Working with an adult who didn’t learn how to decode:
“Which musical did the Daily Express hail: A fine, four-fendered, fabulous night?”
The word that stumped Pete here was four, not because he didn’t recognize it but because it had been filed in his memory in the same slot as flour and floor and those 3 words always tripped him up. Always. four flour floor. We can all see the connection but most of us will see the differences instantly. The main problem was that Pete saw each word as a whole – identifiable by its beginning and end.
I held up my pen and showed him how we identify it correctly as a pen no matter how we visually process it. We can look from the tip to the end or the end to the tip, right-side-up or upside-down and we always come up with “pen”. We might see three that look quite different but are still be identifiable as “pen”. But words aren’t like that; you have to process them from left to right, through the word or they are easily mixed up. One day I was walking down an unfamiliar street and saw a sign that said, “Yoga Police”. How odd….why would anyone spend money going to a place called anything-police? Then I glanced again and realized it said, “Yoga Place”. We all do it.
The difference between Pete’s reading experience and my reading experience is that I quickly assess and correct a misread word when whatever I’m reading doesn’t make sense. Pete, in the same situation, was thrown into panic mode and simply lost the will to continue. The problem was not that nothing came to mind when he reached an unfamiliar word but that far too much came to mind and he couldn’t sort it all out. In an instant, he explained to me, he registered a lack of recognition, tried to guess a word that might work based on shape and a few of the letters and jumped ahead to see if he could understand the whole sentence anyway. It was that moment of confusion I was been seeing when I watch him read.
So here’s what we worked on: when that confusion arose he’d take a breath, say each sound (not letter) as it appeared in the word and listen for a word he knew. He would later tell me that I sat on his shoulder through a three years of university, repeating those instructions through difficult academic texts until he earned himself a 2:1 degree.
For every learner, regardless of age, decoding is an essential part of creating meaning out of text on a page.