Blaming the Victim

Imagine walking across the street and being hit by a car. The car came out of nowhere at a speed that you couldn’t avoid. You were in the crosswalk. You did not cause what just happened. You followed the rules and yet, you are down and you are hurting. You don’t know what to do or how to get out this mess.


But wait! You can hear the siren in the distance getting louder. Help is on the way. The ambulance is within sight. And then the unthinkable happens. The ambulance doesn’t stop. In fact, it actually drives over you. Not once but many times and when the Paramedics finally jump out of the car they actually berate you for trying to walk across the street!


Sound ridiculous? Absolutely. It just defies all logic. You are clearly the victim. Why should you be penalized? What did you do to deserve this treatment? All you wanted to do was cross the road.


So why am I writing about this foolish situation. Victims don’t get blamed in real life. They get the help they need. Isn’t this correct?


Not if they are low-income whites, African American or Hispanic students in the third grade. These students are victims who are about to be penalized for the remainder of their school career thanks to the new third grade high stakes testing policy that is sweeping the nation.


Under this policy, all students in third grade who are not in specialized categories of special education will now take the test and if they fail they will be retained. They will be marked as incapable, lose their friends and be treated as different. Many will continue to repeat and eventually drop out all because of an illusion that legislators have mandated into law as a reality.


What’s the illusion? Well it’s actually consists of two-parts. The illusion was created by reading researchers who chose to overlook the truth . The first part is that if you don’t catch students by third grade, they can never catch up. Even worse, is the second part, which states that current reading approaches have the capacity to insure that all students can be taught to read by third grade. Not true. Simply not true. Especially, for low-income students identified as “chronic non-responders”.


Here is the real truth. First, there has never been a large-scale reading research study to show one reading approach to be 100% effective. Generally speaking, failure rates can reach as high as 30% for regular education students and 50% for special education students.


Second, it is never too late to accelerate the learning curve of non-responders regardless of their grade level.  Change the approach and you change the student outcome. In short, failing students need a different approach. Not variations on the same old theme. Failing students are clearly the victims.


Rather than providing the help they need, we give failing students more of the same. We put them in reading approaches that are not best suited to their individual learning styles and current background knowledge. We then give them a test measuring the lack of growth produced by these inappropriate approaches. We then provide intensive tutoring using these same approaches. Finally, we continue to fail these students over and over and over.


This sounds a lot like being hit by a car and when the ambulance arrives …


Note: It is never too late to save a life. Retention is flat out wrong. Far too many students have been retained more than once. I have personally been in 4th and 5th grade classrooms where the majority of students are 14 and 15 years old! These students are doomed for the rest of their lives.


Here is a great a summary quote from an article you must check out:


When weighing the pros and cons of a decision to retain or promote a student, it is critical to emphasize to educators and parents that a century of research has failed to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention …”



Process Precedes Skills

Process Precedes Skills

It’s hard to believe but many students have never really read anything with fluency and expression. Listen to them read and all you hear is word attack on steroids. They read in a monotone voice. They fail to pause at commas or stop at periods. And when asked “what did you read?”,  they simply say, ” I don’t know!”

They think reading is getting the words right rather than understanding what they mean. They are more involved in making sure they apply the appropriate skills to correctly sound out or identify the word they are currently focused on. They see reading as merely identifying words in isolation, as unconnected strings of words presented in a horizontal format. There is no meaning, no expression and worse, no comprehension.

Ask them what they’ve read after this slow, monotone process and nine out of ten times they will respond with “I don’t know!” Sadly, they think reading is simply “getting the words” right rather than gaining meaning from the printed page.

These students are stuck at the skills level, with the mistaken belief that skills precede process.

This is wrong. Students must first experience the process of reading – reading fluently with expression and comprehension before skills can really make sense. It has been my experience that once this happens, many actually start to automatically apply and improve their knowledge of the importance of skills to the reading process.

