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.

Tue Apr

How NOT to Teach Reading: Flipping Sounds

I Guess Not!

Part Seven 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!

Flipping SoundsFlippy Dolphin

If a word does not sound quite right, a child is instructed to “flip” the vowel sound, i.e.) try the long vowel sound instead of the short vowel sound or vice versa. This is another guessing strategy. It is problematic for several reasons. First, it assumes that the reader can remember the long and the short vowel sounds. (People with language processing difficulties, like those with dyslexia, have particular difficulty with this.) In addition, this strategy suggests there only two alternatives (short and long sounds). In fact, there are 15 vowel sounds in English. Although English vowel letter-sound patterns are quite regular, the regularity is based on the syllable’s type and what comes after the vowel letter(s) in the syllable.

Learning the six syllable types in English will allow a reader to determine the most likely sound for the vowel in a syllable. In beginning structured literacy instruction, the focus is on the most regular letter-sound syllable structure, closed syllables, where the vowel sound is short. The curriculum of a Structured Literacy approach provides systematic, sequential and cumulative instructions and practice with the six syllable types and with syllable stress patterns in multisyllabic words, allowing the reader to decode words without guessing.

Mon Apr

How NOT to Teach Reading: Make a Connection

I Guess Not!

Part Six 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!

Make a ConnectionCrabby the Connector Strategy:

This strategy is similar to strategy #1: Chunky Monkey. This strategy teaches that when a child is faced with an unfamiliar word s/he should recognize that the word is connected to other structurally similar words they already know. For example, having prior knowledge of the word round would help a child read the word sound.  The problem with teaching word connections as a strategy is that, unless the child has first been taught how to identify specific word structures, their attempts may be haphazard and confusing.  For example, the <ou> letter sequence is not always associated with the same vowel sound (e.g., Compare <round>, <soul>, <young>).

It is important for readers to make connections between similar words, but they need to be taught how to make these connections. It is often not intuitive.

Thu Apr

Dyslexia Help: Out with the old, in with the new!

Research-based therapies for overcoming dyslexia have, for decades, had two main components:

  • Direct Instruction – New concepts are explained clearly and completely, using multisensory methods.
  • Mastery Practice –  New concepts and previously taught concepts are combined and practiced until they are automatic.

But there is a difference between what I call “the old model” and the Lexercise model.

Practitioners who use “the old model” meet with the child across a table top 3 to 5 times each week, mixing both direct instruction and mastery practice. The parent is usually not included in these sessions, there is usually no structured practice provided for the home and there is no way for a parent to objectively monitor progress.

In contrast, the Lexercise model is based on the modern science of learning, with the direct instruction session scheduled so that the parent can Lexercise Online Therapyparticipate, plus a choice of several convenient ways for the family to do brief, structured practice every day.

The child and the parent meet with the clinician 1 time each week for 45 minutes for direct instruction. (The parent learns the concept and terminology along with the child so they can support the child’s learning.) Coordinated mastery practice is provided DAILY in both online games and off-line table-top materials, depending on the child’s needs and the parent’s preferences​.


Old model – practice 2 or 3 times a week and often far less than 100 response challenges a week.

New model – practice 5-7 times a week, with as many as 100 response challenges a day.

Old model – the parent is left in the waiting room and has a limited understanding of the structured literacy methods.

New model – the parent is part of the process and has a full understanding of the structured literacy methods being used with their child.

Old model – the word structure of English can take up to 3 years to cover.

New model – the word structure of English can often be covered in a semester.

Lexercise’s new model provides effective and efficient structured literacy intervention for families all over the globe. If you are concerned that your child is not making the progress you’d expect with their current reading tutoring/intervention, call us to get started in an online Orton-Gillingham therapy program.

Tue Apr

Causes of Reading and Spelling Problems

What can neuroscience tell us about dyslexia and other language processing difficulties? How do differences in the brain’s wiring help explain the best approach to helping struggling readers, writers, and spellers? This article answers those questions and more.

How Brains Develop for Average Children

  • First three years of formal schooling- During this time, the brain is rapidly firing, wiring, and interconnecting its literacy centers, especially on the left side of the brain–the area responsible for language, including speech sounds, letter symbols, reading and writing.
  • By the 4th grade- By this time, the brains of most children who have had reading and writing instruction have formed strong interconnections (called neural networks) for reading and writing. For normal readers, these networks generally run in the “background” without much conscious effort, freeing the brain for other cognitive functions.

Brain-wiring-dyslexiaBrain Wiring in Children with Language Processing Differences
Nearly 30% of children have differences in brain wiring associated with language-based learning disabilities. For example, studies show that, compared to average readers, children with dyslexia tend to have more activity on the right side of the brain when they are reading. This can mean inefficient, slower processing and inefficient and slower  reading and writing.*


Neuroscience Finds Two Main Reading and Writing Disorder Patterns

  • Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading and writing problems. Dyslexic children have weaknesses in reading, spelling, and/or writing but at least average listening comprehension.
  • Specific Language Impairment in contrast, may include difficulties in reading, spelling, or writing but also includes weaknesses in listening comprehension.

