If you've been homeschooling for a while, you have probably noticed how many different types of reading programs are available. The variety is a little like all of the diet programs available (low fat, low sugar, high protein, plus many variations). There are plenty of whole language programs that emphasize using "real" books to pique kids' interest but downplay learning phonics, grammar, spelling, etc. Then there are the solid phonics programs that attempt to teach the hundreds of phonics rules, hoping that once the child can sound out word after word, comprehension will follow. There are obviously strengths and weaknesses to both of these methods, as well as to the many variations available. Dr. Blank has over 40 years of experience in researching as well as actually teaching children to read. She was dissatisfied with both of the two major methods, whole language and phonics. In her view, they each teach only one of the six major skills required for competency in reading. She developed the Phonics
Plus Five program to give parents a more comprehensive program that is also easy to use. This review covers the book The
Reading Remedy ($16.95), which Dr. Blank wrote to explain her method to parents. The entire kit of books and materials is available for purchase ($249.95) from her website, www.phonicsplusfive.com. The
Reading Remedy contains all of the information you need to create your own materials for her program, or you can choose to purchase the kit.
Dr. Blank's premise is that there are six key skills that children must learn in order to read with ease and confidence: two physical skills (sequencing and writing) and four language skills (phonology, semantics, syntax, and text). The whole language approach to reading leaves children unable to deal with new or novel information, thus significantly limiting their abilities. The phonics approach is tedious and often ineffective because of the many irregular words in the English language. Dr. Blank contends that by teaching all six critical skills, children learn to read more quickly and with greater skill and efficiency. Her approach relies heavily on hidden abilities that children use to read without necessarily understanding why these rules work. For example, a good reader can decipher the following sentence easily, despite the presence of a homograph: We ought to record that he broke the record. You may not be able to explain how you knew which definition and pronunciation of the word to use in each instance, but you were able to correctly use both words. The exercises in Dr. Blank's program set the stage for the child to develop these hidden abilities, without spending tedious time on learning the rules explicitly. She uses a variety of activities to teach one word at a time, and then builds with more and more words and more concepts. The 30 books in the program use only words that have been taught up to that point in the program. The exercises are designed for 15 to 30-minute sessions, from 3 to 7 times per week. The entire program takes approximately a year to complete for a child who has no reading background, and it will help the child achieve a third-grade reading level. There are several skills assessments to help you determine where to start your child in the program and to assess his/her progress while advancing through the program. It is designed for children age 4 and up who are ready to begin reading, or for children up to about age 10 who are struggling with reading. The program can be used to supplement other reading programs, or it can be used independently.
I thought there was much to appreciate in Dr. Blank's approach. Few adults could explain how they accomplish many of the skills required to read, even though they may be excellent readers. At some point in the learning, most of what we can apply does seem to come from these hidden abilities. We see and apply certain patterns and understanding, even if we are not aware of how we know to do so. There are many excellent exercises and illustrations throughout the book that help parents understand the process of learning to read from the child's perspective. The instructions are simple and easy to follow. The exercises are interesting and carefully designed to develop the child's hidden abilities. Dr. Blank also focuses on the 100 or so most frequent noncontent words, such as a, the, those, they, etc. These words make up about 50% of what we read, and they tend to be "irregular" from a phonics perspective. I really like that parents have the option of using The Reading Remedy to create all the necessary materials or purchasing the complete kit. The program even includes ways to help the child with handwriting and sequencing before he or she ever begins to read. These are important, and often neglected, skills.
My bright 4-year-old emerging reader would likely do very well with this program, as he would be able to easily tap into his hidden abilities and would love the critical thinking nature of the program. My one qualm is for kids with learning or developmental disabilities. Dr. Blank assures the reader that the program could be used effectively for any child, but I'm not sure how my two sons with Down syndrome would fare without supplemental materials. Both sons have less innate curiosity about how things work, and both have to struggle to learn new material or see connections. That being said, I think they could definitely benefit from this program, which is designed in an easy format, with much focus on critical thinking rather than rote memory. As homeschoolers, we have seen that reading is the foundational skill that everything else builds from, making it essential to help our children become proficient and confident readers. Dr. Blank's approach to reading would likely help your child learn the full range of skills needed to launch a lifetime of learning by opening up the wonderful world of reading!