Frequently asked questions

  • Characteristics of READ Instruction
  • Conducting READ Instruction
  • Development of READ

Q: Why does 3RsPlus say that "READ doesn't 'teach the Alphabetic Code?'" It sure seems to me it does A. It's a fine point, but it's also a fundamental point. READ certainly acknowledges the Code, the entire Alphabetic Code of 170 or so “Grapheme/Phoneme Rules of Correspondence.” READ teaches kids to "handle the Code," but neither the child nor the instructor is bothered with any of the Correspondences. When a parent says something like "he is having trouble with "th," merely say, "he needs more time to work through /th/ words. "Trouble" carries the connotation of something bad, something lacking, when in fact nothing is lacking except more time for the READ to teach the child how to "Say the sounds and read the word." Each child moves at a different pace, and READ accommodates each child. Learning to read, simply is not an "instant" matter. READ will eventually straighten out matters with words that include "hard" things like /th/.

Q. Why does READ dodge issues like "processing deficiencies," "dyslexia" and so on? A. Because these matters are not "issues" when using READ. The READ orientation is entirely different. The instruction accepts each child "as is." It then uses whatever reading instructional assets the child brings to the instructional table to place the child in an optimal level of Code complexity. READ takes it from there to increase the child's reading expertise. That's the sum and substance. There is no reason to introduce any additional "issues"

Q. How and why does READ instruction work? A. There's no mystery why READ instruction is so successful in teaching preschool-(K1)kids and also in remediating older kids. The "secret" is so simple most can't believe it; as easy as 1, 2, 3

One. Feed the kids the Alphabetic Code, not all at once, but spoonful by spoonful as fast as they can digest it.

Two. Give the kids a sure-fire protocol to use on any unfamiliar word they may encounter: "Say the sounds and read the word." That's all they have to do! At first, all the words will require the protocol. But as the instruction progresses, increasingly greater reading expertise is acquired. No additional "teacher-talk" beyond the "Say the sounds..." mantra is needed. (Sure, a lot of additional conversation can and does go on, but it's ad lib rather than mandatory.)

Three. Provide the kids a sequenced series of "Books" that builds a "library" where they can successfully use the sure-fire protocol to trouble-shoot any hang-ups they may encounter as they progress with READ instruction. That's the story, the whole story. And nothing but that story is needed to "Solve the Reading Problem." Who'd a thunk it! READ introduces new Alphabetic Code so slowly and systematically that kids are always able to read. A 1st grader, who started Book 1 a few months ago, finished reading a Book 3 story in set 5 yesterday and said, "Wow, that was easy." That sums it up for many of us Almost every kid wants to learn to read. The young ones are dying to know how to do it. And older kids having problems would like desperately to get the "reading problem" off their backs. Kids know when they can and cannot read. They want to do it right. READ instruction "meets their needs" from the get go, and the kids eat it up.

Q. What is MLT? A. Maximally Learnable Text—It’s another way of saying "100% Decodability". MLT forces kids to consider the vowels in each word, where most of the action is.

Q. What's the difference between READ and phonics programs or balanced literacy programs? A. READ is Whole Code Instruction (WCI), where the Code is the Alphabetic Code. WCI contrasts with Phonics which is almost always incomplete Code instruction (iCi). READ makes no use of "leveled readers"; children only read books in which they have been previously taught how to use the Code that the text uses.

Most phonics programs designed for whole class instruction spend a few days or a week on a new phonic pattern, such as /sh/, for example. READ cycles through every possible one of these phonic patterns, IN MLT text, to the point of mastery, or what is known as internalizing the code.

Q. What are the prerequisites for teaching BRI? A. The only prerequisites for teaching BRI is to be able to read the BRI text and know when to say, "Say the sounds and read the word." This means that even children who have just recently learned to do that themselves can Guide the instruction. Parents qualify. And older age kids make the very best Guides, because the "little kids" identify with the "big kids" and the big kids provide good role models. Although Guiding BRI is a snap, guiding a CHILD is a different matter. That requires qualified caregivers like parents. Guiding a child's OVERALL instruction is also a different matter. That requires qualified teachers. BRI simply makes the teacher's job easier and makes it possible for interested parents to contribute directly to ensure that their child becomes a Fully Qualified Reader as easily and enjoyably as possible.

Q. What age groups are suitable for each Block of READ? A. Any child who can speak in full sentences and participate in everyday conversation can start BRI and go right on as fast as is feasible. For older age children, the Placement Devices can be used to place the child in the "best" starting point. The child's assets rather than age are the gauge of "suitability."

