Friday, September 14, 2007

Cna yuo raed tihs?

Have you seen this email that has been circulating for quite a while now?


fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind! Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.
Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!


It's impossible to count how many times someone has forwarded me this email. If emails could smirk, this one would, especially because of the triumphant "Yeah, and I always thought spelling was important!"

When developing the eSpindle concept I spent a lot of time reviewing current research about spelling, reading, writing and the workings of the human brain, and to me, this email proves something completely different:
We not only write, but also read based on Mental Orthographic Images (MOI), so to get really familiar with a word's writing convention is very, very important.

This email proves that most people do not read using phonics, rules, or root words. If we did, we could indeed not read this text unless we went through lengthy decoding.
Phonics, spelling rules and even root word knowledge are great intellectual tools that can help us decipher a word when we get "stuck" – they are not, however, the stuff that good readers and writers are made of.

Fluent reading – just like writing - is driven by the brain's library of MOI, an immense collection of visual imprints of words created as the brain memorizes written words.

As you probably know, a good speller is likely to write based on "looks right" decisions (unless s/he is dyslexic – see below).

What this little entertaining email proves is that MOI actually drive our reading as well – by supporting the brain by zipping through the text based on "looks like" decisions and content-based associating.

If the mind uses MOI for reading ("looks like") as well as writing ("looks right"), then this would mean that focused word instruction – teaching the successful formation of MOI – is actually dramatically more important than is currently acknowledged.

Sometimes people ask us why we have such a "ridiculous" large entry field in our quizzes – it was very purposefully designed that way to support the successful formation of MOI.

The number of people that can read this and why they can

Some versions of this email state that "only 55 out of a hundred can," others say that everyone is able to read the text.

After showing this text to readers of all ages and education levels, I have concluded that while not everyone can read the text, clearly more than 55% of the population can.
Dyslexics and people who read little have severe trouble figuring it out, and normally give up after a few words.

The speed by which someone "gets it" seems to directly correlate to the speed they normally read.
People who read a lot and effortlessly can read this instantly, albeit still at slower than their normal speed.
People who always read slowly take longer and get "stuck" on words frequently.
The most common "stopper" is the word phaonmneal (phenomenal) in the second paragraph, an advanced vocabulary word that someone of low literacy skills is often not familiar with.

Apparently the brain pulls up words from its memory bank based on the first and last letters, its expectation based upon context, and other factors like length of word, number of upper- and lower-length extensions, etc.

It's a much more advanced decoding process than unraveling words going from left to right, letter by letter, which is our traditional understanding of "reading."

It is an amazing processing task, and gives us a little glimpse into the vast potential of the powerful supercomputing organ we shelter within our cranium.

People tend to respond to this email saying – "I didn't know I was that smart," "seems like I'm a genius," or "I would have never thought I could to this."
Why do people go through school not learning this basic truth - that their capacities are so vast, close to limitless?

When will our students be taught to understand that they do possess the tools to do anything they want, if only they dedicate the time and energy it takes to develop the skill to use them?

I have received three versions of this text: One credits "a researcher" at Cambridge University, others an Oxford scientist. Newer versions talk about an "English university."

After fruitless research I was unable to link this email to any of these two universities, and so assume that this email is the work of a rather informal "researcher." If so, thank you, dear unknown creator, for providing such a strong and compelling experiment!

If someone is more successful in actually locating the scientific research producing this piece, please let me know! I would be curious to see what kind of conclusions and observations were drawn from this experiment.

Historically, learning was hammered into students' minds in an authoritarian, rote and all-around frustrating way, not leaving much room for creative and critical thinking, or individualized instruction. Older generations remember spelling instruction as frustrating and discouraging, or at the very best, boring.

Then research discovered that dyslexics, who performed badly on the weekly spelling test, were able to navigate around their problems when they were taught phonics and spelling rules – so the conclusion was to throw out the old memorization routines and teach spelling through teaching phonetic patterns and grouping words by these patterns or rules.

What this ignored, however, is that the vast majority of students form MOI easily and reliably if taught in an intelligent and focused fashion.
The logic-based approach that works so great for dyslexics does not serve other students – because they read and write based on MOI, not based on a logical, analytical process.

A lot of students, especially strong visual learners, will pick up the majority of words while reading, with minimal need for explicit spelling instruction. What strong visual learners will have to work on is overcoming false MOI they may have formed unconsciously, for example when presented with workbooks with misspellings in their instructions (there should be a law prohibiting this!).

Many students, unfortunately, are left without the assistance they need. They are not served by the rule-based instruction initially designed for dyslexics, because they are not dyslexic. And for a variety of reasons, they may no longer get the targeted instruction they need to successfully form their MOI database.

While all they really need is just a bit of additional targeted practice, they often simply do not get enough coaching to truly "get it."

Their discomfort with words soon affects their reading and writing.
They get frustrated, write and read less, fall further behind in building their MOI library, and soon notice that their peers read and write faster, understand context better, and learn more effortlessly.
Humans quickly feel "behind" or not smart enough, a scary feeling which causes many to give up, leaving them heading for educational disaster.

Our very human existence is linked to words, and more and more to the written word. Let's make sure that everyone has a broad and complete word foundation for confident communication and success in any field!