Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Uncovering the Logic of English

Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America's Literacy Crisis by Denise Eide

A few weeks ago, Brandy mentioned this book on her blog after listening to Denise Eide's recorded speeches here. I had some gift certificate money and was intrigued, so I bought it.

Ms. Eide presents a bleak picture of literacy in America today, directly linking the instructional methods used in our public schools with the struggles people have in reading. NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) is the source for much of her data and a reliable one. You can find much of it online yourself.  The most startling is her statement that "fully 48% of adults are not proficient in reading." (She references Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution in Reading by Diane McGuinness for this statistic, which I haven't read.) A lack of literacy, of course, means things like lower earnings, lower quality of life, and increased risk of incarceration.

According to Ms. Eide, one of the reasons many people struggle with reading is the way they've been taught to read. Whole reading, "funny phonics" and incomplete phonics contribute to readers with incomplete educations. Some readers struggle even more when they discover "rules" they were taught only work some of the time in a language full of "exceptions."

Ms. Eide recommends a completely different way of teaching reading and spelling. Begin by teaching all of the sounds letters can make, including many that are often called "exceptions" in other phonics programs. For example, the letter S is often taught as /s/, which is indeed one of its sounds, but Ms. Eide points out that when plural words are included, S stands for the sound /z/ 70% of the time. Instead of telling students /z/ when they encounter it, let's teach them S can be /s/ or /z/ and then talk about instances when each is found. So simple! His then, is not a sight word, for example.

In this book, Ms. Eide presents 74 of the phonograms of the English language, more than many other phonics programs teach. She then discusses spelling rules for English words that help explain which phonogram to use for each sound. I won't go into great detail as you can listen to the recorded lectures above and check out the book yourself, but I was amazed to see clearly articulated rules for words and correct spellings I had never understood before. I have always been uncomfortable with my spelling, not because I was a bad speller, but because I was unsure of my spelling.

I was particularly intrigued with her book because of the pronunciation my son gives while he's reading aloud to me. He often mispronounces words, but I can tell he's pronouncing them as he was taught. Even when we finished his original reading lessons, I was a little dissatisfied which is why I sought something different for my daughter. (I found a more thorough approach, but I'm not sure it's perfect.)

Now I'm wondering how I can incorporate what I've learned from Ms. Eide in lessons for First Son and for First Daughter. An older child in middle school or high school could, I think, learn a great deal from going through this book. A younger one is going to need some assistance as this book isn't meant to be a series of lesson plans or even a complete description of her teaching strategies; it's quite simply a description of the phonograms and spelling rules that reveal how English does in fact make sense with lots of tables and charts that can be referenced when writing or reading (which I've already done).

I do think this book, at the very least, would be a helpful one for anyone who teaches reading, writing or spelling to one student or a classroom full of them.


  1. I'm so glad you liked it! My copy is headed my way in the mail as I type. I am excited to read it. I *know* that I didn't make sure my oldest knew all the rules, and I'd like to avoid that mistake with my other children.

    I agree with you that older children would benefit. I plan to assign it in high school as a refresher. You never know when that ability to explain the language will also enable them to help people they meet who need help.

    Reading such a positive review makes me excited to receive my copy! :)

  2. I'm interested to see what you think of it. I've had doubts about teaching all the phonograms up front, but I'm really tired of my daughter's reading lessons; after almost a year she still doesn't have enough of them under her belt to read a real book. I'm tempted to start with some flash cards with her and then start reading real books, prompting her on the ones she doesn't remember. I'm a little overwhelmed, though, so I haven't actually changed anything yet.


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