Virginia Masterman-Smith

This photo was taken at White Rock School, Jefferson, N.J., where as Special Reading Teacher, I developed the basis for ABBA-DABBA-DEE.

ABBA-DABBA-DEE came from the fact that I almost got put back into kindergarten because I couldn't learn to read. My parents said the teacher wasn't teaching me the way they had learned (phonetic-based instruction). The teacher said she wasn't allowed to teach that old fashioned way. There was a new way to teach reading and she had to use it or she would lose her job.

That is when my stepfather 'stepped' in. Each night he gave me 10 three-letter rhyming words, explaining the sound of the short vowel in the middle. Each night I memorized how to spell them.

At first, I didn't get all that letter/​sound stuff, so memorizing was a chore, but I stuck to it because my stepfather insisted that I would soon be able to read.

One night after I had finished spelling a short u set, he handed me his newspaper.

"Read," he said. pointing to an article on the front page. I looked down, . . .and. . . lo and behold I read! It was a miracle! It was a dream come true! I definitely could read!.

I passed 1st grade with flying colors. By 2nd grade I was writing stories. By 4th grade I was writing poems. By 7th grade I was editor of our class newspaper and so on and so forth through high school.

. . . but not college. I went part time, working my way through for a teaching degree because there were plenty of jobs for women in teaching. Still, I had the dream that someday I would be a writer.

My first teaching job was 1st grade. The method of teaching reading hadn't changed from my 1st grade. I used it, but my kids were failing, so I enriched reading lessons with sets of rhyming words. We chanted the vowel sounds and the words.
(continue on next page.)

Introducing ABBA-DABBA-DEE--The Early Reading Program Based on My Elementary School Program that Skyrocketed Our NJ State Scores from 54% to 92% Pass

Welcome to the website of Virginia Masterman-Smith.
American education is in a sorry state, and here are the sorry statistics to prove it:

1. 66% of U.S fourth graders are below proficient in reading.
2. Only 36% of all eighth graders are reading at or above grade level. This means that 64% scored below proficient.
2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reading test.

I experienced the reality of these statistics when I taught in the inner city and in the suburbs. I did my best to change them in the inner city, but it was in the suburbs that I had the opportunity to truly make a difference.

I was hired to improve the deplorably low 54% pass in the New Jersey State Reading & Language Arts exam. I did it (with the help of principal, teachers, and parents)! Four years later our school scored 92% pass in the exam.

The difference was phonics, also known as decoding. When our failing 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders learned to sound out words well enough to read them as quickly as they read their own names, they could focus totally on comprehending the message of any text they read. Add coaching in the 12 basic comprehension skills and--voilal !--in four years, 92% or our kids passed.

It was during those years that I developed the basics for ABBA-DABBA-DEE, my early reading program. I chose to focus on beginning readers because statistics show that success at early reading forecasts general academic success.

The program is divided into five sections, each appropriately named in a jolly way for a short vowel sound: abba-dabba-dee, ebba-debba-dee, ibba-dibba-dee, obba-dobba-dee, and ubba-dubba-dee. In each section, the power point teacher conducts an oral review of the letters of the alphabet followed by guided written practice.

The power point teacher then presents the sound of the particular vowel named in the section title along with the proper way to print the vowel. The children chant directions as they mimic the sound, write the vowel in the air with continued chanting, and finally chant as they write the vowel in their practice books. The multi-sensory presentation allows no time for a learner to be distracted. (It's been my experience that kids love to chant.)

Each lesson begins with the presentation of one or more lower-case letters. The circle letters are grouped according to the placement of the vertical line before or after the letter. For instance, in abba-dabba-dee , circle vowel a is followed by lessons introducing d and g along with 7 to 10 rhyming words containing those letters. This consistent repetition of the fact that in those letters the circle is followed by the vowel installs this fact in their long term memories so that they will never again confuse d's with b's or p's or g's, which a problem with many youngsters. (Letters that have not yet been introduced are always traced.)

In ABBA-DABBA-DEE spelling is part of the reading lesson. Decoding skills are taught with sets of rhyming words presented in colorful power point as each word drops into place on a screen. The learners listen and watch, repeat and chant, chant the spelling, write each word in the air, then trace it in the practice book.

With each lesson, learners read two jingles that are followed by comprehension practice. The practice affords support for mastery of the twelve basic comprehension skills.

Here are the jingles for the am rhyming words lesson. After the first, comprehension practice immediately follows. After second, it follows the story read by the teacher. The program provides story and all comprehension questions.


A ram and his lamb took a tram to the jam.
At the tram they met a clam in a tam.
Said the clam in the tam to the ram,
"Who you am?"
"Am the dad of the lamb," said the ram.


Abba-dabba-dee! Yes siree!
My "am words are easy as can be!
Now my teacher will read to me.
Oh year. . .oh yeah. . .oh yeah!

ABBA-DABBA-DEE is a proven 92% success. No early reading program can boast that stat!