Schools and Dyslexia - Lexercise

What Does Reading on Grade Level Mean?

child reading a grade level book at homeEvery week, Lexercise therapists talk with parents who are concerned that their child is reading “below grade level.” In most cases, the child’s teacher has told the parents that the child struggles to keep up. Even when parents observe their child’s reading difficulties, they may not understand the meaning of grade level reading or what can be done to help the child improve.

Is Reading at Grade Level Important?

Reading is a complex activity; it is not a single thing. Consider the differences in reading: 

  • a food ingredients label
  • a pharmacy insert
  • a bus schedule
  • a ballot initiative
  • an owner’s manual for a car or appliance
  • an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publication
  • a workplace policy manual
  • a news article
  • an opinion article
  • a poem
  • a book 

Further, within each of these examples, the difficulty level can vary widely. Just as some books are more complex than others, some food labels are more complex than others. 

Attempts to capture reading difficulty levels have typically focused on passages or books. Over the years, different readability formulas have been developed to index the difficulty level of passages. These formulas count elements like word length (number of syllables, number of letters), word frequency, and sentence length. But, even with all the diligent counting, there is no agreed-upon standard for indexing the difficulty of reading a written passage.

Reading on Grade Level: What Does it Mean?

Grade level reading is defined as the average passage difficulty level (as measured by one of the many readability formulas) that most students at a specific grade level can read with understanding. Again: grade level reading is what most students at a grade level can read. If this definition seems circular, it is! 

Another big problem with using “grade level” as a meaningful measure of reading is that there is huge overlap across grades in the difficulty level of passages that students can read and understand. 

For example, see the graph below. The purple area under the first/left curve represents the reading scores of average 3rd graders and the teal area under the second/right curve represents the reading scores of average 5th graders. The overlapped area in the middle shows that an average 3rd grader and an average 5th grader could have the same score! 

graphic showing how children from different grades can be on the same reading level

We are used to thinking about grade level reading as a single number, such as, “My child is reading at a 3rd-grade level.” But it would be more accurate to think of reading level as a range. For example:

  • Early elementary (grades K-3) reading level
  • Late elementary (grades 4-5) reading level
  • Middle school (grades 6-8) reading level
  • Early secondary (grades 9-10) reading level
  • Late secondary (grades 11-12) reading level

In a future post, we will explore an alternative to grade level that might be a more meaningful way to profile reading skills. Subscribe to our blog below so that you don’t miss out!

If your child is a struggling reader or you have been told your child is reading below grade level, Lexercise can help. Lexercise identifies and treats dyslexia and other learning difficulties with online reading, writing, and spelling therapy. Children who complete the Lexercise program improve 3 grade levels on average! Learn more on the Lexercise website, or contact us today.

4 Tips to Prepare for Back to School Success

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Maria Robinson, From Birth to One

apple, books, and blocks on teachers desk as back to school season approachesAs the school year begins, what are the most powerful things you can do to help your child prepare? If the last school year was less-than-successful for your student, you both may be feeling some trepidation about starting back to school. So how do you make a new start – one that will optimize your child’s chances of having a successful school experience?

In his book How We Learn neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene encourages parents to understand their power as change agents: 

“[Parents] are the primary actors in a child’s development, whose actions precede and prolong school. Home is where children have a chance to expand, through work and games, the knowledge that they acquired in class. Family is open seven days a week.…” (p. 244)

Dehaene offers a brain-based blueprint for how parents can help their child make this school year – and every school year – successful and productive. He identifies “four pillars of learning because each of them plays an essential role in the stability of our mental constructions: if even one is missing or weak the whole structure quakes and quivers.” (p. 145) 

Below we have listed Dehaene’s four pillars of learning and some ideas for how to implement them to launch (and continue) a successful school year.

The 4 Pillars of Learning

1. Attention

Use Calendars – Keep a calendar and teach your student to keep one, too. Even the youngest students need to begin to pay attention to important deadlines, such as when assignments are due. Digital tools, like Google Calendar, make calendar sharing easy. 

Create a Study Space – Set up a study space for your student in a quiet location, at a desk or table away from media, with comfortable seating, ample light, and a surface for writing. Younger students benefit from having a study space in a location near the center of the home, where it is easy for an adult to engage and supervise.

Control Media – Consider using the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan.

