Carpenter Literacy a Reading Curriculum Whole Word Plus Phonetic Instruction

By Gail Carpenter

Help! My child can’t read and I don’t know what to do. How many times have we heard this, blanketed with tears and hopelessness from parents and teachers? The kids are defeated, hate reading and just know that they don’t have what it takes. But there is hope.

I first became aware of a problem with reading when my 1st grade son began bringing home c’s and d’s in reading. We lived in Greenville, Ohio and he had finished a successful year in kindergarten with no problems. But within the first 6 weeks of 1st grade, he seemed to be struggling in reading. I visited the school to find out what the problem was. “He can learn to read,” I stated matter-of-factly. I don’t remember what the diagnosis was but was told he needed to be in Title I reading. In my frustration, I made cards and taught him the word families. We practiced them each night before he went to bed and I got an old reader. We read stories together and he excelled that year and never had any problems after that.

While teaching 7 DH students in my elementary position at my school, I began teaching in a similar method that I had used with my son. I experienced some miracles especially from an illiterate 5th grader who was reading at a 3rd grade level after four years of instruction with continued growth. As I moved on to teach Title I reading working with transitional 1st graders who were not progressing in the traditional, leveled method of reading, I wrote some story lessons based on word families to see if that would help. Not only did they start making progress, but Carpenter Literacy was born, a reading curriculum based on whole word instruction plus the important addition of teaching word families to kids with stories that supported those word families.

Thus my journey began. I began tutoring failing readers, children in crisis with teachers and parents at a loss as to how to help these readers become successful. Within two years’ time, all these readers gained significantly in their reading abilities and did not fail their grades. One child’s Title I teacher proclaimed, “She made more progress than any other 2nd grader in the district!” Another 2″ grade teacher noted, “Wow! Amazing progress – seriously!”

I began selling this program to surrounding curriculum directors in Educational Service Centers, public schools, preschools and private schools. Cincinnati Head Start purchased $2,000.00 in materials with in-service training of 15 teachers. I took the curriculum to two different homeschool conferences selling to parents both panicked about their poor readers and interested in how to get their little ones started in literacy. In four years I generated $30,000.00 in sales.

As I continued my search for markets, I was repeatedly told from districts in Ohio, Florida and New Mexico that they were very interested but need research-based data. I was led to the Research Department at The Ohio State University through a friend who discovered in her newsletter that the university was looking for programs to research. That collaboration with the head of the Research Department and Special Education at OSU lasted for 4 years with yearly meetings guiding my development of this curriculum and discussing the data collected. They told me to write a Teacher’s Manual and change the name to Carpenter Literacy. I was told that it is better than “90% of the things out there.”

A formal pilot study was set up with All Saints Academy in Columbus, Ohio, an inner-city, ESL Catholic School. After three years, 95% of the 3rd graders who began Literacy in 1st grade were at or above grade level according to the Woodcock Passage Test. 85% of the students were reading at least 90 words a minute according to Dibels scores. The results were quite impressive.

I am now pursuing more study or sales to public districts. I am working on pricing and training tapes and teaching more failing readers at my home.

This curriculum began as 9 pieces and has evolved into 15 components. It is a gift and I believe inspired. It seemed like the stories just wrote themselves. Sometimes I would take a notepad to bed because a story would come to me as I lay there falling asleep and I would grab the paper to watch my hand fly across the page writing down the words.

The effectiveness of the program is so strong because it is systematic, repetitive and phonetic. I wrote the story lessons centering on a word family with children reading and rereading the stories, writing and spelling words with that family and doing simple comprehension activities using the different skills of comprehension such as plot, comparisons and theme. It takes the reader from the sounds of the alphabet, to blending the sounds into words to short vowel words, then long vowel words and then everything else. It covers beginning reading through 3 or more syllable words achieving an early 3rd grade level in 53 weeks. There is an amazing comprehension book with readers learning the terms and practicing each one on three, simple, kid-friendly pages for mastery.

Knowing the word families and blending is the key to unlocking an unknown word. The children who have come to me as well as my DH and Title I students have relied on these families as tools to attack unknown words and gain growth.

The comments back from parents, reading teachers and students themselves have been overwhelmingly positive. A teacher who works with Dyslexic readers commented, “The reading program has been wonderful. The breakdown of the phonetic sounds and sight word choices has been working with my students. I appreciate the time and energy that has gone into this curriculum. You have done a great service to those kids who struggle in reading.” She approached my table the following year at the Cincinnati conference and encouraged people standing at my table to “buy this program.” Betty, an ESL teacher from Licking Heights School District, sent me an email one-day stating, “I was just thinking about contacting you the other day. I am increasingly impressed by your stories. I think you have done an impressive job.”

I am currently operating a private childcare/preschool in my home called Miss Gail’s Preschool Reading center. I take children around 6 months and we begin singing the Sound Song with the whole group as we start our day. By 4 yrs. old, the children know the ABC letters and sounds from playing Bingo Boards and singing the song twice a day. Then we move on to blending the sounds to make short vowel words using The Blending Book. That book was actually written for two 4 yr. old boys in my preschool. After that we begin working in Book A when the children turn 5. Many of the children almost finish Book B which is long vowels, so they go off to kindergarten knowing more than 150 words and able to decode and read short and long vowel words. It has been amazing to me to see how a group of squirrely preschoolers can achieve impressive reading abilities by working through these books. To me, that shows the strength of this program.

Childcare centers such as Happy Hearts, Love and Learning, My Place and Creative Minds Learning Center are using the preschool part of Carpenter Literacy to help meet the Common Core standards for early literacy. In a local childcare, 86% of the children ages 3-5 knew at least 23 letters and sounds of the alphabet in 10 weeks. My little granddaughter who is 3172 has learned all but 7 letters and sounds in 8 weeks.

Reading is a chief concern with educators today. As a result we now have the third grade guarantee test and Common Core Standards being implemented. This program will help with all those concerns. It reveals exactly why a child can’t read. The assessments of each piece show where to place the reader for growth. If we can get our children reading in kindergarten and 1st grade, these readers will have the ability to handle fiction and nonfiction with all the comprehension and fluency that is required to be successful.


I am hoping to help those districts, parents and readers who want to develop reading. I recently received a call from two principals in South-eastern Ohio to present this program to staff in January. There is another superintendent expressing interest in the same area.


There is much discussion about the many children who can’t read. The districts and educators are being forced to examine the methods of instruction that are being used and whether they are achieving the desired results. I have seen firsthand how to help readers who are failing. I have also seen firsthand how to teach small children as young as 4 how to begin their reading journey in a simple and fun way.


After working with my special education students and Title 1, I became passionate about failing readers and this method that seemed to gain so much positive feedback from those individuals using it. I have dedicated my time and effort to discussing effective reading instruction with a few curriculum directors, superintendents and teachers. I have had teachers tell me that their kids can’t read and they don’t know what to do with them. There really is a huge frustration out there regarding this subject and I seem to have hit on something that is making a difference. We really can simplify reading instruction.

For children beginning to reader and struggling readers, this is a great program for success. There is hope. GC

Author: Michael Leppert

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