Reading Program Q&A

I get a fair number of email questions and I spend a lot of time in these one-on-one messages crafting a meaningful response. I like being helpful, but the big downside is that only one person ever sees the response, even though many people may have the same question. 

I’ve gathered up some of the more substantial questions in hopes that they’ll be valuable to you too.

How can I blend your program with the Waseca Program my school already has?

I generally like the products Waseca makes, but I chose not use the Waseca Reading Program, because I wasn’t able to “fix it.” This was actually a big motivation to making my own program.

You might be able to make a franken-program by putting my lessons onto Waseca’s materials, but you won’t get the benefit of my isolation of difficulty. To put it bluntly, Waseca’s scope and sequence is incompatible with my program. I can’t stop you from mixing our programs, but I don’t really recommend it.

As a linguistic phonics program based on the work of Maria Montessori and Diane McGuinness, I isolate difficulty in two major ways that Waseca, an Orton-Gillingham based program, does not. I have the Basic Code (Red through Green, where the child learns ~one spelling for each sound of English), and I teach alternative spellings later (Waseca teaches spelling alternatives and rules quite early).


I noticed that capitalization rules for beginning of sentences are not always followed in the decodable readers. Is there a reason why you chose to do this?

I wrestled over this problem. It’s a good question to ask. 

I eventually ended on not capitalizing the early decodable readers because I didn’t want to introduce extra symbols than what they hadn’t practiced reading and writing in the drawers. As you know, some lowercase and uppercase letters are essentially identical s/S c/C but some are quite different d/D b/B etc.


How do you teach cursive? During the reading lessons or at another time?

I do both. 

I introduce the letters with the phonemes. A letter is a symbol for a sound, so that’s the whole point of learning them. During the reading lessons, I don’t especially care if the letters are beautiful, they just need to be correct (no backwards letters).

We also practice handwriting and calligraphy separately, isolating the difficulty. Here I don’t care as much if they spell correctly, or even if they are writing words (the child may just be writing the same letter over and ove, but the formation of letters, legibility, and beauty is important. Grouping by shape makes sense. I actually don’t especially care if children write in cursive if they came from public school and already write in print. I teach italic letter shapes if they are resistant to cursive.

If the child can’t read, I prioritize reading/spelling lessons. If the child can read, I focus on letter formation and handwriting. The goal of handwriting is to help the child develop quick, legible writing.

These are sort of my ground rules:

  • I teach cursive and/or italic. I never teach print (ball and stick), because it hurts my hands, I think it’s ugly, and I think it’s way harder for children to master.
  • I always write in cursive. This is just my normal writing. (I also use a fountain pen which makes me look quite fancy lol.)
  • I am insistent on the dynamic tripod grip. I’ll use any trick I can to help children use this grip.
  • I am insistent on legible writing. 
  • I am insistent on a cursive signature.

I retaught myself handwriting from this book:

I teach italic from this book:


I am curious if you have a certain way/time you give your students their initial reading assessments? 

I give my assessments one-on-one. I test every child.

I tell the student “This is a test to see where you are in reading, so I know how to help you become a better reader. Just try your best!” 

This year I did all my tests in the first week of school. In other years I’ve spread them out over the first month. I also like to do a mid-year around January. This year I have so few students, it only took me a day. I try to keep each test under 10 minutes including my personal notes after the test.

I don’t really have any tricks for scheduling them, they’re just a super high priority for me. I know that I can’t connect them to the reading curriculum until I’ve done it.

My goal for these assessments is to understand what lesson I need to give them, where I need to put them in the program or if they need it at all.

  1. Start with students who you think can’t read. 
  2. Test phonemic awareness. Can the child rhyme, segment, and blend? 
  3. Have them read nonsense words. The nonsense word list in my book is matched to the scope and sequence of the program.
  4. The San Diego Quick Assessment is nice for children who you know can read: https://www.cep.ngo/uploads/1/1/2/5/11252849/san_diego_quick_assessment.pdf
  5. Feel free to end a test early if they are clearly struggling with a skill. There is a scoring system, but the tests are still very qualitative.
  • If the child can’t segment and blend 3 sound words, practice phonemic awareness. 
  • If the child can’t read the first few lines of the nonsense words, they need to start at Red 1.
  • Look for red flags such as guessing and letter names.

