June 2014

How Dr. William Gray Ruined Reading Instruction

Sharon Hillestad with Let's Read books -croppedAn excerpt from the book The Reading War

Written by Sharon Hillestad, Director of Tutoring

There happened an event that had a devastating impact on our nation. It was not loud and bloody; it was quiet and covert. This is a true story:

In the 1920’s, a boy was about to fail first grade. He felt stupid and didn’t want to read, because he couldn’t. His father was Leonard Bloomfield, a famous linguist, an expert on languages. Dr. Bloomfield decided to help his son learn how to read by creating 72 lists of words based on their structure (phonics).

Dr. Bloomfield created word lists starting with CAT, HAT, RAT, etc and gradually his boy was able to read and spell words like PICTURE, LECTURE, CREATURE, ADVENTURE, and FURNITURE. After a while, he could read thousands of words and he loved reading books, because he could.

Dr. Bloomfield was overjoyed at the success of the reading lessons and gave the word lists to his old friend, Clarence Barnhart, who wrote and published dictionaries. Mr. Barnhart taught his son to read using the word lists. Then other New York families successfully taught their children from the lists of words based on the phonetic structure of words.

Mr. Barnhart and Dr. Bloomfield wanted to make the process of teaching reading easier for all teachers. They tried to get the colleges to show the word lists to students training to be teachers, but no college would do so.  

Kristen HarperHow Dr. William Gray Ruined Reading Instruction
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