            Let them get on the “reading process bike” first. Let them experience what it feels like to read with fluency and expression. Stay by their side. Don’t send them down the biggest hill at first but let them ride. Once they experience what it feels like to ride (the process) then you can more fully explain the importance of reading’s wheels, spokes, handle bars and brakes (the skills).

In short, the process – reading with expression – must precede its complimentary skills – sounding words out or memorizing sight words. And do let the experts fool you. Forget the notion that mastery of skills must precede process. It just ain’t so for some.

One final note: you can do skills “in conjunction with” process. In other words spend time with process programs like Failure Free Reading and add skills along side of it.


“The opposite of courage is not cowardice. It’s conformity!” Earl Nightingale

Conformity is the biggest obstacle to school reform and school improvement. This is especially true in the world of reading interventions. Scores are down, kids are failing and yet schools continue to do the same old same old – often after years of failure. Why? Because everyone else is doing it. This is what the experts tell us to do.

Well, if the experts are right, why is there so much going wrong? Perhaps its time to think out of the box. Try something different. What have you got to lose?

For 24 years, Failure Free Reading has been swimming against the tide. For 24 years, I have been told that my approach won’t work. For 24 years, I have been attacked, demeaned and ridiculed and yet, I am still here going strong.


Because some are willing to take a chance and look past what the experts say. Some have the guts to try something different. And when they did, they saw things they didn’t think possible. Things like: changes in attitude, increased comprehension, fluency and more – much more. It’s these changes that keep me going. They tell me: don’t quit; never give up!

Don’t you think you might want to try something different? Give us a try with your neediest students. Let them show you firsthand what the experts can’t. Nonreaders can do faster, higher and more once you set the instructional conditions that allow them to show their true potential.

In short, change the approach and you change the outcome.

Only one way … Not!

Imagine being told there is only one way to learn how to do anything important. Only one-way to learn how to: walk, talk, sing, ride a bike or read a book.

Imagine being told there is only one solution for cancer, diabetes, or another other serious life threatening illness. Even worse, imagine being judged exclusively on how well this one particular treatment works for you.

In short, what would you say if you were told by your doctor that this is our medicine of choice and when it doesn’t work for you, I will prescribe more of this medicine rather than less and never even consider another medical alternative?

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? And yet, this silly (No stupid! Really stupid!!!) philosophy is being used daily in classrooms and schools across the nation in their failed attempt to find the cure for reading disabilities for their lowest performing.

What’s the silly notion? That phonics and phonemic awareness is either the first step in the reading process or that it’s the only way to fly.

Why is it silly? Because it is simply not true. Never has been. Never will. Why? One of two reasons. First, some kids were born with a ‘tin ear” for sounds and simply will never ever really get phonics (I was one of those kids – still am as an adult!)

Second, phonics or a skills-based beginning approach is simply too complex to be positioned as the first step in the reading process (Step three or four maybe, but definitely not the first).

As I said before, reading is a process. It involves gaining meaning from the printed page. Some students must first “feel the process” before they can understand the value of skills. (Let me ride the bike before you drill me on its individual parts).

So how do you know who needs a different approach? Simple. Look at their current instructional plan. If their plan is dominated by the teaching of skills, and they are failing miserably, stop the plan!!!!! Stop the pain, embarrassment, tears and frustration.

Give them a different plan containing different medicine - not just stronger doses of the same medicine or its generic variations. Give them a real, honest to goodness, new medicine based on a different approach (a sight based reading approach) and sold by a different pharmacy.

Too many schools are wasting their time and their money and their academic reputation trying to make “phonetically deaf” student learn how to “hear the sounds”.

This is especially true for middle and high school students who never needed a phonic-based intervention in the first place. The research has never supported this notion. In short, same old, same old elementary solutions won’t work for secondary students. Especially when you factor in their dignity, pride and self-respect.

Remember: if you always do what you always done, you always get what you always got - phonics instruction included!

