The Science Behind Easyread
Easyread is a new approach to learning to read, using short daily coaching sessions on the Internet. The system uses the main strengths of the child to make each step towards reading seem fun and easy.
The results we see are usually spectacular. Children who have been struggling to read for several years often crack it in just 2-6 months.
The Workings of the Brain
As you know, the brain has different areas of cortex for different activities. And we are all different in what we find easy and hard.
Dyslexia researchers detect an “auditory deficit” in around 80% of struggling readers. What this means is that the auditory cortex in the left hemisphere of the brain is not active during the reading process. This has usually been interpreted as an incurable weakness in this facility.
We have discovered a different reality.
These same children usually have a very strong visual ability. It is their strong visual intelligence that we have found to be at the heart of the problem. Once we redirect them away from their natural visual strategies, reading becomes easy for them.
We can all be categorised roughly into the boxes auditory, visual, kinaesthetic and digital. They indicate which facility we base our preferred processing and learning strategies on.
We can all use all four options. It is just that we lean towards one or two of the four and that then strengthens those even more.
The Visual Learner Track To Disaster
A visual learner will be introduced to the alphabet and memorise it fairly easily. Then they also memorise the first words they are shown and everyone is happy with their progress.
Once they start looking at “early reader” books, they soon learn most of the words and can guess the others from the context and picture.
So, for the first few months of learning to read the visual learner is travelling down a path which seems to work and feels like the easiest option. Any coaching in phonics will get ignored as “not so easy”.
The problems only really begin to kick in as the vocabulary used in the book starts to grow. Now their strategy becomes more and more difficult.
The “Evil Twins”
So you will see much wilder guessing at this stage. Often it will bear no relation to the word on the page.
We call them the Evil Twins; memorisation and guessing. Some reading systems are actually based on encouraging this approach. But it usually leads to disaster.
At the age of 7 or 8 the visual child’s reading ability will plateau and then start to recede as their confidence implodes.
Resistance to trying to read builds and builds until the whole thing becomes a battleground with tensions running ever higher.
The Exit From The Spiral
So the first goal we set ourselves in Easyread is to change the child’s psychology to reading. We aim to do that in the very first lesson. You can test whether we succeed by putting any child through our first lesson. Just follow the links to our “free trial”.
Every child wants to be able to read. As soon as they can see the possibility that learning to read could be fun and easy, we find they are very enthusiastic, often to the amazement of their parents and teacher.
Our next goal is to gently move them away from their addiction to the Evil Twins. We have a number of techniques for this. But the most fundamental is our use of TrainerText.
TrainerText is a unique system we have developed. We place an image for each sound used in a word above the text.
For instance, take the word /was/. You would expect it to rhyme with /gas/. It is a very tricky little fence for the young reader to jump.
With Easyread the child will get stuck on it too. But now he or she can look up at the images above the word and see the Octopus who Kocked a Puss above the /a/ rather than the Ant in Pink Pants. And the Zuto from Pluto is above the /s/, not the Snake with a Shake.
That means that the irregular words can be decoded as well as the regular ones.
So now the child has all the right phonemes and can blend the word, without needing any help.
The sense of empowerment is huge. What would have been another little failure with a frustrated parent or teacher having to help, has become a moment of success and pride.
I cannot emphasise too much how important this reversal of the psychology is. And each successful decoding of a word makes it easier to decode the next time.
Harness The Power of the Internet
Many people have a concern about a child learning something so fundamental as reading on the computer. And I can sympathise with that emotion. However, in this instance we have found the computer, and the Internet in particular, hugely powerful.
The first reason is that, on top of whole class teaching of literacy, each child needs around 10-15 minutes of reading practice every day. Conventionally that needs an adult to sit with the child, or the child will just get stuck.
But that is impossible for most schools. It equates to 5 hours a day for a class of 30, without a coffee break!
It is also hard for parents who are busy and have no training in literacy teaching techniques. Reading practise can become a very stressful experience for both child and parent.
