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How to Turn Your Guesser into a Reader

by Sarah Forrest | 6 September 2018

So you know your reader has a bit of a guessing habit. They read ‘the’ instead of ‘there’. Or they see a picture of a cookie on the page, and read ‘cookie’ instead of ‘cake’. You ask them to sound out words, and instead you just get another guess based on the first letter.

It can be frustrating. To put it mildly.

Is guessing really so bad?

Guessing is a coping strategy. Beginner readers (under 6 years old) may do it before they’ve really learned phonics, sort of feeling their way into the world of reading. Struggling readers (who have already had some phonics training in school) use it as a way to compensate for their poor phonological skills.

But like many a good coping strategy, it merely masks a hole underneath.

Learning to read phonetically — by sounding out words — is the way our English language was designed to be read. Any other way of approaching reading is going to end poorly: with slow progress, failed literacy assessments year after year, and zero enjoyment of cracking open a book.

Some adults think it is normal to guess as you read and will say they “read well, but are just poor spellers”. Well it may feel like they are reading fine but they are actually reading well below their potential.

The wonderful news is that unlike many a good coping strategy, fixing the problem beneath is surprisingly simple, thanks to a new method that cracks the struggle wide open.

Try some training wheels: trainertext visual phonics (TVP)

Perhaps you snorted a little when I said the solution was “simple”. Haven’t years of curriculum wars over the best way to help strugglers proved exactly the opposite?

Well, yes, and no.

The solution really is simple: you have to make it easy for their brain to decode words instead of guessing them. The tricky bit is how! A new kid on the education block is finally making this a pain-free process for parents and teachers. It’s called Trainertext visual phonics (TVP).

Since reading is a subconscious skill like riding a bike, rather than a conscious rules-based process like building an IKEA table, TVP uses a training wheels approach. The training wheels are its Trainertext images, a set of 45 memorable (even hilarious!) visual characters that represent each of the sounds in the English language. When floated above the letters in a word, they help a child sound out even the most irregular word.

The images keep the process light with their comical bent and the TVP methodology is packed with a games-based approach, in short 10-minute chunks, that keeps children wanting more.

After 2-3 months of regular practice decoding words using these images, children’s brains learn those letter-to-sound patterns subconsciously and no longer need the trainertext images. An independent randomized control trial showed that after around 120 lessons, children who had been 2 years behind we now on average at the national standard. Such a comprehensive improvement for a group of children in such a short time after several years of failure is unprecedented.

The genius of the visual phonics method really is simple. It takes what science tells us works best (reading by decoding phonetically) and uses the natural strengths of the child’s brain to make learning to read in that way easy.

And for some children who have been getting by on guessing for many years of difficulty, TVP represents a life change, because reading is central to everything. If a child is struggling to read, they will end up struggling with almost every aspect of their education.

You can read more about how to teach your child with Trainertext visual phonics here, or the online Easyread System visual phonics program here.

Sarah Forrest is an Advisor for David Morgan Education, and contributor at Helping Children to Read. After studying Spanish literature at Yale University, she worked at Easyread HQ in Oxford, England for 4 years. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she loves coaching parent and children through pictophonics.

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