Search for School with High Test Scores Leads Couple to Discover The Spalding Method


Dan and Ya-mei Shaffer carefully researched Phoenix-area schools before enrolling their daughters. They chose Alhambra Traditional School for its high test scores. Some 12 years would pass before they would learn the reason for their daughters' ability to excel in high school and college was largely because their elementary education was based on The Spalding Method.


PHOENIX - May 14, 2012 - Dan and Ya-mei Shaffer knew there was something special about the method used in their two daughters' education at Alhambra Traditional School (ATS) in Phoenix, but for years they didn't know the name of this method. Some 12 years would pass before they learned that one of the main reasons for the school's high standardized test scores and their daughters' continual success in secondary school was The Spalding Method.


When the Shaffer's first daughter, Lee Anne, was three years old, Ya-mei began searching for a good school. Her husband directed her to the standardized test score reports published by the Arizona Department of Education. After diligently going through the voluminous publication, she narrowed it down to a few schools with the highest test scores. One of the schools that made a great first impression was ATS. She was further convinced this was the school for her daughter after sitting in on a few classes and talking to some of the teachers.


"I thought it would be an ideal place for our first daughter to start school when she was five," said Ya-mei. She was surprised when she then learned she had to put her daughter on a waiting list, but realized that must be a sign of a quality school. Fortunately, a spot opened and her daughter began attending ATS in 1990. Because she was already advanced, she was able to start at the first grade. Shaffer's younger daughter also later enrolled at ATS.


Impressed with Quality of Education


Because of the parental involvement required by ATS, Ya-mei was able to experience some aspects of the language arts program used there.


"They were keeping the children learning every day. It was very scheduled, similar to school when I was a child: structured, direct and sequential," said Ya-mei, who was born and raised in Taiwan. "But I didn't think a free, public school would have such a program."


When Ya-mei compared notes with her friends who had children in other schools, she found ATS taught 30 new vocabulary words a week throughout the school year, while other schools were teaching only 10 per week.


"I knew right there and then there was something special about the school, but I didn't know it was The Spalding Method they were using," said Ya-mei.


What further impressed the Shaffers about ATS was that its test scores were as high as those at another school they had considered with an impressive ranking. Located near Camelback Mountain, that school served a very high socio-economic population.


"At ATS, you have children from all socio-economic levels. For many students, English is their second language," said Dan. But these ATS children are achieving and succeeding at levels as high or higher than any of the top scoring elementary schools.


By high school, they knew something had put their daughters way ahead of other students.


"I noticed instead of just doing her own work, she was busy helping other students with editing and proofreading their essays and other writing assignments," said Ya-mei.


The Shaffers' younger daughter pointed out she and Lee Anne were helping their classmates with poor spelling and writing kills. Some even misspelled simple words like "school."


Mother Rediscovers The Spalding Method


In 2002, Ya-mei returned to their daughters' elementary school to find out exactly what method the school had used to teach reading and writing to their daughters. She met with Janie Carnal who had been Lee Anne's third grade teacher. She first thanked Carnal for the excellent education her daughters received, and then she asked to learn more about the method used to teach English so that she could bring it to Taiwan. That's when she rediscovered The Spalding Method.


"I would not dare to recommend something that I had not experienced firsthand and firmly believed in," said Ya-mei. "The Spalding Method is very solid."


Before introducing The Spalding Method to Taiwan, Spalding Education International (SEI) CEO Warren North recommended the Shaffers attend Spalding teacher training courses. In 2003, the Shaffers, along with their daughter, Lee Anne, took the Writing Road to Reading 1 course (WRTR-1). Ya-mei and Dan followed up by taking the WRTR-2 course several years later. By January 2012, they had become Spalding Certified Teachers. They're now in the process of becoming Spalding Certified Teacher Instructors, which they plan to complete in August.


In the fall of 2003, Ya-mei organized an introductory course on The Spalding Method for parents in Taiwan. David Weemhoff, an executive trainer for SEI, taught the course. Subsequently, Weemhoff taught two, Spalding WRTR-1 courses in Beijing, China.


For the next few years, the Shaffers used The Spalding Method while tutoring in Taiwan, and gained practice as substitute teachers in Spalding schools in Arizona.


"We are very enthusiastic about Spalding," said Dan, "based on the student success we've seen."


