A language arts and reading specialist offers a systematic but individualized program for teaching children to read.
Wirtz (Reading Champions! Master Training and Teaching Book, 2002) comes with 40 years’ experience teaching grades K through 12. Her program, developed over many years in the classroom crucible, is for teachers, parents, or tutors, all of whom are assigned the roles of coaches. Wirtz builds on what she calls common-sense minilessons designed to augment but not replace existing school reading programs. Each carefully formatted CSML packet is geared to take no more than 15 minutes, though some seem likely to take longer. Others, especially those for beginning readers, are meant to be repeated as often as necessary for a particular student. The coaching approach is decidedly hands-on and will produce best results in one-on-one or small classroom settings. “Practice, drill and repetition are the best way to build language skills,” she writes, and these will remain necessary until readers automatically and without conscious thought apply skills such as word recognition. Only then can these advancing readers begin to use techniques such as scanning, in which the eyes sweep pages for broad meaning without plowing through every sentence. Wirtz goes even further, suggesting a subliminal technique in which the eyes are focused on the white spaces between the lines “to let the mind, rather than your eyes, gather information in larger chunks.” But she concentrates mainly on letter-recognition methods, phonics, short and long vowels, letter groupings, consonant blends and digraphs, diphthongs and the like, each the focus of individual CSMLs. Generally clear and concise, these lessons call for nothing fancier than homemade word boards and alphabet cards. Computers and bedazzling reading software don’t figure into her old-school approach; a CSML on the use of dictionaries doesn’t mention spell-checking software or the ease of looking up a word online. Indeed, Wirtz’s entire program could have been carried out just as well 50 years ago. Maybe that’s a good thing.
A basic, old-school literacy lifeline tossed into a sea of declining reading skills.