Spalding and Phonics

by | Intensive Phonics | 5 comments

Hi Laurie,

I was wondering if you would post this so I could get some opinions on the different programs that use the Spalding method. I have the book The Writing Road to Reading, 5th Edition. I also have TATRAS. I am interested in knowing if anyone has used Phonics for Reading and Spelling by Bonnie Dettmer or Reading Works by Jay Patterson. I am wanting something to help me understand and implement The Writing Road to Reading with daily lesson plans.

Don Potter has put together an outstanding web site for those wanting information on intensive phonics.
I had purchased The Writing Road to Reading initially when my oldest was in Kindergarten. We dove in with two feet finding myself drowning. I stumbled upon Wanda Sanseri’s Teaching Reading at Home and School. I bought it and found my struggling learner (and overtaxed mom) enjoying reading lessons and absorbing material. Wanda wrote her program to go along with The Writing Road to Reading initially. Then she revamped and revised to come up with another set of teachers books called Spell to Write and Read and The Wise Guide. Spell to Write and Read teaches the phonograms and the spelling rules applied to reading with lots of suggestions for grammar usage. The Wise Guide is similar to Spalding’s usage of the Ayres’ list.

Hope that helps you!
Dawn in IL
This post is in regards to opinions of various vertical phonics programs. I am currently using TATRAS with my 2nd grade daughter who has many symptoms of dyslexia. I started using it about a year ago. It is working very well for her. I supplement it some with Recipes for Reading, my phonics text from my college days (I use some of their dictation sentences and hints for remembering phonics sounds). As a teacher in training we were required to take a course that was actually a reading camp where we used phonics to help students who were behind in reading. You can still get the Recipes for Reading through Educators Publishing, although it is a newer version than I have. I have found TATRAS to be very simple to implement and that it works in much the same way as Spalding. My cousin is a teacher in a school district near Houston, TX. Their district has implemented Spalding. When we compared the two, we found that the approach was very similar. The main difference I saw was that she had to attend a week of workshops in order to be trained to use Spalding. I just read the manual and called the author Frank Rogers to see how to adapt it to my particular student. I’m sorry I can’t comment on the other programs you are considering. For more information regarding phonics instruction and various programs you might look at Don Potter’s web site. He has reviewed MANY phonics programs and has some interesting articles. In my opinion, Mr. Rogers is a key benefit to the TATRAS program. He is so helpful and friendly and his tape and now new CD give you all the details you need to teach reading. Besides, his price can’t be beat. I really enjoy spending all that extra money on other books to read. I do hope this helps you in your decision.

Here are our resources for Phonics Instruction:

TATRAS, supplemented by

Recipes for Reading by Nina Traub (for review and presenting phonograms in a new way)
Blend Phonics approach on the donpotter site
McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader,
ABEKA Summer Enrichment Library
Various ABEKA readers
Step 1, 2 books that can be found at Wal-Mart
Poetry of all kinds, especially Robert Louis Stevenson and from old Childcraft Encylopedia

Jammie in TX
I did a lot of research on Spalding phonics starting last spring. I considered the Sanseri system but was warned that it was not real Spalding. I ended up ordering Reading Works. I read Reading Works. It was very interesting and informative. When I had completed Reading Works, I decided that I did not want to use it. I had really wanted help in devising lesson plans, and Reading Works provides that help. However, once I started sketching out the lesson plans Reading Works provided, I kept thinking of ways to do The Writing Road to Reading that I thought would work better for me and my children. So, Reading Works gave me a nice kick in the pants (well, the back of the skirt, I guess) to make me just start doing it and the correct course as I went. I have found that I can’t plan too far in advance with my younger children. Sometimes we just have to stay on one topic for a while. Reading Works was helpful in helping me see which phonograms or concepts needed to be taught before a particular spelling list was begun. However, the dictation method scripted in Reading Works differs from that described in the Spalding materials. Clearly some people think the difference isn’t significant, but I concluded that it was.

