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Reading & Spelling with a Visual Learner

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Dusted off and polished up – because the myth of learning styles never goes away.

Not all That Reading Thing students are disaffected and disengaged.

Pete is in his twenties and formally diagnosed as severely dyslexic. He reads well but his spelling is a huge embarrassment to him. He’s accomplished in many other areas and can clearly explain his strategies for reading and writing.

Reading: “I know all the words by sight”. (and he does – sort of)

Spelling: “I just remember what they look like” (but he doesn’t) “I’m a visual learner.” (who needs to use his ears)

I explained to him that words are made up of sounds: he said his head hurt because he’s a visual learner. We did a couple of sorting exercises and, for some reason, the word “catch” came up. “Now I could read that but I couldn’t spell it.” We’d hit the appropriate wall. I showed him that there are 2 ways to write the sound “ch” at the ends of words: ch and tch. I read out a list of words with “ch” at the end. He instantly knew that the only way he was going to figure out the correct spelling was to write them down and “see” which was correct. He found that he could spell 16 of the 18 words that I gave him.

The next week I asked if he’d been able to use his new strategy at all. “Once I thought I couldn’t spell a word then thought, that’s one of Tricia’s “ch” words, wrote it down and knew it was right.”

During the 2nd session we looked at ways to write “ee”. Again, it was entirely around spelling and he had to choose the correct spelling of the “ee” sound in the word. I read the word taxi. “I don’t know which part’s “ee” but I do know how to spell it.”

With that he wrote t a i x.

That’s not bad at all if you’ve memorized how to draw every word you know as a whole object. Sadly, close but incorrect can make you the object of ridicule in your professional life.

So I got out four blank sound tiles and put them down one at a time, asking which sound he could hear at that point in the word taxi and he wrote the sound on a board.

What’s the first sound in taxi? “t” (writes t)
next? “a” (writes a)
next sound in taxi? “don’t know but it’s an x” (gave him “ks” and he wrote x)
and the last sound in taxi is? “ee” – writes i –“Is that how it works!”
Yes, Pete, that’s how your ears work with your eyes for spelling.

I tried to come up with an analogy of what happens when visual learners don’t use their ears. Let’s say we need at least 15,000 words to communicate in the adult world. For a visual reader, this is like being able to recognize and name any one of 15,000 people. (For anyone over 40 who can no longer name their own children, it’s easy to see why people give up on reading) For spelling, it gets worse. A visual speller must be able to name and draw each person, getting each one of their features correct and in a certain order. You can see why taxi becomes taix.

Last example from our lessons. We’re talking about syllables and Pete says, “spelling remember is a nightmare.”

OK, how many syllables? “3”

What’s the first one? “re” Can you write it? Next syllable? “mem” and last? “ber”
He writes it perfectly and laughs. “Did I just say that was a nightmare?”

And that’s what happens when “visual learners” begin to use their ears.

Here’s a very useful article on the myth of learning styles and why they don’t help teachers or students.