An Integrated Approach to Teaching Reading

Did you know that it has been almost 100 years since Dr. Samuel Orton warned that “faulty teaching methods may not only prevent the acquisition of academic education by children of average capacity but may also give rise to far reaching damage to their emotional life”?6
Isn’t this mind boggling?
I’m new to Twitter. I'm ignorant about it, really. (I’m pretty much a complete novice). Nevertheless, this tweet got me some almost instant responses and may have been my most well-received tweet so far; it has garnered the most attention and likes from my admittedly tiny group (miniscule, really) of readers than has any other tweet.
And I’m not surprised.
I've been listening to parents and teachers for quite some time now and it seems to me that they and other helpers are hungry to hear about reading approaches that do not harm kids.

In one of his earliest papers on this topic, Dr. Orton--a famous neurologist and psychiatrist--wrote about the importance of giving children “kinesthetic training by tracing or writing while reading and sounding and by following the letters with the insure consistent direction of reading during phonetic synthesis of the word or syllable.”
Fifty years later, Dr. Hilde Mosse echoed Orton’s advice in her remarkable book about children’s reading disorders, helping us see why this kind of hands-on, integrated, phonics and decoding practice is simply non-negotiable for children who are at-risk of reading failure.
For example, if you decide to use this teaching approach, the first thing your pupil will learn (Lesson 1) is how to listen. He will practice this skill by following your careful, kind, and exact directions about how to make letters, and you will help him say the sound(s) for each letter during initial penmanship pracitce so that he is integrating listening, speaking, reading and writing from the first day of formal instruction.

This matters because when children are given explicit & consistent instructions about letter formation and letter-sound correspondences, these instructions can then help them to know exactly what they are supposed to be seeing, saying, and writing during penmanship and phonics practice.
The same principle holds true for explicit spelling and decoding practice, of course. And so on. (It’s important for us to remember that while everything may be obvious to us, this is only because we are already experts. It is not at all obvious to novice writers, especially to those for whom strengths lie in areas that are not related to the visual and technical world that many of us inhabit.)
With consistent, frequent instruction and practice, the pupils soon begin to direct themselves. "Start at the dotted line," etc. "Say ___," etc. They are deliberately being helped to become successful at writing and reading.
Since you do this activity throughout the day, your pupil quickly gets better at it. ("Practice makes permanent.") And this matters too. A lot. You are quickly building confidence, and your pupil is watching himself grow in front of your eyes. Imagine what this might be like for them...
Soon your pupil is writing the letters and saying the sounds simultaneously, almost without thinking. (His body and mind have learned how to form the letters automatically by now.) And now he is just writing and reading phonograms to practice the letter-sound relationship(s) to automaticity, over and over again, building accuracy and excellence and speed.

After the penmanship process is mastered (Lessons 1-9), your pupils can begin to use their letter-writing knowledge to write and say the multi-letter phonograms that we so often use in ordinary English words (the “Orton” phonograms). Again the lessons should be integrated. Your pupil/class listens, writes and speaks. Again and again. Everything is integrated. Always.
Soon the pupil is ready to follow your directions to write words (grapheme by grapheme at first), sounding each grapheme as he goes and focusing also on spelling and meaning now as his mind becomes more and more freed up to attend to written words. (The first 55 phonograms are mastered in Lessons 1-20).
And so on.
Some children really do need (and want) this kind of dependable, predictable, sequential, systematic training in phonics and spelling as they are introduced to the writing and reading process. They long for step-by-step help along the way. And they thrive on it. It gives them both confidence and competence. It helps them trust themselves and the writing system. And you. Not only this, but it harms no one.
(You will, of course, be reading narrative and expository literature aloud during separate periods of the day while your kiddos are learning the knowledge and skills that will enable them to decode these texts independently. And how you do that is entirely up to you. If you are like me, you will favor the Junior Great Books series and have have students wallowing in and talking about amazing words and rich texts, so it’s not like this is all you are doing during your first language lessons. And of course there can and should be poetry practice and singing and dancing and drama and more. Oh my!)

Here's what matters most:
By integrating speaking and listening right from the beginning (having pupils repeat your directions aloud at first, quietly), and by integrating spelling and decoding, writing and reading (having beginners read only their own writing, aloud, during first lessons), you can increase subject knowledge & skills in and across language domains as you teach other subject knowledge to your pupils.
Trained to read properly with methods that have been devised to prevent or eradicate confusion in direction and in orientation, the children under your care will become ready for ordinary children’s literature in a matter of weeks and months instead of years.
As a bonus, this integrated approach is perfect for frugal-minded decision makers because no special classroom materials are required for directly teaching phonics and reading through this writing and spelling approach to the English language arts.
You don’t need special alphabet charts. And you don't need to buy, distribute, collect, and correct worksheets, games, word sorts, or phonic books because your pupils will be creating their own practice and reference materials under your direction (you'll tell them what to write and read). And they'll be writing their own decodable texts.
Children need only paper, pencil and their very fine minds because the Riggs Institute’s text, The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking (Level 1), equips parents and teachers with the subject knowledge and practical help they need to teach one child or a thousand.
For more information, please see:
For a detailed look at the Riggs Institute's teaching sequence, go here.
By Stephanie Ruston


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