Ledyard mom's method makes reading easier
Ledyard — Sarah K. Blodgett's quest to make reading easier to learn started with son Tim struggling in first grade.
"He was a smart kid, but he wasn't doing well," she recalled.
A former paralegal, Blodgett immediately began researching facts about reading with the same zeal she once attacked legal issues, and she became flustered at what she found. In a nutshell, English is a phenomenally difficult language to learn, she found, taking two to three times longer to master than other tongues.
And the difficulty of learning English, she said, is what keeps Americans from achieving high test scores on other abilities when compared to the rest of the world.
"This is America. We're the innovators: Why aren't we solving this problem?" Blodgett asked.
Blodgett found that language innovators have tried to address the issue, notably Noah Webster and Ben Franklin, but somehow their phonetic spelling simplications never took. So she started her own experiments, underlining parts of words to emphasize spelling patterns to help Tim decode the language more easily.
And it worked. Tim, now a student at Three Rivers Community College, learned to read as well as just about anybody.
"To this day, he loves to read," Blodgett said.
Fast forward a decade or so, and Blodgett has now advanced her research a few more steps, developing a patent-pending system she calls Noah Text that helps students decode language. The system, she said, is starting to gain traction with educators to whom she has introduced the idea, including retired University of Connecticut professor Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski.
"I think she's right at the place where we all should be," Cherkes-Julkowski said in a phone interview. "I think she is going to hit the large percentage of kids who are iffy readers."
Cherkes-Julkowski said the key to Blodgett's success is that she "understands the educational importance of the rhyme component" of learning English spellings. Then she builds on basic knowlege by adding multisyllable words.
To put her discovery into practice, Blodgett has written three books in the self-published "Mystical Years of Franklin Noah Peterson" series that employs her method of underlining long vowels and boldfacing commonly used syllable combinations that are otherwise difficult for struggling readers to see. Other authors are considering using the method as well, she said.
The main thing in reading, Blodgett said, is keeping students engaged. Once they burn out and give up, it's all over, she said.
"We cannot continue to let our children suffer because of the language they inherited," she said.
People with dyslexia and other learning difficulties are especially prone to exhaustion when trying to decipher English, Blodgett said, but about half the population faces some sort of struggle. She believes her method can help early readers all the way to adults, perhaps even those learning English as a second language.
A few weeks ago, Blodgett went all in with her Noah Text business, posting two videos on YouTube and starting to sell her books on Amazon and at Bank Square Books in Mystic.
"It's been nonstop since," she said.
Cherkes-Julkowski said it may seen ironic that someone never credited with a high-level degree in education would be the one to offer such a common-sense way of teaching English comprehension.
But from her point of view, both of the main reading orthodoxies — phonics and whole language — are not comprehensive.
"The establishment is going to fight her every step of the way," Cherkes-Julkowski predicted.
But Blodgett wants to stay out of the reading wars, preferring to focus on the positive effects of what she has been seeing with children introduced to her method. She has been working with a reading center in Providence, noting that Noah Text falls within the guidelines of evidence-based reading instruction set by the National Reading Panel.
"Noah Text is a reading scaffolding system that can be used to supplement instruction," she said in an email. "I don’t want teachers to think this is a program in itself. It's a tool to give readers and students independence."
Blodgett created her books to be able to show off her reading tactic in a series that is fun to read. But to open the technique to a wider audience she is looking into the possibility of developing an app to boldface and underline the appropriate parts of words.
This will reduce the laborious effort required to write and edit individual books devoted to helping children read, she said.
"Spelling and reading go hand in hand," Blodgett said. "Once you have the spelling down, reading is so much easier."
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