How NOT to Teach Reading: Flipping Sounds

I Guess Not!

Part Seven of a 12-part video series showing the flaws of common word reading strategies taught in schools– Moral: Do not teach struggling readers to guess!


Flipping SoundsFlippy Dolphin

If a word does not sound quite right, a child is instructed to “flip” the vowel sound, i.e.) try the long vowel sound instead of the short vowel sound or vice versa. This is another guessing strategy. It is problematic for several reasons. First, it assumes that the reader can remember the long and the short vowel sounds. (People with language processing difficulties, like those with dyslexia, have particular difficulty with this.) In addition, this strategy suggests there only two alternatives (short and long sounds). In fact, there are 15 vowel sounds in English. Although English vowel letter-sound patterns are quite regular, the regularity is based on the syllable’s type and what comes after the vowel letter(s) in the syllable.

Learning the six syllable types in English will allow a reader to determine the most likely sound for the vowel in a syllable. In beginning structured literacy instruction, the focus is on the most regular letter-sound syllable structure, closed syllables, where the vowel sound is short. The curriculum of a Structured Literacy approach provides systematic, sequential and cumulative instructions and practice with the six syllable types and with syllable stress patterns in multisyllabic words, allowing the reader to decode words without guessing.

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Jennifer Salisbury

In 2004, Jennifer joined Teach for America as a special educator where she taught kindergarten through fifth grade. Her passion for reading instruction led her to be trained in a program based on the Orton-Gillingham method. After achieving significant results with her students, she began conducting trainings to help strengthen other teachers’ reading instruction. “My motivation as a teacher is to share my love of learning, and my gift has been working with struggling readers. There is no better feeling than to help someone become a strong reader and independent learner.” Jennifer earned a B.A. in Global studies University of California Santa Barbara and M.S. in Special Education from Lehman College.