Category Archives: Teaching Methods

Equal Opportunity? Not in today’s classrooms …

A disadvantaged child just wants to fit in – not be left out …


it is my understanding that the public school system was set up in the first instance to equalise opportunities for the children whose parents were unable to offer what the more affluent and educated parents could offer.

This is no longer the case. Current methods of “teaching” infants further disadvantage the already disadvantaged child, who needs direct and explicit instruction. Instruction that does not rely on a child having prior learning, experience of books, a wide vocabulary and parents who can read. These children deserve to be taught to read so that they have access to ALL of the above advantages.

A teacher using a direct instruction approach (in other words, a teacher who ‘teaches’) serves every student in the class. All learners benefit but most of all the disadvantaged child benefits. It is an inclusive system.

Further, it ensures that many children, who succeed initially due to a privileged background & much support, will, in addition, be well versed in the alphabetic skills that are required in grade 4/5. These skills are vital for a successful transition to multi-syllabic words. (See VAS Theory Eve’s Story)

Loss of equal opportunity for a large portion of the population is not only a huge loss to society, it is an enormous cost to English speaking nations across the world.


The evidence is clear – and it’s being wilfully ignored

images I am alarmed that teachers are still doubting that a crisis exists in teaching infants to read.
I refer readers to Britain where, in a study of 150,000 children (“Sponsored Reading Failure”) Britain’s foremost researcher Martin Turner uncovered the greatest peacetime decline in reading standards since records were kept and traced the decline back to the introduction of Whole Language to beginner readers.
Slip over the border to Scotland where the Clackmananshire Longitudinal Study compared outcomes of three strategies and found that not only did the phonics-first group come out on top in almost every aspect of reading but that 10 years later, they maintain that superiority.
Just in case you have trouble thinking this is not a deliberate act of academic and bureaucratic concealment, look at Australia where our national inquiry into the teaching of reading concluded 10 years ago that a phonics-first approach produced the best outcomes and yet 10 years later still doesn’t test phonic skills. You may be surprised to learn that the home of Goodman and Whole Language, (Tucson, Arizona), conducted the massive ‘Follow Through Study’ ($2 billion in today’s money) and found Whole Language-type teaching to be among the worst of all the teaching strategies in vogue. And judge the influence of our academics when I tell you that despite this finding, 4 years later Australian academics still mandated Whole Language in Australia. I could go on with the litany of failure but let me share some data from my practice. In part of a study of 3000 consecutive children I found that, after 3 years of schooling: 44% made more than 5 errors in the sounds of the alphabet, 29% confused letter names and sounds in 3 letter words (mad misread as maid), 15% confused b/d (bog/dog), 38% repeatedly misread 3 letter words for a range of reasons,10% made repeated guess-related errors on phonetically-regular 2 syllable words (e.g. picnic/picture), 88% made repeated errors on regular 3 syllable words (Eromanga, Continent etc), 70% repeatedly showed the signature, mid-word errors of a whole word guesser on 3 letter words (big misread as bag). etc etc.
In case you are still not concerned, you should know that the above data related to those cases where both the child and parent believed that the child was an ‘AVERAGE’ reader. The data on the ‘failing readers’ was even worse.
We hear similar reports from teachers on-line and during our lectures throughout Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Britain.
The full data-set can be seen at ; explanatory lectures and slide shows can be found at
What makes you think that we haven’t got a crisis?Byron Harrison
Chairman VAS Research P/L

Shock Horrors ! There be Hidden Ghosts !

ghost of Whole language past


I accidentally shone a light on

The Ghost of Whole Language Past ……

and was stunned.


I have a brother and sister attending tuition. The brother is the younger of the two and also the most impulsive so I put him on a programme called SCORE. The incentive is to ‘beat the dragon’ by reading all of the words on the page accurately. Misread one of the words and you are locked in to the ‘practise’, which is around 6 or 7 pages before reaching the next ‘Dragon’ page.

The incentive is to focus & maintain attention (the antithesis of ‘guessing’). The reminder is “Remember, read what you actually ‘see’ – not what you ‘think’ you see.

Every student begins on book 1 – page 1. Here it is …

ran       pan      man      tan

tan       man     pan       pan

man     fan       ran        tan

pan      tan       man      ran

ran       fan       tan        fan

The brother has completed book 1 (6 Dragon pages with the need to stop & pactice only once. He is as competitive as he is impulsive, which is a blessing). His ability to focus & maintain attention is improving .

Now, having seen her brother earn ‘Dragon Stamps’, the sister pleaded to do SCORE like her brother. She is currently using left to right processing competently & is accurately reading words such as – sinkers, slivers, whisper, clever, duller, plover, undone, nothing, covering, plovers, blistered, shovels, walkers, quickest, smothers, discovered. (these lists come for Phonics Unlimited / Level 2)

It’s a big web site – this link will get you directly to the file if you are interested.

Two things happened:

1. As you might note, the sister is just starting in on Unit 7. It was evident she was struggling with the concepts involved in the use of the final ‘e’ mad/made etc. So I had already stopped and used the Ease into Reading Kit name/sound confusion cards (Free download at this link

Name Sound Confusions is the first PDF on row 2. A ‘click’ will automatically start the download.)

2. She wanted to begin doing SCORE & get ‘Dragon Stamps’ like her brother. So I gave her Book 1 page 1 (all students begin there & skip through the ‘Dragon’ pages till reaching a sound pattern that needs attention, at which time they stop & practice).

What happened next blew me away – for the first row above instead of reading  ran     pan      man      tan   – she read    rain    pen    man    pan !!! 3 tries later she had not managed the first line.

The learned ‘guessing’ confusion from infant grades is still debilitating her! So many cvc words are visually similar and here she was still taking a stab at them!

No wonder she began to struggle when we met the ‘final ‘e’ concept. (Unlike other letters, vowels can say both their name and their sound in words).


Now we need to go right back to the start and begin mopping up that early ‘muddy puddle’ made by Whole Language methods applied inappropriately to infant grades.


Guess who will be screening her students on that first page of SCORE? How many more are suffering from an early ‘muddy puddle’ of confusion? I should have known better. Our research indicates that, while 2 syllabic words become manageable, simpler 3 syllabic regular words take a hit (think about how similar they are – complement/component).

So there you are. You can’t assume that because students can read complex 2 syllabic words that they will be able to read the simpler (though longer) 3 syllabic words, with cvc components.

Now we need Dragons to purge the Ghosts of Whole Language Past …

baby dragonL-B-J-image-l-b-j-36430574-1008-792<- Ummm perhaps a bit

too small for the task just yet.

That one ->

might be up to be up to the job.


Makes you wonder just what other debilitating  consequences might be lurking as yet unseen…