Saturday, December 12, 2015

Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties

On 10.12.2015 I received a complimentary copy of the book "Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties" from the author, Dr.David A.Kilpatrick. 

I recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn as to why some kids find it difficult to read. Don’t be surprised to see my name on the acknowledgement page. 

Chapter one starts off by talking about a race where one lane has a high hurdle while the next has a slightly lower hurdle and the other 4 lanes have no hurdle at all. When the gun sounds the runners in the first 2 lanes are left behind and as the race progresses they get further and further behind.

The author goes on to say that about one third of students are like the kids running on the 1st and 2nd lane. They are unable to read as well as the other kids. As they progress into 2nd and 3 rd grade they get further behind and finally end up as school dropouts. 

The author continues and says efforts to help the weaker readers have been geared toward teaching them how to jump more efficiently over their hurdles. Effort should instead be made in removing the hurdles from the track even before the race begins. Efforts should be made to remove hurdles still ahead of the runners once the race has begun.

This is what I have been writing in my blog since 2010. The message is clear and yet we still have the same percentage of students leaving school as illiterates year after year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Andrew P. Johnson's flawed views on phonics

Andrew P Johnson is a professor from Minnesota State University, Mankota.

           "The Problems with Phonics-Only Reading Programs
            Students who are struggling readers are often given programs that involve only direct instruction of phonics or other reading sub-skills (McCormick & Zutell, 2011).  There are four problems with these types of phonics-only programs:"

My comment: The above is a sweeping statement which will mislead many readers including teachers, students and parents. It is highly irresponsible for a professor to make sweeping statements which will mislead readers. Firstly, how many programmes teach only direct phonics? More importantly, it is not phonics that is the culprit but the teaching of phonemes by many teachers who do not know the letter sounds. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Congratulations to one my former student

I wrote about one of my first students who drove me up the wall with refusing to sound out the word fox. She had been taught letter sound correspondences wrongly by her Tuition Centre. Please read details in my post here:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Q&A on Disengaged Students

The following is a Face Book Q&A between my former employer Mr.Kandiah Namasivayam and myself.
Luqman, some Kids shut down while Learning English. Others don't. Why? That is the million dollar question. It is obvious to you. But when some kids have no problem why only some kids shut down? So the entire blame cannot be put on English and its teaching method. Obviously there is more to it than what is apparent. Now I wonder why kids turn off when watching Sesame Street? There could be many reasons, one being distraction or attention deficiency syndrome. How do you connect the former to this one?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Challenging institutionalized assumptions about reading failure

I think it is time to challenge our institutionalized assumptions about reading failure. Our assumption that many students will be poor readers can and should be changed. As Dr. G Reid Lyon said, these kids are “instructional casualties”.

Since they are “instructional casualties” what should teachers do to prevent it?

I ask myself as to why scientists, educators, and PhD’s are still groping in the dark when Dr.G Reid Lyon had said in ‘Children of the Code’ that most of the disengaged kids are “Instructional Casualties”?
Is he the only one to say that? No.  Many others have said the same thing and they had said it even much earlier than Dr. G Reid Lyon did. Recently Jo-Anne Gross, from Linkedin, a group I belong to, was daring enough to say (in Linkedin) that reading failure is a case of ‘Dystechia!’ I hope more people will be bold enough to speak their mind like Jo-Anne. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Shame avoidance

The following is taken from 'Children of the Code'

Here are some of the things the 6 kids in the video above said:

Kid No.1: I’d make a scene …... I would act out….just rebel…I was just embarrassed
Kid No2: I just make up an excuse, I say I don’t have glasses with me, that normally worked but I don’t wear glasses.
Kid no.3: I usually slump down on my seat where they couldn’t see me. If they wanted me to read I’d pretend that I am figuring out something ….It’s pretty much what I have been doing for as long as I know.
Kid No.4: Go to restroom…… turn my head down …make like I was not paying attention so they won’t call me.
Kid No.5: I will go to the bathroom and stay until it was time and come back in.
Kid No. 6: I will act like I was asleep so they would not call on me

Friday, September 4, 2015

Correct 'Letter sounds'

I copied and pasted my article "How not to teach letter sounds" in Linkedin and a reader asked me if I had any videos on 'how to sound letters'.

