Wed May

Testing: A Fact of Life

testingIn education circles testing and assessment is a hot topic right now. An anti-testing backlash spun off the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s approach to measuring school accountability through annual student achievement testing. This backlash is now whipping the Common Core State Standards assessments in Grades K-12. With all the rhetoric swirling around testing in education it seems that the country is as divided on this issue as it is on so many others. But glance beyond the wall of academia and you’ll find testing is ubiquitous and not very controversial.

In adult society testing is used to accomplish important goals related to safety, public protection and maintenance of occupational standards. Employment and pre-employment testing is used in many industries to identify the most promising applicants for a job.

  • Driver’s License testing is required for operating a motorized vehicle in most developed countries.
  • Scores on college entrance examinations (SAT, ACT) are used as one way of selecting potentially successful students from large numbers of applicants.
  • Employment tests are sometimes used by employers as a cost effective way to identify high-potential applicants.
  • Professional licensing exams are used to demonstrate that an applicant has the basic knowledge and skills necessary to perform a job.

(As an example, the Lexercise Clinician Qualification Exam is designed to accomplish the last two goals.)

In education, there are many types of tests that may be helpful to an individual student:

  • Screening - To determine if there is enough concern to recommend a full evaluation. Examples: vision, hearing or dyslexia screenings
  • Diagnostic Testing - To make a diagnosis and /or determine if there is a disability
  • Psycho-Educational Testing - To determine qualification for publicly funded services through special education
  • End-of-Grade Testing - To determine achievement of the grade-level curricular goals as set by the particular education agency
  • Achievement Testing - To describe academic achievement in comparison to age and/or grade level peers to measure and/or to grant credit for “advanced placement”
  • Progress Monitoring and Formative Evaluations - To determine the effectiveness of instruction.
  • College or Graduate School Entrance Testing -To predict the likelihood of success in higher education.

It can seem that End-of-Grade testing and Common Core State Standards assessments have only a punitive purpose, designed to cull out “failing” students who are required to repeat a grade. On this topic, you may find this blog post about grade retention interesting.

But when testing is designed as a developmental guide to motivate and focus the student and the teacher on skills that need to be mastered it can serve a useful and positive purpose.  We’d love to hear ideas from kids, parents and teachers about how assessments could be set up so they are more useful and productive.

If your child struggles with reading, writing or spelling, the most important first step is a professional assessment. No matter where you live, your child can be tested and treated individually, face-to-face, online, by the clinical educators at Lexercise. Learn more here, or contact me directly at or 1-888-603-1788.


Mon May

The Power of Online Learning

Having a child who struggles with reading, writing and spelling can be overwhelming. You may have tried everything from special teachers at school to private tutors with no success. Fortunately, the age of technology not only helps us better understand what works to help struggling readers and writers, but it makes those intervention methods available online, to anyone with an internet connection.

Countless studies have shown online learning to be a superior teaching medium. In a 2010 U.S. Department of Education Report, it was found that “students who took all or part of their courses online performed better than those who took the same course solely in a traditional face-to-face environment”[i]. The report also found that “Instruction that combined elements of both online and face-to-face delivery had a larger advantage than instruction provided solely online”i. This is one of the main reasons Lexercise online therapy combines one-on-one live therapy sessions with individual practice games with parent training and resources.  It’s a powerful combination, so children struggling with reading, writing and spelling see results in months not years!

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 16.51.19Online learning is successful for many reasons. First, it is engaging. I am sure you can remember dozing off in class or doodling in your notebook because the teacher wasn’t capturing your attention. But children who are struggling with reading and writing face particular difficulties staying engaged in classroom settings, where the pace and methods are typically designed for students with average or above reading skills. In contrast, online learning gives the student an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with an educational therapist with extensive experience engaging and motivating struggling readers and writers.

Second, online learning is private so it can more easily put the student at ease.  It can take place in your home and on your schedule. This means that your child can sit in a quite, familiar place and learn without the distractions of a classroom or the scrutiny of peers.

Third, online learning is easily personalized. Beginning with an assessment of the child’s reading, spelling and writing skills, the therapist is able to create a teaching plan addressed to each student’s unique needs. Concepts are introduced using interactive, memorable online resources and then practiced in brief, online daily exercises, with feedback for the student, the therapist and the parent. Online learning proceeds at your child’s pace, so learning is solidified before moving on to new concepts.