The Writing Road to Reading isn’t the most user-friendly text, to be sure. However, I have found it to be usable and to become more so as I continue. I did buy the Sanseri materials after all. It actually seems more real Spalding to me than Reading Works. I am using Spell to Write and Read as a reference text while going through the Spalding book. I am adding some reference pages that are described in Spell to Write and Read to those done in The Writing Road to Reading, and I prefer the marking system in Spell to Write and Read, and it uses the Spalding dictation procedure. Maybe in a subsequent year I’ll go through the Wise Guide lists themselves.

Best wishes,
Heather in New England
Total Reading, Alpha Phonics, Riggs Reading are also based on The Writing Road to Reading. There are probably more. The Writing Road to Reading was based on Dr. Orton’s research. He began the program to be used in the clinic. Mrs. Spalding was the teacher who worked with him. Dr. Amy Dillingham was a clinical technician who also worked with Dr. Orton. There is a Dillingham-Orton Method also.

I am a reading teacher with 180 hours in Spalding. Mrs. Spalding was my friend. I teach workshops to homeschoolers and their parents and to teachers, too. This summer I taught a teachers’ group. I have all the old Spalding books. These are the ones from which I teach. This teachers group had purchased the new Spalding book, so I got one also. The Spalding people have amplified the book so much that it has become an exhaustive study in teaching reading. Most people do not need or have any use for an exhaustive study. The teachers in my summer group looked at the old books and sighed and replied, “This looks so much simpler than the new book. It (the new book) looks so complicated.” This is what so many reading technicians do to reading to the point that teaching reading becomes a priesthood that only they can teach. Reading is quite simple.

I have schedules for teaching the Spalding if anyone wants copies. I will be happy to supply them with them. My suggestion is to get old or used copies of The Writing Road to Reading and use that. It is still the best. Again if anyone wants help with Spalding or reading, they can get in touch with me and I will be glad to help. Because of this, I am in the process of writing a handbook for teaching reading that shows how very simple teaching reading is, and you do not even have to have an expensive reading curriculum to teach it.

Gail Busby
Here’s my 2 cents to second the recommendation for TATRAS as an inexpensive intensive phonics program.

Taking the Phobia out of Phonics and Language Arts

Let me preface this with two comments. First, almost any program will work if you use it. But most importantly, know that the best way to insure they become excellent readers is how much they are read to when they are young. Curling up with them and reading will stir up a desire in them that can only be quenched by them learning to read. There is no better motivator than your reading to them!

TATRAS by Frank Rogers

5 stars

TATRAS is an acronym for Teach America To Read and Spell. When you talk to this “Mr. Rogers” you meet a jewel of a person who you immediately know actively cares if you are successful in teaching reading and spelling. His enthusiasm is contagious! This 3-ring binder, cassettes and wall chart are all you need to begin learning vertical phonics with your children. Vertical phonics is learning all the sounds that each phonogram makes at the outset rather than at some future point bringing up the fact that ‘a’ also says it’s name and the “ah” sound. Isn’t this logical? You learn that ‘a’ says three sounds from the beginning so that when decoding words, if the short sound of a doesn’t make sense then you try the second most common sound for ‘a.’

Through timed drills improvement is rejoiced in daily and within one week my six-year-old son, Drew was sounding out words. You would have thought he hit a home run he was so tickled! My four-year-old, Dessaly is happily working on the first set of 8 phonograms and two-year old, Kiley already knows the sounds of ‘a.’

In order to make this a family affair we also took Mr. Rogers up on his challenge that TATRAS was a remedial spelling program. My oldest two (12 and 9) have been working on timed drills learning the sounds of 34 single-sound phonograms. I was amazed and pleased that I could see almost immediate improvement in their spelling.

If you are interested in trying TATRAS without purchasing the complete program they have a beginning set for 1 year of Kindergarten which comes with what they call the “Penny Primer” and Dessaly calls with pride, her reading book. This lets you get your feet wet without diving in.