Effective Treatment and Support

Structured Literacy and Mind’s Eye

The methods used to treat dyslexia and specific language impairment are different so in the first session we use language processing assessments to identify the underlying problems and patterns. Once we understand the cause(s) of your child’s learning difficulties we customize treatment to meet their learning needs. Our clinical educators can also give recommendations for the accommodations and assistive technologies that are most appropriate for your child. 

  • Structured Literacy (aka, Orton-Gillingham), a method that has been used for over 70 years, has a deep research-base as the most validated approach for helping children and adults with language processing differences such as dyslexia. Upper level reading, writing and spelling concepts are mastered through explicit, systematic, and multisensory instruction. At Lexercise, highly qualified clinicians administer Structured Literacy Therapy online through live, 1-on-1, interactive video sessions.
  • The “Mind’s Eye” Approach is a method that has been used since the times of the great Greek and Roman orators.  It is designed for children with a specific language impairment and teaches structured visualization to help improve comprehension and expression. (Learn more about The Mind’s Eye Approach.)

Lex_telepractice_withmom_illustrationThere are many published curricula that are based, to varying degrees, on structured literacy models, but a curriculum or “program” is of limited use without a practitioner who has the knowledge and skill to adjust it to the needs of individual children.  Although schools are well-intentioned, they often invest more in boxed  “programs” than on the professional development that has been shown to be essential for effective implementation. For that reason–and many others–we strongly recommend parents seek individualized, professional assistance from qualified practitioners, rather than “waiting and hoping” for a solution from schools.

If your child is a struggling reader, speller, or writer consider working with one of our literacy experts to get your child where he/she should be in just a few months. See this video for more information.

* Note: approximately 5% of the population experiences delays with reading caused by significant development delays caused by more global intellectual functioning delays, not dyslexia or language-based learning disabilities.

Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC and Lexercise Chief Knowledge Officer, also contributed to this article. Learn more about Sandie’s background here.

Mon Apr

Using Mindfulness in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

A Clinical Educator’s Journey to Using Mindfulness in Instruction

By Jennifer Salisbury, Lexercise Clinician

Kids_YogaIt is no coincidence that mindfulness practices came into my life right around the time I became an educator. After earning my Bachelor’s Degree I moved to  New York City, to teach elementary special education as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member. In this poorest congressional district in the United States stress was a part of everyday life.  My determined, capable and diverse special education students seemed to be constantly disrupted by all kinds of stress and self-regulation problems. Behavior outbursts, attention problems and just plain fatigue often derailed my lessons and their learning. And they weren’t ones being affected by stress.

The long days, pressure to be the best teacher to my students, the noise and intensity of the city — it was lot for me to contain, too. Nature had been my go-to place of solace, but I had a hard time finding such a place in NYC.  Luckily for me, my apartment was across the street from a yoga studio, and I had a TFA colleague and now lifelong friend who introduced me to self-regulation and mindfulness practices.  As I started to practice yoga and meditation the knot of stress seems to soften.

I began to wonder if mindfulness techniques could help me, why they couldn’t help my students, too.  Gradually I started to infuse some mindfulness and self-regulation tools into my instruction and found that my students quickly benefited and began using them independently.  I decided I needed to learn much more about the power of mindfulness.

After three years of teaching I took my savings and plunged headlong into a global and cross-cultural study of mindfulness, traveling for 18 months to 9 countries.  In northern Italy I worked and lived at a retreat center.  In India I participated in a month-long yoga teacher-training course.  I attended meditation retreats in India and Thailand.  I spent 10 days at a silent meditation retreat. This was terrifying at first, but over those dKids_Yoga2ays I learned how to observe my thoughts instead of reacting to them, giving me greater compassion and self-awareness.  Waking before dawn to join people from all over the world in yoga exercises I realized that, while we come from very different traditions, we have a common need for a tranquil state of mind. After months of study and practice I by no means mastered all the techniques. It was just a beginning. But I did begin to build the space and structure in my own life for a stronger and more gentle practice.

Returning to the states after my travels, I wanted to share these tools with others. Naturally, I started with my family and friends.  Later, I joined the organization Yoga for the People and began teaching yoga classes to Head Start children and their teachers and parents. These were popular classes, and many of my students– young and old — reported positive effects as they incorporated these practices into their lives.

I am thrilled to be a part of Lexercise, an organization that understands the power of mindfulness practices. Lexercise teletherapy is designed to strengthen reading and writing skills, but when stress, anxiety and reactivity threaten to undermine progress, we have some effective and powerful tools in mind.



REFERENCES    (an incomplete list)

  1. Raffone, A., Srinivasan, N. and Barendregt, H. (2014). Attention, consciousness and mindfulness in meditation, Chapter 8:  
  2. Posner, M., Rothbart, M. and  Tang, Y. (2015).  Enhancing attention through training. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. Volume 4,  1–5.
  3. Roeser, R.A.  (2014), The Emergence of Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Educational Settings, in S.A. Karabenick and T. C. Urdan (Eds.) Motivational Interventions. Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Volume 18, pp. 379 – 419.
  4. Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C.P. and Soenens, B. (2010). The development of the five mini-theories of self-determination theory: an historical overview, emerging trends, and future directions, in T. C. Urdan, S. A. Karabenick (Eds.) The Decade Ahead: Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation and Achievement, Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Volume 16 Part A), pp.105 – 165.

