A successful reading and special education teacher, Lorna Simmons created the Phonics Intervention program and the K–2 phonics series after developing materials to remedy her own son’s reading difficulties. Her tremendous results in the classroom prompted other teachers to request Lorna’s materials. Saxon Publishers contacted her to see whether she would be interested in sharing her curriculum. Both philosophically and structurally, it was a perfect fit! Here’s Part 1 of CBD’s exclusive interview with Lorna Simmons.

CBD: For many years, you were a special education teacher in public schools. What led you to develop the Saxon Phonics curriculums?

LS: When my oldest child, Zac, began kindergarten, I realized he was not doing as well as the other children. I tried working with him every night, but while my 3-year-old picked up on what I was teaching, Zac did not. Soon, he was in first grade where he had a wonderful teacher but a terrible year. He did not learn to read. The school wanted to hold him back, but I was fearful of that because he was already the tallest child in the class. I didn’t want him to have to endure another year as the Jolly Green Giant! So we sent him on to second grade where he again had a wonderful teacher. She did everything she could to help him, but he was still the lowest child in the class. I then became desperate to find a solution. I took him to Tulsa University to be tested and was happy to find that although he definitely had learning disabilities, he also had a very high IQ. The people at Tulsa made some suggestions, but they really weren’t appropriate for use in a classroom where the teacher had to work with 24 other children. So every night I had Zac redo all the class work he had been assigned that day. He was still not learning to read, though. His life was not very pleasant, and neither was mine. A break finally came when I heard about a course in Lubbock, Texas. I signed up and over the next two years learned more than I had ever learned about phonics. One month into the course, I decided to apply what I was learning; during summer break I started working with Zac and 21 other children who needed help. When school started again, I knew Zac was reading better. I was ecstatic when I found he was three years ahead of where he had been at the start of summer. It was then that I made the decision to see whether the method I had used to teach Zac could be used with other children so that they would not have to go through what Zac had gone through. I wrote a program for my school; other schools heard about it and wanted to buy it. A friend typed up all the worksheets, and we put them into a book. Within five years—and thanks to teachers and parents talking to one another and asking questions—my program was used in 23 states.

 

CBD: At what age should children begin to learn to read?

LS: Whenever they start showing the desire. Some will ask about letters, sounds, and words as early as age three, while others will not seem interested until they are older. The desire to read is the biggest indicator that the child is ready to learn. Parents can get their children ready by doing phonemic awareness activities. Then, when they show the desire to read, they will have more success learning.

CBD: One of the basic tenets of whole language is that children naturally learn to read and write. How does a phonics approach differ from this view?

LS: A premise of whole language is that children learn to read much like they learn to talk. I believe this leaves a lot up to chance. It has been proven that not all children can learn in this way. When teaching phonics, I teach every letter and the sounds they make in different situations. I review each letter until the child has mastered the letter and its sound. Everything is directly taught, and I never assume prior knowledge or that children will get something on their own, since I never know for sure if they have been exposed to what I want them to know.

CBD: What teaching strategies can home educators use to enhance the connection between phonics and reading comprehension?

LS: Again, home educators should not assume prior knowledge. Once, I asked a group of students to read some paragraphs in my Phonics Intervention program, and I was stunned by some of the things they did not know. One word the students highlighted over and over was country. When asked, they admitted that they really did not understand its meaning. I have found that one of the best ways to help comprehension is to ask students to read a paragraph and then explain its meaning in their own words. Using this technique, I can quickly find areas of confusion or things students do not have the background


 

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Saxon Phonics K, Home Study Kit
Saxon Phonics K, Home Study Kit


Saxon Phonics 1, Home Study Kit
Saxon Phonics 1, Home Study Kit


Saxon Phonics 2, Home Study Kit
Saxon Phonics 2, Home Study Kit


Saxon Phonics Intervention, Home Study Kit
Saxon Phonics Intervention, Home Study Kit



 

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