Mr. Rogers is just a phone call away. No one else has ever offered anything close to this support in all my years of homeschooling! I equate this program to Levi’s versus Guess jeans. Here is what you need to learn to read and spell in an enjoyable, time-efficient manner. No fancy frills to raise the price. My daddy’s business card said, Price + Quality = Value and TATRAS gives you more quality for your dollar than any other phonics program out there!
Regarding the discussion about phonics programs: I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with my 5-year-old daughter, with great success. It is not exciting, but it works, and it works rather quickly. By the time we reached Lesson 60, she was reading well enough to stop the lessons and start reading on her own.

I would second this recommendation, as we’ve used it with our two older sons, both during age 5, and they have both become avid readers and had no struggles. I’ve always thought the strength of this program is the early blending. They do not learn all the phonogram and all the sounds first for many weeks before learning to put words and sentences together. I sometimes feel timid recommending this book because it is definitely not the full-scale, all-the-rules, in-depth phonics program like the Spaulding method for example. However, in our experience it’s 1) very easy on mom, 2) very short lessons, 3) inexpensive, 4) good review & retention, 5) child-friendly stories, 6) we’re done inside 3-4 months, and best of all 7) leads to early fluency & joy of reading! When we finish 100 EZ Lessons, I let ’em loose with easy readers for a few months to build fluency, and then go back with some phonogram review just to pick up the more unusual phonics, and we’ve also used Explode the Code books to supplement around that time. Becki
Reference your query about the difference between the TATRAS and Alphaphonics reading programs.

I can understand why you are perplexed in looking for a reading program! Every mother looking for a Reading Program should understand that there are four ways that phonics can be taught: Vertical Phonics, Horizontal Phonics, Linguistic Phonics, and Special Symbol Phonics.

To help perplexed mothers TATRAS has prepared a sheet explaining the difference between these four methods, the names of some of the more popular companies that use each and a brief discussion of each method. These are listed in the free four-page TATRAS brochure, “Choose a Phonics Method—Then a Reading Program.”

Alphaphonics is not basically Horizontal phonics, it is Linguistic Phonics. Linguistic Phonics program are based strongly on rhyming words and word families. The brochure makes the following comments on Linguistic Phonics type programs.

1. Word lists for linguistic reading programs require the use of words that fit into word families. This criteria results in long core word lists and the inclusion of many infrequently used words.

2. Because of this the student is deprived of being able to focus on the Most Often Occurring (MOO) words. For reading and spelling, students should learn to instantly recognize MOO words at the earliest possible time. Limiting the word list being studied to the very essential words allows slower children to quickly start reading text. (Schlafly’s First Reader tosses in about 200 children’s names to further dilute her long word list.)

3. The use of columns of family words lets student use short term memory instead of acquiring the phonics habit i.e. they get the first word on the list and the rest are no challenge. The phonics habit, the ability to go from left to right and sound a word out, is a crucial skill.

4. Not learning the phonograms in isolation may also hinder the child from naturally learning the spelling of words in the course of his reading. (Spelling is enhanced by instantly knowing phonograms.)

I might add at as a postscript that typically Linguistic type programs are boring, boring, boring. (Have you read stuff like, “Sam, the ram took the ham and clams and scrammed.”)

For further information you may get this brochure by asking TATRAS for the “tan sheet.” It also has a chart showing the TATRAS: Six Steps of Reading Progression. The importance of this chart is to stress that no matter what phonics program a child uses, when that program is finished he must read out loud to an adult for a fixed period each school day until he becomes competent. And then he must be required, until he starts reading for pleasure, to read a library book for a fixed period each day. All reasonably able children must get to the point where they read for pleasure. The speed with which a child starts reading for pleasure will depend on the effectiveness of his reading program, the child’s ability and the parent’s motivational ability.

R’spy, Frank Rogers, TATRAS
I would heartily agree with Laurie’s recommendation of the TATRAS program. I have used it for my two oldest, 8 and just 5. They are both very strong readers and the youngest is an outstanding speller. They both loved the Penny Primer and took off into reading chapter books very soon after completing the first 8 phonograms. It is so fun to see them reading for pleasure and reading to their younger brother and sister. The penny primer is around $15 and the whole program is around $42.

