I’m very excited to announce the release of my printable phonics books and my new site TheReadingElephant.com
The Reading Elephant
This is part one of a two-part post describing why I decided to name my site: The Reading Elephant. Part one focuses on Matt, a nonverbal boy with an exceptional visual memory.
All Children Can Learn to Read
During a recent trip to the zoo, I stood on a ledge overlooking a group of elephants, and was struck by how such massive creatures could move with such grace. I expected the elephants to pound on the ground, creating mini-earthquakes wherever they went. Instead, they moved softly, elegantly, like ballerinas seeking to soothe an audience. Their large ears rippled like flags in gentle wind. I was mesmerized by their elegance. How can such big creatures move so lightly?
I thought of Matt. How could I not? He was my student and he had a charming obsession with elephants. He treasured his elephant figurine. As I observed the elephants, I finally understood why. They were grand, yet mystically airy, like a cloud floating in the sky.
Learning How to Read With a Language Delay
Matt was a student with a severe language delay; his vocabulary was limited to basic words like “help” which he pronounced “hep.” At the time, I had never heard him string two words together. I remember thinking, “Can I do this? Can I teach a child to read who isn’t speaking?” Matt had the potential to read, but I just wasn’t sure if I could find a window to his brain.
I started with letter sounds, at times chasing him around the room, trying to get him to lock eyes with a continuous sound and repeat after me: “mmmmmmm.” Progress was slow. At first, letter sounds didn’t seem to stick. He was very sweet and he’d hug me at random times. He had a curious way of appreciating overlooked wonders in the room, like a crawling ant, which would hold his attention until I finally saw the miracle he naturally beheld. The more I taught
Matt, the more I wanted to find that window, but getting him to say sounds proved challenging.
Reading Interventions Tailored to Student Strengths
The doubt kept surfacing, almost after every session: “Can I even do this?” The answer, I discovered was, yes. It was a slow progression toward yes, an I don’t think I can, a maybe, an I think so, an I think it’s going to happen soon, I think he just read that, and finally yes, I found it, the window, it’s THERE, he’s reading!
He progressed toward short a words, and again I focused all my efforts on getting him to say each phoneme. He read some of my printable phonics books, starting with “Sam Cat.” And his progress continued… until I discovered something miraculous about him.
Teaching Systematic Phonics to Unlock Endless Words
After learning letter sounds, he showed he had an exceptional memory. And as this goldmine in his brain became clearer, I began to exploit his memory, use his memory as a gateway to learning how to read. He learned how to read by learning phonics (the most common sound units and sight words), and these phonetic units unlocked many words for Matt.
For the first time, I saw him string together 3-4 words at a time while reading. No longer did I ask, “Can I do this? Can I access the window?” Matt smiled and his eyes filled with glee as I enthusiastically clapped after he read each page.
Elephants have exceptional memories. Elephants roam large areas of land, and despite the endlessness and homogeneity of the terrain, they know where they are with their sophisticated cognitive maps. They memorize miles and miles of land. With Matt, it wasn’t simple memorization. There is no way to get a student to memorize the over 170,000 words in the English language. It was memorization with efficiency, not memorizing whole words, but units of words that unlock an endless number of words. And with these units (his cognitive map), Matt could roam through countless books. Matt learned how to read while holding onto his elephant figurine.
Unlocking Reading Potential
Elephants have sophisticated brains. They’re so smart, yet given their lack of speech, their thoughts, feelings, and abilities are shrouded in mystery. Sometimes the reading potential of children is dormant, lying within their brains only waiting for a research-based reading intervention. Parents of dyslexic readers, children with learning differences or struggling readers wonder:
- Why can’t my child read?
- Why can’t my child spell?
- How come nothing has worked yet?
On The Reading Elephant, I will discuss how to unlock the reading potential of every child. I believe if a child is not reading, it is not a failure of the child, but a failure of the educational system the child is in.
Phonics Books With a Proven Approach
Reading Elephant phonics books are based on proven approaches and sound research. Furthermore, their sequential, progressive nature eases kids from easy to more challenging reading territory. Kids can have fun with phonics by starting simple and moving methodically toward complex. Moreover, gradual progression allows students to gain confidence. In addition, they build fluency and become more precise readers. Reading Elephant phonics books are appropriate for kindergarten through second grade, but preschoolers can also learn from the simpler ones. The phonics stories are meant to engage and entertain, all while establishing fundamental building blocks for a bright reading future.
Next week, part two will focus on a girl that had severe memory deficits, but a profound expressive vocabulary—the opposite strengths and weaknesses of Matt.