Working with students who struggle to read can be eye-opening. What do they see when they look at words on a page? How do their brains process these symbols? The answer can vary from student to student, and the pathways to reading success can be as unique as each student.
For those with dyslexia, research has shown that a systematic, highly-structured, sequential approach to reading is the most effective; in fact, this type of approach also works well for those who may not be dyslexic, but read slowly, with great effort, or who are dysfluent. It also helps those who are poor spellers. For these students, “controlled readers” are important. These are texts where the words written all follow already taught rules and generalizations, and the sight words that don’t follow conventional spelling rules have been introduced and practiced.
But what happens once a student has begun to read using controlled text? What happens when they get older and encounter regular books with unfamiliar words and more text on the page to overwhelm them?
Meet Sarah K. Blodgett and her innovative Noah Text for struggling readers.
Lisa Bigney and Halley Lavenstein, Co-Directors of Rhode Island Tutorial & Educational Services (RITES), and Debra Nassau, RITES homeschool coordinator, recently met and collaborated with Mystic, CT researcher, developer and author Sarah K. Blodgett. Sarah developed Noah Text after her own child struggled to read and she spent countless hours underlining the long-vowel sounds and marking syllable breaks in his texts. With a background in research, she began digging into the written language systems of other countries and the impact on students’ ability to read.
She connected with Educational Diagnostician and consultant Dr. Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski, who pointed her toward extensive linguistic research. What she found was intriguing. Finland came out on top, well ahead of the United States. With the easiest, most direct written language structure (i.e. 1-to-1 correspondence between sounds and symbols, as well as clearly marked vowel sounds and syllables), students in Finland begin reading within 9 months. With the complexities of English, it takes their U.S. peers three times longer to learn, with only a third of the proficiency. Even though Finland’s schools have longer recesses and a focus on hands-on arts and craft-based learning, their children still read better than ours in the United States.
This bothered Sarah. With all our resources and problem-solving ability as a nation, how could we let this happen? What could we do about it? Her thinking turned to how we could “simulate” the Finland experience, keeping kids engaged as they read, and making reading less exhausting. The result is Noah Text. (Find out more about Noah Text and Sarah’s fascinating research findings.)
What is Noah Text?
According to Sarah and her research, “many languages clearly identify their long vowels with acute accent marks, such as Czech, Hungarian, Irish, and Slovak. The Germans utilize umlaut signs to mark vowel changes. Noah Text is utilizing this same technique without altering the current print system.”1
Noah Text is a deceptively simple concept. In order to simulate the Finnish reader’s experience of easily identifying syllables to be decoded, encoded and read, Noah Text highlights the syllable breaks by bolding this part of the text. For those who need more visual cuing, a version of Noah Text also includes underlining the long-vowel sounds throughout the text. Once students become more fluent with this support, there is a third version of the text that has no bolding or underlining, just plain text. For all three versions, the typeface is designed to be more easily read, with more space on the page than traditional text. Learn more about Noah Text and how it works, (make sure you watch the videos, too!).
“Noah Text fills the gap from instruction to fluency.”2
The main idea behind Noah Text is that the highlighting and underlining emphasizes the syllable breaks and predicable vowel patterns so struggling readers start to recognize them more easily throughout longer passages. Sarah intended Noah Text books to be used as a bridge between direct reading instruction and fluency or automaticity of reading. So, students wouldn’t have to go from highly controlled readers directly into uncontrolled conventional novels, with the expectation that they could transfer their knowledge from the familiar to the unfamiliar. As Sarah explains it, “Noah Text continues where decodable text leaves off and focuses on patterns, [while] keeping the words intact and embedded.”
What’s Next for Noah Text?
Sarah Blodgett has published three novels with the three different types of Noah Text, as well as a small series of earlier readers that emphasize rhyme and the similarities of the endings of words through single-syllable, highlighted text. These books are mystery-based and have a serial structure to engage readers and keep them reading.
Along with other organizations and educators, RITES is using Noah Text with current students to provide Sarah with feedback, especially as a resource for dyslexic or dysfluent readers. She intends to use this feedback for future development of Noah Text books and materials.
In addition, and perhaps most exciting, Sarah is pursuing a patent for a Noah Text app. That way, it can be applied to pre-existing books electronically, automatically converting plain text to Noah Text for the reader.
Noah Text books are available through Amazon, and, if you go through Amazon Smile and select Rhode Island Tutorial & Educational Services as your 0.5% donation recipient, you’ll be supporting both! For the perfect gift, purchase Noah Text books from Amazon Smile.
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1Blodgett, Sarah K. “Noah Text Research.” Noah Text. Sarah K. Blodgett, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <https://www.noahtext.com/research.html>.
2Blodgett, Sarah K. “Noah Text – Sarah Blodgett – Dyslexia Text, Books For Struggling Readers, Teaching Materials.” Noah Text. Sarah K. Blodgett, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <https://www.noahtext.com/home.html>.