Visualisation and its Importance in the Early Years - Teaching Reading and Spelling


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The Reading Whisperer gives an insight into the Speech Sound Pics Approach, and why the skills of 'visualisation' is being included within all levels, as a taught skill.

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Visualisation and its Importance in the Early Years - Teaching Reading and Spelling

  1. 1. Imagery and the Development of VerbalIntelligence within the Speech Sound PicsApproachEmma Hartnell-Baker – The Reading Whisperer – is so more to learning to read and spell than phonemic awareness and phonics. These twoparts are vital as the foundation for any great whole school program, but even during the initialstages we can be thinking about making words meaningful, and developing higher order thinking.We can start developing visualisation skills that link with verbal intelligence, and I am now starting towork out a way to formally include this within the levels.When I say the word ‘cat’ to you what do you think of? It probably depends on the context.You may think of a cat – but we won’t be thinking of the same one (unless one has just satnext to us perhaps) and if asked to spell the word we would probably both visualise thatword.catWhen you read a book what are you doing, as a ‘reader’? You are using visual imageryto bring life to the words. We may read the same words, and interpret them differently,and experience different emotions, even though they are the same words. We often watch a movieand think ‘that’s not how I pictured X and Y when I read the book’- and feel quite cheatedIf I gave you some words and ask you to tell me what you see in your mind you could dothis. We need to intentially include activities to help children do this as well.If I gave you a picture on a card and asked you to describe it you could do so. How‘well’ would depend on your mastery of oral language. A child who sees this may say
  2. 2. flower’ – another may say ‘a burst of pink glory’ etc. Imagine what a botanist, or a poet, might say!Let’s include these skills within our curriculum.We need children to be able to close their eyes and visualise an image/ scene and then describewhat they can see, as well as to be able to visualise the word in print. We also need them tounderstand WHY the word is created in this way, not just to remember what it looks like.When we ask children to listen for smaller speech sounds in words, we are giving theirbrains the chance to develop phonemic awareness, and focus on this skill. When we ask themto then take a picture with their speech sound camera we are helping their brains link thespeech sound to a symbol. It is a picture of a speech sound. They can hear the speech sound, theyneed to learn to visualise the speech sound pic, before they even see it for ‘real’.Children often come to school and see ‘letters’ and don’t understand their meaning. This approachremoves the confusion, and ALSO helps children start to anticipate symbols in their minds beforeactually seeing the speech sound pics. So the process of thinking of the speech sound, visualising thesymbol, and practicing finding it (or being shown the right one) really helps the brain. We are helpingthe brain develop lots of different ‘links’ – to make sense of it all, for children. There are parts thathelp them work out our code, and parts that help them make sense of it, and bring it to life.I find that many of the children who struggle may learn to decode words, or ‘read’ a sentence, butcan’t tell you much about it. When I ask them to describe what they see in a picture they struggle to
  3. 3. find many words, or to explain what they ‘see’ / visualise. They don’t actually visualise well at all. Ofcourse we need to give them the skills to work out the words first, or they cant visualise anything!-but often we focus only on this part, and not the visualisation part. My focus has been the part thatchildren who struggle must have, but we now need to consider an even wider picture. My worryabout not focusing on the phonemic awareness and phonics as the foundation however, is thatchildren will miss on the fluency needed to truly visualise and comprehend what they are reading-let alone to interpret it!This is why Ive not uploaded the clips for children yet – to be used in the classroom. I wanted to addthis other step. I have, however, to tread carefully with how much info I give.I am going to then get the ‘whole picture’ down in a teacher handbook form – so that everythingneeded is there, so that teachers can get the foundational stuff down pat first, but also haveinformation about when they can enhance it. If I can include skills and concepts within the levels Ithink it will be a lot easier.So – green level -Adult says ‘sat’ (for example)‘Can you hear the speech sounds?’ s/a/tCan you say the sounds with me (some children need help with pronunciation, to see what yourmouth does to form an individual speech sound etc)‘Can you take a picture of the first speech sound ‘sss’ – what might it look like?’ – ‘a’ – what might itlook like? t – what might it look like (they visualise the phoneme)They will either have a blank vision, or see it- even before we show it to them.The more they become familiar with the sound pics (which is why teaching in a specificorder is important) the quicker they will visualise the symbol.Now think of what they would all look like, sitting together’ sat- did yours look like this ? Show the word satNow think of what ‘sat’ means. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘sat’? (this isn’t aboutputting it in to a sentence- this is about describing what they visualise – so no right or wronganswers)We are giving them so many skills while doing this, and can keep doing this as we progress throughall levels. We might extend it- for example asking children to not only say the speech sounds, butmanipulate them – change the order, omit sounds etc.We use this system when spelling new words. Don’t start from print, or the children are missing thechance to practice so many skills.What then happens when we then show them the ‘right’ word (after the process, rather than alwaysstarting with it)? Their brain can see the parts, identify any incorrect sound pics chosen, and store itfor future use (write it down a few times to cement it)THEN ask the child what they visualise…
