formed in the shape of a ball, a stick, and a bird (an angle). Sounds are immediately attached to symbols and the blending process begins on page 3. Both reading words and an exciting story start immediately. Reading comprehension is included from the beginning.
Best features: This is the most robust and reliable method in teaching reading to the most challenged learners. In spite of its simplicity, its science fiction story makes it interesting to people of all ages. It allows respectful learning of the basics to older learners while being simple enough for our youngest beginners.
At the Vancouver Learning Centre, over the last three decades, we have been using these three methods alone or in combination to teach children with a variety of reading difficulties to learn to read successfully. Our graduates have gone on to successful academic courses at every level. These methods have proved their worth and will continue to be used.
- The EduArt Method. We also use a unique method of teaching reading in a stimulating format combined with writing and drawing. Called EduArt this teaching program was created by Mona Brookes, the creator of the Monart Drawing Program (monart.com), which has been used at the Vancouver Learning Centre for two decades. The EduArt method has been acquired by the Vancouver Learning Centre as the first Canadian centre to use this method of teaching reading.
Using the fun of drawing, so successfully developed in her Monart Program, Mona Brookes sets out to teach the lines, patterns and shapes of the letters in a disciplined manner, ensuring the eye's attention is focused on the letters' visual details. Then she teaches the children to attach sound to symbol by combining this with funny and interesting images and information; for example, by attaching the sound of the letter “A” to the image of “Ape” and to “Africa” while teaching interesting facts about both words. Using a three-level entry system, Brookes provides stencils that cater to different levels of ability, thus producing an approach that is friendly to the multi-skill-level classroom, while at the same time making it possible to enter the system anywhere from preschool to Grade Three or even beyond. The method anchors what is learned by teaching the children to draw the letters using the lines, patterns and shapes mentioned above. At its very essence, Brookes makes the learning of reading and writing both fun and interesting.
The inclusion of learning to draw the letters using a correct pencil stance is both unique and a bonus in three ways:
- It engages the fine motor cortex and the discipline of eye hand coordination right from the start, thus adding the power of doing to seeing and hearing.
- It makes the accurate and beautiful creation of the letters themselves a valued part of the process in the way we used to do when we taught handwriting, thus eliminating the need to teach writing as a separate skill.
- Children love to draw and when the drawing is presented along with funny and engaging images and important and thoughtful information, the process becomes intrinsically interesting and fun. Children enter the field willing and even enthusiastic to practice, and therefore to learn to read and to write.
A Benefit to Teachers
The EduArt system is also a special benefit to those teachers whose phonics training was never appropriately anchored in their own schooling, even though to graduate from Teachers' College they had to have learned some system for phonetic decoding (even if they had to teach themselves). In teaching reading through the EduArt system with exciting and colourful graphics and prepared lesson stencils, the teachers will re-learn the phonic code themselves, making them better teachers and better readers for their own purposes.
Advantages for Children with Learning Disabilities
At the Vancouver Learning Centre we have been using Mona Brookes’ “Monart” system for more than two decades to teach learning disabled children and youth to pay focused attention to the visual details of lines, shapes and patterns. We have found that in addition to helping these clients learn to draw, their enhanced ability to pay focused attention to visual detail improves their abilities in spelling and reading. New research in how the brain learns to read shows that this visual attention to detail depends on the brain’s fovea or central vision, the very same process we use in reading. Thus, in children whose brain systems for reading are inefficient, as they are in dyslexic readers, this method provides extra practice and training in the very area that needs to be strengthened. Furthermore, because creating or drawing the letter slows down the process for all learners, their slower rate of processing is more likely to be accommodated.
As a result, we are excited to consider what benefits children with learning difficulties will derive if we extend their disciplined training directly to the core tasks of learning to read, write and spell. It is likely that children challenged with learning because of auditory processing difficulties but who are good visual learners who learn best by seeing and doing, will derive special advantages by using the EduArt system. Further, learners who are challenged by their language delay, especially second language learners, will benefit by the clear imagery that enables them to attach sound to symbol, which allows them to blend words even when they are unfamiliar with the sound of the word or its meaning. Considering that the second parallel process in learning to read is a search in the mental lexicon (the brain’s dictionary) for meaning, the teaching of new vocabulary along with learning to decode is an additional bonus.
A Brain-Friendly System
From the perspective of Neuroscience, the EduArt method simplifies the learning task by reducing letter complexity to lines, patterns and shapes. Like the Monart System, it creates disciplined and focused attention to the way the letter looks, and supports the sound factor by attaching meaningful visual imagery of easily recognized graphics like “A” is for “Ape,” which does not rely on the auditory processing systems alone. It thus both simplifies and enriches the learning experience. Further, by adding the writing component in an integrated way, it increases the critical involvement of the visual motor system, sending the signals to different sites through the brain's circuits and pathways involved in learning to read and write.
Children with dyslexia and ADHD who have difficulty learning to focus their attention on the printed word will benefit by the discipline of learning the simplified lines, patterns and shapes of the letters. The interesting graphics and the drawing component will both help focus their attention and encourage the practice they need to create the memory traces in the brain involved in reading and writing.