This morning, one of the smartest students I've ever had reluctantly showed me the thesis statement he'd just written. He didn't want me to look at it because the spelling was bad, and I won't post it without permission. I'll just say that he had misspellings on the order of 'charitturs" for characters; "sirve" for serve; and "morle" for moral. Of 19 words, 9 are misspelled, and the words spelled correctly include only one noun.
His spelling is so bad, he said, that spellcheck doesn't work. At some point his laptop decided he might be writing in Spanish, so half the time spellcheck serves up a menu of Spanish options. When Microsoft Word does present him with a selection of words in English, my student often has no idea which one to pick.
I had him read out loud a difficult paragraph, written by Maria Tatar, on fairy tales. He could more or less do it (he's very sharp), but he kept missing the short words: prepositions and short verbs, too, I think. He kept missing the short words because he automatically filled in whatever word he thought would come next instead of reading the word that actually did come next. (I guess somebody taught him to 'make predictions.')
Here's an example of what I mean (I don't remember whether he misread this section):
Like many fairy tales, the Grimms’ narrative begins by framing a prohibitionHe would likely trip over 'by,' reading it as 'with' instead (or whatever word seemed most likely to appear). Although he can spell all the prepositions -- prepositions are the main words he can spell -- he often misreads them.
Another problem: he doesn't read left-to-right. Instead, he jumps around in a sentence looking for words he can base his reading of the sentence in: he's looking for a kind of anchor word, I think. Once he's found an anchor word, he goes back to the beginning of the sentence and starts over. Then, if he has no luck on the second go-round, he'll jump forward again and look for a second anchor word that might help.
He couldn't read the word "prohibition" at all, but he demonstrated for me the method he would use to tackle it. He would start with the syllable "pro," which he could read; then he would hit "hibition," which he couldn't read at all. Then he would skip to "tion" at the end (which he saw as a separate syllable - that's good). Then he would try to guess "prohibition" on the basis of "pro" and "tion."
And he would fail, in spite of the fact that he does indeed know the word 'prohibition' and recognized it the moment I said it.
He's in his mid-20s, he's extremely intelligent, and he cannot read "prohibition" using phonics and syllables.
I know very little about dyslexia, so I don't know whether that's an issue. I do know a little about phonics, and it seems clear that he doesn't read phonetically. At least, not fluently. I'm sure he was taught to read using whole language or balanced literacy. As a child he memorized all the words he was taught and then, via high IQ, high energy, and a scrappy personality, figured out how to reverse-engineer paragraphs in order to wrest some meaning from them.
Interestingly, his problems have led him to a theory of paragraph development I've been mulling over myself: he believes paragraphs typically have a concluding sentence that sums everything up. He reads that sentence first, then goes back to the beginning of the paragraph to try and decipher the whole thing.
I've been wondering whether paragraphs have conclusions and have been operating under the theory that most of them do not. Now I wonder.
He can't really write at all (he says -- he's so verbal, I find that hard to believe). But he has somehow figured out how to think in whole paragraphs -- maybe even in whole 5-paragraph essays or perhaps beyond. Today he actually came up with a sophisticated thesis sentence AND three coherent supporting topic sentences almost entirely in his head. He says he got through high school on oral presentations, and by oral presentation he doesn't mean Powerpoint. He means thesis, topic sentence, elaboration, and specific support. He produces more content talking than I have the working memory to deal with: he's got to figure out how to write if only so other people will be able to follow what he's saying.
This is a guy trading in complex ideas entirely inside the oral register. You can't do that! (Well, you can, but most of us can't 'hear' it ---- )
He told me a few weeks back that when he was a kid his school introduced a new reading program that was so terrible, and left him with such profound spelling deficits, that his parents had wanted to sue the school. No surprise there.
Of course, as we know, a parent can't sue a school for failing to teach their very bright child to spell. Educational malpractice doesn't exist.
Question. What is the way forward here? (If he wants a way forward, that is. He's not a kid, and he's figured out work-arounds that are serving him reasonably well.)
It strikes me that he needs to look into voice recognition software ---- although to use voice recognition software for writing anything more serious than a short email you have to be able to read what you've dictated. So I'm sure about that.....
He says he's often thought he needs to take ESL classes in English.
That doesn't strike me as a bad idea -- I've begun to rely upon lessons in English as a second language myself -- but I think what he really needs is phonics. Phonics and a lot of practice reading left-to-right. His jump-around habits are ingrained; he'd need to practice until he developed a new ingrained left-to-right habit.
Is there a phonics program anyone out there would recommend for this student?
Other thoughts or suggestions?