S h a p e s


*Hits caps lock* phew

The combination of letters in a word makes a shape on a page. A totally unique shape. Indeed, more than that, the words in a sentence make a shape on a page as well. I did a lot of dance and art as a child: these disciplines taught me to make patterns and to move around a space. I can spell because I can see if a word looks wrong on a page. I can speed read because I know words by their shape. I don’t need to sound words out to understand them. The sense is there, even without the sound. When I write, my aim is to weave shape, as well as sound. That’s why I love bold, italics, formatting, punctuation, sentence and line length. Words can whisper in your ear. They can also paint shapes in your mind.

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9 Responses to S h a p e s

  1. Pingback: Phonics Denialism and Rational Debate | Scenes From The Battleground

  2. This has been my personal experience of reading – just as in life, I perceive the whole which is always more than the sum of its constituent (molecular & atomic) parts. This is the wonder of all things – to be for me in a single perception the fully integrated, unique creation. I have read (and believe) that the (first) Elizabethans possessed a heightened sensual response to spoken & written language, ‘tasting’ ‘scenting’ & revelling in the animation of language.

    Like you, I have always absorbed written text in the manner my senses sweep & assess any street I walk, registering significance & pattern. This is not to be confused with the more conscious directed skill of skimming a paragraph ‘for the gist’.

    When I taught English I found this to be an under-used ‘muscle’. ‘A’ level students flourish when the faculty is exercised by responding to the creations rather than the mechanics of language.


  3. Becky says:

    What an interesting post & one which I hadn’t expected from you, who I see as being very practically oriented. It’s great to see this additional dimension to your thinking. I am not a supporter of phonics although I’m prepared to accept that it works for some. However, some (many?) children learn to read through whole word recognition or, as one of your respondents wrote, through a personalised system which works for them. That is what being a teacher is – finding what actually works for individual children. For some, words are a sensuous experience as described above while for others, it is a more mathematical enjoyment of the letters and words as symbols, patterns and shapes. I honestly believe that phonics has become a sort of tyranny: whenever I visit primary schools through my work, it is invariably the only teaching I will see taking place in the early years.


  4. Pingback: Teach My Child to Read | The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy

  5. Pingback: Cause for Concern | Freeing the Angel

  6. Ruth says:

    Hi, Sue, When you say you read words by their shape do you mean that if a line was drawn around the word and the letters taken away you would be able to read the ‘word’? I can’t believe you mean this but I think this is how some are interpreting your blog post. Do you mean that you know the whole word by the letter string, not by internally sounding out?


    • suecowley says:

      Hi there, No, it’s not the shape around it, if you took the letters away the word wouldn’t be there anymore. I kind of ‘see’ the pattern that the word makes as a unit in my head. It’s quite hard to explain but if you imagine visualising a friend’s face in your mind, with all the features that make it unique, then that is a bit like what I see. It’s not really the letter string, it’s the overall pattern of the letters that make up the word. Also, I haven’t mentioned it on here, but some words also have a kind of texture, or scent, a bit like how some people describe synaesthesia although I don’t really get the colour thing that is often mentioned when people use that term.


  7. Ruth says:

    That’s so interesting Sue, and reminds me of my reading experiences as a child. I can remember reading text and perhaps having to work quite hard at it but then landing on the word ‘the’ as if it was an old friend helping me on my way. I’m pretty sure I have never sounded out and blended that word in my life until doing it with children learning phonics. It must be one of the first words I knew with confidence, probably the very first. Words have their own characteristics, obviously, although sometimes they are homonyms (a bit two-faced), and perhaps your memory works by internalising words as pictures and associated feeling, the wasness of ‘was’, if you like.
    Thanks for your reply.


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