What is the difference between the Spalding method and two phonics programs based on Spalding: Riggs and Dettmer?

The Spalding method was developed by Romalda Spalding and is found documented in the text The Writing Road to Reading. It isn’t written in a user friendly manner, and so Riggs, Dettmer and others have written helps for those who want to use the method.

The help I highly recommend is the one written by Wanda Sanseri – who studied under Mrs. Spalding. She has just revised hers and it is now called Spell to Write and Read. I have taught 5 of my children with this method – and though some are natural spellers and some are not, they all spell above their grade level and are excellent, fluent readers. The method gives them the tools to recall the rules that apply to difficult words.

Hudsonville, MI


  1. Diane

    I have been reading an old manual of Writing Road to Reading and I am finding it very hard to know when to introduce a new concept. I have been looking at different websites trying to find help and came across yours. I am trying to find this book Reading Works but cannot seem to find it available anywhere. Could you possibly help me here? I also read one of your comments from Gail Busby; she comments that there is a schedule for teaching Spalding available. Do you how someone might get a hold of this schedule?

  2. Don Potter

    I have taught Spalding’s WRTR and Frank Roger’s TATRAS. The TATRAS program uses practically the same phonograms, but instead of the Ayres List, Mr. Rogers developed his own list of 838 words that are the most used words in adult English. I have taught TATRAS to kindergartners with great success and highly recommend the program. I have also successfully taught it to 2nd grade bilingual students.
    Don Potter, Odessa, TX.

  3. Darlene Fletcher

    I’m trying to get in contact with Gail Busby. In this response section, she said she would be wiling to share schedules for teaching the Spalding. I am hoping that there is something with kindergarten included. Many seem to be ignoring kindergarten; our district has very high expectations for our kindergarteners.
    Darlene Fletcher

    Gail’s email is

  4. Tim & Brenda Wilson

    I have an 8 year old boy that is having trouble reading. My wife Brenda and I have read to him for years and worked with him daily. He doesn’t seem to like reading. He enjoys when we read to him. He is in 2nd grade. He understands what he reads, but reads very slowly and has trouble sounding out words. What program should I start with, I don’t care what it costs. Thank you. Tim Wilson

  5. Christie P

    Interestingly, nobody on this thread has mentioned Dettmer’s Phonics for Reading and Spelling. I am homeschooling my eldest (5.5 yrs) and we’ve been using Dettmer’s since last August. It was intimidating at first, but I had a friend using it too and so I plunged into drilling the single-letter phonograms and we finished the multi-letter phonograms by Christmas. I’ve just been reading the manual a bit ahead of where we are.

    I should mention that we’ve also been using Susan Wise Bauer’s Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading for about a year and a half. We just started long-vowel sound words in that this January. So I did not delay the reading as Ms. Dettmer suggested, but am attacking the reading / phonics / spelling on two fronts using both systems simultaneously.

    I am impressed by my daughter’s retention of the phonograms (she loves rattling off the entire description of the /sh/ sound) I’m finding that I haven’t emphasized writing the phonograms enough as I did in just orally drilling them, but we’re now writing 7 phonograms a day, so I’m sure they’ll be fresh again. When I introduced “We say ‘wuz’ but spell is as w-ah-z” she had no problem with it at all and still uses that to remember how to spell it with no prompting from me.

    I really like Ms. Dettmer’s program. I love her flowchart that we follow, the reference charts (we just paused in our spelling words to do the first 3 reference charts) and the idea of building a spelling book.

    Unfortunately, I have scoured the internet looking for reviews of her system that compare and contrast it with other systems, and I have not found any. I am not familiar with TATRAS or Writing Road to Reading so I cannot compare. It’s not very user friendly, but with a friend familiar with it, and just reading and soaking it in as much as possible before starting, I was able to figure it out.

    I would love to talk to any others who have used Dettmer’s program either unsuccessfully or successfully, especially if they can compare it to other vertical phonics programs.

    Christie P


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *