Cognitive neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dr. Mark Seidenberg shook the world of reading education in 2017 with the release of his book, Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't, and What Can Be Done About It. 

In the book, Dr. Seidenberg distills the research on how the brain learns to read, and he also directly addresses some of the reasons that so many US children have such poor reading outcomes. He lays bare some harsh realities about the failure of schools of education, in particular, to transmit effective practices in the teaching of reading.

Now Dr. Seidenberg has extended his mission to help translate the decades of research on reading development to the general practitioner audience through a series of Youtube shows (also available as podcasts). He and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Molly Farry-Thorn host Reading Meetings with Mark and Molly: Conversations Bridging Science and Practice, and you should check them out!

Reading Meetings with Mark Seidenberg and Molly Farry-Thorn logo

Besides interviewing researchers and literacy consultants, such as Dr. Nell Duke, Dr. Julie Washington, Dr. Rebecca Treiman and Margaret Goldberg, Dr. Seidenberg led a 3-part series on Phonemes and Phoneme Awareness, which is incredibly important for beginning reading instruction. Most of our contemporary programs do not align with the science of phoneme awareness and reading development that Mark presents in this series, along with the help of Dr. Farry-Thorn and Dr. Maryellen MacDonald, a psycholinguistics scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The discussion may at first seem esoteric, but it relates directly to how teachers should present the ABCs from the very beginning.

This past May, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Mark and Molly myself! They were interested in the concept of instructional efficiency in reading instruction. I was delighted to discuss this topic as it's a key aspect of the Reading Simplified system. And I'm optimistic that future deeper examinations of what is really essential in the teaching of reading will yield much better outcomes for all of our children.

Please enjoy the discussion below, "Reading Simplified and Issues of Instructional Efficiency." You can watch the youtube video below, listen to the podcast of it here, or read the transcript with my emphases added below.

When you're finished, I'd love to know what element of instructional efficiency you think is most important. Have you found ways to add speed to the learning to read process?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Molly:               Welcome everybody. Thanks for joining us, taking time out of your Sunday. I don't know if you're here in Wisconsin, it's oddly hot for the beginning of May. So thank you for taking time out of a nice day to join us. We've got Marnie Ginsberg here today with us to talk about a variety of things but Reading Simplified, her program, and some issues that we want to really dive into. So thanks for joining us today, Marnie.

Marnie:            My pleasure.

Mark:               Thank you.

Molly:               Why don't we start with just you telling us a little bit about how you got to where you are, how you started the company, and all these things you're doing.

Marnie:            Sure. A lot of people here can probably relate to how I started. About 20 years, I was an English teacher with kids who were really struggling in reading words and I realized I didn't know how to teach reading. So I searched everywhere to try to find answers and there were a lot of competing theories. Finally, found something that worked and used it with two kids that were not even able to read at the first grade level. And after a few months, they were ending the year at the mid third grade level, which was exciting. But I was like, "Why was this happening that I was solving this problem--only partially--in sixth grade?" So that began a lifelong obsession about how to teach anyone how to learn to read rapidly, easily, efficiently. What would be the most effective ways?

                        So from that public school teaching, I opened a private reading clinic. That led to getting my doctorate at The University of North Carolina. And while I was there, I had the rare opportunity to lead the development of an intervention that was getting federal funds and we asked kindergarten and first grade teachers who are in low income rural communities to pull aside a struggling reader for about 15 minutes a day and work one on one with them for those 15 minutes and using an intervention we suggested. And then we also coached them bimonthly via webcam, and this was way back before people had heard of Zoom, and those teachers got effects.

                        And their struggling readers across multiple journal articles that got published out of that program is called The Targeted Reading Intervention, they got effects of typically at around .3 to .7. And the IES director is even recommending it as one of the few studies so far that should be replicated. That was good. All that was exciting and yet I noticed very little was happening as a result of what we were doing in the field, which is what I naively expected would happen when we got started.

                        So when my husband got transferred up here to Wisconsin, I soon thereafter started a more grassroots approach which is Reading Simplified. And with Reading Simplified, we aim to provide a diagnostic system for thinking about how to teach anyone to read whether they're a beginner or a student who's 10 or 15 who needs remediation. We try to serve all the different people that might work with kids, classroom teacher interventionist, reading tutor, special educator, parent, and even we've had a lot of grandparents in the last year what with COVID. And so we do this through the Reading Simplified Academy which is an online site and community where we've got these two main goals. We want to rapidly bring teachers up to speed in a really easy way of teaching anyone, particularly how to read words and become fluent, and at the same time provide them a method that can rapidly get anyone to read.

                        So it's simplified by design for the teacher taking up a new idea and then also a streamlined system for the child to learn more rapidly. And so this Reading Simplified Academy is online and some of the three main ways we reach teachers or parents or whomever is through 8 to 10-hour main video course and over hundreds of differentiated student materials and then ongoing support that's individualized through an online discussion board. I see many familiar faces here today of people that are implementing all over the world. It's really exciting and very grassroots since that was how we started once I moved up here to Wisconsin.

Mark:               So how does the curriculum, the materials for kids, how is that integrated into what they're doing in the kid's schools? Is it complementary to other stuff? Maybe you could talk about that.

Marnie:            Yeah. It varies widely based on how the freedom that the teacher has. We have some teachers where they're mandated to do a particular curriculum and they use our system and our diagnostic framework to tweak things along the way and maybe drop something out and save time with an activity that integrates multiple things instead of doing five things for their curriculum, they choose one of ours to replace it. A lot of folks do that. A lot of folks just replace it entirely with, don't use their reading basal or another series for their word learning component. So it's not a curriculum for language arts completely in terms of comprehension or vocabulary. It's really just zeroing in on--let's get those kids to read words really rapidly. So it varies widely.

                        And some of the time we have teachers who will say, "Well, I really learned a lot. I really want to do this and my administration says I have to do that." We help them figure out ways in which they can tweak and adapt. That's ongoing.

Mark:               So tell us about this concept of Reading Simplified. What's the contrast to?

Marnie:            Okay. There's so many contrasts. I think the thing that's probably most relevant to most people ... Some of you might be really interested in the teacher simplification, some of you may be more interested in the instructional simplification. Personally, I started out with how are we going to simplify instruction for the student.

Mark:               Yeah.

Marnie:            And so with all those experiences and reading widely, I distilled it in my mind that learning to read words is just a series of three big goals assuming some level of oral comprehension skills, then to read words you need to be able to break the concept of the alphabetic principle and you need to then put into play a sound based decoding approach to reading words and not a approach that looks at the picture. And then you need to read widely and get support especially early on along the way so that those sound based decoding experiences are accurate and you learn to recognize words automatically. So if those are our three big goals, how can we orchestrate the lesson to target those aggressively?

                        So for instance, one of our big features is that we only have a handful of activities but that each of the activities integrates multiple sub processes simultaneously because we want to get to that alphabetic principle and that sound based decoding as soon as possible. Some programs might think that you need to learn, for instance, all of the letter sounds of the alphabet, all the letter names, and all the letter sounds of the alphabet and then you start putting letters sounds together to make words. But we want kindergarten teachers in the first week of school to have kids learn three or four sounds, start making words, reading them and building them and spelling them so that they can get that concept of the alphabetic principle and they start that process of figuring out how to do sound based decoding. So that's one example.

Mark:               Yeah. Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt you, I want to get two and three. I just want to endorse what you were talking about and express my own enthusiasm for it. One thing that you mentioned was the idea that you could be learning more than one thing at a time, I think, which is something you and I both really believe in. Could you talk about how it manifests itself, for example, the kind of activities that you recommend or other things you tell teachers?

Marnie:            I think the easiest way to wrap your head around this is for that beginner. And really there are lots of curricula out there that will literally take a whole semester or a whole three months of learning all of the letter sounds in isolation and believing that that has to be mastered before reading can happen. But we have an activity that's very popular and Maria Montessori did this over 100 years ago, she had kids learn a few sounds and then what do you hear at the beginning of a word like mat.

So you can teach with asking a child, "What do you hear at the beginning of the word mat?" You're right there giving them a little hint about how the alphabetic principle works, that it's somehow connected to sounds. They can then, with coaching, figure out how to separate that m off the beginning of the word mat and so they're doing something to make awareness.

                        And then after you get them to figure out that sound, "Well, what do you hear at the beginning of mat?" Okay, eventually they come up with m, then you're going to ask them, "Okay, let's look at these letter sounds."

So then they can learn the letter sounds next in the context of an activity. It's a multiple choice. A lot of kids, even if they don't know it solidly, will maybe get pretty close at figuring it out. And if not, you tell them, "This is m."

This way they build the word like this in the context of a word: they're always in the context of a word; they're doing the alphabetic principle, phonemic segmentation, and letter sound knowledge. And this is how they can start to get the concept of how our language works and learn from this. Then you can do a variation on it pretty quickly, we call it Switch It, but it's like word chains where you manipulate the letter sounds.

                        And in that context, then they can learn the letter sounds as well. They don't have to learn the letter sounds separately in isolation.

Actually, doing the contrast, we have mat, how could you change it to sat? That contrast is really getting their brain to zoom in on the critical features of those letter sounds in both sound and print and they learn in the context of the activity. I think of it as like I really like Share’s self-teaching theory, he said that we're not teaching kids the thousands of words that they end up knowing by the time they're in high school--maybe 20,000 words or something like that. It's a hockey stick of words that they have to learn. What we need is sufficient phonemic awareness, sufficient phonics knowledge, and a strategy of decoding strategy.

                        So I think of that, I shouldn't say this in Wisconsin on a warm day like today, but I'm going to use a snow metaphor like you're on top of a mountain, what's the least amount of snow you can gather up, pack into a ball? That is the sound based decoding strategy or approach. And then you start rolling that downhill by real reading, real spelling.

And sometimes in isolation, sometimes in real reading, and that's another thing we do that's pretty radical. Even that beginner who maybe just learned three letter sounds today or this week, we're going to also have her read, we call it buddy reading, where the teacher does most of the reading but maybe the child reads one word, maybe even reads one sound but the goal is, "Hey, we're looking at print. We're trying to make meaning from this." And those little squiggles, they relate to the things you already know.

                        If I read this book to you, you would know what it means. So your comprehension's there, let's just figure out how to tie in the strange code that we've got and make it real to you as quickly as possible. And that's a faster way to put all the features together, the phonemic awareness, the decoding skills, the letter sound knowledge. Also, particularly our kids who have limited literacy experiences, I feel that they learn much faster in this environment because isolation can be like, "What are you talking about? I have no idea what you're really talking about."

Mark:               Let me just pause on this because you mentioned a lot of really crucial things I think. One thing is the idea that somehow in some curricula or some people's belief systems there's this idea that you teach sounds in isolation and then you build from the simple one to the more complex ones. And after a while, you eventually start getting to words maybe. I don't understand where….One way to think about that is it's training that is blocked. You first do one kind of structure and then when the kids learn that enough, then you move to another kind of structure and then another kind of structure. In the kind of work I do, what you're talking about is not blocked, it's interleaving.

                        You're interleaving different parts of words and by presenting things in the context of the words when you're telling a kid about the first letter in m or the last letter or the vow or something, either way you're also presenting it in the context of a word. And so they're getting some practice with that word, they're getting some practice with the onset, they're getting some implicit practice with the rhyme. They might be learning the word, I'm sure you have kids who might not know the words, and so there's a vocabulary element to it as well.

                        Basically, what you're doing is closer to…reflects the structure of language and print. It reflects the reality that these parts fit together, that print and sound are not a set of independent skills or independent units going from small to large or, for some people, from large to small. The initial sound of a word is one part of it, the fact that it's part of a syllable is another, the fact that it's part of the word “mat” is another. There's so many different things a kid can learn from that experience in addition to the thing you're nominally pointing at which is this kid needs to learn that there are phonemes and we'll start with ones that are at beginnings of words because they're easier to isolate.

                        So I really, really think your ... To me, this is a lot more consistent with theories of learning that people like in reading science and reading research have studied. We could show that we should probably do this. You can compare. What would happen if I did it your way versus let's learn all the pronunciations of the vowels, then let's learn all the pronunciations of the vowel digraphs, then let's learn a bunch of consonants of one sort, then we'll learn a bunch of. I think this is a really, really inefficient way to teach. And this is where I really grok what you're doing, as they used to say a long time ago, because you picked up on what is really essential about learning in a system where the parts are correlated with one another. And so you can learn more than one thing at a time. And that will make things more efficient for sure.

                        Now, the hard question is how much do you do and how do you know when to stop? And what you said was you're opposed to this idea that you have to hit some target value and you have to know 90% of the phonemes of English or you have to know X percentage of the spelling sound rules. I find all those things really, I'm very, very skeptical about those things because people don't agree on what the spelling sound rules of English are and so people are teaching different things. And I don't think there are 40 phonemes in English, it depends which version of English you speak but let's leave that aside.

                        When people sort of insist that kids reach a certain level of skill in these component kinds of knowledge, I want to ask, "Look, how is the kid's reading doing?" The point isn't to be able to rattle off what the--

Molly:               Right. I think that's what Marnie's got the kids reading from the get go. At the beginning, kids are reading a little passage and so you're already, clearly the goal is getting to the reading and you're thinking about are they-

Mark:               It's in the service of reading. And there's no fixed amount that you have to learn, it depends on where the kid is, how much progress you're making. You're obviously tracking kids' progress and providing feedback about where they need more of this or less of this. Can you talk a bit about that?

Marnie:            Well-

Mark:               Simplified is good unless you get to be too simplified and you leave things out.

Marnie:            And that's what people who haven't gone through our course and haven't tested it often think. They assume because the mainstream alternative in the decoding phonics camp is to do so much explicitness and isolation to such a thorough extent that we look suspicious like, "Are those kids really, really learning to read?"