2. Active Engagement

Personalize – Be sure that your student’s curriculum is properly adjusted to their current level. School work that is too easy or too difficult undermines engagement. Dehaene says, “…what matters most is to restore their desire to learn by offering them stimulating problems carefully tailored to their current level.” (p. 195) 

Connect – For humans, conversation is pivotal for engagement. Talk with your student about what they are learning at school. Dehaene says, “Maximally engaging a [child]… means constantly feeding them with questions and remarks that stimulate their imagination and make them want to go deeper.” (p. 197) 

Reward Curiosity – Encourage your student to ask questions. Even beginning students can learn to search topics online. For comprehensive guidelines for use of online media see Common Sense Media.

3. Error Feedback Build a Growth Mindset – Encourage a growth mindset, which is the belief that skills and abilities can be improved with effort and practice. Discourage a fixed mindset, the belief that skills and abilities are pre-determined and unchangeable. See: Normalize Dyslexia and Build a Growth Mindset.
4. Consolidation Prioritize Sleep – As Dehaene explains, memories are consolidated during sleep and that helps shift from “slow, conscious and effortful processing to fast, unconscious and automatic expertise.” (p.222) For guidelines about healthy sleep at different ages see HealthyChildren.org.

 

Implementing these Tips for a Successful School Year

teen studying at home applying the fours pillars of learningDehaene’s recommendations are straightforward and easy to implement. All children, but perhaps especially those with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, will benefit as these simple tools are introduced, practiced, and repeated. They offer the student a greater sense of control over their work and their environment, which can lead to a more fulfilling school experience.

If you have concerns about your child’s reading or writing, please contact us to find out more about understanding and diagnosing dyslexia, or browse our website to learn more about Lexercise online therapy.

 

 


REFERENCE

Dehaene, S. (2020). How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine…for Now. Viking.

 

 

Undoing Learning Loss

Learning Loss Prevention by Lexercise

If you have a child, you may have seen the terms #learningloss and #summerslide trending in your social media feeds. The idea is quite simple: when students are away from the structure and practice of their normal classes, their academic progress stops and even reverses leading to a loss of both knowledge and skill sets.

Learning Loss and COVID-19

Researchers have been tracking the phenomenon for years and school closures due to COVID-19 have increased interest.  Jennifer McCombs, a senior policy researcher for the RAND Corporation, has studied the topic extensively, with a special focus on students performing below grade level. Of the summer slide, she says, “it’s very clear that academic progress is slowing because kids are not spending engaged time in academic content.”

Learning Loss and Summer Breaks

For struggling readers—whether or not they have been diagnosed with dyslexia or another learning disability—summer often means a back-slide in hard-earned skills. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) notes, “Following summer vacation, students often start the school year with less competence than they demonstrated the previous spring. This skill regression sometimes is termed ‘summer slump,’ ‘summer slide,’ or ‘summer setback.’”

Undoing Learning Loss

In Harvard EdCast: Learning Loss and the Coronavirus, Jennifer McCombs says, “We also know that once you’ve learned something, it’s easier to relearn it, right? You learn it faster. If I’ve taught you something and then you kind of forget how to do it, if I reintroduce it, you’re able to pick it up a little bit more easily. We’re not starting from square one on these things.”

This idea of re-learning fits nicely with David Share’s self-teaching hypothesis. As we have mentioned before, effective learning for struggling readers begins with recognizing and understanding the elements of language—graphemes and phonemes—rather than with guesswork or the rote memorization of words. This process is known as decoding and it provides the student with elements that can be mixed and matched to help them recognize new words.

Share’s hypothesis proposes that once a person has been taught to decode (i.e., they can recognize the sound patterns in letters and letter combinations), they continue to learn by reading. As they apply their carefully taught decoding skills, they expand their understanding of language with everything they read. Their decoding ability allows them to self-teach, a process that Share suggests may continue throughout their reading life.

Learning Loss Can be Avoided

While a few students may be able to teach themselves to decode, science demonstrates that most—and especially those with language-learning difficulties—cannot. The Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum is focused on giving students the decoding skills and practice they need to become life-long confident readers. The Lexercise Summer JOLT Reading Advancement Program turns summer vacation into a fun and convenient boost in reading skills to create stronger readers and, very importantly, to eliminate learning loss.

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How to choose an online school for a dyslexic student

computer on a desk with Lexercise on the screen

What Should I look for when selecting an online school for my child?

As we move toward the school year, not certain if or for how long school buildings will be open, many parents of students with dyslexia are asking themselves – and Lexercise! – how do we choose an online school or curriculum for our dyslexic child?

