Teaching Reading Skills
The Writing Road To Reading, 5th Edition
By Romalda Spalding

For teaching reading skills, the Writing Road To Reading (WRTR), by Mrs. Romalda Spalding and Dr. Mary North is the most thorough description of the way to teach both phonics and writing. It's also the most concise.

I own several editions of the WRTR and found the 5th edition to be packed with the handiest reference appendices and exhaustive descriptions of "what to do". There's now a 6th edition.

I thank God for the good that Mrs. Spalding has done my family and my students. I am so glad that I have not used a scattered program for "reading", and that friends had recommended the Orton philosophy of teaching reading.

Dr. Mary North edited Mrs. Spalding's original WRTR book that can be aligned with the most aggressive school standards, yet also faithfully models the Spalding philosophy for teachers, parents, and homeschooling parents.

Spalding Education International says, "In The Writing Road to Reading, all elements of the language are integrated in spelling, writing, and reading lessons." I agree.

Once you know the material in this book you're set for teaching phonics to any able bodied person with simple paper and pencil. A stick in the sand would work, too. No other programs are necessary for the elementary years.

About Romalda B. Spalding

Mrs. Spalding Teaching Reading SkillsMrs. Romalda Spalding

Although Romalda Spalding earned a bachelors degree from the University of Illinois and a masters degree from Columbia University, she discovered that her preparation for teaching reading skills was not adequate for teaching all children to read and write successfully. (Doesn't something like that happen to most of us?!)

Her search for a reading method that empowered children to become fluent, thoughtful readers and writers led her in 1938 to the distinguished neurologist, Dr. Samuel T. Orton. Dr. Orton specialized in helping dyslexic and other disabled children so he had a huge amount of advice for her.

After tutoring children under his supervision, Mrs. Spalding soon realized that the children taught using Dr. Orton's techniques experienced more success than her regular education students. I am so glad she persevered with this!

Drawing on what she learned from Dr. Orton and her own experience teaching children at Massachusetts General Hospital, Children's Hospital at Harvard Medical School, and public and private schools as a classroom teacher, she wrote the textbook, The Writing Road to Reading, first published in 1957.

Teaching Reading Skills: Explicit Instruction

So many times, reading programs emphasize an "implicit" instruction.

Grief! No way. Implicit methods basically assume that new readers figure it out on their own. Again, no way.

You've got to teach the children explicitly what the letters say and when they say the different sounds. This is teaching the phonograms. If you teach the children to write the letters as they say the sounds, they'll learn them way more easily.

With Spalding's WRTR the main tools are the phonograms (sounds of the letters and combinations) and 29 rules. Compare this example of implicit instruction to explicit instruction to see the difference.

Implicit Instruction

  • My little girl stands on a chair by the sink for years watching me wash the dishes. Supposedly, by being immersed in this environment she will know how to wash dishes. 
  • But guess what? Her first time washing the lunch plates she adds too much soap so that there are so many suds that it takes extra water to rinse the suds. She also splashes water out of the sink and on to the floor. She is then disappointed and discouraged because it was hard work and the result was not fun.

Explicit Instruction

  • In two or three explicit lessons, I teach her to fill the sink half full, to put in the right amount of soap and let her know that she wants to beware spilling water on the floor. I show her a time or two. I watch as she follows my instructions, and then I let her try it on her own.
  • Her first time is a much happier event! She spends less time because the suds wash away easily and she does not have to clean the floor. Maybe it's not perfect, but much trouble is spared.

The principle is the same for teaching reading skills.

Mrs. Spalding constantly sought ways to make her method easier to teach and to learn. In The Spalding Method, instruction is explicit, systematic, interactive, diagnostic, and multi-sensory.

The success of The Spalding Method with diverse students, even those who have learning disabilities was just plain common sense the way I understood her first books. The new editions say it "is in large part due to the integration of scientifically-based content and methodology." A better way to say it is that genuine science corroborates what Dr. Orton and Mrs. Spalding taught.

I am so glad for the explicit instruction that an Orton based phonics activity uses to improve all of the language arts skills for my beginning readers. Read the WRTR to learn how to teach the phonograms or the phonics sounds, the phonics rules,  and how to incorporate other reading and writing instruction.

I believe that this one book, The Writing Road To Reading, can be super helpful teaching reading Pre-K to grade 6 in all of the language arts. It produces readers and writers of much higher grade levels than implicit programs. This makes the Writing Road To Reading a very real bargain at any price. 

If you can also take one of their many courses, you'll be that much further ahead teaching reading skills because it's so helpful to have a live human being showing you how to hold the pencil, how to set up the notebook, and how to say the sounds. See our video of the 72 phonograms to learn how to say them or to have children review them.

Practice is one of her hallmarks so be sure to "Say it! Write it! Repeat it!"

Teaching Reading Skills With The WRTR

This book defines:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Systematic phonics
  • High-frequency vocabulary
  • Word meanings and usages
  • Word parts
  • Grammar
  • Composition
  • Literary appreciation
  • Text structure
  • Fluency
  • Listening
  • Reading comprehension

All in one book. I heartily recommend Spalding's Writing Road to Reading for teaching reading skills. Simply read the book and then during the year do the gray and black blocks with the lists in the back. I think you'll like Spalding Education International, too. They have many helpful videos.

Teaching Reading Skills With Other Orton Programs

See more about teaching reading skills using Orton programs on our main Phonics page.