The genesis of my wife Jeanne’s phonics program was a special education classroom in Hazel Park, Michigan in 1972. Jeanne was a special education teacher in the public schools in an educable mentally impaired program. The children in this type of program had serious educational issues and struggled with schooling. She was brilliant at compensating for the weaknesses of her students and mnemonics was a major tool in her efforts. Her phonics program used mnemonics successfully in teaching the relationships between the letter and its sound in addition to phonograms and their sounds.
Finding an effective method of teaching phonics was critical in teaching these children to read. Most of these children had serious cognitive deficits that required unique methods to overcome their weaknesses. Mnemonics was an incredibly powerful tool that compensated for their impairments and allowed them to remember the graphophomenic relationships that are critical in achieving literacy.
When we moved to Chicago in 1974, so that I could enroll in optometry school, Jeanne continued to use her unique methods to overcome her student’s weaknesses. Again, mnemonics was the answer that these children could use to allow them rapid retrieval of the letter sound and its subsequent blending that produced words. Students who experienced only failure and frustration throughout their lives could finally master texts and engage in becoming literate.
Our return to the Detroit area in 1979 found Jeanne employed as a teacher consultant for the Fraser Public Schools. She was initially assigned a position at the High School working with Learning Disabled students, many exhibiting the archetypal patterns of dyslexia. This was her area of expertise since her Master’s was in Learning Disabilities from Wayne State University in Detroit. She could see the emotional overlays that were the sequela to a lifetime of failure that most of these children experienced. Through her intervention, most of these children accomplished success in becoming literate but the remediation was intense to accelerate them to perform at grade level before graduation.
Her first contact with breast cancer allowed her to transfer to the elementary level in 1990. This experience was an epiphany for her. The public schools throughout the country were engaged in the paroxysms of whole language. According to its advocates, children could intuit the reading process much like speech; phonics was passe and unnecessary. All that was necessary was a rich textual environment where children could immerse themselves in a textual setting to absorb the dynamics of reading and writing. In reality, public schools were experiencing incredible rates of failure and poor performance in the language arts programs. When Jeanne began working with the elementary teachers as a teacher consultant, she found the staff bewildered and desperate for solutions for their students’ poor performance. As a teacher consultant, Jeanne’s job was to show the teachers how to teach. Her direction and implementation of her phonics program in this quagmire of disappointment was met with unbridled enthusiasm and success. The teachers demanded materials that they could implement in their classrooms. Thus, SenseAble® was born.