Author Archives: Carolyn Fisher

Parents – here are some resouces for you

You might want to review the suggestions for helping your child learn and improve their reading skills found on this government website (  There are many free resources on the web (here’s another: and at your local library.  The librarians will be happy to help you find just what you need.  Check the Sedona Public Library website ( for hours at the West Sedona location and the Village of Oak Creek location.  Or call the main library at 282-7714 or the Village center at 284-1603.  Both locations have wonderful children’s books available for check out.

Focus on results, not techniques

In cleaning out some accumulated Sedona Literacy Center materials, I ran across this guest column from the AZ Republic, dated Sunday, March 23, 1997.  The authors are Carole Edelsky and Sarah Hudelson, professors at Arizona State University (at least they were at that time).  I thought it might have some usefulness for us even now.

In its recent features pitting phonics against whole language, The Republic perpetuates popular misconceptions about reading. 

   Common sense tells us reading is “getting words.”  Just like common sense tells us the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  But we’ve learned from those who questioned common sense that the sun doesn’t move across the sky even if it seems to.  And people who spend their professional lives studying assumptions about reading understand that reading is not “getting the words” even if it seems that way.  Research that equates reading with getting words is flawed at the most basic level.

   Reading is making sense out of print.  When we say we want our children to be readers, we don’t mean we want them to read word lists.  Many children with severe reading problems are word callers; they can identify words by sounding them out, but they do not understand whet they’ve “read.”  To make sense of print, readers must use more than phonics; they use sentence structure , semantics and more.  If phonics were all we used for reading, we could not read signs with missing letters or missing words.  We could not predict the next word in a sentence.

   The issue is not phonics or no phonics; it is how to give children instruction and experience with the full range of what they need to read for understanding.

   One such experience is writing.  When young children compose messages, they also focus on sound-letter relationships.  They spontaneously “sound out,” frequently constructing “phonic spellings.”    With experience and instruction, these spelling inventions become more conventional.

   Learning to spell begins with approximations and inventions.  So does learning to read.  In language learning, we aren’t locked into our early inventions.  If we were, we would never get beyond “mommy goed out.”   The irony here is that those pushing phonics and ridiculing invented spelling are railing against the very thing children do that naturally emphasizes phonics.

   It is important to look at which studies and anecdotes about reading the media feature and which they ignore.  Not because these studies don’t exist – there are indeed many studies supporting whole language.  Not because they aren’t good quality – research supporting whole language appears in prestigious journals.  But because they don’t fit misconceptions about reading.  A claim that some kind of instruction “works” should always raise the question “works for what?”  Studies supporting whole language show that it “works” for improving comprehension.  Studies supporting phonics-only show that it “works” for getting kids to identify words.

   For every anecdote about a failing young reader who is saved by phonics, there is a counter anecdote.  Our recent favorite is about Ana Gonzalez.  After two years of phonics instruction in first grade (she was retained) she could barely read.  All she could do was sound out letters.  Now a third-grader at Tavan Elementary School in Scottsdale, she reads children’s novel and helps her friends when they have trouble reading.  What happened?  In second grade, Dr. Irene Serner, her techer, immersed her in good literature and consistently “cued” her using the entire range of written language cuing systems, including but not limited to phonics.  And Ana’s older sister took her to the library all that summer.

   The only kind of reading that counts in the real world is reading for understanding.  Reading isolated words simply isn’t good enough.  The media’s recent cheerleading for phonics interferes with sensible reading instruction.  And it discourages people from considering whether their ideas about what reading is fit their ideals about what kinds of readers they want.

Carolyn Fisher, Director, Sedona Literacy Center

Helpful articles

Among the free advise available for parents are several articles on the website for Reading Is Fundamental.  They cover such topics as motivating your child to read, the importance of reading aloud – in any language, ways for reading to be fun and what to expect for reading levels.  Check them out at



Some tips for helping your child read

From the Arizona Republic, Feb. 27, 2005

Flash cards. Make or buy decks of flash cards with letters that commonly appear together such as “ay” or “ch” or “bl.” Quiz kids on the sounds that these letter combinations make. Ask children to come up with a word that contains this letter combination.

Which word doesn’t belong? Select two words that have the same initial sound and one word that does not have the same sound. Mix the three words. Say each word, emphasizing the initial sound of each word. Ask children to identify the words that have the same initial consonant sound and which word does not.

Letter bingo. Make bingo cards with letters instead of numbers. Say a word, asking children to think about what letter the word begins with, and cover that letter on their card. When child calls “Bingo,” have the child read back the letters and say at least one way the letter is pronounced.

Same or different. Give children two cards, one with the word “same” written on it and one with the word “different.” Then say two words, such as “pair” and “pain” or “pen” and “pen.” Children hold up the card that corresponds to whether the words are the same or different.

Hangman. Play hangman, giving hints such as the beginning letter or the ending letter of the word to help students guess the missing letters.

Word hopscotch. Put letters on the floor in a grid format using colored masking tape. Children hop across the board by jumping from letter to letter and saying the word that is created by the sequence. For example, put the letters “h,” “t,” “p” in the first row, “a,” “o,” “i,” in the second row and “t,” “p,” “m” in the third row. A child hopping from “h” to “o” to “t” spells “hot” aloud.

Magnetic board. Give students plastic magnetic letters and a magnetic board – the refrigerator works well – to practice spelling and forming words.

Go Fish. Write sight words (two of each word) on a deck of index cards and deal 5 or 6 cards to each of the players. Play the same way as Go Fish, with players asking each other if they have “the,” “have” or “with.” If the player being asked does not have such a card, he or she responds “Go fish!” and the child takes a card from the deck.

Word ladders. Ask children to make a “word ladder” as long as possible by changing the next word in line by just one letter. For example, the first word might be “fat.” Kids could first change the “t” to “r” to make the word “far.” They could then change the “f” to “t” to make the word “tar.” Keep going until the child runs out of words, or try to beat the clock by coming up with as many words in a given time.

Little words. Encourage children to examine words and identify the “little words” they find inside larger words. For example, “win” and “in” inside “window.”

Sentence construction. Write sentences on strips of paper, then cut the words apart. Mix up the pieces and have children put them back in the proper order. Or, give everyone a word from the sentence and have children line people up to recreate the sentence. This is a helpful strategy for non-English speakers who need to learn the syntax of the English language.

Storyboard. Cut comic strips from the newspaper or cut old picture books apart. Mix the frames and have children put the story back into proper order using syntax cues and story events. A “wordless story” can also be used, and children can be asked to write the narratives for each frame.

Sorting by patterns. Give children a stack of word cards with high-frequency words written on them. Ask them to sort the cards by patterns, such as words with long “a,” words with short “a,” words ending in the same suffix, and so forth.

Source: Threads of Reading: Strategies for Literacy Development by Karen Tankersley