Online learning has been around for a while, getting both easier and more sophisticated all the time. In fact, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) posted their “Parent’s Guide to Online Virtual Schools” in 2014!  But many families have had an opportunity to experience online learning for the first time in the last several months.  More and more parents are asking how they can evaluate virtual schools and virtual schooling. 

We suggest that parents “interview” schools and ask for specific information on the following essential elements of online learning for dyslexic students: 

1. A structured literacy approach

Structured literacy (Orton-Gillingham) is the gold standard in teaching students to read, spell and write. It is not only the most effective method for students who are struggling with reading words and spelling them, but it is also the most effective method for teaching the foundations of literacy to all students. In fact, students with dyslexia may not become proficient readers and writers unless they are taught using a structured literacy approach. A structured literacy approach requires three elements:

  • A structured literacy curriculum

    – A structured literacy curriculum thoroughly covers the concepts related to decoding and spelling words with the goal that the student will read and spell even the most complex words automatically and without excessive struggle. In addition, the word study includes vocabulary and usage. Reading, spelling, and writing are practiced in increasingly challenging text reading and writing assignments. (See this IDA structured literacy infographic.)

  • A qualified structured literacy teacher

    – To be an effective instructor for the dyslexic learner, a teacher/therapist needs special training. The IDA accredits professional development programs that meet IDA Knowledge & Practice Standards. Professional development programs that have earned IDA’s Accreditation-PLUS prepare professionals to work one-on-one with students who have complex language processing difficulties.

  • Adequate structured, daily practice

    – A system of structured, daily practice, available online, is critical to the student’s success and advancement. It allows the student to make measurable progress, offers immediate error correction, and provides the parent and teacher with data about the student’s mastery of specific skills.

2. Access to accommodations and technologies

The dyslexic child may need a variety of accommodations, such as extended time to complete assignments and tests. Parents should consider their child’s unique needs in exploring this subject with potential online schools. For example, a child who has reading and spelling challenges can benefit from the support of audio services that provide reading assignments and tests in audio mode for “ear reading.” For writing assignments, a dyslexic student may benefit from technologies such as speech-to-text and spell- and grammar-checkers that work on the level of the sentence (to flag misspellings such as “there” versus “their”). School-wide use of organizational software, such as planning organizers and a calendar system for assignments can be valuable. 

3. Content subjects 

For content subjects such as mathematics, science, history, literature, and art, ask to see the curricula and review the content. Each curriculum should specify what the student will know and be able to do after completing each unit and at the end of the course. Skills and strategies should be related to mastering specific content as opposed to vague objectives, disconnected from content. (For example:  “The student will summarize the causes of the American Civil War” as opposed to “The student will summarize passages.”)

Ask about how students are placed in the curricula. Is there flexibility for placement at a different level if a child has already mastered the material at a particular grade level or if they need to step back a level in one subject? Or will they be placed at a certain grade level regardless of what they have or haven’t already mastered. 

4. School culture

“School culture” may be a little more abstract than the measurable program elements above, but it may be vitally important for a child’s success. The Harvard Graduate School of Education article “What Makes a Good School Culture?” explains the concept. Parents seeking a supportive environment for their child’s learning should explore the school’s stated policies and goals as well as the school’s reputation and achievements. Does the school really do what it says it will do? Do the school’s values align with family’s values and priorities? How do the school’s virtual classes provide children with the opportunity to discuss their questions and opinions about topics in various subject areas? Does the school teach students a process for investigating questions, engaging in discussion, and encouraging them to respect diverse thoughts and opinions?

5. A learning coach  

IDA’s guide emphasizes the role of the learning coach (LC). Typically a parent, the LC “is an integral partner in the education process. Students look to them to administer lessons and provide immediate corrective feedback on their performance toward the lesson objectives.” In our recent “Closing the Gap” post, we noted that the reading skills of some Lexercise students have actually improved faster since school has been canceled – a success we attribute in part to the consistent involvement of that involved adult/learning coach, who may be a parent, tutor, therapist or teacher. (There is a qualified Lexercise therapist assigned to every Lexercise student.) Parents should ask whether the school assigns a learning coach for their child and whether, how, and how much the parents are expected to participate in the lessons. 

Questions about equipment, hours, communication between parents and teachers, written reports, and IEPs should also be part of the conversation with the online school. When it comes to the education of your child, there are no stupid questions. Parents should look for IDA accreditation on the program’s website and ask for detailed information until they are satisfied with the answers.

