Monday, October 23, 2023

Overlearning to automaticity - Marion Blank.


Marion Blank is a psychologist known for her work on language, both spoken and written. The following is an extract from her article. LINK

Children with reading difficulties struggle with automaticity. Yet no attempts are made to teach them the skill because of the misguided notion that it can be developed only after extensive phonics practice. Overlearning to Automaticity (OtA) is the key to less-skilled children mastering reading. It requires multiple exposures to a word: typically, 20 to 30 exposures on each of about 200 carefully selected words from both the content and non-content domains.

About 60 percent of the words on any page are “non-content words”—words like the, so, what etc. that cannot be decoded by sounding out.


Multiple exposures refer to the number of times students are exposed to a word. Once students visit a word a dozen or more times, they are better able to comprehend it and integrate it into their vocabulary repertoire in writing, speech, and play (McKewon, Beck, Omanson, & Pople, 1985).

About 20 years ago, researchers originally proposed that a learner needs six exposures to a word in order to retain it. However, with the emergence of more and more research into vocabulary acquisition, the number swelled to 10, then 15 and has now reached 20.

How many exposures does it take to learn to read a new word?

The average child needs between four and 14 exposures to automatize the recognition of a new word. Others need 20 or more exposures.

The main complaint about phonics is that there is no way these non-content words can be learned phonetically. But Marion herself says as in the extract above that with about 20 to 30 exposures a child will be able to overlearn these words to automaticity. This is exactly what I have been saying for more than a decade and getting my students to rote memorise all the 220 Dolch words even though many of them are phonetic.

If a kid learns to memorise these 220 words and learns the correct sounds represented by letters he will be able to read. This is exactly what I have done in my book Teach Your Child to Read.

Marion Blank said that children have no solid tools for dealing with the most frequent words they see on every page. LINK

If 20 to 30 exposures can get a child to automatize the non-phonetic words, then by all means get all children to rote memorise these words and together with phonics commence reading. No child will be left behind.

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