Helen Lowe articles on phonics and phonics tools

Helen Lowe articles on phonics and phonics tools

My grandmother made a career of teaching students who were victims of the word recognition/ whole word method of teaching reading, to read. My grandmother was a determined and very well educated woman from Massachusetts, who had done social and missionary work in Boston, New York, and Appalachia between 1915 and 1920. She found that our schools' methods of teaching reading leave many normally intelligent students unable to read - and that kids who can't read become juvenile delinquents. She was successful, and highly regarded, by all but the officials of the Glens Falls school system who she often tangled with over their decisions to channel various children out of an education. She left a legacy of children and grandchildren who have often continued her efforts by teaching basic literacy to adults.

My grandmother published several articles on her work and on the issue of how to teach reading. Don Potter obtained most of them in pdf format and put them on his web site, as below. (Of course, all of my grandmother's descendants have hard copies of the articles.)

Don Potter's web site url changed; I thought his site was offline and uploaded my own copies of my grandmother's and some other articles that I previously linked to on his web site.   Thanks to him it was easier to get copies of some of my grandmother's articles.  

How They Read by Helen R. Lowe. On Don Potter's web site, with his comments, and more links on this topic.

How they Read by Helen R. Lowe - appears to be the same article minus the page of comments (and links), but much smaller.

The Whole-Word and Word-Guessing Fallacy by Helen R. Lowe, published in "Tomorrow's Illiterates", Charles Walcutt, 1961. On Don Potter's web site.

Solomon or Salami by Helen R. Lowe, Atlantic Monthly, November 1959. On Don Potter's web site, and he also cites another web site where he found it. This is an analytical study by my grandmother, based on her work, demonstrating the poor reading skills of children taught to read by teh reading recogniton/ whole word method.

Don Potter's web site on reading education is a valuable resource on the subject of reading and phonetics. Should his site ever not still be there, I saved copies of all her articles.

Why don't they teach my child to read? by Howard Whitman, Colliers, 11/26/54. Mentions my grandmother's work.

How should reading be taught? Keith Raynontal et al, Scientific American, March 2002, 286(3), p 84+. An excellent article on the phonetics vs word recognition controversy. The authors point out that in every other country that uses the Roman alphabet, reading is taught phonetically, and that in China, whose language is written in actual hieroglyphics, students are first taught to read phonetically using an English transliteration of the Chinese language!

Raymond Laurita's articles are linked from the end of Donald Potter's comments on "How they Read, but the links don't work.    The pdf articles are so old I had to create one of them over again because it wouldn't load in a modern web browser.

A Critical Examination of the Psychology of the Whole Word Method

Basic Sight Vbasicsightvocabulary_laurit.pdfocabulary: A Help or a Hindrance.

Donald Potter has far more collected on his web site, though much of it is rather meandering, such as discussions of various reading methods and brain structure, or rambling, such as my grandmother's 1963 speech, and testimony before Congress, I couldn't even tell you what about.

My improved on version of the transcribed contents of my grandmother's Wordcaster books of phonetic exercises, based on word parts and rhyming words.   There are also several similar documents on Don Potter's web site.   

I myself found the simplest method, teaching the consonants, long and short vowels and a few basic other things, like vowels with l and r, final y and final ing, and several words that must be sight learned like a and the, to work best.   The hardest part of learning to read is to get the basic ideas.   One can overwhelm the student by teaching too much, and I find that most of these methods teach advanced words before teaching all of the basic sounds, and they seem to take 80 lengthy boring lessons to teach basic reading; the student is going to be sound asleep, lost in daydreaming, or gone.   I believe I learned the advanced details of English spelling and pronunciation over four years of fortunately good systematic spelling books, but by then I could long since read them.   My grandmother herself appeared in practice to combine a certain amount of sight reading in her reading teaching, which caused her students paroxysms of difficulty.   It shouldn't have been that hard.   

This may help explain why my mother wasn't more helpful when I was trying to figure out on my own how to read from my alphabet book.   I was particularly thrown by the glottal stop.   I could see that I could probably get the most use of learning the vowels - "apple", "egg", and so forth, but what is the letter for the obvious "uh" sound in front of the a and the e?    I doubt my remedial reading teacher knew the term for glottal stop, but she could tell me to just add the "uh" sound if I see a vowel begin a word.   I learned about the glottal stop in Hebrew class; the professor told us that most students are confused by the fact that the Hebrew alphabet has letters for the glottal stop.   

Another thing I wish my first and second grade teachers had been better able to explain to me is that some words that are used very often and said very fast in common speech, like a and the, change how they are pronounced over time, so that they don't sound anything like how they are spelled, and often don't sound a whole like how you just got told they are pronounced either.   Youknowliketheeapple....   It took a Spanish textbook to explain that.   


Email me, Dora Smith, at villandra@gmail.com