Mark:               Let me just before I let you answer more fully, oh no, you're doing the more efficient thing. It is puzzling of how this other idea came along. It must appeal to a certain intuition that it's just like building a building and first you have to get this foundation and then you have to get the next level and then you have to get the next level. Learning's not like that especially in language.

Marnie:            Right, right, right.

Mark:               But nonetheless, there's over teaching but there's also under teaching and then there's, I assume, a key component of your system is, "I know what can give the teacher feedback about where the kid needs more and where they don't." And maybe do I have that right or-

Marnie:            Yeah, absolutely. And that's one of the harder parts of the whole system. You really have to understand what are these big goals and where you're headed to make those calls about who needs more and who needs less especially if you're in the classroom. And best case scenario typically is your classroom teacher can work with a group of three to four or five kids so she still has a lot of things to juggle. So it's not easy but we try to make it simpler by a couple of principles.

                        We do keep the text and what we're exposing kids to controlled to some extent but not to a complete extent. We use like Diane McGuinness' basic and advanced codes. So the basic code would be short vowels, consonants, consonant digraphs. Advanced code would be long vowels and all those other vowel combinations that are tricky. So we start those kids off at the basic code, this would be that example to do the word mat. And so we want them to get into that second part of, my goal is we want them to not just get the alphabetic principle but also start the skill of decoding and we want them to be somewhat successful but we don't want them to freak out because if we actually give them all of the world of reading, then it will be hard to make these pattern conclusions. It's a lot harder if I give you Harry Potter when you're five to figure out the short a is a. So there is that control initially with basic code so the teacher is maybe thinking.

                        At Reading Simplified, once the kids know about three to four short vowels and they can demonstrate it about 70% of the time in activities like this or in text, then we're going to push ahead to advanced phonics and learn say the O sound and its various spellings. We'll spend a week, O can be O by itself, OA, OW, et cetera. That's like a principle that undergirds, we're always trying to push forward and give them more exposure to the code because there's so much to learn. And also, it goes along with making sure that we don't mislead kids about how the code works. If we spend all of kindergarten in short vowels, what did they learn about our written language?

Mark:               Not enough.

Marnie:            Yeah. Not enough and vowels are very reliable, they're predictable and one letter is one vowel. So how many of you in this Zoom, raise your hand, how many of you have had fits trying to get a kid to accept the idea that a vowel could be two letters? That's a natural, we set them up for that misunderstanding in our instruction. It's not that it's actually so hard to associate O with OA and ah with one letter, that's not hard conceptually, it's just the setup of the instruction.

                        So we are aiming to get them rapidly to learn that advanced phonics. That's so important for being able to really understand our code and also read the high frequency words because the words that are going to get them really rolling, that snowball down the hill, are mostly include a lot of advanced phonics information. Then we have another underlying principle. Are they learning that O sound and the various spellings in the activities that they do and in reading? Are they learning it about 70% of the time? Push ahead, keep reviewing. And so-

Mark:               That's an important point. Push ahead, keep reviewing. Again, there's a whole learning literature which suggests you can teach kids to 100% on something and then push ahead and if you don't refresh what they just learned, it gets overwritten by the new stuff.

Marnie:            Right, right. Short vowels don't disappear if you're reading text. And also, we actually do an activity for a long time that I was mentioning earlier, Switch It where you're changing multiple sounds on the board and we always keep that at the short vowel level for a couple different reasons. But they're always going to get that. It's not like we're abandoning it. The more and more natural texts that we get to, the faster we get to it, they're not going to disappear.

                        The E sound, I just figured this out a couple years ago, the E sound, E as in many or E as in eat, it's in 44 or 47 of top 300 Fry words. So if you want your kids to roll down that hill, there's a big snowball with really figuring out this is how the code works, I'm really accelerating and I'm starting to make these observations about how the language works, give them something like that as opposed to even the letter Z or J. It's hardly in those top 300 and the top 300 makeup about 65% of written English. So if we want to get them really doing that reading, this is the faster route to what they're going to efficacy-

Mark:               Let's talk about those words.

Marnie:            Yeah, yeah.

Mark:               Okay. I haven't done your program, I've only seen what things that are on the website so I don't have complete knowledge here. So you'll have a certain number of words that you treat as sight words and then are things that are left over that follow patterns that are teachable? I guess the question is-

Marnie:            I meant we teach almost everything has some sort of sound based decoding connection to it. So we teach everything with the sound based decoding, even the word said, we would just point to that AI and say, "Well, this is kind of funny. It's not that common but this is eh instead." We still make that sound and symbol connection.

Mark:               Yeah, good.

Marnie:            I'm just saying that strategically speaking, if we don't expose kids to these high frequency words really early on, they're not going to feel like readers, they're not going to be independent.

Molly:               And the high frequency words have weird patterns in them that they wouldn't-

Marnie:            Yeah. And the irregular ness of them, of so many of the top 100 particularly. Yeah.

Mark:               But there's a couple things. I love that you're so excited about the program and really I am too. I think it's great and you're really touching on some of my favorite points about how the system works and what needs to be taught and so on. Everybody can teach CVCs. The issue is how do you ... So if you think of phonics as being the correspondences between spelling and pronunciation and understanding that you do to the context of words and getting kids in meaningful text as soon as you can, how many patterns are there for you? And how many words are left over that need special attention?

Marnie:            Yes.

Mark:               It's a trick question because people don't agree on this.

Marnie:            Yeah. And actually, this is where I sound heretical to some people when I say I don't really care how many there are because I only want to get that snowball going far enough down the hill that the child becomes independent because I don't think anybody here in this Zoom room actually was explicitly taught every single spelling in every single word that they've learned to read.

Mark:               That is correct.

Marnie:            So we do actually constrain the scope and sequence to be the ones that are going to give us the most bang for your buck.

Mark:               Bang for your buck because they're high in frequency or because they occur across a lot of words or what?

Marnie:            I don't know what the difference is between those two.

Mark:               There's some high frequency words like T-H-E-I-R which are pretty oft.

Marnie:            Oh, right.

Mark:               And then there's other high frequency words that have patterns that occur in a lot of other words like with.

Marnie:            I meant high frequency sounds and the high frequency spellings to go with that.

Mark:               So the parts of words that are high in frequency and occur across words.

Marnie:            Yeah. And then twofold, this was one thing that I figured out in grad school with reading mostly Freddy Hebert's work about frequency is a lot of decoding programs because they're so concerned about the sound based decoding, which we are as well, they will choose words that are designed to challenge sound based decoding, again, which is good. We want them to learn those high frequency words really rapidly so they feel like a reader really early on.

                        And so instead of choosing “log,” I might choose not because “not” is a high frequency word. Instead of choosing “owl,” I'm probably going to choose “down.” Does that make sense?

Mark:               Oh sure.

Marnie:            So some of the time we're just going to use a low frequency word to develop decoding for sure. But insofar as we can stuff as many high frequency words in there that align with the sound that we're teaching, then we're going to get the ball rolling down the hill faster.