Kim Wentzlaff, Mom of a Lexercise student, summarizes these benefits nicely by saying, “I love that we can do the therapy in the comfort of our own home at a time that fits our schedule. I also love the daily practice with the online games and partnership with our clinical educator.”

Online technologies give struggling readers and their families a new level of control in managing learning, and that promises to be very good news for the future.

To learn more about Lexercise’s online approach to helping struggling readers and writers, see the video here.


[i] Means, Barbara, Yukie Toyama, Robert Murphy, Marianne Bakia, and Karla Jones.

“Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.”Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning (2010): n. pag.Home Educators Resource Directory. Web. 8

May 2015.


Fri May

Summer Slide and Dyslexia

booksWhen I was a kid I counted the days till summer vacation!  I lived for the hours that would extend before me, mine to fill with whatever I might choose.  What I most often chose was reading!  I loved reading, and it came easily to me, so I spent my free time devouring books, books and more books!  Summer was a time of ongoing growth for me, and when I returned to school in the fall it was with my brain filled with what I had learned over vacation.

It wasn’t until I was a teacher that I realized that for many students, summer vacation has the opposite result.  Many studies have confirmed what I observed as a teacher: no matter how hard I worked with my students during the school year, most of them would lose some of that progress over the summer.  They would come back to my classroom months behind where they had been at the end of the school year.  I was able to observe this very directly because, as a special education teacher, many students would remain in my classes for several years.  I knew that my students, who struggled to read with my support, did not spend their summers as I had: devouring books.  Even with my support and instruction during the school year they would fall behind.

When reading is not a preferred activity students often don’t choose to read in their free time.  If students are compelled to read but are using counter-productive guessing strategies that are often taught in schools their time spent reading may not have the desired effect and may  further entrench ineffective reading habits!

I didn’t want my students to have to give up summer vacation entirely, but I wished there were ways to get them just a little effective practice every day, to help them maintain their learning and even progress a bit.

That is one of the things I love about the Lexercise model!  I see my students on a weekly basis and can see them from anywhere with an internet connection.  Not only have I met with students all over the world, but this model makes Lexercise as portable for families as a laptop.  I have met with students who are staying with grandma, family friends, in their vacation home, and even one who was in a car at a campground near the Grand Canyon!

The Lexercise blended learning model allows students to practice a little every day. Unlike homework, Lexercise practice is individualized for each student. Plus, it is designed to be brief, so it fits relaxed summer schedules beautifully.   By working with a Lexercise clinician over the summer, students can not only avoid the summer slide but begin the new school year with even sharper skills!

Wed May

How NOT to Teach Reading: Try Again

I Guess Not!

Part Twelve of a 12-part video series showing the flaws of common word reading strategies taught in schools– Moral: Do not teach struggling readers to guess!

Try AgainTryin’ Lion

This is a strategy that counsels the student to keep trying. Of course, trying again after a failure is essential part of honing any skill, but in the absence of explicit instruction, telling a reader to “keep trying” is just frustrating and can provoke anxiety.

Structured Literacy offers us a powerful, explicit, systematic, direct instruction framework for understanding the structure of written English. The reader is encouraged to practice because practice can be accomplished with a high level of accuracy and has a clear payoff.  It feels good. It improves the reader’s word mindfulness.

Mon May

How NOT to Teach Reading: Whispering Words

I Guess Not!

Part Eleven of a 12-part video series showing the flaws of common word reading strategies taught in schools– Moral: Do not teach struggling readers to guess!

Whispering WordsStretchy Snake

In this strategy the advice is to whisper each of the word’s letter-sounds, with the assumption that when the reader whispers sounds they will “naturally” be connected (i.e., blended).  In whispering, words are spoken without vocal vibration, but a reader can certainly whisper sounds without connecting (blending) them. If the reader is able to decode each letter-sound in a word it is not clear how whispering could help. If the reader can not decode the word, then this is just another guessing strategy.

In Structured Literacy readers learn how to segment and isolate words’ speech sounds (phonemes).  Moving fingers or objects to support memory and attention, readers are taught to isolate every speech sound in every syllable (informed by an understanding of syllable types) and then to blend the sounds to say the entire word.  Readers produce each speech sound aloud, with accurate precision and then, with the support of movement of objects or fingers, if necessary, blend the sounds to say the word aloud. This method supports spelling as well as reading.

