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Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking

By Myrna McCulloch
The Riggs Institute
(503) 646-9459

I had the opportunity to review the Teacher's Edition Level 1 of the above program, written by Myrna McCulloch. Subtitled "A Neurolinguistic Approach to Cognitive Development and English Literacy," this method has a long, esteemed history. Dr. Samuel T. Orton was a neuropathologist and brain surgeon who studied the human brain and the teaching and learning of language. In his work, he helped war veterans who had their brains destroyed in battle to restore their missing language skill "memory" to the opposite side of the brain. This work was later extended to use with stroke victims and an interest was kindled in what might happen if the method were used for normal children.

Romalda Spaulding worked with Orton and his research and used his findings in the first "Orton" method for teaching primary children, The Writing Road to Reading, in 1957. Oma Riggs trained with Ms. Spaulding and had great success with teaching children and also trained other teachers, including Myrna McCulloch, who directs the current Riggs Institute.

After that bit of history, what is unique or special about this method? Most home schoolers are familiar with the debate between whole language instruction and phonics instruction. It seems that one's approach is an either/or proposition. This approach combines phonetic, syllabication, oral vocabulary, visual discrimination, comprehension, and phonemic/graphemic awareness for reading; and listening, handwriting, orthography rules, spelling, grammar and punctuation for composition through auditory, visual, verbal, and motor techniques. In documented research, students in grades 3 - 8 who were exposed to this method increased their reading scores 32.2 percentile points, a 65.6 percent increase in 14 months!

The theory is the instruction in explicit phonics, which is the phonetic code for correct English spelling is taught without the cute key words, pictures, capital letters, or letter names to which we are accustomed. By giving this instruction in isolation, it is asserted that the student is freed from neurological interferences to learning the sound/symbol relationships quickly and easily.

In the early weeks of instruction, students are taught the 71 "Orton" phonograms (letters or combinations of letters that stand for one sound in a given word) for correct English spelling. Many of these phonograms are taught simultaneously with letter formation and are then applied in dictated spelling lessons. It is asserted that teaching handwriting, together with the correct spelling patterns of English speech, saves time and established cognitive skills. In the fifth and sixth week, students begin oral sentences, wherein they use spelling words in complete sentences of their own, preparing them for creative composition.

The manual I reviewed contained daily lesson plans with instruction to the teacher in black print, and used red print for the dialog to be spoken directly to the student. Included were assessments, tips on classroom management and motivation, and much research and background material. It was accompanied by a CD on which was demonstrated the correct pronunciation of the phonemes and graphemes. Phonogram cards are also available, with student teacher dialog and other tips on the reverse side of the card. Call (503) 646-9459 or visit for a synopsis sheet/brochure.

-- Product Review by: Christine Field, Senior Correspondent, The Old Schoolhouseâ„¢ Magazine

Note from the Publisher of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine: Just a quick addition to Christine's above excellent and thorough review - I personally have used the phonogram cards with three of my four children. Never have I experienced better results with any phonogram flashcards! These are simply the best. They build on each other and are presented in a logical way the child can grasp with ease. In fact, my niece attended a very good Christian school for Kindergarten, and the Riggs Institute's phonogram cards were used in the classroom. It was mandatory that each parent purchase them before the start of the year! She learned to read phonetically without difficulty, and so did my eldest son (We had to use the method ourselves once we saw what they did for my niece!). I LOVE these flashcards! Riggs Institute is not your typical "learn to read" program - They take reading to a new level. TOS Magazine offers a grateful "hats off" to Riggs Institute, and to Myrna McCulloch who clearly has a real passion for teaching!

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