Avoid reading failure: focus on prevention, not intervention!
Johnny Can Spell / Johnny Can Write offers instruction and skill components that can be integrated easily with any reading and writing program already in place.
The key points below contrast Johnny Can Spell with customary approaches to phonics instruction.
Lessons addressing phonics, penmanship, spelling lay foundation of writing/reading
The first lessons are devoted to linking phonics and penmanship and applying both to spelling. In a few weeks, composition begins through sentence writing using the words taught in spelling. Children are able to experience a remarkable degree of independence in their writing. Reading (word identification) flows naturally from this base.
Most approaches do not make knowledge and skills the foundation for reading and writing. They make experience the foundation.
Can be taught to any grade or age level
The content of this approach can appropriately be taught to any student, pre-k through adult. This makes it an excellent approach for poor or low readers in grades beyond primary level or to implement with English second language students. Instructional materials do not predispose it to a particular age.
Most programs limit instruction to young children because instructional materials or lesson activities are not appropriate for teenagers or adults.
Presentation of the code is systematic
At the beginning of each year, through the simple daily presentation of specific segments of the code (sound-spelling correspondences and rules), the entire phonetic code is reviewed. Much of the information taught is presented and learned in frequency order. The code information is then applied and practiced during spelling, sentence composition, and reading from that point forward. It is continually used and revisited through new words.
Embedded phonics instruction found in most curriculum is at best a hit-and-miss approach because lessons and practice are based on a literature selection or a spelling rule, not an orderly presentation of information. It is systematic to the extent that the information taught is then applied to that day's lessons in reading and writing. However, it fails to provide ongoing application of presented material as it moves to new information. For example, a spelling rule is practiced for only one week with a few specific words.
Twelve weeks to present complete code
The entire code can be presented in twelve weeks. Mastery of the code is then achieved through daily usage. This enables students to acquire a complete knowledge of the code and integrate all the pieces from the very beginning. There are no knowledge gaps.
Many phonics programs do not include the entire code. For example, they fail to present the phonogram eigh as a symbol for the long a-sound. Therefore, they present words such as eight or weigh as exceptions that must be memorized. They also take much longer to present the pieces and thereby create gaps as students try to use and make sense of the pieces they have been given.
Spelling words are high frequency words
For fluent reading and writing, one must know well the high frequency words. Therefore, these form the backbone of the recommended spelling word list. To these backbone lists, teachers may also add words deemed appropriate by student level, core curriculum, or thematic units.
Most programs use words that are either found in a particular story or words that follow a particular pattern. Mastery of the high frequency words is not stressed. Patterns are remembered primarily for the spelling tests.
To address and study spelling requires a degree of isolation. During this isolation, it is easy to teach and apply basic knowledge about our language on a daily basis. It is also easy to make application that strengthens transfer of knowledge. It is not uncommon for first and second grade students in classrooms using Johnny Can Spell / Write to understand nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Many learn all eight parts of speech. Grammar linked in this manner becomes a comprehension tool.
Grammar instruction and practice is rarely systematically linked with phonics, spelling, or reading.
Students can read any material
Knowledge of the entire code frees beginning students from the need for prescription reading -- specialized literature that is limited to a specific knowledge base, such as, stories based on short vowel sounds. There are no learned words; it takes care of exceptions, e.g., was, want. Beginning readers are able to read a wide variety of material without preliminary vocabulary introduction. Children thus equipped become independent readers.
In many phonics programs, story selections and spelling lists must match the portion of the code being presented or practiced in a particular lesson, and the segments of the code not yet taught are avoided. Thus, many programs depend on contrived vocabularies and prescription reading.
Links explicit phonics to penmanship and applies both simultaneously to spelling
By explicit phonics we mean that the code is taught in isolation without picture or word association. The information linked and associated is basic to the code -- sound and symbol. Explicit teaching of penmanship is essential to good reading skills not only because it enables visual recognition of the letters and accurate writing of the letters, but also because explicit penmanship directly teaches directionality -- left to right, top to bottom -- that is so critical to success in reading and writing.
Penmanship and phonics are rarely connected in instruction and practice. Penmanship is rarely seen as critical to reading. Phonetic information, though it may be embedded in a spelling program, is not employed as the primary strategy for spelling instruction and practice.
The phonetic code is meaningful and connected when applied to spelling words
The code, initially presented in isolation, is applied to the spelling of words during the fourth week of instruction and to reading during the sixth week. Through application to spelling and then to reading, the pieces of the code (letters, phonograms, rules) become connected and meaningful for the student.
Most programs do not make phonics the cornerstone of word identification and spelling.
Continuous review develops automaticity
Automaticity results from daily practice of the code both in isolation and in application using very simple strategies. In essence, the entire spelling lesson is review because the entire code is presented early in the year. This daily review supports the development of automaticity that is so critical to fluent reading. Until knowledge of the code is automatic, as well known to a student as his own name, and the applied use of the code automatic, comprehension is to some degree blocked by the word identification processes.
Other programs are so structured as to dictate a review of a specific isolated segment within a lesson or a unit. Therefore, the scope of review is often very limited and does not support mastery to the point of automaticity.