Mark:               Let me just followup on this. I'm with you. One thing is people should know that the frequency distributions of words are really important. There's a small number of words that account for a huge number of the words you ever read in text and that's true in adult text too. The top 200 most frequent words in English account for half of the tokens, half of the words that you'll account and counter it with Wikipedia or something like that. There's a really small number of words that are used a great deal, they're inescapable, and they are words you want kids to get to really quickly.

                        Now, but at the beginning, every word is a low frequency word for a kid. They haven't seen it. It might be high frequency word from their speech, they might have encountered it a lot through spoken language. I guess my question is if you can get through the Fry list or the Dolch list, there are various lists, these lists are all ad hoc in different various ways and we could be more systematic about it, but if you get through the couple hundred first most frequent words, which is going to include ones that have very consistent or predictable patterns and ones that are highly irregular and everything in between. That gives the kid a huge amount of power. And I guess my question is, what's the alternative?

                        Of course, you're going to teach the kids the common words first. You're not going to teach them “defenestrate” or chat or something.

Marnie:            Actually if you look at most phonics programs, the word lists and the decodable texts put de-emphasize high frequency words to some extent because they are, again, they have a principle, there's always a principle undergirding it so I don't mean to diss that. And we are trying to definitely get sound based decoding happening. That's really important but we want to do it in combination with high frequency words insofar as we can. That's the curricular, in terms of today's topic of instructional efficiency. I think that's one way that the field could move it forward is that the text and the words be more strategically chosen so that the kids could be like Stanovich's very famous Matthew effects paper.

                        It was the kids that were end of first grade who had their system working for them that they were going to go on to be good readers. What did they have? They had sound based decoding and they had started to acquire enough high frequency words that they could read something like Frog and Toad. Frog and Toad, Little Bear, these early transitional texts those are huge milestones for us. If we can get to there, and we keep, of course, listening to the kids read and we coach them, then they're off to the races.

Mark:               I'm with you. A couple of things though just to extend a little. One is I looked at quite a few curricula and one of the surprising things is how poorly aligned the texts, I don't know what they're called anymore, the texts that have been written to go along with the curricula, which are not authentic texts in the sense of trade books but they're ones that were written by the publisher.

Marnie:            Right.

Mark:               What do we call those? What's the term for that right now? They're not basal readers but they're like-

Marnie:            It's usually the decodable texts- [Editor’s note: I think he meant “leveled texts” not decodable.]

Mark:               They're decodable texts, the extent to which they actually align with lessons, scope and sequence, what's been going on that week or month. It's not very good. And so one thing is to actually, you're not doing this much reinforcing of what was going on in instruction as you could because the materials are not as well [inaudible 00:34:10] as you'd like, I think. Well, aligned as you might think.

                        But the other thing you're saying is, "Well, if the kids got the simple words then they're reading on their own, that's the time to throw the hard stuff at them because then they'll be able to show that they can generalize." But we're saying that's not actually the best thing, you want the kid to continue succeeding and to continue building on what was the focus of instruction during that period. Wait a minute. We've just got the kid to their achieved liftoff, we don't want to now make reading hard because we're giving them words that are at the edge of their vocabulary or something like that.

                        What do you do about vocabulary? Kids come into school with different knowledge of spoken language, vocabulary, signs, and so on. How do you actually incorporate teaching kids what the words mean?

Marnie:            Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, all of our word work we would either elaborate or define the word in the context of the word work activities. And then we also suggest that English language learner kids get a picture dictionary as much as possible so that they actually see the image if they're really new to the language. And then we would nurture their comprehension and their vocabulary in the context of reading the text. But beyond that, we are not really a language enrichment program. So it's just how to access the code. So scaffold it with vocabulary development but we're really trying to get them reading words really rapidly and up to whatever their current English speaking ability is.

                        And sometimes they might surpass that and then you need to just work on the oral language obviously through read alouds and discussions and all the things you would do for that. We support that for sure in strategic ways but we're still fixated on the-

Molly:               I would say, I've done the course and so I watched all the videos of Marnie giving the instruction and doing these, as you call it, the word work activities and there is a check-in of like, "Okay, you just decoded this word. Do you know what that word means? I'll use it in a sentence, I'll give you an example." It's not just going to be like spelling a word just to spell it or sounding it out for the sake of sounding it out.

Marnie:            Yeah. I just want to say the limits are though that if you really don't know any English, this is not going to solve all your problems.

Mark:               No.

Marnie:            Although, the sooner you learn to read, the faster your vocabulary will improve. That's why I think it's a great social justice leveler if we could just rapidly get kids to read and then encourage them to read, motivate them to read, inspire them to read then they would develop the knowledge that leads to success in school and beyond.

Mark:               Do we think that point needs emphasis or does everybody know that?

Marnie:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:               The interesting stuff is that kids initial progress in learning to read depends on their spoken language and the kid's spoken language, knowledge of spoken language varies. So in the beginning, it really is dependent on your knowledge of spoken language, learning about spelling, learning the alphabetic principle, learning lots of things. It's all really tied to the kids' speech. And if the kid doesn't know certain things, they don't know the words, then that has to be worked on.

                        However, as you say, the great thing about reading is once you get into it, then the range of words and expressions and topics and other things expands enormously over what you get from speech. So there is this transition that should occur where in the beginning everything's driven by speech, there's the simple view, in the beginning that's true. Your ability to learn about print is really dependent on your knowledge of spoken language. But once you get into print, then it actually shifts. Most of the additional learning about words, vocabulary, language, et cetera, and the world is coming through text, not just through talking.

                        We want to talk about just teachers, what teachers need to know and what they don't need to know and other things. I guess we might also want to take some questions. I wanted to just ask you push you on one other issue on one point which is, Marnie, it sounds like what you're saying is, "Look, we got to get these kids off the ground. There's a limited amount of time. We got to be smart about it. And here's the path to getting them going and it's going to be good because they're going to succeed and that's motivating," et cetera, et cetera. "And we're going to be smart about how we teach things. We're not going to do things in isolation. We're going to do things always in the context of words or ultimately text."

                        But what I heard you kind of saying was, "And if we do this really well, then the ball's going to start, we're going to push the ball off the top of the mountain and it's going to pick up speed and eventually," God, this is a terrible metaphor. I've got to let that go. What you're saying is it's sort of like-

Marnie:            Sorry.

Mark:               ... Gough talked about cracking the code. Cracking the code was like this moment of insight that was supposed to happen in the old days, people thought would happen at the end of first grade if you gave them enough instruction of the appropriate sort then the idea about how the code would work would suddenly dawn on the kid and they'd be able to take it from there. Now, I think that's simplistic but I want to get the sense of how you view it.

Marnie:            Yeah. Thank you. I'm sorry. I probably did not explain my metaphor well enough. So what happens with snowball when it's going down the hill, it's picking up more snow. And what's the picking up that it's doing? It's learning that OA is O and maybe starting to see words like boat and goat and then maybe even noticing that OAT is a unit so it's picking up through reading and ideally also through writing, spelling, it's making these observations.