The Redundancy Factor

            I had a great radio show today with Brenda Strickland-Albury, the Reading Specialist, Special Needs Deaf High School, Florida School for the Deaf. Check out this and other Podcasts at

             The following is an excerpt from my ebook: Faster, Higher and More! 44 Proven Ways to Dramatically Improve the Vocabulary, Fluency and Reading Comprehension of “Chronically Failing” Students [Kindle and NOOK Book Editions]

            Much has been written in the literature about automaticity. The term “automaticity” was first coined by Dr. Jay Samuels at The University of Minnesota. The word automaticity is based on a principle found in “cognitive economics”.

            The brain is a single channel processor. We are limited in the amount of conscious cognitive energy available to us.  The more conscious cognitive energy you have available to focus on a single task, the greater the growth in the learning curve for that task.

            The law of conscious cognitive energy is immutable. Try as you might, you can only one bring one new unlearned thought to your consciousness. You simply cannot consciously think of two distinctly different things at the same moment in time. It can’t be done. It is impossible.

            Wait, you might say. I can do more than one thing at once. I can drive, listen to the radio and talk on a “hands free’ phone. Yes, provided all but one are at the automatic or unconscious level. Try to bring any of them up to consciousness together at the same moment in time and a breakdown occurs. It is a law that can’t be broken. Try to break this law and you will soon find yourself going off the road and into a ditch.

            The goal is to have our students learning with optimal cognitive efficiency. They need to be free of all visual clutter.  In short, they need to become what researchers call “automatic readers”. They need to get to the point where recognizing the vast majority of the most common words used in English text is automatic. The more automatic this becomes the more conscious cognitive energy is available for the most important reading task – comprehension! It is a pretty straightforward reciprocal relationship: the more students focus on the identification of the words, the less conscious cognitive energy they have to give to the meaning the text is trying to convey.

            Too often, skills proponents have claimed the concept of automaticity as theirs. This is why, these proponents say it is so important that we first start by teaching the decoding skills that promote automaticity in word recognition. Students need to learn these rules so that they can automatically apply them to strange words.

            This clearly makes sense, right? Yes and no.

            The answer is yes, if the student has a good ear for sounds, clearly understands the process involving the importance of word attack and has a solid receptive vocabulary base. These students read with both expressive fluency and comprehension.

            The answer is no, if the student is “stuck at skills”, doesn’t understand where decoding fits into the overall reading process and has a very weak receptive vocabulary base. These students read with a monotone voice, do not pause at commas, stop at periods and come away with “zero comprehension”. They clearly need a much needed “alternative to skills”.

            What’s the alternative? Simple, teach them to become “automatic readers” of the most redundant English print words. Get them to where they recognize these words “automatically” at the unconscious level. Employ the redundancy factor to help them instantly recognize with meaning - the 2,000 most common words in English text.

            Fortunately, teaching these words can be done relatively easily and quickly when you control for multiple exposures in meaningful contexts. Please notice that I did not say drilling in isolation using meaningless flashcards. Instruction must occur in a highly structured sequential  format using multiple exposures within meaningful contexts. The four key words for success are: structured, exposures, meaningful and context. Isolation is useless. Everything must tie back to the overall reading process.

            One final note, the average student might need to see a word, in a meaningful context, at least 12-15 times before he/she can recognize it independently. The number of necessary repetitions is directly proportional to reading ability. Students who are very far behind may need to see a word three to four times this amount.

Meeting the Toughest Common Core Reading Standard


Schools are now mandated to have all of their students: “read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.” This Common Core Standard starts at Grade 1 and continues to Grade 12.

This mandate includes struggling readers and chronic non-responders. Let’s face it, reading interventions that stress the use of decodable, yet meaningless, text can never promote fluency or meet its common core mandate.

"Reading fluently is not a skill measured exclusively by growth in the number of words read per minute. Fluency is a process measured by the ability to read with comprehension and expression."

We are spending far too much time teaching struggling readers isolated word recognition activities and not enough time allowing them to experience what it feels like to read for meaning.