Another option is that you could put all the students who you’re pretty sure can’t read on Red 1 right away, and test them all along the way. You’ll find out quick if it’s way too easy for them.


Do you have any advice for helping students who can already read become better readers and spellers?

Here’s an additional reading resource for you. I especially like these lessons for multi-syllable words: 


Some of your phonemic awareness cards have the target sound in the medial position instead of the initial position, I was taught to always start the word with the sound.

I haven’t noticed an issue. Maybe in cases where children have really severe phonemic awareness deficiency it might matter. It’s definitely something for me to look out for. Many of my sound objects and addition images have the sound in either location. 

When I created the Famous Artworks phoneme expansion pack, I tried to have mostly initial sounds.


Why did you choose the word “knit” for the /n/ sound.  Why didn’t you use a word that actually starts with the letter N?

My thought was that the phoneme cards aren’t used for spelling, reading, or writing, so the spelling wasn’t important. I don’t even show my students the back of the cards. If/when they do see it, I just say that is one of the ways to spell /n/ (it’s an Old English word cnyttan meaning “knot”).

Spelling Rules?

Spelling rules are helpful once the child can already read. (When I was doing my research, I learned a bunch of these rules and my own spelling improved! I’ve been reading for decades!) So, once the child can read and spell somewhat proficiently all the sounds of English (in my program, this would be sometime after Green), then conditional rules like, “AY is how you spell /ae/ at the end of words,” would be introduced. The easiest rules/alternatives of English are built into my program starting with the Blue series.

I like The Logic of English for teaching “rules” to Upper Elementary children. (In the comments section of this post I talk more about my thoughts on the LOE program).

As always follow the child. Use your best judgement on whether a student can handle this. Some of my students have no problem remembering and applying rules, they seem to enjoy learning that English is actually quite regular. Others struggle with writing phonetically and I wouldn’t dream of burdening them with spelling rules at this stage.

How do you introduce the alternate spelling for a sound?

Spelling alternatives officially start with the Blue Series (Though I technically I teach a few earlier, like /f/ at the end of words is FF, and /k/ at the end of words is CK). 

Your language is correct: “The letters, AY, are another way to represent the sound /ae/ at the end of words.” In the Blue Series you can use letter names (always use your best judgement though if you think you should wait a little longer). 

What do you do to introduce the sounds like ING since it is tricky to hear each of the sounds in that pattern?

/ng/ is a tricky sound, and some accents make this more difficult to hear than others. I do appreciate the difficulty (I have a New England accent!) but I still I introduce it as a separate sound. ING is a blend of the two sounds /i-ng/, ANG is /a-ng/, ONG is /o-ng/, etc.. I would say to the child,  “Sing has three sounds /s-i-ng/.”

What are your thoughts on Orton-Gillingham’s use of r-controlled vowels? 

My program has the sounds /er/ /ar/ /or/. I’ve never really found a need to make a hullabaloo about the fact that those phonemes have a diphthong with /r/. 

Same with “w-controlled” vowels like /aw/ and /ow/. They’re just sounds. 

If I understand correctly, when Orton-gillingham teaches these, they are teaching from a print-to-speech direction, as in “When A is followed by R, it makes the /ar/ sound instead of the /a/ + /r/ sound.” 

My thoughts on Orton-Gillingham are lukewarm overall #UnpopularOpinion. 


Products Mentioned in this Post

I would also point you to this blog: https://www.spelfabet.com.au/index/ She writes good stuff about linguistic phonics.

And the Facebook Group: S2P/SLL/Linguistic Phonics. Good chatty community of teachers using linguistic phonics.

And as always, the book Why Our Children Can’t Read by Diane McGuinness.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this FAQ section. I see some of my questions to you are in it and it answered some other questions I’ve had since school started!

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