Training Wheels for Literacy

Training wheels on bicycles help beginning riders by reducing the complexity, difficulty, and precariousness of learning to pedal their bikes without losing balance – without falling.  As they reduce the complexity and difficulty of coordinating the movements involved, they also reduce the fear of falling.  Physically, cognitively, and emotionally, they create a pedagogically conducive structure – a ‘safer, easier, path for learning’.

Training Wheels for Literacy helps beginning and struggling readers by reducing the complexity, difficulty, and precariousness of learning to read.

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The life-learning trajectories of a great many children (arguably up to two-thirds) and adults (90 million) are harmfully skewed  by their  learning to read difficulties (see “What’s At Stake“). Though there are many ‘readiness for reading’ issues involved (see: Readiness), and many other variables exacerbate the difficulty (see “Causes and Factors“), the most common impediment to progress in reading is the ‘confusion’ involved in learning to ‘sound-out’ words (See “Background” and “Kinds of Confusion“).

From Apple’s Siri and talking GPS devices to the voice menus we dread, today’s machines routinely do what struggling readers find so difficult. Our most common machines (PCs, Tablets, GPSs, Smartphones) have become nearly indistinguishable from humans at pronouncing individual words. How is it that free software running on inexpensive information appliances can do what so many millions of humans find so difficult? Note: highlight any part of the text on this page and click to hear an example of text-to-speech!

Today’s text-to-speech capability is made possible by ‘online pronunciation dictionaries and speech synthesis systems’ that match human-language written words with the machine-language instructions that computing devices use to produce sounds. The Training Wheels for Literacy system uses the same online systems, but instead of using them to instruct a machine’s sound system to produce speech, Training Wheels for Literacy uses the pronunciation information to systematically vary the appearance of letters in ways that reduce the confusion involved in sounding out words. The system of letter-face variations that guide pronunciation is called “PCUES” (See Introduction to PCUES).

Just as bold, italics, and underline provide readers with cues that emphasize meaning, PCUES are variations in the appearance of letters that emphasize sounds – they cue readers to which of a letter’s possible sounds it actually sounds like in the word in which it is appearing. There are a small number of PCUES that together cover the variations in letter-sounds most confusing to beginning and struggling readers. (See PCUES)

Training Wheels for Literacy can provide parents, teachers, curriculum developers, literacy organizations, and content publishers simple tools that can instantly transform ANY English language text into PCUED text. From vocabulary lists, chapter books, and homework assignments, to entire web pages and online courses, PCUES can turn any content, printed on paper or screen (computers, tablets and smartphones), into learning to read friendly content.

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Training Wheels for Literacy is a project of Learning Stewards, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and is based on the reading-related research work of the Children of the Code Project. The technology component of the project is being developed under the ‘open source‘ model (freely available for use in non-profit products).

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