Fri May

Review of Carol Dweck’s “Helping children who think they are stupid”

We talk to hundreds of parents of struggling readers and writers every month. One of the most common concerns these parents have is that their child has expressed feeling “stupid” or “dumb.”

cdweckIn this video essay, Carol Dweck points out that the “natural but wrong” way to respond to this kind of comment is to say, “Oh no, you are really smart.” A child who thinks about learning in terms of labels like “smart” or “dumb” tends to fear failure and reject practice, according to Dweck.

Under the Federal Special Education Law, originally written before Dweck’s groundbreaking research, children are qualified for services based on categorization that often involves intelligence testing. In his book Opening Minds, Peter Johnston calls public school special education “a world of permanent traits and (in)abilities.” (2012)

Instead of responding with labels, Dweck recommends discussing children’s difficulties in a way that emphasizes their lack of permanence (e.g., “There are things you don’t know.”) She also advises parents to help their children understand that there are effective steps to improvement (e.g., “What do you need to learn?)

Through our work with hundreds of families, we can confirm Dweck’s advice. Supportive parents recognize difficulties with reading, spelling and writing, but actively seek improvement through structured, daily practice with their children. Rather than seeking and accepting children’s inabilities, we recommend that parents look for areas of improvement, encouragement and support.

Reference: Johnston, P. (2012). Opening Minds. Stenhouse Publishing.

Thu May

The Unfunded Dyslexia Mandate

At recent hearings, Senator Cassidy asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about special programs for students with dyslexia, including screening and intervention. Currently, no single office looks at dyslexia and programs for dyslexia are not explicitly funded. Both Senator Cassidy and Secretary Duncan admitted that funds for interventions and professional development for teachers are limited, but could not agree to direct funds specifically to train teachers in screening and remediating dyslexia.

Various states have passed measures requiring training and screening, but have not allocated funds specifically for this purpose. While it is encouraging to see government officials and education administrators talking about dyslexia, it is clear that the current system is not effective and that bringing to it the drastic improvement required will be no simple task. With so narrow a window for children to master literacy, do not wait for the system to help your child! Contact us to get the help you need today.

Thu May

How NOT to Teach Reading: Context Clues

I Guess Not!

Part Ten of a 12-part video series showing the flaws of common word reading strategies taught in schools– Moral: Do not teach struggling readers to guess!

Context CluesSkippy Frog

This strategy encourages a child to skip reading an unknown word and guess at it, based on context. A child is told to keep reading the sentence and, at the end, go back and guess what the unknown word might be. This approach not only encourages guessing, which research has shown rarely results in the child saying the correct word, but is also bound to disrupt fluency since the sentence has to be read and then re-read.

Rather than using context to guess at words, in Structured Literacy readers are encouraged to decode unfamiliar words. The reader’s mental resources can then be freed to use context to comprehend shades of meaning and to make inferences.

Tue Apr

How NOT to Teach Reading: Get Your Mouth Ready to Say the Word

I Guess Not!

Part Nine of a 12-part video series showing the flaws of common word reading strategies taught in schools– Moral: Do not teach struggling readers to guess!

Get Your Mouth Ready to Say the Word – Lips the Fish

Prompting a child to, “Get your lips ready” when encountering an unknown word is another guessing strategy.  It assumes that the child knows the first letter-sound and can say it accurately so that, after whispering the sound, the child will be able to figure out the rest of the word. Research has shown that this is rarely the case.

Eye gaze reading research proves that skilled readers read every letter-sound in words, not just the first one.  In Structured Literacy the only words that the reader is asked to read and practice are those with letter-sounds they have seen explicitly taught.  So, readers have confidence that they can say every sound in every word, not just the first one.

Thu Apr

How NOT to Teach Reading: Ask a Friend

I Guess Not!

Part Eight of a 12-part video series showing the flaws of common word reading strategies taught in schools– Moral: Do not teach struggling readers to guess!

Ask a FriendHelpful Kangaroo

Asking a friend for help it really isn’t a reading strategy. Young and struggling readers do need the instructional support of adults and peers as they gain greater independence as readers, but this is really more of a strategy to help the teacher than to help the student.  If there is a large gap between the text difficulty level and the reader’s skill the reader will naturally need help in reading the text. But asking the struggling reader to reach out for help each time they come to an unfamiliar word is not only impractical, but also unlikely to build the reader’s confidence or skill.

We want readers to feel empowered while they are trying to read an unknown word. We want to support a growth mindset, i.e.) “working hard to apply what I have learned is the best way to succeed.” A child is given tools to read and spell with greater accuracy and insight from day one when s/he is taught to read through a Structured Literacy approach.

Concerned your child may be at risk of dyslexia? Take our free screener now! Get Started