Q. When is it OK to move on to the next book in BRI? A. One. Teacher doesn't have to do "all the work." READ carries the heavy water in instruction. The only thing an instructor need do is: Say “Say the sounds and read the word.” Provide the sound when the child has tried and has not yet learned how to handle the letter/sound correspondence. Be sensitive to the PATTERN of errors the child is making.

Two. Mistakes are good. If the child is not making mistake, he "already knows it" and you're going too slow. OK. There's a fine line here. But "perfect" is not the name of the game. The text in READMLT is redundant, redundant--with variation. The redundancy holds both within and between books. It's good to get the child to automaticity in reading a book. If the child finds a book "boring" before this happens, the best way is to get him to "show off" his reading to someone else, or to you if necessary. Kids do monotonous things like "shooting baskets" because they get some positive feedback from the activity. You have to find ways to boost that externally, if it's not there internally.

Don't sweat speed bumps like "th" "wh." These correspondences will be encountered over and over in subsequent instruction. It may seem like the child is “never going to remember.” Just provide the sound if the child is hung up and have the child repeat the sound and the word. The child will look back on these “hard” correspondences as “easy” later on. But then new speed bumps will be encountered, and so the child’s reading expertise will increase.

Q. When should I expect to get “fluency” with READ instruction? A. The term "fluency" is used very loosely in the field. It is identified with "reading speed," because "speed" can be easily measured. That is maladaptive, particularly with tender beginning readers. Trying to go too fast, like trying to drive a bike or car too fast, interferes with other complicated aspects of the task.

With READ, fluency is established in the very first book and is maintained thereafter.  The focus is on three aspects. Crucially, the text seeks to teach children to vary their reading speed, in the same way conversational speech is controlled. It is appropriate to read some texts rapidly, other texts slowly. The child should be in charge. The second aspect is "automaticity." The over-learning in READ and the protocol, "Say the sounds..." insures that the response becomes "automatic." That is, the child "doesn't have to think about it." Again the analogy of driving a car is helpful. The third aspect is “expression." Once there is reasonable automaticity, the expression should match or even exaggerate the communication (like "acting"). This can be modelled and encouraged by the teacher/parent. What the child is "saying out loud" will be similarly done when the child is reading "silently." In this way she/he learns to gain the same enjoyment from written language as from spoken language.

Q. How can I prevent a child from continuing to sound out and blend long after she/he is capable of reading text automatically. A. It may be as simple as prompting a child that she/he can actually read the word in question without sounding-through-the-word. Most children naturally transfer to complete-word reading, but some require specific direction. A few children need to be prompted to silently “say the sounds in your head” that they do not recognise and then go on to blend the word.

Q. Why is it so wrong to encourage guessing for children who find decoding hard? A. While it may appear to be the “easy way out” the tactic of guessing a word will eventually get the child in trouble. Skilled readers don’t guess words. They sometimes skip and skim, but there is no short-cut to “saying the sounds.” That’s what skilled readers do; they do it with automaticity and they slow down on unfamiliar words. This is what you want your child to learn how to do. Children try all kinds of “short cuts.” Some of these are adaptive; most short cuts aren’t. Guessing words is among the shortcuts that aren’t adaptive.

Q. Why do you advise giving as little help as possible? A. Children are inherently very clever at coping as easily as possible. They quickly and unconsciously learn that waiting will bring help from the instructor. At worst, this results in “learned helplessness” that is difficult to eradicate. In READ instruction some struggling with new code is healthy and to be expected throughout the instruction. All new correspondences that are introduced continue to be repeated with variations to give the child experience in “figuring it out” independently. If your child is “hung up” on a correspondence (which will usually happen the first time it’s encountered) the best bet is to just say the sound and then have the child say the sounds and read the word after you. Nothing more, other than praise for trying hard. You’ll find that the child will soon encounter the same correspondence and will have an easier time this time around and with each time in the future. You’ll see the learning happen before your very eyes. Some children need what seems to the instructor endless practice. But the child is going as fast as possible. Don’t try to do it all in a single session. Space the sessions to make the workload tolerable and as enjoyable as possible. By frequently reading books read earlier in the sequence, your chid will see the progress being made and experience reading with automaticity and good expression

Q. My child has great difficulty remembering code. How can I assist, without ‘over-helping’? A. The best and easiest thing to do is to slow down. If the child is “trying hard,” that’s all one can ask, and it’s all that is necessary. Encourage the child to read the books to anyone who will listen and lavish the praise. If the child does not mind rereading the same books, do so as many times as necessary. Buddy/team reading with other books is also helpful. What you want to communicate to the child is “You’re learning to read!” The structure of READ ensures that the child will acquire expertise in handling text of increasingly greater complexity with increasing independence. Whatever the pace and whatever the task, that’s as good as learning/teaching gets.