  4. 4. We also do it the other way around (to help with reading skills) and show them the word, tell themthe word, ask them to say it and identify which are the speech sound pics in the word. We mightthen help their brains develop ‘mental imagery’ by asking them to look at the word, and then closetheir eyes and visualise what the word means. We can also ask them to keep their eyes closed,visualise the word, and then open their eyes and find it from a group. The word might have been‘amazing’ and you have on the table ‘umazing’ uhmayzing’ etc (you could even do this as an activitywith children- using the wrong sound pics for speech sounds, for the same word)There are elements I want to expand on within SSP as so useful. However I am aware that manyschools are using Jolly Phonics etc as so simple to use – because teachers want this easy resource –even if it isn’t comprehensive enough to meet the needs of all children, and to move them todevelop higher order skills. SSP is actually in line with Paivo’s theoretical model of cognition, DualCoding Theory. can be a part of your planned curriculumeg- say a word and visualise it (not the print, the noun) – then verbalise what you thought of(developing verbal intelligence)- progress to sentences- progress to more probing questions (to help the child visualise all parts of the sentence)For example you might read aloud -‘the pink pig tripped over the water trough and splashed water all over the piglets and the chickens.’When you ask the child to visualise this they may tell you ‘a pig tripped and got wet’- or may only tellyou ‘there was a pig’.We aren’t wanting them to remember the sentence word for word- its not about memorizing words-but to visualise the meaning of the words. As they practice they can visualise the pig, and what itlooks like, and what is happening.This is what world ‘memory’ champions do. They don’t remember things individually- they create astory- and visualise the story. They might also choose strategies such as creating links that work forthem- if they see a lady called ‘Jill’ and know they won’t remember the name, they look atsomething that will be there next time (ie not the colour of their sweater) They might see big eyesand think – big eyes- tears- water – Jack and Jill fell down the hill’. So when he sees her next he willlook at her eyes, and remember the story he has ‘written’ visually. You may have things that helpyou remember numbers etc. We can give children these skills. This is actually – partly- why I use theRWI flashcards – with a character and phrase.
  5. 5. The character prompts the child to remember the phrase, and also to link that letter sound / soundpic with a speech sound. It triggers the brain to link the dots. When training I might show teachers‘*^’ – a made up symbol- and tell them that this is the symbol for ‘ap’. In order to remember it 4weeks later we might look at this and decide that this looks like a mountain with a star. We mightvisualise going up on that mountain and taking a picture with our iphone – iphone- app. Even sixmonths later some will look at that, remember the ‘story’ and remember ‘ap’. If I give them thesymbol and ask them to just remember it the info is unlikely to go past short term memory. So muchof SSP is about helping brain networks to connect the dots- making things meaningful.So back to the exercise – of saying words and asking the children to visualise/ think what picture thisconjures up. This will help them do so as they read words in print – and also help them retain infoand make meaning of it.You can do this with written words – as appropriate to the child.- this is the word ‘hat’ – what do you visualise? / think of when you read that word?- progress to sentencesSame as above- they read a sentence (at their level) – and then tell you what they visualised.Also do this with pictures - look at the picture and tell me what you see?Have word prompts eg ‘what’ – the child tells you what they see – I see a ….‘why?’ – the children tells you ‘why’size – the child talks about the size of the objects etc.SSP is being developed to help teachers prevent difficulties. This is why children are often askedwithin Green and Yellow Levels to decode words with no picture clues. THEN they see the pictureclue – and we talk about it. This is when we are focusing on the pictures of the speech sounds, andthe skills of decoding. We are helping children create visual images of speech sounds – in their minds(visualising the speech sound pics) and in print. When children can confidently decode and encodewords within green and yellow we can do much more with the comprehension, and visualisation of‘what is happening’ – because of the words chosen. Some children can do it all, from the beginning.Many can’t. So we need to know the children, and know how they are developing within all of theseskills.
  6. 6. I wanted to get the phoneme teacher order sorted, and also decoding and encoding material,phonemic awareness screening for new Preps and general assessment and monitoring toolsorganised, now I can start putting together even more of the ‘whole jigsaw’. The automacity ofsymbol imagery (the speech sound to speech sound pic link) allows for rapid processing and quickself-correction, so that children can read with fluidity, and retain meaning.As always, a big reminder that children who lack phonemic awareness will struggle to make sense ofthe phonics. Without the phonics they will struggle to decode and actually ‘read’- which has to befor ‘meaning’. We cant help children visualise what is happening in the text, if their brains arestruggling to decode the words. Its also laborious and boring if a child has to decode a sentence hestruggles with – by the end he has no clue what words he said, let alone what the sentence meant.So let’s focus on all the pieces, and how to help every child put them together to create their ownpuzzle…a puzzle that enables them to read independently, and to want to read, for pleasure.Im really excited about it all – and I hope you are too!!Em