                        Just like we learn language through exposure with sufficient decoding, instruction, and strategy, the best way to learn to read is to read. So that's what I'm talking about that's going downhill. I'm not saying that we still don't need instruction and we still don't need to be learning the very specifics about orthography and vocabulary. But all along, the brain is syncing though how that code, that word I already know, I already know the word grow and now I'm syncing in my mind, "Oh, it's gr and that's the O for grow," and all that's getting synced in the mind as the reading experience happens and it does it fast, I think, in context.

Mark:               So if I could rephrase what you're saying, the kid learning to read is some combination of instruction, practice, and practice with feedback, right?

Marnie:            Yes.

Mark:               Share's idea was that sometimes the kid can generate the feedback themselves but this is part of a more general idea about where the different sources of information are that tell the kid, "Did I get this right or not?"

Marnie:            Right.

Mark:               I think it's important to say it's not just that kids learn to read by reading. That's a slogan that's used for other purposes. Kids learn things from reading that both extend their knowledge of language, their knowledge of the world, and their reading skills. It's a feedback loop. It's not that you learn to read just by reading, it's that once you're able to read and you get into that system then it starts giving you opportunities to expand your knowledge of words, of the language, of the things that we use language to talk about.

                        On the one hand, it's learning through reading. Yes, most of what we learn is after we learned that's coming out of a text much more so than out of speech. But it's not just send a kid off with a book and let them read.

Marnie:            No, definitely not.

Mark:               You need to make sure ... And then the question is how you balance these components. And I think the main thing is the kid has to have enough opportunities to learn. There have to be enough of those ones that are both exploration but also supervised where there's feedback of some sort so that they could tell when they're getting things right or not and so on. So it's kind of the balance ends up being the final frontier to me.

Marnie:            And I think that's why we've gotten some approaches that might be on one extreme or the other. This is grossly speaking, but the balanced literacy approach with the predictable text is assuming that the child needs to become independent and we know the child can't be independent early on so we're going to use pictures and patterns and the language to allow the child to be independent.

                        And at the other end of the continuum, there are strictly decodable texts where everything is something that the child has previously been taught and nothing is left to chance.

Mark:               Yeah.

Marnie:            And I think saying somewhere in between is what's going to teach the kids more honestly about how the code works and also give them the cognitive flexibility playing around with sounds, trying to figure out stuff, decoding how to decode on their own or with support. For sure, the support is essential. And I think that's another thing that's caused things to sometimes go haywire is it's hard to figure out how the classroom teacher can give feedback to 25 kids.

Mark:               Yeah.

Marnie:            We built a system for optimizing that but I think as people think about going back to school, that's the biggest thing that they could do to reduce learning losses is how can we even arrange a whole school day so that children have the most opportunities to have eyes on print and get the necessary feedback so that they can learn from that.

                        We teach at Reading Simplified that when you're giving feedback like in the word grow, if the child reads it as grow, we're saying, "Yeah, you're going to teach them. What else could that be? It could also be O, okay, oh, it's grow." They're not just learning about the OW in grow, they're learning a principle and a strategy and an attack mechanism that serves them to read every other word for the rest of their lives. You and I, all of us here are still using that the first time we saw the word COVID. You probably heard it on TV first, but if we hadn't we might've said COVID, it could've been either way. We're still playing around with sounds to come up with something that matches our semantic vocabulary. And want to give kids that opportunity but it is hard to pull that off for sure in the classroom.

                        And I think that's why we've done all these things that end up moving away from the theory of how integrated learning reading is.

Mark:               Oh, I really want to get to other topics. This is so interesting. You need to give the kid enough opportunities to learn, learning opportunities. Some of them come from direct instruction, some come from working in small groups, some might come from one on one but that comes with a cost to the other kids who aren't getting that attention at that moment. Where are these other opportunities going to come from?

                        Well, one traditional answer has been, "Oh, they'll deal with it outside, out of school. They'll deal with it at home and buy extra software and support," and so on. That will work but it also isn't very fair because there's kids who aren't going to be able to access those resources. But the other thing is why not just embed reading all day? If the kid is learning all the other topics because they all involve reading too.

                        And so if the teachers in these other subjects have a sense of where the kids are with their reading and the kinds of obstacles that come up and the bumps in the road there are, they too can figure out ways in which to provide useful feedback so that while they're teaching science or they're teaching something else, they're also giving the kids some other additional opportunities to learn about the print and sounds system. Maybe we could take questions and also talk about what you think teachers need to know and don't need to know and so on.

                        But Molly, where should we go? I'm concerned.

Molly:               So many options.

Mark:               Yes.

Molly:               So many interesting things to talk about. I think definitely the teacher's knowledge is something that if we had stayed on the topic of what does Reading Simplified mean, I think that's something that, to me, stuck out in taking the course myself was that immediately it just jumped into, "Okay, let's learn about phonemes. What are phonemes? Let's learn how to do the letter sounds." And it wasn't a lot of teacher knowledge that needed to be developed before you could really just jump in to doing the activities. So you can say a little bit more about how you went into thinking about that.

Marnie:            Right. The experience of developing the Targeted Reading Intervention at UNC made me realize that, we did three days of in-person PD and then we watched them over the course of the year, sometimes two years, twice a month and some things transferred and sometimes it didn't. But because they were in the context of words and showing the kids how the code worked, even when they did it at 75%, they were making a big difference.

                        The fidelity to “my program” wasn't 100% but for any one given moment in time, but still I could see those kids are learning because the alternative, particularly in most of the communities we're in, although not all of them, most of them were coming from a balanced literacy perspective where they weren't really clear about how the code works. They weren't connecting phonemes and graphemes in. They weren't reading decodable text and so the things that were, it was just too hard for the kids to pick up how the code works. That's why they were in this category of struggling readers.

                        So that was very pivotal in my thinking like, "Okay." I was a tutor. I taught lots and lots of kids and I got my doctorate. But what does the classroom teacher need tomorrow to actually make sure that their kids are going to move forward? She doesn't need the same level of information. And the other thing that we've discovered is once you start doing this activity, you learn more about phonemic awareness by doing it with kids. You're always a step ahead of them because they're five or six or maybe a struggling reader is not very good at it, you're going to be ahead of them but you can learn it in the context.

                        And also, our materials are coded for the beginning levels. So a TH would be bolded or OUGH in the word though would be bolded as one thing. So that's for the supporting of the student but it also is going to teach the teacher more about phonics information she might not have noticed before just implicitly. So we're just like, "Let's jump into it. You're going to be ahead of the kids. And as you teach them and look at the materials, and hopefully continue your journey with more professional learning, you will figure out the things that you need to figure out."

                        Now, of course, to become great at working with a child with more of a dyslexia profile, sure, you would want to do more than just the eight to 10 hour course. We have additional resources for that type of more in-depth training. But your average teacher in an average classroom can make so much difference just after even just learning this activity. Actually, we have an event, this has also been very instructive. I have this special event that I do, sometimes twice a year, it's called Level Up Your Reader's Achievement in 5 Days. And all we ask them to do is one activity Switch it. So it's where you change one sound at a time. It's really teaching how the decoding system works, developing phonemic awareness.

