Davis Reading Exercises: Spell Reading & Sweep-Sweep-Spell


Building Skills for Visual Word Recognition

hands on paper and book

Students use paper or cards to help guide their eyes as they read. (from blueberry-centre.co.uk)

Davis Spell-Reading and Sweep-Sweep-Spell are important because they build a vital center for reading in the brain. Beginning readers often rely exclusively on phonetic decoding strategies for all words, a process usually centered in the mid-temporal lobe of the left hemisphere, where letter sounds are connected to words. This is a workable means of decoding words, but it is slow ­ and it is particularly difficult for most dyslexics.

Training the Brain

masked reading Spell Reading and Sweep-Sweep-Spell are exercises for the eyes and brain. They are designed to train the brain to develop the instantaneous, visual word recognition system that non-dyslexics acquire naturally. These techniques are not intended to entirely supplant other strategies. Ideally, the student will only practice Spell-Reading and Sweep-Sweep-Spell for 10 minutes at a time. Practiced daily, this will reinforce the important neural pathways that the exercises build.

Many students are tempted to use their sound-it-out phonics skills at this time. However, the use of phonics at this time defeats the purpose of the exercises. As explained in The Gift of Dyslexia, if the student starts using phonetic strategies, the helper should say:

“You don’t need to sound out the word. Only say the name of the letters one at a time. All we want is for you to name the alphabet letters in the order they are written. Then you say the word after I say it.”

The problem with adding phonics to the mix is that it sends the brain down the wrong path. We are training the brain to use a vital short-cut that is the hallmark of all good readers. An efficient reader is able to recognize a familiar string of letters and match them almost instantaneously to a known word. This skill is sometimes referred to as “orthographic knowledge”.

Every time the brain takes a detour to another path, we reinforce the pre-existing mental habits, and fail to build the mind’s ability to rapidly recognize familiar whole words. This is the reason why dyslexic children schooled heavily in phonics have such difficulty transitioning to fluent reading. Their phonic knowledge is strengthened and reinforced again and again, but this undermines the opportunity to develop the mental shortcut that ordinary readers generally develop at around age eight.

Davis Spell-Reading and Sweep-Sweep-Spell are primarily strategies for training the brain to visually scan the letters of words from left-to-right, and retain a memory of the letters in their correct sequence. Although this will build whole word recognition skills, we do not use these techniques for study of word lists or as a means for learning sight words beyond those encountered in the course of practice. Instead, we use Davis Symbol Mastery, which builds a strong mental connection linking the way a word sounds to what it means and the way the word looks. The clay modeling is a more effective and permanent strategy for mastery of an essential reading vocabulary.

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For an in-depth analysis of the brain science that supports use of the Davis Reading exercises, see:

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Related Article

When Phonics Doesn't Work

Traditional tutoring for dyslexia relies on intensive instruction in phonemic awareness and the phonetic code. But such teaching is an arduous process for many students. Often progress is slow, relying heavily on repetition and "overlearning."...

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  • rena

    How do sweep sweep spell and spell reading differ…

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Sweep-sweep-spell is a more advanced version of the exercise, done as the student gains confidence. It helps the student move from visual decoding of words (by focusing on individual letters), to building the habit of visually scanning words left to right for word recognition.

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