Images courtesy of sattva and

Thu Apr

How NOT to Teach Reading: Go Back and Fix Error

I Guess Not!

Part Five 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!

Go Back and Fix ErrorFix-up Bear Strategy:

This strategy is akin to strategy #4: Does it make sense? When a sentence has been read and something doesn’t seem quite right a child is encouraged to go back to find and fix the error.  But simply getting to the end of a passage is not the goal of reading. Rather, comprehension is the goal. Comprehension is undermined when a child guesses at words rather than reading them.

It is very important for a reader to monitor their reading and self-correct if something is mis-read. Research has shown that most children who do a lot of guessing based on context usually guess incorrectly.  Explicitly teaching the structure of English words will empower correct word reading and mindful comprehension.

Tue Apr

As Fast As You Can, As Slowly As You Must

When clinicians are being trained in a Structured Literacy methodology they often ask how much they should try to cover in one session or how many concepts their clients should master in month. They are typically advised by their supervisor:  “Teach as fast as you can and as slowly as you must.”

in the zoneAt first glance, this doesn’t seem like much of an answer. It means that the clinician has to know when the pace is too fast or too slow versus “just right”.  A “just right” pace has been called the “sweet spot” or the “zone”.

What is the right pace of any student depends partly on their working memory or the amount of information they are able to hold in their mind as they respond to any specific task. Students with dyslexia typically have working memory problems that trip them up as they are learning to read and write.

Several decades ago, educators thought of these differences in terms of learning styles and suggested, for example, that some students were auditory learners while others were visual learners and that struggling students needed “hands on” tasks to help them remember words (e.g. tracing letters on sandpaper or in shaving cream). These days, however, reading experts doubt that learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.) really exist. Instead, scientists have found that what really matters is how many bits of information the learner can keep in mind while they are completing a task. The information that must be held in mind while completing a task is called the cognitive load.  For example, to read the word exit the reader must recognize that the first syllable is a closed so the -e- will probably have its “short” sound.  Then the reader has to know how to pronounce short -e-. If they struggle to recall that, by the time they get to the -x- they may be ready to give up or just guess at the word.

So, the skilled clinician must be a cognitive load expert. They must closely observe the learner for signs that the cognitive load needs adjusting. When the load is not adjusted for the learner the result is often confusion and frustration. Their attention may be easily disrupted. They may start making “simple” mistakes, such as reversing letters, skipping or  adding letters or misreading little words. In writing, their handwriting may become illegible or they may misspell simple words.

Then the skilled clinician must know how to use cognitive load theory to make learning easier by:

  • slowing the pace;
  • breaking complicated ideas into small pieces;
  • teaching terms and concepts in a memorable way, using cues that make them “stick”;
  • eliminating any unnecessary or distracting information;
  • focusing only on what the learner needs to know at the moment;
  • providing lots of opportunities for practice with feedback.

Likewise, the skilled clinician must know what to do when tasks are too easy for the student. They must know how to use cognitive load theory to make learning more interesting and challenging by:

  • introducing new concepts or facts;
  • linking concepts to each other;
  • asking the learner to show what they know by:
    • completing a brief, focused task (e.g., reading a set of words, circling the suffixes in a set of words, spelling words, etc.);
    • answering questions about the process or procedure they used to respond (e.g., “Why do you say that?” “How do you know?, etc.)
  • using new skills for some purpose (e.g., a school assignment)

One of the most important benefits of therapy led by a skilled clinician is that the parent and the student learn how to adjust tasks to move as fast as they can and as slowly as they must.  That’s a skill that goes way beyond reading and writing skills and that truly lasts a lifetime.

If you would like to learn more about getting your child the right help at the rate pace, please see how our services work and consider partnering with one of our skilled clinicians.

Related links:


Sat Apr

How NOT to Teach Reading: “Does it make sense?”

I Guess Not!

Part Four 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!

Does it make sense? – Elephant Ears Strategy:

The strategy “Elephant Ears” asks children to guess at unknown words based off of the context of the sentence. If a child reads a sentence and the word doesn’t seem to fit, they should ask themselves “Did that make sense?” It then prompts the child to think about what other word would fit, that starts with the same letter as the word that doesn’t seem to make sense. The problem with this strategy is that it encourages guessing and, ultimately, can result in more dysfluent, difficult reading.

Thu Mar

How NOT to Teach Reading: Memorization

I Guess Not!

Part Three 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 or memorize!

Word Memorization – Auto the Otter Strategy:

Fluent reading and writing requires automatic reading and spelling of all common words. Many of the most common words in English are phonetically irregular (e.g., <to, too , two>), and that has led to the practice of teaching the most common words as sight words (i.e., words that must be read “on sight” –memorized as opposed to understood or analyzed).  However, this is not a good strategy because the spelling of most all phonetically irregular words still makes a great deal of sense when you look at the word’s meaning elements.

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