Q. Why doesn’t BRI include flashcards past the first Book of BRI l? A.In any practice of separate words outside the context of text, it is impossible for a child not to memorize these words, irrespective of what he/she appears to be doing or is told to do. The essence of reading is doing these things in the context of text. That’s exactly what BRI does. As the BRI protocol demands that your child’s approach to blending is “right”, it encourages the necessary skills and prevents use of any other technique.

Q. Why is the Notched Card important? A. It’s a very simple aid, like “training wheels” on a tricycle or bicycle, for assisting your child to read from left to right and to focus on “reading through the word.” The aid is much more effective than “flashcards” or other out-of-text word practice because the aid is minimal; it’s there when the child needs it; and it prevents the child’s memorization of words as whole-words rather than attending to the letter/sound correspondences. Your child is doing the work of “learning how to learn” and is not confused by extrinsic tasks which from an adult’s point of view appear helpful, but from a child’s perspective are confusing and distracting.

Q. When should the Notched Card be discontinued? A. As soon as your child learns what is involved in decoding, the notched card should be discontinued. You can then use the eraser end of a pencil to do the same thing when a new letter/sound correspondence is introduced.

Q. My child has a good visual memory and seems to be memorizing words. Is READ designed to encourage memorization?

A. READ is definitely not designed to be a whole word memorization program, it is just the opposite. If your child is memorizing words, you are not using the Notched Card. READ precludes memorizing by providing no picture clues and by using words that look very much alike: Mit/Mat, sit/sat, fell/fill, will/well. Most if not all beginner readers will need to say the sounds as least one time to read these words. Some may look as if they are memorizing if they acquire automaticity very rapidly. Others need to do the blending many times to acquire automaticity. All children should slow down to “say the sounds” sub-vocally when encountering unfamiliar words.


Q. Why do you call read an instructional product rather than an instructional program. A. Products abound in our everyday life, but not in instruction. When it comes to instruction, we have “resources,” not products. So there is every reason for you to find the notion of an “instructional product” unfamiliar and perhaps even a little jarring.

Instructional resources, like any other resources are raw materials. They rely on the capability of the instructor to make the instruction work. If the resources don’t work well, we seek the fault not in the resources but in the people involved in the instruction—the teacher, child, and other usual suspects. And over time all kinds of labels have been generated to “explain” these human faults. All the while, the instructional resources are held harmless; we let the resources completely off the hook while we blame every other aspect of the instructional situation.

With instructional products it’s the other way around. It’s the products, not the people that are judged. In everyday life, a good product efficiently and consistently provides the wherewithal to get a desired result. The same with instructional products. Good instructional products get the job done. Bad products don’t.

With an instructional product, you don’t really need tests, as we commonly know them, to determine the consequences of instruction. The results are transparent. They can be seen with the naked eye in terms of a given kid’s instructional accomplishment. After all, those accomplishments are what everyone is really interested in, rather than abstract numbers that rely on problematic statistical interpretation.

Judged as instructional products, instructional resources fall far short. The resources do guide instructional activity, but any commitment as to what instructional accomplishments one will get is completely absent. Absent any indication of what job an instructional resource will do, there is no way in the world to get efficient and consistent instructional results. Although they are all we have, instructional resources are a kludge of raw materials—which frequently masquerade as instructional products for promotional purposes.

When a fault is found in an instructional product, the product can be changed readily to eliminate the fault. With today’s technology, such change can be as simple as burning a new CD or revamping a website. This makes changing any aspect of education via instructional products a piece of cake—if you know how to develop instructional products. And instructional product development is what 3RsPlus is good at.

Q. All instructional resources these days claim to be “research based.” How is READ different? A. READ is derived from development that 3RsPlus has itself conducted in addition to being based on specific research that we have conducted and on the general body of research. If that doesn’t sound like much of a difference, think of the difference between a tested product and snake oil.

Q. READ looks very similar to many other things I’ve seen on the market. How can I tell the difference? A. READ is the only reading instruction that consists of 100% decodable texts that takes a child from the beginning, using 5 letter/sound correspondences all the way though to teaching the child how to handle all the 170-some correspondences and also how to use the morphological characteristics and other linguistic conventions in English.

