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What is a Vowel?

Uncategorized Jul 13, 2021

Before I read Speech to Print or took LETRS training for the first time, I thought there were exactly three things to know about vowels:

  1. vowels are the letters A E I O and U
  2. there are 5 of them
  3. they can be either long or short

 Wrong, wrong, and boy was I wrong!

 Since that time, I’ve learned soooooo much about vowels. I suspect there is still more to learn. The study of the English language never ends!

 I’m going to share a list of what I now think about vowels, and ask you to revise and extend my list.

 Here goes…in no particular order:

  1. vowels are phonemes/sounds that are not consonants
  2. vowel phonemes can be represented by a variety of letter, well beyond A E I O and U
  3. every syllable has a vowel phoneme
  4. vowel phonemes can be categorized as tense or lax
  5. the syllable type can indicate the pronunciation of the vowel
  6. vowel phonemes can be reduced to schwa in unstressed syllables
  7. vowels can change sound when they precede a nasal consonant...
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My Triangle is Upside Down

Uncategorized Feb 25, 2021

Every couple of months I hear this phrase …my triangle is upside down… and I am reminded of the need to clarify the tiered systems of support represented by the triangle graphic used in MTSS.

When people say their triangle is upside down, they mean they have more students who are at risk than who are on track.  But the three-tiered model is about instruction, not students. There are no Tier 1 students, Tier 2 students and Tier 3 students, only Tier 1 instruction, Tier 2 instruction, and Tier 3 instruction. Understanding the three-tiered model and the purposes of universal screening can provide the mechanisms for turning things around.

The Three-Tiered Model

The three-tiered model is about prevention of reading failure. The tiers describe a system of increasingly intensive instructional supports that cause all students to reach grade-level reading expectations.  The tiered model provides a framework for efficiently using data to match student needs to the...

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Paying Attention to the Letters

Uncategorized Oct 22, 2020
Lucy Calkins reveals what she doesn’t (yet) know about the science of reading in her recent post in a Facebook group called Units of Study in Writing TCRWP. Her comments reveal that she is the one demonstrating “misunderstandings and misconceptions”.
I’m not questioning her motives and not writing this in response to her. I am writing this for the teachers who are forced to use these materials and other balanced literacy programs. These statements reveal the misunderstandings about reading science and how her planned changes mean no real change at all.
1. Phonological awareness is only valuable as a means to phonemic awareness (blending and segmenting phonemes). It can’t be assessed briefly by asking students to read words and it won’t tell you if a student’s knowledge of phonics is growing. Phonemic awareness activities are done without print.
2. Decodable books are not a stand-alone solution....
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Assessment Terms Defined

Uncategorized Aug 11, 2020

Have you ever heard someone say they hate standardized tests? Or that schools are doing too much standardized testing?

The term “standardized test” is used to lump together all types of group-administered achievement measures given in schools.

Often, the term “standardized test” is confused with the term “norm-referenced” test, although these are two different aspects of assessment.

 Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are given and scored according to standard procedures, typically outlined in an assessment manual.  Standardized procedures allow each student to be compared to every other student who was tested under the same conditions. Training is typically needed to learn to give and score the test according to the standard conditions.

 Norm-Referenced Tests

The term “norm-referenced” has nothing to do with the way a test is given and scored, but instead refers to the way test scores are interpreted.


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Every Word Wants to Be a Sight Word When It Grows Up

Uncategorized Jun 03, 2020

Every Word Wants to be a Sight Word When It Grows Up*

Automatic word recognition is required to facilitate reading comprehension.

To be recognized instantly, words must be stored in long-term memory as wholes, where the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning are fused together.  The whole word must be “mapped” into your memory as an integrated unit.

 The process of storing words for instant recognition follows the same instructional sequence for highly phonetically regular and phonetically less regular words.

  1. access the phonemes in the spoken word
  2. map the phonemes to graphemes
  3. spell and write the word to dictation
  4. practice the word in lists, phrases, sentences and decodable books

 These practices establish the neural connectivity among the letters, sounds, and meaning of the word.

It is the same process for highly regular and less regular words.

The lower the frequency of the word, and the more irregular spelling representations in the word, the more...

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Waiting On The World To Change

Uncategorized May 27, 2020

Lately I’ve been hearing from so many teachers and administrators who have caught the reading science fever. Woo hoo!  Something you read or heard acted like a spark, lighting a fire in those old nagging feelings about the balanced literacy approach not working well enough for your students. Suddenly you see the light and you want to get everyone around you just as excited as you are.

When we find something new that works, we want to shout it from the roof tops! We can’t understand why everyone wouldn’t save themselves the time and heartache and just get onboard with us! This is what works, now just go do it!  This approach rarely works. (I’m remembering one particularly painful holiday visit when I tried to convince my sister to start budgeting.)

Many of you have experienced resistance when trying to get your coworkers onboard with the science of reading. There are some people who just aren’t easily convinced. There might even be some who...

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