Will a failing student recover once VAS has developed?
Before we can answer that question, consider the plight of an infant aged 7.0 years. We’ll call him Jack. Jack has a low VAS level, he also has confusions between letter names and letters sounds. This is the typical profile of the ‘failing reader’ referred to in your question above. We see children like this almost every day. Most of them are boys because, on average, boys develop VAS levels later than girls, which is why it is particularly dangerous to encourage whole word guessing in infant males.
Because of his low VAS Jack has few sight words. Because of his name/sound confusions he cannot blend sounds together. Jack therefore has no means of reliable word attack. So what does he do? He barely understands how to blend sounds together and so he guesses at words. He tries to guess text from the glossy pictures in the books. He looks at words like ‘bench’, pays attention to the end letters but then misguesses it as ‘beach’.
- If his teacher encourages him to guess words from pictures, he will fail.
- If he is encouraged to word-guess from word shape, he will fail.
- If the teacher exhorts him to read to the end of the sentence and then to work out unknown words from the overall meaning of the sentence, he will fail.
Within a year Jack’s self-esteem may plummet, his lack of any pleasure from print may cause him to be easily distracted. Depending on his personality he may become rebellious or withdrawn. And all the time his VAS level is increasing. But the bad habits, the failed strategies, the attitudinal problems are becoming entrenched.
What was your question? “Will a failing reader recover once VAS has developed?”… Of course not!…The growing VAS level might enable him to improve his word- guessing but the improvement will be marginal because the learned inaccuracies will persist and the learned attitudes may develop into non-cooperation making remediation even more difficult. But the real tragedy is that his failure was predictable, preventable and unnecessary. Once he was identified as having a low VAS, priority should immediately have been given to establishing reliable and adequate phonic skills. His low VAS then would not have mattered because phonics doesn’t need a high VAS level…but word- guessing does.