It’s hard to believe but many struggling adolescent students have never really read anything with fluency and expression. Listen to them read and all you hear is word attack on steroids. Ask them what they’ve read after this slow, monotone process and nine out of ten times they will respond with “I don’t know!” Sadly, they think reading is “getting the words” right rather than gaining meaning from the printed page. These students are “stuck at the skills level”, with the mistaken belief that skill mastery must precede process.

This is wrong. Struggling students can experience reading fluently with expression and comprehension before learning skills. Even better, it has been my experience that once they experience what it feels like to read for meaning, many struggling readers automatically apply skills to the reading process.

So let them get on the “reading process bike” first. Put them in manageable text. Stay by their instructional side. Don’t send them down the biggest hill at first but let them ride and once they experience what it feels like to ride - reading with expression - then you can more fully explain the importance of reading’s wheels, spokes, handle bars and brakes – the skills.

Finally, never underestimate their ability to read fluently from age appropriate material regardless of their prior reading ability. Struggling readers can do faster, higher and more when you set the instructional conditions within their learning environment that will promote it.

Reading Research’s One Universal Research Fact!

Do you know the longest running war in US history?

No, I’m not talking about real combat but I am discussing a war that has caused casualties of epic proportions. It’s a war of arrogance and egos that touches millions of lives daily and has cost trillions of dollars so far.

It’s called the “Reading War”.

Did you know that if you invited the ten “nationally recognized” experts in the field of reading to meet in one large room, with a single exit; placed an armed guard at that exit, and then told the experts that they could never come out until they had a universal definition of what “reading” is and, more importantly, “how it should be taught”, they would never leave the room. They would all starve to death. 

This is how strong the difference of opinion is in the field of reading research. And yet, we are mandating 3rd grade reading initiatives such “all students will learn to read by third grade”! We are setting “common core standards” based on five pillars of reading instruction - two of which are made out of sand. What arrogance! What a shame! As if we really could teach all students to learn how to read by third grade when we can’t even define what reading is and how it should be taught!

For thirty years, I have researched this topic. I have met the experts, read the research and searched for the cure - the one big pill - the big panacea. And guess what? I’m still searching. I’m still looking. Perhaps it’s just a myth.

Here is the simple truth. What I call reading research’s one universal fact. The fact is 100% accurate and I dare anyone to prove me wrong with large scale documented evidence.

Are you ready?

"All reading programs work but not for all students!"

Here is the one universal truth. There has been a large scale reading research study to show one approach to be 100% effect for all students. NEVER!!!! And yet, we have this continuing war between phonics and whole language advocates. They never let up. They just argue and argue.

Right now the phonics army is winning the war. Two of the five pillars of reading instruction is based on the teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness through a “skills first” approach. Under the mistaken assumption ( and I really do mean mistaken) that kids have to first know letters and letter sounds before they can read for meaning  with fluency and comprehension (my definition of reading).

Sadly, the phonics army’s current success in the war is doing quite a bit of of long term harm for kids - regardless of age- who just don’t get phonics!

Why can’t the experts just accept the fact that certain students need non-phonic, sight-based alternatives? This would go a long way to stop current reading failure and greatly improve test scores.

More on this, in upcoming blogs. I hope you enjoy.

A National Epidemic

Illiteracy is rampant across the United States. In the past two and half decades, over a half a trillion dollars have been infused into curbing this epidemic and yet 440,000 students have a total read vocabulary of less than 50 words, 8 million students can’t read for meaning on grade level and one student drops out of school every 26 seconds.  

The arrogance on how to cure this problem is overwhelming. It seems as if every website or publisher claims that they have found the cure. The shear amount of inaccurate claims is simply amazing.

The purpose of this blog is to give my readers the straight, unvarnished truth about reading research and the claims made by both researchers and publishers. I plan to share with my readers the critical information that they must hear in order to make the informed decisions needed to impact the lives of those students who need help the most.

Together we can make a difference!