Writing is a code for sound; as ever it’s not quite that simple. You’ve probably read the title, know what I mean but also realise that it just looks “plane rong”. We have both sound and word representations in our minds. In experienced readers’ minds phonology (word sounds) and spellings (orthography) work individually and together; in experienced readers this is a rapid, automatic and mutually reinforcing process.
These”notes to self” are taken from The Reading Mind by Daniel T. Willingham and his YouTube summaries.
Were this not the case then learning to read has suddenly got exponentially harder for us. Learning every single word by sight would be a torturous monotonous process requiring many hours a day, over weeks and month, before we could read the most simple of passages. Common words – the, and, she, he – would soon be committed to memory pretty quickly but each time we came across a new word we would have to learn it from scratch.
Phonics on their own is also effortful; imagine a young child as s/he sounds out a word. The persistent effort of applying the “translation rues” to convert letter/letter strings to sound fills the working memory. Multiply this effort up to reading a sentence and exhaustion would soon set in. There is then the added problem of the numerous words that we have adopted into the English language with their original spelling that don’t follow our phonetic code. To decode fluently we need to self-teach once the basics are in place. A combination of phonics, the word’s context and words with similar roots, prefixes, suffixes (morphology); with reading practice and experience more letter strings and words become identifiable and remembered.
We can now read words; whilst they don’t jump about on the page they may as well. A word can change meaning and the important inference(s) that we are required to make can change depending upon the context of the word. My example from this morning’s presentation to staff was, “Stephen runs down the street; he had the runs”. Words can be ambiguous; fortunately our mind helps us out by using the word’s context to identify relevant features to help us understand its meaning.
In the video below Daniel Willingham explains in greater detail.
This has massive implications for reading. Firstly, we need to read a word in its context; that is, see the word in relation to the words prior to it in a sentence and what comes after it. Often we need to read across sentences to gain an understanding of meaning. I think I once read that a reader needs to be reading at a speed of about one hundred words a minute. Fluent decoding is essential for a reader to have sufficient information in her/his working memory to correctly identify meaning. This is helped by an idea web (textbase) of connected words in which certain words switch on/off to help us identify the meaning of words as we read them. As this is a lot of information to hold in our working memory we don’t remember everything we read, just the main gist of it. We have a sense of what we read, retaining that which we think is important, not a photographic memory of it.
There’s more to follow on Sunday with the mysteriously titled:
Did You Have an Inter Course Break Too?
If you’d like to read the first blog in this series please click the link below: