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Nov. 14, 2002, Gazette

New method for teaching reading

Dr. Catherine Penney
Dr. Catherine Penney

Dr. Catherine Penney has discovered the key to what she believes is a major barrier for dyslexic learners. The professor in Memorial’s Department of Psychology has found that dyslexics not only have trouble reading, but actually have difficulties with hearing and remembering the sounds of words.

Dr. Penney, working with Dr. Carrie Dyck of the Department of Linguistics at Memorial, has discovered that dyslexics don’t hear differences between certain sounds, such as dog and bog.

“Different children confuse different sounds,” says Dr. Penney, “but all of the dyslexic children failed to hear some sound differences.”

Many dyslexics don’t show obvious language impairment and are skilful communicators. However, dyslexic children cannot break the words into individual sounds.

Dr. Penney has developed a method for teaching children with dyslexia how to read. Rather than using phonics, which teaches phonemes in isolation, her method teaches spelling for pronouncable units such as syllables or rimes, vowel sounds followed by one or more consonant sounds.

With this method, children learn to add different consonants to the beginning of the rime and to add endings such as ing to the end. From there, they progress to polysyllabic words.

The experiments conducted by Drs. Penney and Dyck have proven successful. Dr. Penney states, “clearly, this method works to teach people to read, when existing methods aren’t working.” Their method has produced favourable results with both children and adults with mild to severe forms of dyslexia. Dr. Penney states that of all the people she has seen, nearly everyone has reached a functional literacy level.

As for the future, Dr. Penney is working with Innova Multimedia, a company based in Stephenville that has been associated with the Genesis Centre at Memorial. She hopes to develop computerized lessons, using her technique, that teachers can use to assist poor readers at any level.