Patrick D. Herrera taught Spanish at high school and community colleges.  He acquired the TESOL/Applied Linguistics degree and has taught English language acquisition for the last 20 years. He began active, classroom research, which became a curriculum for graduate teacher training courses at several universities.  The research also evolved into a specialized curriculum that targeted disadvantaged Latino communities.  Many of these communities have the problem of low primary language literacy, and illiteracy.  Parents and children have a need to learn English, but need highly specialized curriculum and training.

 Currently, these programs are being implemented in Orange County, California, and are showing rapid growth. The goal is to make these programs available to other communities, giving adults the opportunity to learn English, and giving children an opportunity to succeed in school.


In Response to a Frequently Asked Question, A Discussion About Syllabic-Based Phonics

Question: “Why is your phonics instruction curriculum so brief and simple?  Most phonics programs are complex, with multiple cards and booklets."

Syllabic-based vs. phonemic-based phonics instruction

California’s reading instruction turned to “whole language” in 1988.  The result was a disastrous drop in reading skills.  A shift to an emphasis on phonics followed.  One research study on phonics identified over 260 sounds and combinations of sounds found in our language.  This was the phonemic approach to phonics instruction.  The syllabic approach received no attention.

Entrepreneurs and publishers descended on the phonics study, publishing programs that taught the entire inventory of vowels and consonants.  The programs involved an extensive array of booklets and cards, which were unwieldy for the classroom teacher.  Phonics programs became a curriculum, rather than instruction to develop pre-reading skills.  A comprehensive assessment to determine mastery was logistically very difficult.  It was not well received by many teachers.

One of the problems was that phonics instruction required students to learn “nonsense” sounds that did not communicate meaning.  They were sounds learned in isolation.  Language is learned through sounds that convey meaning.  The smallest utterance is the syllable.  So, basic sounds should be learned through single syllable words that contain the basic sounds, and convey meaning.  The words include the basic vowel sounds and common consonants in initial and ending position in a word.  The learner acquires vocabulary in the process. 

The syllabic approach

English has five vowels, each with a long and a short sound.  The vowel “a” has a third sound, which overlaps with the short “o”.  Thus, a basic phonics program can be designed in eleven lessons, each containing words with a basic vowel sound.  Simple words containing that vowel are selected, with common consonants as beginning and ending sounds.   This structure provides the foundation needed to develop the cognitive skills needed for the reading skill.  The brain must instantly connect a group of sounds that represent a word, and a group of letters that represent those sounds.  Phonics skills are a neural, cognitive development, not information to learn.

The result is a phonics booklet of eleven lessons, two pages each.  One page has 16 words containing the vowels and consonants for that lesson.  The facing page has 16 corresponding illustrations.  The program teaches all the vocabulary involved in the lesson.  The teaching process is simple for the teacher to learn and follow, and the learner understands the learning process.  Assessment is simple.  

Rather than an extensive, confusing program and hundreds of dollars in expenses, it is a booklet with 11 simple lessons, easy to teach and easy to learn.  

Information available on website below.  A teacher handbook is available.

Simplicity is the key to effective teaching and learning.


Achieving Literacy is not a standard textbook.  It is not a chapter-by-chapter, scope-and-sequence reading program.  It is a structured tutorial method that addresses the skills needed to read fluently and to understand what is being read.  A reader who is hesitating with one or more of these skills will not have comprehension of the text. This method offers specific guidance for teachers, instructors, tutors and parents. It also provides affordable learning materials for students, which can be used independently or alongside mandated curriculum to enhance student achievement.

The objective is to place children from disadvantaged communities on the path to reading with comprehension.  In spite of existing support programs, there exists no clear example of success.  All areas of the curriculum are affected if the reading skill is not at grade level. Thus, the concern is also about low performance in math and science.

The basic skills that lead to literacy are normally formed during the ages of 3, 4 and 5.  The foundation for reading is thus initially created by the home environment.  Children begin to master the sounds of the language through conversations with parents.  They also begin to create the ability to understand the relationship of sounds to written letters on a page.  It is accomplished with educational games and reading activities with children.  

The arrangement of letters forms words, then phrases and sentences.  With this skill they can expand vocabulary. Vocabulary increases with an awareness of the environment.  It begins with things that are visualized. It then develops to concepts that aren’t visualized, but must be understood. Understanding concepts leads to the higher levels of thinking.  

Thinking expands as the learner masters syntax, or the arrangement of words in a sentence.  This is an additional challenge for second language learners. Their thought process has a different arrangement of words, which inhibits listening and reading comprehension.

A low level of literacy in the home can inhibit success as children begin school. First graders who only communicate in their own language enter first grade and are given a book in English, which they can’t read. Thus, begins the achievement gap. Early elementary reading curricula presume “reading readiness.”  Learners who aren’t ready need skills development, which can be accomplished with a support program. 

The problem is complex, but the steps to a solution are not. The learning process can be simplified so that each step proceeds at a comfortable pace for the learner and the teacher. The objectives and assessments are clearly defined and simple to accomplish. Achieving Literacy is a new opportunity for needy learners.