The Trainertext Method: a visual track to literacy

David Morgan, CEO of DM Ed, and his team have taken an “implicit” approach to reading instruction, known collectively as the Trainertext Method. The key to this innovative computer-based method is visual mnemonics, which give learners the tools to decode any word alongside visual guidance.

Why is learning to read so difficult? This was the million-dollar question that inspired David Morgan, Mechanical Engineer and Education Specialist, to develop a computer-based reading intervention programme devoted to helping children read through intuitive visual processing. “For many children, learning to read phonetically is hard — to the point that reading often turns into an immense struggle”, says Morgan, who can relate to this, having experienced difficulty himself as a child. In the worst case, children get in the habit of guessing or memorising instead of learning how to decode, which can be fatal to their literacy development.

A neurological perspective
Taking an entirely different approach from the traditional phonics that most education developers and publishers subscribe to, Morgan and his team began by studying the systems of the brain to determine how to tap into their strengths and facilitate a pupil’s literacy learning curve. They discovered that many memory processes are visual, and in fact, nearly a third of the cortex is devoted to visual processing and storage. Morgan used this neurological knowledge as a basis for developing a system now known as Trainertext.

The Trainertext Method is an implicit instruction process that draws on the natural strengths of the learner. Its use has even shown positive results on children with learning disabilities.

At the core of this system is the use of visual mnemonics — cues that work by associating an image with characters or letters whose name sounds like the item that has to be memorised. “Text is initially hard for children because it is abstract. So, we started to connect memorable images to each letter, which made it much easier for the children to remember them.” After long periods of research and development, Morgan and his team found that they could harness the same visual prompts to assist the decoding process.

An example of how Trainertext helps with tricky words

Unhooked on phonics
According to Morgan, phonics rules simply do not work. Conventional phonics is an explicit instruction method, which teaches the “rules” of Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondences (GPCs). It involves linking a particular sound (phoneme) to a particular letter or group of letters (grapheme). The problem with this technique is that the brain finds it difficult to recollect all the letter patterns in relation to sound. The English language is particularly tricky, as it is full of spelling and pronunciation irregularities. On average, each of the 44 phonemes in English can be linked to nine different graphemes, and each grapheme has over three different possible sounds.

Understanding the devastating effects illiteracy can have on a person’s life, DM Ed is all about giving everyone the gift of literacy.

The Trainertext Method, on the other hand, is an implicit instruction process that draws on the natural strengths of the learner. “The second key neurological pillar of our approach is that reading is a skill that we perform in the subconscious, ‘procedural’ memory”, clarifies Morgan. This is a crucial point given the fact that skills are acquired in a different way to ‘declarative’ conscious processes, whereby knowledge requires learning “rules” to solve complex maths equations, for example. Morgan equates reading to skills like walking, talking and riding a bike, which are implicitly learned through guided practice — suddenly, the subconscious takes over and it all clicks into place.

Today a reader, tomorrow a leader
Children with reading delays who follow a regime of around 60 to 90 15-minute Trainertext sessions have demonstrated significant improvement and can read normal text without the images. Progress in spelling typically starts to show after around 120 to 150 lessons. Additional sessions build confidence and fluency, and in some cases even put pupils at the top of the class for reading. “The conventional approaches to reading have never achieved more than 85% success. When you think about it, that means one out of seven children has gone through the school system unable to read.”

The data collected in the RCT run by the Open University

The Trainertext Method has even shown positive results on children with learning disabilities. In developing the programme, some neurological complications surfaced that thwarted reading development — in children with weak cerebellar function, for instance. Such children have difficulty with eye tracking and tend to be easily distracted or show signs of dyspraxia. Weak magnocellular pathways, which prevent a child from being able to lock both eyes on the same focal point, were another complication that was detected. Morgan and his team tracked eight areas of neurological challenges connected to the reading process and found that with the right exercise regime, such complications can be improved. Their system was found to build up a child’s eye tracking in about ten days, instead of the six months or more required by conventional support regimes.

The DM Ed Guarantee
What began as a research project in 2004, has flourished into a successful company. DM Ed now retails three DM Reading products for learners of all ages and situations — there is even a programme for adults.

DM Ed is all about giving everyone the gift of literacy. Understanding the devastating effects illiteracy can have on a person’s life, the company offers an unconditional refund promise to anyone not satisfied with the programme. As Morgan says himself: “Far too many people have been held back by weaknesses in their literacy. We want to change that forever.”