kitchen table math, the sequel: Who am I?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who am I?

I’m a former Air Force statistician who has been promoted to Mom. My husband is still in the Air Force, and we’ve moved 5 times in the last 6 years. We’ve seen a lot of school districts! I’ve been tutoring with phonics since 1994, so have observed the schools everywhere we’ve lived with interest since then. I gave my life to Jesus Christ in 1997.

I wanted to be a volunteer math tutor, but it was not to be. I have tutored a few students in Algebra through the years, but when I signed up to tutor inner-city students in San Antonio, the Air Force moved us to another city. This large city had no math tutoring programs, only a volunteer literacy organization. I signed up—I had always liked to read. I figured I could try that for a while.

The local literacy organization used whole word methods and language experience stories, and made this seem exciting and like the best thing since sliced bread. They raved about the wonders of teaching this way. I bought it and was excited to teach my student to read. After a month of tutoring, she had learned 3 words, and there seemed to be no pattern to her progress or lack thereof. I called my dad, a public school teacher and a very smart man. He said, "teach her phonics."

All I could find at the time (This was 1994, the internet had just barely started, and bookstores were not selling any phonics products) was an old teacher's copy of Hay and Wingo's Reading With Phonics. It seemed too juvenile to me, so I made up my own lessons from the concepts in it, starting with 2 and 3 syllable words from the first lesson. I later found she didn't mind working from 1st grade texts as long as she was learning, but I didn't know that at the time, and I'm glad I decided to make my own lessons. (By the way, she learned more in her first lesson than in that month of sight words, and I made a few mistakes with sounds at the beginning, I myself had a limited phonics background and had just picked up reading after being taught a few letter sounds. I did not, however, pick up spelling, although I have always been a prolific reader. My spelling improved after tutoring with phonics and learning the associated spelling rules and syllable division rules.)

With small children and frequent moves, I could no longer teach many students to read. I put all my phonics lessons online a little over 3 years ago while pregnant with our second child—a difficult pregnancy, the online work was accomplished only through God’s strength, I had no strength of my own.

About a year ago I added spelling lessons. They teach spelling rules, syllable division rules, and everything you need to know to teach someone to read with phonics.

Shortly after starting my website, I “met” Don Potter. He had similar experiences tutoring remedial students, but had taught even more students than I had and also had insight into what they were doing in the public schools. He has a great website with a lot of phonics information. He also convinced me of the power and utility of the MWIA, a test to determine if someone has been harmed by too many sight words.

About 2 years ago, I also “met” Geraldine Rodgers. Her book “The Case for The Prosecution is an eye opener. Even better is her “History of Beginning Reading,” available in e-book format for $8.95 from Author House.

While I had always used syllables and spelling in my lessons, reading Rodgers’ works made me even more convinced of their importance, and led me to teach my daughter using syllables and spelling with Webster’s Blue-Blacked Speller. The results have been amazing, to say the least. I’ll leave that for another post.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for all of the info and insight. I will follow some of your links when I find the time later this week. Your blog came up on one of my "alerts" that I have set up.

You may be interested to know that I am a tutor - by profession.

It is interesting that you were at first interested in tutoring math, but became a literacy tutor and phonics coach when you recognized the need. It was a roundabout way of finding your calling, but as the (very true) saying goes, God does work in mysterious ways.

Much appreciated was your account of how teaching "sight" words DOES NOT WORK as a means of teaching language recognition and reading!

I have been a proponent of phonics- forever. As a child, I loved to read - and that love has helped me in all areas of life. I often tell my students' parents that reading is the cornerstone of learning; if students have difficulty in this area, it is almost impossible to be and feel successful in school and beyond.

I was taught phonics and learned to read with "Dick and Jane." I wonder WHY we cannot have similiar books NOW.. updated, of course, to reflect our nation's diverse population, but with the same basic repetition and easy to follow story lines.

By the end of my 6th grade year, I could read any novel in my community's library and tested at the 11th grade level in reading on standardized tests.

But, I was not unique. The majority of my classmates were on "the honor roll, and while there were a couple of kids in my classes who were academic disasters, they were few in number.

Obviously, there should have been, at that time, (the sixties)specific intervention for these students, but at least, at that time, the needs of MOST of our students were met.

And, of course, this has implications for more than these individual students. The far reaching consequences of our not meeting the needs of children threaten society as we know it and bring the stock of America down in the eyes of the world.

So, I, like you, am on a mission. My hope is that all parents become pro-active and insist that their children be given adequate instruction in phonics. That being said, I am not against some sight word instruction. I do go over the Dolch word list with my students. But, I take along my phonics workbooks and give each student at least 5 or 10 minutes of "extra" instruction in each session.

And, I advise parents, (and suggest that you do the same) to read to and with their children daily. Children need so much that they cannot (and should not) learn in school. Parents should explain the world - ideas - such as time, money, what the horizon is, and non- tangibles such as friendship, loyalty, joy, grief, and the idea of a conscience.... and this can be done by committed parents if they take the time to talk with their children for a few minutes each and every day.

Fran Magri-Delgado
San Antonio, Texas

Anonymous said...

Welcome Elizabeth,

I grew up on Air Force bases, so I understand about the moving around.

The thing that bothers me about critics of Dick and Jane is that they act as though we only had "look-say" as our guide. My teachers taught phonics in the early/middle 60's and spelling bees were a daily thing for years. Even if you were bad at spelling, you welcomed the chance to get out of real work.

Susan S.

ElizabethB said...


Thanks for the kind words. Yes, God does work in strange ways. Looking back, I can see a pattern but sometimes we don't realize why things are happening as they happen.

You can teach most of those sight words phonetically!

I'll write a post about that later, explaining how they came about, the harm I've seen from teaching too many of them even in an otherwise good phonics program (especially if used in speed drills!) and how to teach all but 2 of the 220 sight words by sounding them out. You can read my sight word page in the meantime, I do explain how to teach 218 of them using phonics:

Sight Words