2013 Book Thoughts –> “Uncovering the Logic of English” by Denise Eide

The author of this book taught a workshop at an ICHE conference, which I attended in 2012. She teaches that the English language is not nonsensical (as she says it is often taught), just complex. She says several times (in the book and when I heard her speak) that using her method of teaching English will allow for 98% of words in the English language to be taught phonetically.

The book was very fascinating and educational. In discussions with others, it seems that whether or not this would be a lot of new information to you would depend pretty heavily on how you were educated. Most of it was new information to me, and it will completely change the way I teach reading and writing. Two of my children already read very well, but I will still teach them from this book to improve their reading and when teaching them to spell. I will teach reading differently to my third child because of this book.

In short, the book teaches phonics and spelling rules. The rules are just more intense than are usually taught now. For example, students are never taught that ‘s’ makes the /s/ sound. They are taught from the start that ‘s’ can sound like /s/ or like /z/. The book notes that if you count the sound ‘s’ makes when making a word plural, ‘s’ makes the sound /z/ more often than /s/. Similarly, students are not taught that adding a silent ‘e’ at the end of a word makes the preceding vowel long. According to the book, this fails approximately 50% of the time. (Actually, its incorrect to say this is what the book teaches “in short”. The book also teaches root words and other very helpful, more advanced topics. I think I’ve only overlooked this because more intense phonics and spelling is already so much new information for us. I’ll go back for the rest!)

I’d recommend this book to any parent, teacher, or anyone who still struggles at all with reading or spelling. I am certain my spelling will improve as I learn this better with my children!

The only downside, for me, was that I think it got my hopes a bit too high. Eide is so passionate both about what she teaches, and what she teaches against, that I think she may overstate her case at times. I’m surprised, since trying to implement this in our homeschool, how often the 2% of words still comes up. As in, I’m surprised how often I’m still telling my children a word isn’t phonetic and just telling them what it is. Far, far less often, to be sure; I just came away from the book with the impression that I’d only be saying that once or twice a year. Also, some phonemes map to a lot of sounds (up to 6!). So words may very well be phonetic, but you’re still memorizing which of the 6 sounds ‘ough’ is going to say in any given word. This can feel as labor-intensive at times as just memorizing what words are, but it is surely not when looked at on the whole.

An addition, she explains the schwa sound and “correct” pronunciation. (The schwa sound was an entirely new concept to me. If it is for you, too, i recommend looking it up in the dictionary for a quick explanation.) These 2 things basically mean that even if you have all your phonics sounds and rules memorized, you’ll still have to finagle some words to make them fit. For example you’ll need to learn ‘again’ as /ay-GAYN/, because the first syllable ‘a’ is the schwa sound and is properly pronounced as a long ‘a’ and the phonogram ‘ai’ is always pronounced as a long ‘a’. So when teaching your children to read, they would need to sound out ay-GAYN and then know that we usually pronounce the word ‘again’. (The British at least have less of a stretch.) I don’t have a problem with this, and actually think teaching this way will do much of the work for spelling later. The complication is that I have not already figured out which sound all the phonemes in the words I read map to. So when I’m reading with my child and he doesn’t know a word, I need map it out in my own head before I guide him through it. Does that make sense?? If it doesn’t, read the book! It just means I did a poor job summarizing! And if it did make sense, read the book anyway. It was an excellent book. Definitely do not let these last 2 paragraphs talk you out if it. I just had my hopes a little too high after experiencing her enthusiasm. I will still use this book as my primary source for teaching reading and spelling.

(Note: I will not use her accompanying curricula, but that is simply a matter of price and teaching style. I am creating my own lessons based on the book.)

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One Response to 2013 Book Thoughts –> “Uncovering the Logic of English” by Denise Eide

  1. Indeed a great blog-post. furnished with superb information and thought provoking. I am volunteering my services at a school run for poor kids. there, we gave a lot of emphasis on phonics but now, after reading your words, i have a different perception of learning… wonderful read. stay blessed.

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