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The problem with 'whole word recognition '.



Georgina Smith - Dyslexia Tutor
Whole word recognition is great for reading but when an individual is trying to put words down on paper this can lead to some problems.  Dyslexia tutor Georgina Smith shares her insights on some of the problems with whole word recognition.


Georgina Writes...


Over the years of assessing and teaching I so often see students of all ages who have  ‘gone under the radar’ as they appear to be students who are functioning with reading and spelling, some at an age appropriate level.At times when I assess, I see a student who appears on the surface to read reasonably well, with some flow and whole word recognition, however when they spell, their written responses can default to a phonetic response and not be on a par with their reading.

There are also the children who practice so hard during the week only to forget the 10 spellings in Friday’s test.  Some recall many but then as time goes on, they can’t continuously recall those spellings they recollected only a few weeks or day ago when they write.


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Whether a child is dyslexic or not, whole word recognition is not always the answer, all the time, for all children.  Some children thrive from whole word recognition but some of our children need targeted intervention.I have found over the years showing students, of all ages, how to sound out, blends, breakdown, and learn the component parts of a word, to be able to transfer to less familiar words which are not high frequency enabling them to develop reading and spelling.  The structured system of learning when to use patterns in words (i.e. mid/end) can often unlock the key to learning.  This logical way of learning in CodeBreakers suits many of learners I have encountered as a dyslexia tutor.

The system of over learning is also not one our schools can often afford time for when curriculum targets need to be met.  The joy of CodeBreakers allows student to work at their own pace with opportunity for over learning.When a child learns to read by whole word recognition, often they will learn to spell that way too, recalling what a word looks like, rather than being able to sound it out and encode the word.

Today was a prime example of this, teaching a young learner that ‘ea’ say SV /e/ as in ‘bread’.  He surprised me that he could tell me very quickly all the letter names.  So I asked him to make me the word ‘bread’ using the wooden letters and then show me what made the SV /e/ sound.  He couldn’t answer. So I asked him to move each letter to represent the sounds I said.  He moved ‘br’ for /br/, then ‘e’ as I said SV/e/, then he moved the ‘ad’ and I said /d/.  Clearly he has not identified that the ‘ea’ part of the word makes the sound in the same way that only ‘d’ says /d/.

You may ask why I put this child through sounding out this word when he could spell it.  The answer, because I wanted him to recognise the letters which made this sound and be able to transfer this to other words he may not be familiar with and to learn to sound them out.Too often when testing and teaching I find student cannot sound out using only the sounds (not letter names and letter labelling) and this impedes their ability to encode words.

Of course it’s true to say that every word will not be spelled with ‘ea’ and that’s why we need dictionary skills but that’s a narrative for another day.

What are your experiences with whole letter recognition and some of the challenges that Georgina has written about?  Please pop your comments in the comments box below.

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