We call this 100% decodable text "Maximally Learnable Text" (MLT) because everything builds on what has previously been transparently learned and taught. The thing is, this characteristic isn't obvious in leafing through a book or two. With superficial inspection the books appear to be the same old, same old--or inferior, because the illustrations are not in full color, and they lack slick covers and bright packaging. In this respect, the books are exactly like adult books, that are all black and white. But people have been conned to believe that "real" children's books have to be "lavishly illustrated."

We initially tested the book characteristics out with K children. We found that the children wanted the shortest book possible that had a plot. If the children had a choice between color and b/w, they went for color. (Who wouldn't) But if they could read the text, they were perfectly satisfied with the crudest of stick figures--"eggies"--which had stunted arms and legsand were of different size, with different facial expression and"clothing" to tell them apart. The "eggies" were the characters that preceded the present cast of Sam and his friends. The children bonded with the "eggies" in about the same way they do now with the present characters, but teachers regarded them as 'crude, so we upgraded the illustrations.

A simple test to determine whether any text is decodable is to use the Notched Card. If the child has not been taught how to handle the correspondences involved they won’t be able to read the text.

The "Brand X" decodables don't go very far. When they run out, pick up BRI. You’ll likely find that the child has to start pretty much at the beginning of BRI, but whatever. It doesn't take long to calibrate the child into a suitable starting point in BRI, and from there the MLT will do its thing.

Q. I’m sitting here looking at BRI Book 1, which I downloaded. And I’m also looking at several other “beginning” books I have around. They all look about the same to me. If anything, the rest are prettier than BRI. What’s so great about BRI? A. We don’t know what other books you are looking at, but we don’t need to know. We’ve seen enough others to know what they look like. We concede the “pretty point.” Teaching reading is not a beauty contest as far as we’re concerned. BRI is concerned with the core of learning to read, not with the cosmetics.

BRI tells you exactly what will be learned, now. For Book 1, it’s 3 words—see, I, Sam-- and their sound elements— s-ee, I, S-am. These 3 words were not just picked out of a hat. They are the most instructionally productive words possible for the very first start into reading.

Consider the words closely. The sound of “s” is very close to its letter name. The sound of “ee” is its letter name. So it is very easy to put the two sounds together to make the word. The word “I” is the same as the letter name, so that word couldn’t be easier. The word “Sam” repeats the sound of the lower case “s” and introduces a new ending sound, “am.” That’s a little harder, but after the experience with “see” and “I”, it’s an attainable instructional next step.

These characteristics appear obvious after they are pointed out. But when we asked linguists and psychologists in the early stage of product development what words we should start with, it required a good deal of analysis and a few product tests for them to come up with a good answer. Compare the instructional productivity of the first three words in any of the other books and you will see what we mean.

In reading Book 1, your child begins to learn a number of fundamental distinctions that go to make up reading, in the easiest possible way. It’s not just reading, but learning how to read.

Each word is systematically encountered 5 times the first time your child reads the book, and there is every reason to expect that there will be other occasions your child will want to demonstrate the new-found reading capability to others. So there is provision for abundant practice.

Because we wanted to concentrate attention on the important fundamentals of words, and word elements, we didn’t include some other important instructional outcomes that can be counted on. Take a minute to page through the book and notice the treatment of end-sentence marks, comma, and quotation marks. These important arbitrary reading conventions are carefully sequenced. It’s too early in the game to say the child has learned these distinctions. But it’s highly likely that the child will respond to them appropriately without confusion during the course of instruction, and that’s an important beginning.

Likewise, Book 1 includes important pre-planned provisions for comprehension instruction--not just for comprehending but also for learning how to comprehend. The illustrations on each page serve to teach that reading is more than just saying words—that to make a story of it, context helps. And, even more directly, the illustrations promote instructional distinctions of the punctuation conventions that help convey the story line.

With the illustrations and the text working together, the child is introduced to the difference between fact and fiction, imagination and reality, fact and inference, and to the conventions of spoken dialog in reading. These matters will not be understood fully by the child at this point, but the abstract concepts are expanded upon and varied in subsequent READ instruction.

To make sure your child begins to learn what reading comprehension involves, a small number of simple questions are asked, pegged to specific pages, to make the implicit relationships explicit.

You will notice that from an adult perspective, the other books likely have more interesting plots. However, we found in testing the product, that plot, per se, was very low on children’s priority list. What they wanted to be able to do was “to read whole books.” They liked short books with few words on each page. If they could read the book, everything else was of little concern.

In short (after this long explanation), Book 1 crams an impressive number of the fundamental complexities that go to make up “reading” into its few brief pages, and it makes the complications doable for your child.

Each subsequent Book in READ was constructed to similar detailed specifications. The instruction did not just come off the top of the head of an “author."