                        And all I ask the teachers and parents all over the world to do is to try that one activity for about five minutes a day. And invariably, we have some people that say, "Oh, my kid is reading now." And I'm not saying that that's all that kids need in general, but sometimes that unlocks the code for the kids and gets that snowball rolling down the hill. There's so much power in actually implementing the activities and learning as you go. That's been our modus operandi.

Mark:               Yeah.

Molly:               Somebody's asking here, "We're thinking that Reading Simplified maybe requires a lot of teaching skill to do this feedback part."

Marnie:            Yes.

Molly:               How do you intervene when a student is struggling? How many times do you let them try before you tell them the word? It's because there aren't any hard and fast rules that that-

Marnie:            Yeah. That's a really apt point because I stress feedback quite a lot in the training and I tell teachers, "Hey, the nice thing about each of these activities, we Build It. This one is Build it and Switch It," I mentioned. There's just another handful of activities that we teach, Sort It, Read It, and Write It. Okay.

                        So for each of those activities, the errors that kids make, there's just about three to five errors. Here's our sheet, these are the things they're going to do. They're going to go this way or that way and here's how to bring them back in. And this ties back to something I thought about earlier. When I was saying, "Oh, this is all you have to do is put it all together in the context of the words," I know people are out there saying, "Yeah, but they can't isolate the phoneme, they can't do it. It's too hard." And so it is about the coaching through those hard things, which inevitably means you have to be in a small group or you just take a little longer in a whole group.

                        Yeah. If they can't figure out that the m is the beginning of mat, I could just do it for them or I could try to draw their attention to it with more exaggeration like, "Listen really carefully to what's coming out of my mouth when I say mat." And so that gets them to accomplish that and that's just one example of the classic feedback thing that we do throughout multiple activities. Drawing attention to the sounds in words and how they line up to particular symbols, that's our bread and butter and that will get the teachers so far and kids so far so much more rapidly than a lot of things, back to the beginning, in isolation.

Mark:               Yes. Am I right to say you're emphasizing connections between spoken language and print in these activities?

Marnie:            All the time. Every time.

Mark:               Tell us, why do you do that Dr. Ginsberg?

Marnie:            Well, the-

Mark:               It's the right thing but-

Molly:               How do you convince people that aren't doing that? That was another question.

Marnie:            Those are two questions. Well, the first thing and actually that was really how I led off with Reading Simplified, a lot of times I was talking to people that weren't coming from a balanced literacy mindset and I was trying to make the case that the written language is a code for sounds. That's what the alphabetic principle is. And that's not common knowledge to the average person on the street necessarily and a lot of our teachers have been even taught to think against that.

                        It is pointing out that the written language is a representation of the sounds in words. And this is why the speech to print approach is so important. The child already comes knowing lots and lots of words and we just help them say, "That word that you just said, dad, did you hear all those sounds and can you now map them onto these particular symbols?" So it is very much so that, of course, we're always drawing from, "What do you hear?" And that's part of our feedback.

                        So if they did mat like this, we would give them the feedback back to the point about what they created. "Oh, so you created [metat metat 00:55:38], but we want the word mat." So we're always, again, what is the student hearing? What makes sense for them in their language? And that's how they learn the code really rapidly.

Mark:               Yes.

Marnie:            And so for the teacher that's my angle is that I just really emphasize that this is the theory, sometimes I'll use the triangle processor about orthography, phonology, and semantics and show how those connections are made and talk about the importance of phonemic awareness. But phonemic awareness is only a means to an end of figuring out how the code works. And then once you decode a word, you see it a couple of times, and then it becomes a sight word, so to speak, and so that's our persuasion for teachers.

Mark:               Can we say that again now? It's a means to an end and the end is the child's reading.

Marnie:            Yeah.

Mark:               Literacy. I mean reading, writing, spelling. Do we have other people wanting to ask things?

Molly:               Most of the people are just very excited about Reading Simplified in the chat. If you've been reading the chat, you should be convinced to try it out at least, I guess.

Mark:               Marnie, it does sound labor intensive. It sounds like-

Marnie:            Yes, for the teacher, especially the beginner teacher for the beginner. The beginning for a five year old or if you have a 15 year old who is just starting their journey, it is a lot of feedback. It can happen within days that you start to give less and less feedback so it can give you feedback that, "Okay, this is working." And so the intensity is worth it. But orchestrating the classroom is a big deal and that's why we have some modules about that because there is so much effort that has to go into it.

                        My attitude is it's that upfront investment is so worth it because you get the kids to get independent much more quickly. You get to a point where you're just barely listening to their reading and occasionally point out an error and then you can talk more about the meaning of text and move them into more interesting things to read. It's an investment that's well worth the outcome.

Molly:               And I would say also part of the academy is there is the teacher's lounge, the forum boards there and so there's a lot of support for you. You don't have to do it alone necessarily. If you want to ask questions, you want to get the feedback and suggestions.

Marnie:            Yeah. And that's really important because every teacher is doing this in a different situation and we want to say, "This is the structure. We have a three-part lesson component that we want you to do all the time so you make sure you hit all the main things that are needed to become good at reading words. Here's only a handful of activities. These are some of the principles, here's the word list." And then how do you fit it into your context? That's the value of the online discussion board. We want people to say, "This is my issue here and maybe it's how to orchestrate my classroom," or "I've got Johnny here and he just isn't blending and so what do I do next?", because a lot of professional development is like, "Let's go sit in our chairs, learn a lot, maybe get excited." And then you go back and what happens on Monday?

Molly:               Really.

Mark:               Yeah. It's an issue. We insisted that we would leave time towards the end for questions so I just want to make sure we're not talking over anything.

Molly:               We've mostly gotten some questions. Somebody was asking if you know how Reading Simplified differs from Orton-Gillingham. She's saying she doesn't have Orton-Gillingham experience. I don't know if you do.

Marnie:            She doesn't have Orton-Gillingham experience?

Molly:               Yeah. But I'm not-

Marnie:            Well, there's a lot of overlap in that both programs are going to be teaching writing and spelling with sounds connections and drawing attention to print. There's a system. Phonics is learned. They both do blending and segmenting. There's a lot of overlap there. I think that some of the things that I was trying to suggest we can move past were the waiting before you get into the midst of things and also setting the kids up more early on for coping with variation in the written code so that we don't hold them in a short vowel bubble for too long.

                        And then also, I think, a lot of Orton-Gillingham programs teach phonics rules and syllable types, which we have found that aren't necessary and I think are more in alignment with how we typically learn to read. So those are some of the big idea differences.

Mark:               Yeah. Those are big differences.

Molly:               And someone is saying that Reading Simplified doesn't start with multi letter graphemes as well, maybe?

Marnie:            Oh, that's a good point. Yeah. Again, part of how are we going to point out how the code works? We actually throw in TH really early on because I want to get to the word the and I also want to show the kid that-

Molly:               It doesn't have to be one to one?