Spalding Method Takes Off at a Local Flight Academy


About this time, the Shaffers learned of a local flight academy at Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix that specializes in training pilots for Chinese airlines. The flight academy needed English as a Second Language instructors and invited the Shaffers to interview for the positions. They agreed to interview, although they privately planned to politely turn down the positions because they weren't interested in working full time. But when they learned about the problems this flight academy was having in teaching English to these students, they saw the opportunity to put their training in The Spalding Method to good use and changed their minds, accepting full-time positions beginning in August 2007.


"The pronunciation of the Chinese student pilots was not accurate enough for them to communicate well, and in aviation, spoken communication over the radio is very critical," said Dan. "You have air traffic controllers giving instructions to pilots, pilots reporting information to air traffic controllers, and pilots talking to pilots - so it's extremely important that everyone can understand and be understood."


Dan adds that there's no texting involved in air traffic control communication, just a two-way radio with poor sound quality and interference in the background. In addition, if student pilots have a poor command of spoken English, they have difficulty understanding their instructors and vice-versa.


"The more the flight academy personnel told us about the problems students were having, the more we were convinced that The Spalding Method - particularly the phonograms - would be helpful in teaching students how to decode English words and make connections between the written language and the spoken language," said Dan.


Dan points out that English is taught in China primarily as a written language. Students memorize how the English word looks next to its definition in Chinese. Students are tested on reading and writing, but not on their speaking or listening skills.


"They could read a sentence in English, but many were not able to read it aloud in a way that would be easily understood by a native speaker," said Dan.


Ya-mei appreciates The Spalding Method's student-centered components of high expectations, the teaching of higher-level thinking, and explaining the meaning and purpose of lessons to students. The Spalding Method's diagnostic approach allows it to be tailored to each student's needs. Higher-level thinking skills, in the form of five "mental actions," are introduced as early as kindergarten to students via The Spalding Method. Typically, these skills are not taught until much later if at all.


Spalding Method Brings Clarity to the English Language


"The Spalding Method really is diagnostic teaching," said Ya-mei. "Plus, it's very explicit, sequential, and multi-sensory, giving students a very vivid picture of the English language. This caused our students to become more engaged."


Using phonograms and vocabulary development, they would emphasize words that the Chinese pilots needed to use in their interactions with air traffic controllers, as well as with their flight and ground instructors.


"The universal educational principals and philosophy embodied in The Spalding Method are what make it so successful," said Dan. "At our flight academy, the goal is to train good, safe pilots who are not just rote-memorizing to pass tests, but who truly understand and can apply the knowledge needed to fly commercial aircraft. They must be able to understand and clearly articulate such things as the different systems in aircraft, rules and regulations, and emergency procedures."


"The flight academy's emphasis is on producing safe, professional airline pilots," said Ya-mei. "The school wanted to see better results and fewer problems with the students as a result of better English."


After six months of teaching at the flight academy, feedback from staff and instructors was positive. Problems related to English proficiency were decreasing. "Flight instructors told us they were having fewer language problems with their students," said Dan. "And we had positive feedback from the air traffic controllers as well. They were pleased with the results."


In the spring of 2010, the flight academy sent the Shaffers to China to provide pre-instruction to future trainees to improve their English proficiency. They concluded their full-time teaching for the academy in October 2010, but continue to work on-call for special projects. The Chinese airline sponsoring the students was pleased with the results of their teaching in China, and the Shaffers returned to provide similar training in 2011 and 2012.


"One of the best things about The Spalding Method is that as long as you use this direct, sequential, and diagnostic approach, it allows any student to be successful," said Dan.


"It encourages students to be life-long learners," added Ya-mei.


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About Spalding Education International
Spalding Education International (SEI) is dedicated to teaching all students to spell, write and read. The organization was founded in 1986 by Romalda B. Spalding, author of "The Writing Road to Reading" - a comprehensive K-6 total language arts program that closely aligns with the Common Core Standards. In the Spalding Method, instruction is explicit, systematic, interactive, diagnostic and multi-sensory. SEI courses are accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC) for its literacy instructional programs for teachers and Spalding teacher trainers. Classroom and resource room teachers, adult educators, as well as home educators in the United States, Canada, Australia, Central America, Europe, Singapore and Taiwan are currently using the Spalding Method. SEI is a nonprofit, tax exempt 501(c)(3) corporation based in Phoenix, Ariz. For more information, call 1-623-434-1204 or visit


Contact: Jim Sexton / 623-434-1204 /