It appears that there are many teachers who do not know how letter sounds let alone parents.

So, I copied 3 videos below for your listening pleasure. Please listen to them carefully. Ask your kids, especially kids who do not like reading, how to pronounce a few letters, say, F, M and L and please write to me and let me know if it is different from what you hear below.

You may write to me at:

Here are the three videos.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Real 21st-Century Problem in Public Education

I picked the title above from a discussion on Linkedin in the internet. I believe articles like this will be leading the masses to bark up the wrong tree.  

"The October 2013 Southern Education Foundation study indicates clearly that poverty, which has long been the biggest obstacle to educational achievement, is more important than ever. It is our true 21st century problem.
A large and growing proportion of US students live in poverty and even concentrated poverty, have a disability, and/or are learning English as a second language. THAT is the paradigm shift, and we need a totally new set of policies to address that 21st century reality.
We do have a 21st century education crisis – poverty. Until we properly diagnose the illness, however, our prescribed remedies will continue to fall far short."

I believe poverty (the state of being extremely poor) is a problem but not necessarily the biggest problem in public education.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Another confession of a teacher

The following is extracted from a blog by Melinda Crean  found here:  

“You know at the end of university I didn’t have a clue how to teach kids how to read, write and spell.  I came through university with the whole language approach to teaching reading.  This approach is based on the visual memorisation of whole written words and doesn’t teach the skills or conceptual knowledge needed to read.  When I came through uni, phonics was a bit taboo, and we were told that we don’t teach literacy like that anymore.  I have had no exposure to phonics and don’t really know much about this approach to teaching reading”.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dyslexia is not a language based learning disability


I'm afraid I have to disagree with what Rachna Varia says in her video. LINK

    This video shares what dyslexia is, what it's not, and what needs to be done!

    “Dyslexia is a language based learning disability that impacts phonological processing in reading…”

     “Phonological processing is the ability to see or hear a word, break it down to discrete sounds, and then associate each sound with letter/s that make up the word”.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Toast Masters Talk: Shut Down Kids


Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I am grateful for this opportunity to give a talk on shutdown kids.

First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Jacob Yan who invited me to give this talk. Dr.  Jacob Yan is a fellow club member of The Lions Club of Kota Kinabalu Host, the oldest and largest Lions club in Sabah.

This talk is one of the numerous activities of The Lions Club of Kota Kinabalu Host.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Confessions of a Teacher


The following is part of a comment on LinkedIn in a forum I am participating in.

 "I`m told that to be polite is important but when it harms innocent children and puts their teachers into further instructional confusion-it irritates me to no end......there is barely a whimper of "how to teach reading" in the early grades. The factory of labeling the victim is still in place, I think 99% of the problems are dysteachia brought on by outdated teacher licensing institutions!" (Jo-Anne Gross)


Since 2010 I have been saying that the majority of kids leaving school as illiterates are casualties of teaching. It starts in kindergarten where letter sounds/phonemes are taught wrongly.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Disengaged students



I prefer the term disengaged/disconnected/shut-down students to dyslexic students. The term dyslexia is being misused by people with vested interest to include many conditions that would be best excluded from the dyslexia definition. For instance, kids with auditory processing difficulties, kids with acuity problems, kids with neurological problems, and kids with sight problems should all be excluded from the dyslexia umbrella.

I have reasons for wanting to differentiate between individuals who are said to be ‘dyslexic’ and disengaged students. Problems faced by disengaged students can be 1) prevented and 2) overcome as disengaged students are a result of schooling-caused teaching problems. Disengaged students form, I believe, a majority of kids who leave school as illiterates.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dyslexia – How NOT to teach letter sounds


How would you pronounce the following word?


Can you recognize that word? It is an English word given to us by Liz Dunnon. You can hear it in a YouTube video here: (You can hear it under skill 2 between minutes 1.48 and 3.05 in the video.) LINK

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dyslexia – News from organisations with vested interests


On 4.6.2015 I first saw an article on the internet about how dyslexics see fonts. This news was subsequently published in many magazines and newspapers. It began to appear on Facebook and an article also appeared on LinkedIn. This continued for about a month.