So, on a practical level, the Internet as a reading coach is a winner. We can deliver an expert tutor to coach each child every day, at a fraction of the cost of an actual person.
Next, most children actually like to use a computer. So it gets them involved. And we can limit how much they do as well. That has been very important. After 10 minutes the level of concentration falls off. And a period of sleep between lessons is vital for processing the new information delivered.
And finally, on the computer they can have a multimedia experience, with games and audio coaching at each stage. It is a richer experience that just looking at an early reader book with a rather simple (and often dull) story.
The Easyread Daily Process
Every child starts Easyread with level 1, our foundation course, which lasts 14 days.
Each lesson of the foundation course is 10-15 minutes. It has two main aims:
1 To secure the child's knowledge of the phonemes used in English and create a strong hook to each phoneme with a visual image
2 To build the child's confidence in being able to decode words phonetically rather than using memorisation.
So we present the 26 letters of the alphabet, with a corresponding Easyread Character to each one. From day 1 we start using the letters and characters in TrainerText.
We also play a series of games that are designed to engage the child and exercise different elements of the reading process.
Once the foundation is complete we have three reading levels:
Level 2 has very short sections of text from familiar stories. This is designed to build layer upon layer of confidence as the child gets used to "being able to do it".
Level 3 has longer sections of text from original stories. This begins to increase the quantity of reading being done and requires more awareness of the meaning of the text.
Level 4 has even more text of a non-fiction nature (a mix of jokes, amazing facts and riddles).
By the time all 223 lessons are completed, the child has read over 25,000 words.
More Interesting Materials
The TrainerText approach means that we can use a much broader vocabulary in our materials. That then means that we can write richer stories with more humour.
Throughout Easyread we try to use fun and humour to bring the experience alive. The Fun has been finally inserted into Phonetics!
Optimal Learning Processes
The exact processes of how the brain learns is still largely a mystery. But we are able to measure various factors which contribute to making learning easier. We try to leverage this knowledge to make the learning process easier:
- A child cannot work on a new and demanding intellectual process for more than 10-15 minutes without concentration levels dropping.
- Repetitions embed learned material if spaced over time. It is good to do several repetitions with a few minutes between them. It is also good to do repetitions with sleep intervening. This has been measured even in slugs.
- The brain works over newly learned material during sleep and makes complex connections of related knowledge. For instance, if I tell you F is above D, A is above C and A touches D you are more likely to be able to tell me the relationship between C and F tomorrow than right now. It is a measurable effect.
- There is a decay of newly created knowledge over the following days, unless it is reinforced by repetition. The more regularly it is reinforced, the more secure the knowledge becomes. So a daily routine is important for gaining new knowledge.
- The brain stores most of its memories in a visual form and finds that easiest to remember. If I introduce you to two people, one called Henry and the other Chris and say "we call him Crispy Chris because he is addicted to eating mounds of potato crisps. Look at him stuffing them down now. You will always see crisp flakes in his jumper and moustache" whose name will you remember on next meeting or even in 5 minutes? Can you remember the other name now even?
- The more multisensory and actively engaging an activity is, the more easily the brain stores the information. To see and hear is better than just seeing. To see and hear and do is the best learning experience.
- Stress shuts down the grey matter. It is a basic fight or flight mechanism. Once adrenalin enters the system the higher processing areas tend to shut down in most of us. We rely on the basic reactions of the amygdala and brain stem (known as the "lizard brain" although I think reptiles have higher thought processes than that gives them credit for!). If I calmly asked you what 2 plus 3 plus 4 equalled you would be quite comfortable answering. However, if I shouted the question at you and made an angry face, you would find it far less easy.
- The brain is very plastic. This means that it can change its working patterns with the right stimulation. This ability is never lost, but there is a process called myelination, which is the coating of the neurones in myelin. That improves their performance but reduces their ability to make new branches and connections. Myelination starts when you are two and is completed in your late twenties. So an older child may find the switch of processing style slightly harder than a younger child. In addition, they have been using memorisation and guessing for longer, which makes it more embedded.
This is all embedded in Easyread to make the path up the hill less steep.
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