Optilexia, or Whole Word Sight-Reading

Optilexia: Guessing words instead of reading them.

What causes it and what can you do?

This is the big one. Thousands of bright children look at the inconsistent spelling of words and choose to memorize them by sight, rather than trying to use phonic rules that don’t work. They are treating the word as a single graphic image and this is even taught in some schools as the quickest way to learn to read.

It does produce quick early results and you may have seen good progress with the classic “early reader books”, which use the same words again and again. Some of the very bright children can memorize the whole book. But that is not reading!

This situation can seem to be OK until the text gets too complex for this approach. At that stage you will see more and more guessing. The real giveaway is lots of guessing with short words, even though long words are sometimes read accurately. The reason you are seeing that is the long words have more context and are graphically more distinctive.

You will also see lots of reversals. If you look at a picture of a cow, you can flip it over and it is still a cow. If you are looking at words graphically, you can flip them too. But you tend to see these children falling behind fast at around the age of 7 or 8. And their spelling tends to be atrocious, even if they can do well on the revised spelling test each week.

The symptoms of Optilexia

This is what you will tend to see with an Optilexic:

  • Lots of guessing with the short words but sometimes reads a long word fluently
  • Reads a word on one page but not the next
  • Incapable of reading unfamiliar words unless there is a clear context clue
  • Very poor spelling in free writing, but sometimes quite good in spelling tests
  • Might seem to progress well in the early years, but then hits a plateau aged 6-9
  • Potentially far lower comprehension than you would expect for the intelligence of the child
  • A lack of interest in reading

What is the solution to Optilexia?

The solution to this is to give the child the tools to engage with the phonic structure of each word and then force the engagement of the auditory cortex.

Easyread has been developed as a solution for exactly this situation and I don’t know of anything that comes close to the same effectiveness we have achieved with Easyread.  So I will give examples from Easyread as to how Optilexia can be solved for the child.

First, we take the visual strength of the child and use it to help guide the child towards proper phonic decoding of the text, using our trainertext visual phonics system. This allows the child to access the phonemes within each word and then blend them successfully, without needing outside help.

Second, we create games that can be easily won if the words are decoded in this way, but are impossible if the child tries to use the familiar strategies of sight-memorization and guessing.

As they practise the new approach day by day, it slowly becomes more natural to them. Like any skill, it takes regular practice to see the change and seems harder when you first change technique. But eventually the new approach leads to far higher confidence, reading accuracy, and reading speed.

Because the child is now engaged with the internal structure of the text, we usually see a marked improvement in spelling, although seeing this change will lag behind the reading proficiency.