Many articles related to dyslexia keep surfacing periodically and I believe these are articles supported by some organisations with a vested interest.

The first article that I saw on dyslexia fonts can be found here:LINK

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dyslexia not linked to eyesight


A study says that dyslexia is not linked to eyesight. LINK

Many individuals and associations who have a vested interest keep posting articles that say that dyslexics have all kinds of ailments which is not true.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Writing and reading

I have written about a British who could read fluently in Japanese and yet was ‘dyslexic’ when it came to reading in English. I have articles by researchers saying that Italians who could read fluently in Italian could not read well in English. I have taught many dyslexic kids who could read well in Malay and yet were dyslexic in English. Now, my friend Bob has said that a Harvard professor who wrote the introduction to the 1912 English translation of The Montessori Method also wrote "That (handwriting fluency) might work for Italians, but it would never work for Anglophone students".


How can we incorporate handwriting with what I have been writing in my blog on teaching ‘shut-down’ learners?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My article in LinkedIn today


                                            Does not matter if it is a black cat or white cat

Here is an article I posted on LinkedIn today in response to the trained teachers who insist that students should be taught on some scientific system.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dyslexia – Some questions and suggested answers


Are there children who find it more difficult to learn to read than a majority of children?
The answer should be a resounding yes as there are research reports and newspaper reports stating that all over the world about 20% of children are illiterate in the English language when they leave school.

How many of the roughly 20% of children can become good readers after intervention?
Almost 90% of these children can be taught to read with intervention as recorded by many researchers.

Friday, March 27, 2015

My current 'Shut down' student - Part 2


We agreed to teach Steve 3 times a week for one hour each time. We also informed his parents that we would be able to teach him only until the end of March.

From day one (25.1.2015) we started writing out 5 Dolch words a day and asked his mother to make sure he knows how to spell those words on his next visit.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My current ‘shut-down’ student - 2015


My current student Steve (not his real name) came to us on 25.1.2015. A mother of one of our former students had introduced Steve’s mother to us. (I have given him this nickname as he is well built and if he does bodybuilding exercises he will be like the legendary Steve Reeves).

Steve will be 9 in October this year and has been retained in primary 2 because he was not able to read at grade level.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Linkedin – Forum on how to teach reluctant and struggling readers- Final Part


Individualistic views and opinions have no place in training teachers in the "science of reading".
There will be tremendous improvements when teachers gain this kind of training.
Phonemes are speech sounds.

My thoughts: I believe this is the problem. If the Science of Reading has been taught for the last donkey years why are there kids who shut down? Why has the rate of illiterate students leaving school not reduced since 1970?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Linkedin – Forum on how to teach reluctant and struggling readers- Part 3 of 4


As mentioned in my previous post the exchanges in the forum are all academic. 
I disagree because we teach the 44 phonemes of the English language and their graphemes (around 90) to achieve reading and spelling proficiency.
This is the science of reading.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Linkedin – Forum on how to teach reluctant and struggling readers- Part 2


An interesting discussion
I've watched the wider arguments between those who argue for Synthetic Phonics as it's now called, who seem convinced that you always teach letter-by-letter f-u-r as well as c-a-t
And those who are convinced you teach using Onset and rime f/ur as well as c/at. (Apparently, now it is called Analytic Phonics, at least by advocates of the former method.)
It's the first that has won the political battle. But as yet I've never seen any convincing evidence that discriminates between the effectiveness of either, from either camp.
I assume that outside of the purist camp of Synthetic Phonics f/ur would be acceptable for use by ordinary working teachers.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Linkedin – Forum on how to teach reluctant and struggling readers


This is an extract from a forum on literacy for reluctant and struggling readers on LinkedIn. I have changed all the names of the people who had commented.

I recently overheard 2 reading specialists hotly debating the use of r-controlled vowels in the phonemes er, ir and ur. One was insistent that they should be taught as one sound and the other as two.

