Book of Mormon: Reading primer

After two decades researching the best methods for teaching reading, BYU professor Grant Von Harrison became a noted authority on the subject.

During the past year he has added a new conclusion to his list: "My analysis of the Book of Mormon convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was intended to be a text for learning to read. It provides children with extensive practice with every critical sub-skill of reading. More so than other books and materials. To me, it can't be by chance."Then he added, "I've learned more about reading instruction from my analysis of the Book of Mormon during this time than through 20 years of research of reading in general."

His research involving using the Book of Mormon to teach reading was prompted by studying the scriptures. He was reading about Adam and his family in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price: "And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;

"And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled." (Moses 6:5-6.)

To Brother Harrison, that meant the children in Adam's day were taught to read using the scriptures. Thinking the same practice could be beneficial today, he launched his evaluation of the Book of Mormon.

Through computer technology, he was able to break the Book of Mormon down in several different ways for analysis. Then he applied what he discovered to that which he already knew about the teaching of reading.

One thing the computer analysis re vealed was that of the approximately 5,600 words in the Book of Mormon, 1,786 are encountered only once and another 800 words are encountered only twice. Brother Harrison said that ensures children can get phonetic reading practice with nearly half the words not repeated often enough to be memorized.

Learning to read consists of learning several sub-skills, according to Brother Harrison, and the Book of Mormon provides extensive practice with those sub-skills. He pointed out some of those sub-skills and how the Book of Mormon helps them be taught.

There are irregular words, words that are difficult to learn to pronounce phonetically and have obscure meanings such as the, that, there and was. There are about 80 of them, and children must be able to read them as spontaneously as they read their own names. Brother Harrison said, "The only way to do that is through frequency of encounter. Doing a computer count on the Book of Mormon, I found those words are encountered hundreds and hundreds of times. The Lord ensures the words rise to a level of automaticity."

Except for the common irregular words, only about 10 percent of the words in the Book of Mormon are phonetically irregular. That means there are plenty of words that provide practice blending letter sounds to pronounce words phonetically.

Another sub-skill of reading is learning the "ph" sound. "It is the most peculiar sound in the English language, tied to two letters but not associated with the letters' sounds in isolation," Brother Harrison said. "It is not only used in `prophet,' but also in many names."

Practice with words that involve the silent "e," suffixes and syllabication are also encountered much more frequently in the Book of Mormon than in most children's books, Brother Harrison said.

"When I went to the Book of Mormon, I found that the Lord addressed everything except two things that I had discovered about reading, and did it better."

The two things not addressed in the Book of Mormon are possessives and contractions. They are unique to modern English, he pointed out. "But again, the Lord does so well teaching reading that contractions and possessives aren't a problem for children," he added.

Brother Harrison believes children from families that read together are generally better readers at a younger age, but to get the most benefit from the teaching attributes of the Book of Mormon, children should also be tutored by their parents. He pointed out that teachers in a group setting have little opportunity to work with individual students on their specific problems.

Through systematically tutoring a child from the time he or she is old enough to learn to read, the child should be able to read the Book of Mormon independently by age 8, he said. An added benefit of tutoring with the Book of Mormon, he said, is the opportunity it gives the parent to teach principles of the gospel and interject feelings about the book.

He also stated, "If parents would get involved with children at a young age, the association alone would be worth it."

He concluded, "If children can read the Book of Mormon fluently, they'll never have difficulty reading in the context of school or the workplace."

It is also obvious, according to Brother Harrison, that if the Book of Mormon is excellent for teaching children to read, it is also an excellent resource for anyone at any age who has difficulty reading.