Struggling decoders and spellers
of all ages who are undertaking any sort of
intervention have, in virtually
all cases, been badly let down by their previous instruction.
Whatever teaching they have received in the past has not taught
them, explicitly and systematically, the alphabet code and
phonics skills. As a result of missing or mal-instruction
they have also acquired unhelpful strategies and become victims
of the Matthew Effect. The content of all early reading or intervention programmes should therefore only include the most optimal activities as indicated by empirical research.
Intervention speed is of great importance because
without rapid and effective remediation it is common for
struggling readers to develop feelings of anxiety,
shame and low self-esteem. Unnecessary activities, although not directly harmful to reading
and spelling development, supplant effective practice and cause further delay. All time spent in
one-to-one or small group work needs to make a
discernible difference to all involved, FAST.
''Opportunity cost is one of the
most important ideas in education. Every hour you spend doing
one thing is an hour you don't have available to spend on
something else...'' (Prof. Dylan Wiliam)
Poor Readers Feel Angry, Sad, and Unpopular?''
''Time is not just
precious, it is finite. Reading interventions must never waste
As Dr.Steven Dykstra points out, ''There are only 2 ways to improve any treatment effort:
1. You can identify better ways of doing things and do more of them.
You can identify less effective ways of doing things and do less of them.
The two often go hand in hand since there are only so many hours and resources. We must almost always do less of something in order to do more of something else. So, if we want to provide more effective instruction we must go through the process of identifying those things which are less effective or even harmful. Unfortunately, no one likes it when their way of doing things loses out and is selected for extinction''
The following activities are unnecessary (time wasting), ineffective and
(marked**), and should play no part in any
early reading, 'dyslexia' intervention or catch-up programme. To a layperson's eyes many of these tasks may seem extraordinary and nonsensical (they are).
In spite of that, most of these activities appear in one or more well regarded, sometimes government funded programmes.
**Word 'prediction' (guessing) based on the picture, context or initial letter/s
**Alphabet letter name learning before fluency in applying sounds
to spellings is achieved
**Sounding out words using alphabet letter names when spelling for themselves
Putting letter shapes out in an alphabet arc and chanting the names.
Feeling and identifying alphabet letter shapes in a bag
**Memorising key or cue words as whole shapes
**Learning that some letters in some words are 'silent' e.g. wrong, gnome, thumb, knock, guest,
**Writing or spelling words backwards -see Room 101 NLP Magical spelling.
Learning how to use a dictionary
Doing phoneme awareness (PA) activities - without letters
Using a finger to form invisible letter shapes or words in
the air / on a person's back / forearm / textured board...
**Reading books with repetitive
or predictive text or 'real' books in initial independent practice.
**Onset and rime / rhyming word families e.g b-ake, m-ake, st-ake, sh-ake...
**Spelling families (visual only) e.g. the
gh family: light, cough, ghost, though, laugh, weight, caught, plough, Hugh...
-the ea family: bread, cream, early, heart, bear, steak, plateau,
**Learning adjacent consonants
(blends) as whole units e.g. sp-, cl-, str-, br-, -nd, -lp...
'Story' or sentence dictation by the student for the tutor to write down.
Reconstructing a cut up sentence using words with as yet untaught code.
**Skipping words in the text and reading on.
**Substituting words as long as the meaning of the text is preserved e.g. 'bug' for beetle, 'apple' for apricot
**Using the phrase, ''That letter says its name''
**Using the prompts, "Does that look right?", "Does that sound right?" and "Does that make sense?"
**Reading pseudo-words with illegal
or inappropriate English spellings e.g. tpaic, feadge, sttov,
**Quizzes and exercises with a focus on spotting deliberate spelling mistakes
**Memorising high frequency words (HFWs) or 'tricky' words as whole shapes.
Drawing outlines around individual words to form shapes.
Writing a sequence of letters in rectangular boxes
(word-coffins (Lyn Stone)) to form
Using letters shapes to remember spellings e.g. wheel shapes in motor car, humps in camel,
eyes in look..
Visualizing words whilst looking up to the left -see Room 101 NLP Magical spelling.
Writing words using the opposite hand
Writing words using 'bubble' or 'rainbow' writing
Writing words with eyes shut or blindfolded.
Making clay / playdough / shaving foam / toothpaste / pipe cleaner... letter shapes
**Looking for little words
within longer words e.g. <eat> in weather aka ''toxic
morphology'' (Tricia Millar)
Learning mnemonics for spelling e.g. big elephants can always understand small elephants = because
**Look/say/cover/write/check -see spelling
Word searches and crosswords with high frequency or topic words
Listening to the teacher / a sports personality / celebrity / famous author or poet...reading
**Using a parent, teaching
assistant or literacy coach, untrained in the alphabet code and
error correction, or a dog, to help struggling decoders
Syllable-type rules, for example the one which divides the
letters forming a GPC - ''kettle is split as ket
- tle because <ket> is a closed syllable with a short vowel, <tle> is a regular final syllable''
See Room 101
Spelling rules: for example, 'i before e except after c' and 'magic 'e'..
**Tailoring teaching to fit a perceived thinking / learning style, brain type, or 'intelligence'
Also, see Room 101 for dyslexia treatments and intervention programmes to avoid.
What To Do?
''One remarkable study conducted in 1985 by Carr and Evans in Canada showed this by recording ‘time on task’ for each individual child on 50 occasions per child over several months. They then correlated ‘time on task’ with each child’s reading-test score. They found that ‘ONLY three activities were positively and significantly correlated to reading skill: that is, the more time spent on these activities the higher the reading scores were. These are: practice segmenting and blending sounds in words (phonemes), specific phonics activities such as learning letter-sound relationships, and writing words, phrases and sentences, by copying or from memory’. The memorizing of sight words, lessons on vocabulary and grammar and listening to the teacher read showed strong negative correlations to reading scores – in other words, the more time children spent on these activities, the poorer their reading test scores were.'' http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID=173&n_issueNumber=59 These findings have been replicated by others -see 'Sumbler and Willows' study, below
''Interestingly, it was found that out of these ten activities, only two were highly correlated with success in reading and spelling. These two were: ‘phonics’ (which included all phonics activities involving print, letter-sound correspondences, blending, segmenting, detecting sounds in words all with printed form of the word), and ‘letter formation’ (which involved talking about the shapes of letters, writing letters and words in context of learning letter-sound relationships). These were the only activities that mattered in terms of subsequent reading and spelling performance. However, equally important was the finding that six activities made no difference whatsoever to reading and spelling success, and two activities were actually related to worse reading and spelling achievement. The six activities that made no difference were: ‘Auditory phonological awareness’ (in the absence of print), ‘sight word learning’ (learning to recognise whole words as units without sounding out), ‘reading/grammar’ (grammar or punctuation explanations, reading by children that appeared to be real reading usually with the teacher), ‘concepts of print’ (learning about reading, chanting pattern books), ‘real writing’ (included any attempts to write text), ‘letter name learning’ (included only the learning of letter names, not sounds). The two activities that resulted in worse achievement were: ‘non-literacy activities’ (such as play, drawing, colouring, crafts), and ‘oral vocabulary’ (language development, story discussions, show and tell, teacher instructions).''