And of course, if you have questions or concerns about how your child’s reading, spelling or writing may be impacting your child’s learning, Lexercise is here to help with our online dyslexia therapy.

Bringing the Classroom Home, Part 3: Lindsey Blackburn

hands typing on laptop

In this three-part article, we have been sharing the reflections of Lexercise teletherapists about how online structured literacy intervention and online learning work.  Two weeks ago,  Leahann McLaughlin shared her experience, and last week  Josie Moretti gave her perspectives.  In this final segment, Lindsey Blackburn reflects on her journey into working with students online.

Working online is engaging, not isolating.

Lexercise teletherapist Lindsey Blackburn worked for years in the New England public schools as a certified special education teacher and learning disabilities specialist. Aspicture of Lindsey Blackburn, Lexercise Therapist a resource teacher, she says, “I had very bright students in the 7th and 8th grade who did not know how to read.” Realizing that her training had not prepared her to teach these students how to read, she went in search of more training. With the guidance of “the most incredible mentors,” she immersed herself in learning the Orton-Gillingham method and was soon seeing the benefits. “I saw the growth, so quickly,” she says. “I worked with a 3rd-grade nonreader and after two months of structured literacy training he had caught up. It was really exciting.”

As a Lexercise teletherapist, Lindsey works online with students and their families all over the world. “Sometimes people are nervous because working online is new, and that’s normal,” she explains, “but technology today is very intuitive and it’s incredibly easy. If you know how to access your email or click on a link, you will have no problem joining an online learning platform. Any problems can be resolved within minutes, and of course, I’m there to help. It gets easier every time.”

The benefits of working online are huge, Lindsey says. In the classroom, “some students get very anxious when they’re asked to read. When they’re in a private and comfortable setting in their own home – and not distracted by their activities and classmates and devices – they can really focus on their work.” An unanticipated benefit for everyone, including the therapist, is the ability to partner with the child’s parent. “The parent is the first and most important teacher, but in a brick-and-mortar clinic setting, the parents are not in the room. Working together online empowers the whole family and expedites growth and progress for students.” Plus, Lindsey notes, since dyslexia often runs in families, many parents admit that working alongside their child, they’re learning English language concepts they never learned in school!

It’s not unusual for parents to be concerned about whether their child will have rapport with the online therapist. Lindsey answers with an enthusiastic “Yes! Working together online is very interactive and authentic. Working online is engaging, not isolating.

 Leahann, Josie, and Lindsey have compiled some questions that they suggest parents might want to ask of a therapist before they enroll their child in online services.

  • My child has reading problems but no diagnosis. What should I do?
  • What are your qualifications? What is your accreditation? (Look for the International Dyslexia Association, IDA, insignia on the provider’s website.)
  • What practicum have you completed? (Qualified therapists complete hundreds of hours of supervised practice.)
  • What is structured literacy?
  • What type of students, which learning deficits, does your program help?
  • What is your approach? Is your method based on scientific evidence? Can you explain your program’s scope and sequence?
  • What is the frequency of sessions and structured practice?
  • Why should we begin online therapy now rather than waiting to see what accommodations my child’s school will provide?
  • What will be expected of me as a parent and what can I do on my end to maximize my child’s success with the program?
  • Do all children get the same therapy? How do you decide what my child needs?
  • What’s the difference between what you do and what a local tutor can do?
  • How much improvement can I expect if my child completes the work?

If you have questions about how online therapy works or how it can benefit your child, we invite you to browse the Lexercise website and we hope you will contact us.

Please stay safe and stay healthy!

For more information on Lexercise’s online therapy, click here.

Flipping Virtual Structured Literacy Intervention

Teachers have been using Lexercise for Schools to provide online lessons for their struggling readers during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these teachers have been offering us valuable feedback and telling us what they need in order to reach more students. These conversations have led to some exciting changes in the teacher dashboard and the flexibility with which teachers can use the Lexercise for Schools platform. 

In the pre-pandemic days, teachers started with a 45-minute lesson. Online student practice followed each lesson. But teachers told us that some students couldn’t be there for the lesson; some had school scheduling difficulties or – especially since the pandemic has closed schools – due to internet connectivity issues. Practice, on the other hand, has been less of a barrier because it can be done at any time or, in a pinch, using a cell phone, connecting with cellular towers rather than cable or fiber internet.