Let’s use the example “Fur” – As a Brit living in the States, I’d be interested to hear the different opinions of whether this should be taught “f_u_r” OR “f_ur” – Any thoughts? Does this differ from State to State?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teaching reluctant and struggling learners


I have spent a lot of time thinking about the discussion in a forum under ‘Literacy for Reluctant and Struggling Readers’ on LinkedIn and have tried to figure out if any suggestions there that can help to ease the confusion of dyslexic students. At the end of the day I still feel that dyslexic students will be confused and will ask me just as many questions as they have asked me. 
I have students who have asked me why ‘was’ is spelled that way and not ‘wos’. Why had I pronounced ‘as’ the way I did and now sound out ‘was’ which has the ‘as’ in it another way? One student had asked me why I had taught him to sound ‘on’ the way I did and yet pronounce ‘station’ the way it sounded. These are the ‘shut-down’ kids. They always ask the question ‘why’. In school when they are not told explicitly that many letters and letter combinations have different sounds they shut down.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dyslexia - Why kids shut down


Teachers teach us the sounds/phonemes of the alphabet as: A apple, B bed, C cat, D dog E elephant and so on. Everyone will and can learn this with no problem at all.

Then when they start teaching us to read, the NIGHTMARE begins for the 20% of kids who are later considered stupid or lazy. These kids are neither stupid nor are they lazy. These are the kids who need to be instructed explicitly on anything different from what they have been taught. These are the kids who ‘shut down’ when they are confused.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Phonological awareness and phonics -Part 2


Teachers are struggling to teach kids to read. Around 20% of kids in many countries where English is taught can barely read in English.

In the US in January 2001, President George W. Bush announced his plan called “No Child Left Behind”.

Now, in 2015 after 15 years the percentage of children who can barely read in English remains the same as it was in 2001 which again was the same as it was in the 70’s.

The main thing kids do in school is learn to read, and when they don't, they feel stupid. So how can we prevent reading failure?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Phonological awareness and phonics - Part 1


The terms "phonemic awareness", “phonological awareness” and "phonics" are often used in the field of education. Some writers use them interchangeably, yet they mean different things and have different roles as children begin to read.  There seems to be quite a bit of confusion over the terms “phonological awareness”, “phonemic awareness” and “phonics”

The English language has 44 phonemes. Words are produced by stringing these sounds together. The ability to manipulate and distinguish these phonemes as they are used in words is called phonemic awareness. It is a natural skill developed in children through talking and listening to other speakers of their language.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Do dyslexics have a phonological awareness deficit


I wrote the following article on 7th February 2011 and I am reposting it with the current date.

For a year I have written that phonological awareness deficit is not the cause of dyslexic children being unable to read. Recently I found an article on the net echoing what I have been saying. I believe there will be more such articles in the future. New generation of researchers will challenge the 30 over years old "Phonological awareness deficit" theory.

Friday, March 13, 2015

"Quality of English teachers matter"


Quality of English teachers matter
The above was the headline of page 9 of our local newspaper – The Daily Express.
We read similar headlines every year after the school results have been announced.
However, has the percentage of those who fail their English language reduced in the last 10 years?
If the answer is ‘no’ should we not ask ourselves “WHY NOT?”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015



‘Disengaged students’ or students who have ‘shut down’

All the 'dyslexic' students I have taught over the past 11 years have no problem reading in the Malay language. Those who study in Chinese schools can also read fluently in Romanised Chinese (Hanyu Pinyin).

I believe many children cannot read but do not have many of the problems included in many definitions of dyslexia on the internet. This web log is not for parents of kids who have a ‘Auditory Processing Disorder’ or acuity problem. This web log is for kids who cannot read in the English Language because they have shut down or disengaged themselves from what the teacher teaches. They disengage because the English language does not make sense to them. Kids shut-down when teachers do not teach these kids that many of the letters of the alphabet in the English language represent more than one phoneme (sound). As such a majority of the kids who end up being unable to read are simply kids who have shut down or disengaged from what is being taught because they have not been taught correctly.