Phonics Institute

The Intensive Phonics Institute


Purpose: The Intensive Phonics Institute is dedicated to the promotion of intensive phonics in every first grade classroom by providing information, materials, workshops, and demonstration teaching.

Fundamental Premise: True to its name, The Intensive Phonics Institute believes that students who begin their reading instruction with intensive phonics will become far better readers, spellers, and writers than those who begin with less intensive approaches. 

What about other popular approaches? Many teachers these days were trained in Whole Language, Balanced Literacy, or Guided Reading. These top-down approaches focused on literature rich classrooms, but often at the expensive of intensive phonics - all too often failing students who need stronger and more direct instruction in  phonics.

What is DISEC?  DISEC stands for Direct, Intensive, Systematic, Early and Comprehensive instruction in a hierarchy of prearranged discrete reading skills. 

What is Intensive Phonics? The term, intensive phonics, was coined by Sister Monica Foltzer, former Director of the Intensive Phonics Institute at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio. It is termed intensive because all the basic 42/44 English speech sounds (phonemes) are taught in connection with their spellings in a logical, sequential, and methodical manner in the shortest time possible, generally the first semester of first grade. It is also the best and speediest method of remedial reading instruction for students of any age. 

What’s the deal about sight words? Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Intensive Phonics is the total rejection of teaching sight words with whole word memorization. This is a universal practice in today’s classrooms; yet, it is totally rejected by advocates of intensive phonics. We are convinced that memorizing sight words (Dolch or Fry), in many instances, leads students to view all words as sight words to be memorized without reference to the sound values represented by the letters. To compensate for poor phonics skills (phonemic awareness), the students resort to guessing, a bad reading habit that can become so engrained that it is most difficult to break. 

Why does the Intensive Phonics Institute promote part-to-whole phonics instead of whole-to-part phonicsWhole-to-Part Phonics is part and parcel of the Whole Language approach and her sisters: Balanced Literacy, Guided Reading, Reading Recovery (remedial arm of Whole Language), and Leveled Literacy Intervention. This approach requires students to memorize word as wholes and then using onset-rime (b-at), to figure to the sound-to-symbol relationships (phonics). The problem with this approach is that memorizing words as wholes develops a wholistic reflex in the right hemisphere of the brain that creates a cognitive conflict making it difficult to develop a phonics reflex later. 

What reading programs does the Intensive Phonics Institute recommend? We recommend two programs; Blend Phonics for younger students and A Sound Track to Reading for teens to adults. Both programs are based on the Intensive Phonics, part-to-whole approach. Other programs could be recommended, but these two are the least expensive and among the most effective. Both programs feature synthetic phonics with body-coda (b-at) sequential/cumulative decoding (Pace Isabel L. Beck's Making Sense of Phonics) rather than analytical phonics with onset-rime decoding

Why does the Intensive Phonics Institute think teachers are overdoing comprehension instruction? The institute does not deny the value of comprehension instruction, but it does believe that it can be overdone and misused. The core goal in reading is comprehension,, but the core skill is decoding. The fastest and surest way to improve comprehension is to improve decoding and build student knowledge of subject matter. If a student is scoring low on comprehensions tests, the first culprit to look for is not ability to comprehend, but the ability to decode fluently the full range of English sound-to-symbol relationships. Here are some recent references:The Critical Thinking Skills HOAX, “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach,” and “The Usefulness of Brief Instruction in Reading Comprehension Strategies" by Daniel T. Willingham.

Why does the Intensive Phonics Institute make little use of modern, digital technology. This is an excellent question, especially in the light of the fact that teachers get extra points on their evaluations for using technology. At the Institute, we notice that practically all of our tutoring students have spent extensive time on computers (Istation for example), but still struggle with reading. It is also interesting to note that almost none of the kids coming to us have good  manuscript or cursive handwriting.  It is our experience that multi-sensory instruction involving good handwriting instruction gets the best and fastest results. Modern fMRI research confirms this time-test, but too often neglected, approach. We provide expert instruction in manuscript and cursive handwriting. 

 What about the linguistic side of Intensive Phonics? Intensive phonics is based on a thorough analysis of the relationships between spoken and written English. Here is a video explaining the A Sound Track to Reading Phoneme Charts

Mr. Potter's Approach to Education 

To teach the heart, where lies the gold,

My goal shall always be,

With warm love and true kindness

For all the world to see. 

                      By Donald L. Potter 1/1/2014

Reader Come Home. Maryanne Wolf explores how our brains process reading print versus digital mediums. There is cause for alarm. Schools might be wise to reconsider the mad rush to use digital devices in the classroom. 

Mr. Potter originally created this page to support the A Beka Book Curriculum at the Odessa Christian School in Odessa, Texas, where I taught for 13 years. Mr. Potter resigned from the school on May 31, 2019 in order to concentrate his efforts on promoting the goals of the Intensive Phonics Institute, 

Page last revised 7/29/2019.