With this valuable feedback in mind, we have re-designed the Lexercise for Schools teacher dashboard. Instead of a lesson-first protocol, the changes make it easy for a teacher to begin with a few days of student practice using Lexercise games. The Lexercise interface reports each student’s accuracy so, after a few days, the teacher can see who is mastering the decoding and spelling patterns and who isn’t. The teacher can get a detailed report on every student’s practice to see exactly which words and which concepts are causing difficulty. Then the teacher can schedule an individual or group  lesson and/or short concept-focused instruction to explain and provide guided practice with the concept(s).

Illustration: Accuracy report showing a student’s practice-game results

We have actually anticipated this model for some time. Over the last few years, our data have indicated that most struggling students can master decoding and spelling concepts with just the implicit and explicit instruction provided by the practice games platform.

Starting with a little practice instead of with a face-to-face lesson is  a “flipped classroom” model.  Direct instruction is provided after, not before, initial engagement and practice. Over the past decade,  research has indicated that a flipped classroom model can be very effective, especially with regard to improving student motivation. (See, for example,  Brame, 2013.)

Every day, we see teachers responding to the unanticipated demands of becoming instant online teaching experts. We are extremely grateful for the work they are doing, and for the time they have taken to offer feedback on the Lexercise platform. We are excited and pleased to be able to roll out this change quickly in response to their observations and suggestions.

 

Reference:
Brame, C., (2013). Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/.

Tips for Online Instruction

parent and child with online therapistWith schools closing and lives disrupted nationwide, Lexercise is getting urgent calls for help from teachers who are suddenly required to teach lessons online. For many of these teachers, it is their first foray into online teaching. But, interestingly, the most frequent question is, “How can I keep students engaged in online sessions?”

As you know, for many years Lexercise has been refining our methods for capturing and holding the attention of young learners. With that experience in mind, we offer here an overview of online basics.

Utilizing Technology to Keep Students Engaged


Both the teacher and the student(s) need:

  • An internet-connected device, such as a computer, laptop, or tablet; smartphone screens are too small to be workable
  • Internet speed that permits multiple video feeds without stalling 
  • An updated browser
  • A video camera, microphone, and speakers (built into all modern devices) 
  • Headsets with microphones are helpful for both teachers and students, but young students joined by a parent will use the computer’s built-in microphone and speaker since both need to hear the audio feed.
  • A web-conferencing platform that is: secure (e.g., NOT Skype or FaceTime; most Lexercise therapists use Zoom); easy, intuitive, and not glitchy; complete with tools that help keep students engaged (e.g., a way to write on the screen using on-screen annotation tools)

 

Task Mastery

Teachers need to master a number of tasks and troubleshooting measures that will arise in almost every session. Most of these are not technologically complex, but you don’t want to be figuring them out on the first day of class. We suggest that two or three teachers (friends and family members will work, too) simulate an online class and work through these steps a few times to make sure the actions are seamless. (Platforms such as Zoom provide very worthwhile training materials and webinars.) The most common tasks are:

  • Send a web-conference invitation to participants
  • Get participants logged in to the web conference and help them adjust their speaker(s), microphone(s) and camera(s)
  • Solve common web-conferencing and connectivity difficulties (e.g., microphone echo, slow internet speed, error messages, browser issues)
  • Locate features in the web-conferencing interface, share and unshare their screen, switch to and from the desktop and the video feed, open a new tab 
  • Know how to prevent displaying private or personal information to participants

 

Safe & Effective Online Teaching

Online teaching is not just web conferencing! The technology and the web-conferencing platform get you in the same “room” as the student(s). Beyond that, you need to think about what and how you will teach, using research-backed protocols and procedures that are adapted specifically for online teaching. These must be practices that are safe and effective. 


Safety

  • In most cases, a responsible adult, such as a parent, needs to be on-site with the student(s). (Suppose your student decides to climb out the window during your web conference. If there is no adult present, there is nothing you can do!) Since an adult must be in the room it can be a teaching opportunity, but that does require using guidelines for where the adult will be seated and what they will (and won’t) do.
  • There are complex federal and state laws that apply, such as COPPA and FERPA, so use a platform and procedures with a Terms of Service that provides for that.


Administrative Procedures and Tools

  • Beyond the safety and legal aspects, the platform needs to provide for the flow of the entire session, including selecting teaching objectives, session planning, teaching materials, session notes, and all necessary, related administrative tools.
  • The platform needs to provide a secure way to send and receive messages from students and parents. This must be internal to the platform.
  • The platform needs to provide a way to connect with its user community to share information, ask questions, and improve teaching practices.


Setting Up Content

  • There should be a curriculum, not just a collection of apps, games, or disconnected activities. A curriculum is a set of measurable, sequential goals, objectives, methods, and resources that allows a teacher and students to work together toward mastery of a set of skills and a body of knowledge. As Natalie Wexler points out in her recent book, The Knowledge Gap, a curriculum is essential. It can be skills-focused or knowledge-focused and students need both. While a discussion of how to select a curriculum is beyond the scope of this article, we should acknowledge that the selection and use of research-backed curriculum is a necessary component for effective teaching. 
  • Teaching materials need to be designed for online teaching, not paper-based materials designed for use in a physical facility.
  • It is a copyright violation to display copyrighted material in a web-conference (even if you own them). So, if the platform does not include curricular materials, the teacher will have to write their own curriculum from scratch and create copyright-free learning objects and materials to go with it – pretty daunting.
  • Most paper-based materials are not optimized for teletherapy so they may be difficult to see and/or interact within the online class.
  • Since attention is an absolute prerequisite for learning, the teacher needs to know how to keep the student(s) active and participating. The screen can be an attention magnet, but without best practices, it can be a distraction. If an image is too complex or too text-heavy the student will not know what to look at; their attention will flag and time will be wasted. 
  • Even the most well-trained practitioner needs a lesson script or reminder notes to help them pace the lesson and stay on track.
  • And, of course, there needs to be a structured plan for how the student(s) will get practice between lessons and a way to track practice completion and accuracy. The power of a little daily practice is now consensus science, and we know that neural circuits lose their optimization over days without structured practice. 


Best Practices for Online Instruction

  • Learning objectives need to drive the teaching methods, not vice versa. Teachers should select resources and apps based on their teaching and learning objectives.
  • Engagement is essential! Learning is social. Conversation is required and needs to be an intentional part of the curriculum.
  • Screen time needs to be balanced with off-screen activities.


The Lexercise online platform includes the
Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum©, a speech-to-print curriculum with lessons that start with phonemic awareness and include explicit, direct instruction in letter-sound associations, word reading, spelling, word parts (morphology), vocabulary, sentences, reading comprehension, and writing. There is an interface for daily practice that is coordinated with the objectives the teacher selected for the lesson. It is adjustable, based on the age and needs of the student, and has been used with students from kindergarten to adults. Like all structured literacy methods, this curriculum is most appropriate for use with students whose listening comprehension is stronger than their decoding/spelling skills. For students with weaker listening comprehension and relatively stronger decoding/spelling we recommend the Lexercise Mind’s Eye Curriculum©, which is available only for use by Lexercise Therapists in Professional Therapy subscriptions.

If you are a teacher looking to meet the needs of your struggling readers, you might want to look into our Lexercise for Schools program.

Here at Lexercise, we believe in teachers and we know they can meet the challenge. We welcome your questions and wish you the best during this unusual time.

Thank you!

It’s almost Thanksgiving and so, along with family and turkey and pumpkin pie, our minds turn to gratitude. Here at Lexercise, we have many people and things to be thankful for: the parents and children whose trust and dedication turn struggling students into competent, confident readers; the magnificent team of Lexercise therapists who guide these families through the learning process; and, not least, our dedicated and mighty Lexercise staff.

There are many others, of course, including the educators, research scientists, and organizations working to deepen our understanding of language learning. In particular, we would like to express our deep gratitude to two journalists who have, with consistent and articulate attention, exposed the problems with how reading is taught in most U.S. schools:

  • Emily Hanford (Senior Producer and Correspondent at APM Reports) for her work explaining the science of reading and how reading should be taught.
  • Natalie Wexler (author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System – And How to Fix It) for her work explaining how the U.S. education system suffers from a lack of knowledge-based curricula and a misplaced focus on “strategies” instead of knowledge (facts and critical thinking).

For several decades, reading scientists have struggled to get the world of education to hear their message about the consensus that exists around the Simple View of Reading and its implications for how reading should be taught. But in a little over a year, these two journalists have written intelligent and accessible materials that have sparked a national discussion about the Simple View of Reading:

Reading Comprehension (6)Natalie and Emily agree that reading comprehension is a primary goal. Natalie’s work has addressed mainly the listening comprehension side of the formula, whereas Emily has addressed mainly the decoding side of the formula. As the formula implies, both are essential in that each side has a multiplier effect on the goal.

Through their writing, Hanford and Wexler are helping schools find better ways to teach and, so importantly, helping parents to demand the educational methods that will teach their children to read – whatever their abilities.

You can learn more about Emily Hanford’s work by reading or listening to her APM Reports (click on her name, above, for a list of recent reports). Find out more about Natalie Wexler’s work by reading The Knowledge Gap or visiting The Knowledge Gap page on her website, where you’ll find information as well as links to presentations, podcasts, and interviews.

These dedicated writers have earned our deepest regard and they definitely deserve the nation’s thanks!

We wish you the very best for the holidays and are always here to answer your questions about dyslexia, language processing disorders, and the Lexercise approach.

Lexercise for Schools

“While we teach, we learn.” Seneca

Lexercise for Schools is a win-win platform that engages students in structured literacy lessons and practice while also providing professional development for teachers.

The Lexercise for Schools platform provides the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™  in a classroom-friendly format. Teachers use multimedia, direct-instruction lessons that explain concepts with extreme clarity and stimulate interactive discussion and practice. To supplement group activities, the program generates individualized, self-paced solo practice that reinforces concepts taught in the lessons, responds to individual needs, and provides progress data. As teachers use the program, they learn the neuroscience of literacy, the structure of written English, and how to detect and correct problems. This virtual apprenticeship in structured literacy methods reduces teacher planning time and, over time, builds effective reading coaches who understand reading science and how to apply it. 

The Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™  is based on consensus reading science and principles of literacy instruction endorsed by the International Literacy Association, the International Dyslexia Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

We are happy we have helped over 200,000 families since we launched in 2008.  Lexercise is proud to be an International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Accredited ProgramPLUSTo learn more about structured literacy and how it differs from less effective methods of reading instruction see this introductory guide from the International Dyslexia Association.

To learn more, visit the Lexercise for Schools page and request a free demonstration or contact us at Lexercise and let us know how we can help.

 

An Overview of our Mississippi Dyslexia Screener

children in front of a school bus

In 2013, the State of Mississippi enacted a law requiring local school districts to implement State Board of Education-approved screening for dyslexia. The law (Mississippi Code § 37-173-15) specified that kindergarten and first-grade students in Mississippi would be tested for phonological awareness and phonemic awareness; sound-symbol recognition; alphabet knowledge; decoding skills; encoding skills; and rapid naming. The law also specified what steps would be taken if a child failed the test and who would be qualified to administer follow-up testing and evaluation.

At that time, there was no readily available comprehensive test that would cover all of the required skills. Since Lexercise had already introduced a free dyslexia screener for parents, the Lexercise team realized it could apply that knowledge and experience to build a screener to comply specifically with the new Mississippi legislation. Based on research-backed, open-source content, the resulting screener is automated for easy administration, scoring, and reporting.

 

Mississippi Dyslexia Screener: An Overview

Since 2013, the Lexercise Mississippi Dyslexia Screener has been used by thousands of teachers in Mississippi and other states where laws require screening of kindergarten and first-grade students. While it is designed to meet Mississippi code requirements, the screener can be used by any teacher or literacy professional. It is free, easy to use, and can be used for testing an unlimited number of students.

Our Mississippi Dyslexia Screener has built-in instructions, but here is a brief overview:

    • A simple log-in is required.
    • It is for use with Kindergarten and 1st Grade students only.
    • Lexercise recommends that the person administering the test review all instructions, materials, and test pages before conducting the first test.
    • Some pages require printing.
    • Each of the five tests screens for a specific skill and the student’s performance is marked by the administrator as the test proceeds. Some of the tests are timed and some are not.
    • The test pages provide instructions on how to proceed if the student is unable to complete a task.
    • When the tests have been completed, the screener automatically summarizes the student’s skills. This information can be used to recommend (if needed) a comprehensive dyslexia evaluation leading to a diagnosis.
    • Compiling a file or notebook for each student tested can be very helpful for discussions with parents and teachers.

apple, books, and blocks on teachers deskThe Lexercise Mississippi Dyslexia Screener has proven to be a fast, easy way for teachers to identify students at risk for dyslexia or other literacy struggles. It has also given the Lexercise team a great opportunity to engage with teachers and literacy professionals, get feedback, and start refining the screening process so that it is faster and even more efficient.

We invite teachers to try the free Lexercise Mississippi Dyslexia Screener for yourselves and let us know what you think. (If you are a parent, the right tool for you to screen your child is here.)

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Reading Instruction Reconsidered

books, apple, and ABC cube on teachers table

When it comes to teaching kids to read – especially children with dyslexia and other language processing disorders – are we on the right track? An approach that works for some-of-the-children some-of-the-time leaves out a lot of potential readers.

As APM journalist, Emily Hanford, points out, “Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too.”

Traditionally, reading has been taught as a printed-word skill.  Show the child a page of text again and again until the letters magically take shape as words that can be connected with meaning.  At best, reading has been taught as a print-to-speech (phonics) skill. But the science of reading is clear:  Reading is most effectively taught the other way around – from speech-to-print.

The term speech-to-print doesn’t just mean teaching speech sounds and the letters that spell them.  Rather, it suggests that instruction should include every domain of language structure, beginning with speech (phonology) and moving step by step to discourse. There’s solid research evidence, including a lot of neuroscience, for including every language domain as part of a interwoven curriculum. The curricula that interweave all the domains of language are referred to as structured literacy methods.  

Alas, the traditional methods, “the way we’ve always done it,” are turning out to be less effective than an approach that begins with speech sounds: phonemic awareness (“the ability to segment words into their component sounds, which are called phonemes” and connect speech sounds to spelling patterns).

Rather than looking at a printed word and trying to puzzle out its sound and meaning, a speech-to-print approach begins with hearing the word, isolating the sounds within the word (phonemic awareness), learning the relationship between the sounds and letters (sound-symbol association), and manipulating the sounds and letters sequentially in order to read and spell new words. When taught this way, decoding and spelling instruction is a logical and orderly sequence of steps. It is systematic, cumulative and explicit.

However, it is not a one-size-fits-all process. Children have varying processing abilities that may impact their progress. Research demonstrates that core (phonological) weaknesses can be significantly and permanently improved with direct instruction and practice for all students, even for students with cognitive impairments.  Of course, parents can help by playing speech sound games, linking speech sounds to print and reading aloud to their children.

Still, most of the responsibility for teaching reading and spelling falls on classroom teachers. In our next article on reading instruction, we’ll look at systems that support a speech-to-print literacy approach.

Systems vs. Goals: Is it time to toss out the resolutions?

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, many of us put the same things on our list year after year: lose weight, exercise more, travel, and so on. You probably have your own familiar favorites.

New Year’s resolutions are goals. Putting them on our list makes us feel like we’ve taken the first important step toward achievement. But the fact that they show up year after year suggests that having a goal is not enough. What’s more, having a goal may not be as important as we think.

A goal doesn’t explain how we do what we hope to accomplish. That’s the role of systems. Systems spell out the steps and track our progress.

Let’s look at this in terms of education and, specifically, teaching students to read, spell and write.

 

Teachers often set learning goals for students. Passing a standardized test is a goal. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a list of goals. IEPs are the backbone of special education programs.

IEPs offer some systems guidance, such as the number of lessons per week and how progress will be measured. But they rarely track what matters most: the direct instruction of specific concepts and the frequency and number of practice challenges provided to the student. What is tracked, if anything, is seat-time. And, alas, seat-time is not practice.

Over many decades, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown that students who read at a below-basic level in 4th grade rarely become proficient readers by 8th grade. Even if they show up for classroom seat-time, the system doesn’t provide the necessary steps to move them toward literacy.

Could a tighter system approach change that? At Lexercise, we think it could.

 

Lexercise’s System Approach: Structured Literacy

Lexercise is a systems approach: one structured literacy lesson a week followed by at least 15 minutes a day of structured practice, four days a week. Our data over the last 10 years shows that students who actually use this system (not just aspire to it) make at least a year of reading gain in the first eight weeks!

Note the absence of a goal in the Lexercise approach. We don’t say that the student will be able to read a certain book, or will be able to read or write at a certain grade level. Those are goals. What we say is that if the student actually does the lesson and the practice, they will make significant progress.

James Clear writes about habits and human potential. In Chapter 1 of his book Atomic Habits, he writes about goals and systems. Again and again, he emphasizes the importance of process and actions over goals. “Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a particular number, it’s about sticking to the process and not missing workouts.” “Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process.”

Clear also emphasizes the importance of feedback as a way of tracking progress. At Lexercise, feedback is built into our ongoing testing system, so that the student sees and hears their progress as they move through the practice.

Can the systems approach work for your student? We think so. We’d also be very interested to see how the systems approach might change your New Year’s resolutions!

Whatever approach you take, we wish you the very best for 2019 and look forward to sharing our understanding of learning and to answering any questions you may have about dyslexia and other language-processing disorders.

 

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