Easyread founder and CEO David Morgan struggled to learn to read as a child, and 30 years later, found himself in reading time battles with his own sons, who had the same problem. “It can become quite traumatic!” says David.
Around the same time, he became the acting head of a prison literacy charity in the UK called The Shannon Trust. The Trust links up illiterate prisoners with literate prisoners, who are trained by the trust to mentor their peers in reading.
Illiteracy is a huge problem in the English speaking world, with 1 in 5 children at the age of 11 unable to read. But in the prisons, this effect is amplified. Some studies show that at least 50% of all prisoners are illiterate.
David was amazed to find how quickly the prisoners’ lives were turned around after learning to read and indeed, how quickly they could learn to read if taught well. “It is like turning the clock back for them, to when they were 6 or 7 and things started to go wrong,” says David. He became inspired to try to find a solution to illiteracy that could change the lives of children before things got so bad for them.
He studied pedagogy, neurology, psychology, dyslexia and literacy for a couple of years and eventually devised the core of the Easyread System. He found that the majority of children have a visual learning style, which can lead them to process text words as pictures, purely through the visual cortex, instead of as representations of the spoken words, through the auditory cortex. This sight-reading strategy can seem to get good early results, but is very inefficient and usually involves masses of guessing as the text gets more complex. The sight readers are quickly outpaced by the decoding strategies of conventional readers. Somewhere between the ages of 6 and 11 the sight reading children end up on a reading plateau, with atrocious spelling too.
Around 70% of dyslexics are highly visual learners and follow this pattern of sight-reading and guessing based on contextual cues, like the first letter of a word or an illustration. We have also identified six other causes of reading and spelling difficulty, which can lead to a diagnosis of dyslexia. That is why the “symptoms of dyslexia” can seem so broad and confusing; they are patterns that correlate to the skills and deficits that are linked to these seven causes of reading difficulty.
David created a method that would engage the highly visual learners, while steering them away from the sight-reading method. Easyread appeals to the visual learning style by using entertaining pictorial clues to represent each sound in the English language. These clues are then placed over the letters in a word to help a child sound out the word; the process we call decoding.
The child becomes fluent at reading-by-decoding through regular practice using the images to help when necessary. We call that development process Guided Phonetic Reading. Over time, the clues are removed from the text, rather like taking the training wheels off a child’s bike. The learner is released into free reading. We call this text-with-images “Trainertext”.
By this point, the child’s brain has been re-engineered through the repeated decoding practice, so that they can process text through the auditory cortex from the visual cortex. For most children it takes 60-180 short daily online lessons to reach what we call “reading take-off”; when they can read pretty much what they want.
Apart from dealing with this sight reading pattern (that we call Optilexia), we also come across the six other common issues that can cause reading difficulty and often a mix of some or all of the seven. Within the Easyread System we are constantly hunting for signs of all seven causes of difficulty, so that they can all be alleviated with the right help.
Making sense of the mix of patterns seen in an individual child is a complex process that takes knowledge and experience. But we support every child, parent and teacher through the Easyread process until the right solution is achieved.
It is only through this broad-based approach, combined with viewing each child as a unique individual, that we can be confident of helping almost any child through to confidence with both reading and spelling.