Helping Students Achieve Literacy with Skills, Passion and Generosity

The English language has its own code, but can you remember cracking that code? For most, it happens naturally, so the methodology may not have been obvious. You may recall learning letters, both by name and symbol, as well as deciphering long from short vowels, but what about closed syllables, or diphthongs, or digraphs, and r-controlled words?

Each week, volunteers with the Brown Memorial Tutoring program tutor Baltimore City children in reading and writing − children for whom reading does not come naturally. Trained in the systematic, multisensory approach of the famed Dr. Samuel Orton and Ms. Anna Gillingham, tutors use Orton-Gillingham-based lesson plans that follow a proven sequence of teaching sounds, symbols, blending, segmenting, and “syl/lab/ic/a/tion” in a way that these students can digest the skills needed to read, spell and write.

Understanding the “code” of the English written language is critical to achieving literacy. The code is the correspondence of a picture or symbol (i.e., letters) to an actual sound. Think again about your reading instruction. We learned that there are 26 letters in the alphabet, 21 consonants and five vowels. Because language acquisition occurs naturally for most, many are not aware that there are 44 sounds to learn in the English language, and that the names of the letters may sound very different from the actual sound that each letter represents. The letter “x,” for example, is pronounced /ex/, but the sound it represents is /ks/.

It is easy for the majority of children whose reading is on track developmentally. But for at-risk students and children with language-based learning issues, such as those struggling with speech, dyslexia, dysgraphia, slow processing, or behavior issues, the process is far from fluid, and they often find themselves falling further and further behind, unable to catch up without proper intervention.

Beginning readers must master certain skills, most basically that letters are pictures of sounds in words and written words are made up of symbols of sounds. They must blend sounds to read words, segment sounds in order to spell words and understand that the “code” can have wide variation. Fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and written expression also must be developed to become a good reader.

All the students in the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program are behind grade-level in reading, putting them at severe risk of failure in school. The mission of our remarkable tutors is to teach the code, one-on-one, targeting the specific levels and needs for each child. Following expert guidance from the program’s paid staff, tutors use a plethora of resources: games, exercises, worksheets and an impressive library of books. It’s fun; we “play” games, but we are not “playing around.”

For nearly six decades, Brown Memorial has been committed to helping struggling Baltimore City school children “build their skills, regain their confidence and succeed in school.” 

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