Marnie:            It doesn't have to be one to one correspondence, that's right. We're going to do TH and A and T to make the word that from maybe the first week. Because conceptually, it's not too hard for them-

Mark:               The and thick, those are different.

Marnie:            They are different but do you experience it when you're learning to read? Is that different? I don't notice that kids do.

Mark:               That's a really good question. Other issues.

Molly:               The only other thing that maybe came up was people asking about if there's people who have experience using it with kids with dyslexia or executive functioning difficulties or English language learners, not their typical kid.

Marnie:            Right, yeah. We have a lot of folks doing that because we have tried to reach people from all over the world. And I've tutored a lot of different types of learners myself and my finding is that they can much more rapidly access the code and become decoders with this approach maybe if they have working memory or some challenges that might take a little longer. Then, there's that other layer of getting the word to become learned by sight and some kids, particularly if they're more of a classic dyslexic profile, that's going to take longer for them. I think that's true of every program that's on the planet at this point that it takes longer.

                        But what I'm happy to see is those kids can, with a lot of support, can be reading more advanced stuff more rapidly because they do absorb the code more quickly with this way and they know how it works. But then it's going to take a lot more repetition reading and writing to have the words become as automatic as they need to be.

Mark:               Yeah. For some kids, kids who are struggling struggle for a variety of reasons. Some of them will catch on very quickly because their problem is just that they didn't have proper instruction. Some kids have other conditions that are making it harder for them to learn about print, learn about sound, and learn about the connections. And those kids may just benefit from more, more of the same. And then there are some kids, and it's really hard to tell who they are and it's really hard to tell early enough who they are, that system is not going to be developing in a way that's adequate to support skilled reading. There are work-arounds that one can move towards.

                        And the big diagnostic problem and the big choice that has to be made is which kid is which? Who's going to actually catch up? Because in fact, lots of kids do with appropriate instruction and a lot of practice and feedback and support and so on. And who are those kids, they're developing in a way that's going to require other sorts of work-arounds. Very hard to tell.

Marnie:            Yeah. I like to tell teachers we have a one page scope and sequence, which is how to think about development to get to fluency, all in one page. It's like our phonics and our high frequency words and some phonemic blending skills and some decoding strategies all wrapped up into one page. We go through these 12 steps, it can be as little as 12 weeks, maybe even faster if the kid's gifted. You do that for 12 weeks, maybe 24 weeks, and you've done all of this really great sound based decoding instruction and you've exposed them a lot of text and you've encouraged them to reread some text so that they can build their sight vocabulary. And after that time if you're still just seeing really small growth, then that's a sign to us that more intense intervention would be helpful.

                        You might've been able to do that earlier, but certainly I can say from afar, if you've really done a good job after 12 to 24 weeks of this and you're still seeing much lower growth than all the rest of your class then that's a marker. It's kind of an RTI perspective.

Mark:               Yeah, yeah, sure.

Marnie:            And at that point, we tend to say, "Let's do more work in isolation with words," because that statistical pattern skill that the brain's supposed to be good at maybe this is not working so well for them so let's get more blunt and stuff in isolation, particularly for the kids that are so good with language they can be filling in the blanks with connected text. And they might not be really noticing the inside parts of words so let's keep doing this stuff that's very contextual and then also have a component where there's a little bit more words in isolation, studying the word parts.

Mark:               It seems sensible to me.

Marnie:            That's our approach right now.

Mark:               So Marnie, if I could just offer an opinion. I think what you've done…carved off…was very, I think you were very smart about how you've focused the program and everything. You do. We all know that just learning to read words isn't the only thing that goes into reading, but it's a big deal. And if you don't get it, then things cascade down. The snowball does not go down the hill gathering up good things.

                        So some people take from that oh well, we need to spend a lot of time on the mechanics of reading and little details about rules of spelling and rules of pronunciation and then there's sight word memorization, all these other things that build the system up, et cetera. It's very long, takes a long time and is boring. And I think, if I could offer an interpretation, what you did was you said on the one hand, "Well, word reading, fluent reading and knowing what the words are--this is a big deal and if you can do that, then a lot of other things will follow," because the kid will be reading.

                        However, you also avoided the other problem which is focusing so narrowly on the mechanics that the kid is not getting into reading and in fact it's getting lost in the weeds. I feel like you've just really titrated things pretty nicely by saying, "Yep. You need to be able to read words. Absolutely, as many as possible and that'll help you build other things." But you didn't de-contextualize it. You actually, and I'm not just teaching things in isolation, you got words there, you're connecting the things that they're learning in the scope and sequence for that day or week to the materials that they're reading, et cetera. So to me, you're not subject to the objection that you're just teaching the kid the mechanics because you're doing it in the context of language, words.

                        But you're also making sure the kid gets through the big initial push which is get them so they can read enough words to be able to read more and more on their own and figure more and more out. So I really feel like you've ... No, you're not teaching everything that goes into being a skilled reader. You're teaching things that go into getting into the system and being able to take over more of the learning, benefit more from what goes on in the classroom and build your skills further. I feel like it's a really nice way to liven things up.

Marnie:            Thank you.

Molly:               And you’re giving teachers activities. It's not just the knowledge, it's, "What am I actually going to do?" And it's a lot of scaffolding for that as well. You know what you can step into the classroom and immediately do, and like you said it's six things that you learn how to do these six activities and then you've got what you're going to do instructionally. So you're not wasting time in prep that you don't have time for to do that prep to figure out what it is, how you're going to implement things. And I think that really helps too, it simplifies things.

Marnie:            Yeah. That was our intent. Researchers break things up into their little parts. We read about phonemic awareness but we need to also put it back into how it all fits together with the whole. Obviously, researchers understand a lot more but they have to study something at the lowest level to be able to really pick apart all the questions and study it from all the angles. So that's a threat that we have especially if we haven't been trained in the research, which many of us haven't and I hadn't when I first started teaching.

And then the publishers, on the other hand, they seem to think like Charles Dickens get paid by the word. If you don't include every single thing that a child needs to have and your scope and sequence is miles and miles long-

Mark:               Not enough hours in the school year.

Marnie:            No. You could not, it would take three or 400 days to get, I don't even know. It's hard to speculate. And so what that creates for the teacher, all these things like the National Reading Panel, I'm glad that you're, Mark, you've pointed out that it's not a model of reading development. Those are five really important pieces of great research that's gone behind it but it doesn't tell us how things fit together.

Mark:               No.

Marnie:            And what to do in what order. So that's an issue that teachers who've just come to realize that they could do their teaching and reading better. And then the other thing is there's so much dumped on them.

Mark:               Yeah, for sure.

Marnie:            It's so hard, you feel guilty like if I just do that, then I'm not teaching parts of speech. And if I just do that, then I'm not teaching all the things.

Mark:               Right. But people, listen, time is limited and if you're spending more time on X, you're spending less time on something else. And if you're spending too much, you're not being clever about it then spending too much time on X thing you're never getting to Y and so on. The thing that the research says that I don't think has penetrated very far yet is these things are interactive that once you learn about one type of information actually tells you something about the other type of information.

                        So you know enough about this and you're building this into a lot of your activities and stuff, this idea, you have it. But this hasn't penetrated very far and so you end up with things like, "Here's everything you need to know, a skilled reader knows. Teach it and figure out how to divide up the time so that the kid will meet the milestones they're supposed to meet." This is not reachable. We need to, this isn't something that comes across from the five pillars of reading instruction or-

Marnie:            And I think it's a lot about what's the model of development that's in the teacher's mind.

Mark:               Indeed. And that's such an important thing.

Molly:               You’re speaking Mark’s language.

Mark:               I only say like four things. But one of them is thinking about things developmentally and it's not first you learn this block of things, then you build the next one, and then you build the next. Language doesn't work that way, writing doesn't work that way. Teaching kids doesn't work that way.

                        But this is the really cool part of the science which is how people are wired to actually make these connections between things that are correlated, the fact that a phoneme is part of a syllable which is part of a word which might be part of a certain morphemic structure, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. People are really good at picking that stuff up if you set up conditions where they can, those connections are emphasized. People are really good at picking them up. You lose that if you divide things into components.

                        And if I could just listen, the National Reading Panel report, we got to get past that because it's being used for ways that are not appropriate. The National Reading Panel report said, "There's evidence that these things are teachable." And therefore, people said, "Let's teach them." But the response, I think we're way past that now. Things like phonemic awareness or knowledge of spelling sound correspondences and other things, there we know a lot more about how these things are developing and it doesn't require that way of dividing things up. It's more along the lines of what you're doing, I think. So we could move ahead and it would be really helpful.

Marnie:            Yeah. It was a real aha to me when I was reading the work, I think Wagner and Torgesen and several others have said that phonemic awareness is bidirectional. We need enough of it to be able to do that very first thing and unglue that first sound. But then after that, a lot of it can happen through print. And the print teaches phonemic and I liked in your book you said something about the “phonemic illusion” and I thought that was really important because that's why we need to always get as close to real reading as possible because actually what we think of as phonemic awareness is just in our mind’s orthography.

                        We've linked everything, sounds and spellings, with print. Print is the hook that we're using. It's not as much that we're analyzing sounds anymore as mature adult readers.

Mark:               Yep, not unless you're learning a new language. But anyway, I really think coming from your direction and your background and your particular journey, you're incorporating a number of these really important principles. And there is a lot more research that will back you up on them and indeed might provide some additional help on deciding how to do things and what to do when and so on. But builds on the same theoretical foundation type of thing.

Marnie:            Yeah, there's more research-

Mark:               I would-

Marnie:            There's more, go ahead.

Mark:               No, go ahead.

Marnie:            Well, I was going to say it is exciting to see that there's more research on instructional decisions. Gonzalez-Frey and Ehri came out with just a simple thing about how to teach blending, whether you teach it segmented, C-A-T and then read the word or you teach it connected caaaaaat, those are very subtle small things but they realized that in that study blending them as they went and putting caaaaaat is together is easier than doing it separated.

                        Another study just came out of Vadasy and Sanders, I'm not sure how to say her name, but in five weeks can kids learn 15 letter sounds or can they learn 10? Which one did better? Well, it was the 15 and also the kids could handle learning consonant digraphs like the TH we talked about earlier. They could handle that and they did better when they learned those. So that's just really some subtle instructional points that are coming out, maybe they've been there for a while, but we've always been saying the National Reading Panel and others, we know it's got to be explicit and systematic phonics. That's really true.

                        And yet, that doesn't clarify much of anything in terms of-

Mark:               No, that's a lot of different things, right. Of course.

Marnie:            So there's a lot more that we could keep learning from research when researchers ask these kind of, they're minutia but they all play into how you package your program.

Mark:               Yeah, I think so. Well, how have we done on this lovely day?

Molly:               I think pretty great.

Marnie:            It's still sunny.

Molly:               Marnie, people have followup nitty gritty questions that they want to ask about Reading Simplified. Is there an easy way for them to get those answered?

Marnie:            Well, they can email me I'll put that in the chat. Also, we have a lot of resources for free at So our core activities you can see them in depth if you go to and then look at "Most Popular" blog posts, those are our most popular activities. And so you could learn when I was talking about Switch It. How do you integrate phonemic awareness and phonics and all that into that? That explains it. And I'll put my email in there too.

Mark:               Great.

Molly:               Yeah. And we'll link to it on the website as well.

Mark:               Marnie, thanks a lot for being here but more to the point, thanks for the work that you've done. And really, it's such a pleasure to talk to someone who's taught the background and the sense of this is what learning is about. People are really great learners. Kids are really great learners. You just have to structure their experience to get them to where you want them to go. You don't have to teach the kid to be a linguist or a scientist to figure out words, you need to build on their capacities to pick up on these ways in which things go with one another. And if you set up the experiences correctly, then kids can get to where they need to go. And I really think you're building a lot of that into your materials though I haven't actually used them in a classroom.

Marnie:            If you're going to get some free time, test it all out. Actually, that's my little pet peeve is how many reading researchers would benefit from teaching a kid to read?

Mark:               Well, they would but many people come into the field having been teachers.

Marnie:            Right.

Mark:               And also, I'm a teacher too.

Marnie:            True.

Mark:               Even though I don't teach people to read, I deal with people who have reading and writing issues. You're right. Certainly, observing a lot more about what goes on in classrooms. My experience going to a really desperately poor school in urban Atlanta or going to a classroom in Mississippi, going to classrooms in middle class, some part of the world, Madison for goodness sake, it is essential that people actually get a sense of what's happening, researchers I mean, what's happening in classrooms.

                        And I don't think that means they have to situate themselves in the classrooms because classrooms are terrible places to do your research. And nobody wants us in the classroom doing our research.

Mark:               But nonetheless, there are videos of expert teachers or people teaching this or that, there's so much out there that researchers can indeed get a sense of what's going on. And of course, we all have this opportunity to talk to each other.

Marnie:            Well, that's why I'm so excited about what you're doing. I mean writing a book, very revelatory, shaking things up and now you're doing this work. Those are things I know about where you're trying to help people understand the big picture because the bridge, that's everything.

Mark:               All right. Well, let's shake on that. Okay. Well, thanks a lot. We're going to let you go.

Marnie:            It's been a privilege. Thank you both.

Mark:               Again, thanks a lot.

Molly:               Thanks everybody for joining us. Thank you so much.

Mark:               Thanks everybody.

Molly:               We'll be off next week for Mother's Day but in two weeks we'll be back with Dr. Rebecca Treiman talking about spelling.

Mark:               Yay. Oh, that'll be great and she'll also tell us about climbing very tall mountains.

Molly:               Yes, yeah. We're stealing her from her outdoor time of rock climbing and biking.

Marnie:            Impressive.

Mark:               She's great. And we'll see you again soon I hope.

Molly:               Bye-bye.

Marnie:            Bye everyone.

If you've read this far, you must really care about these issues! I'd love to know what element of instructional efficiency you think is most important.

Have you found ways to add speed to the learning to read process? 

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!