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Foundational Concepts: Proficient Literacy

foundational concepts: proficient literacy

Dyslexic Students Can Become Proficient Readers and Writers

In our recent series on the building blocks for language and literacy, we looked at two foundational elements to proficient literacy:

  1. Comprehensible spoken input – language comprehension begins with spoken conversations in meaningful contexts
  2. Comprehensible written input – literacy emerges using the alphabet (letters) to represent words and meaning

For students on the dyslexia spectrum, fluency with written input is not automatic.


How Dyslexia Disrupts Proficient Literacy

The Simple View of Reading is a now universally accepted model in reading science. According to the Simple View, learning to read has two essential components: 

  • understanding spoken language (listening comprehension)
  • understanding the printed word (decoding and spelling) 

Children with dyslexia have a relative strength in spoken input and a relative weakness in written input. Sentences and paragraphs that would be easy to comprehend in spoken form become an exhausting challenge in written form.

Furthermore, these two “sides” of the Simple View formula have a multiplying effect when it comes to reading comprehension. For example, say a child is a 10 in listening comprehension but a 0 in decoding. If we multiply the two numbers, we can predict their reading comprehension will be 0. In other words, strength in one component cannot completely make up for weakness in the other.

Both components are essential for proficient literacy. Successful interventions must focus on giving each struggling reader the instruction and practice they need, matched to their pattern of strengths and weaknesses.


Overcoming Dyslexia 

There are three essentials for overcoming dyslexia: 

  • A structured literacy curriculum, delivered consistently as directed
  • A teacher or therapist who is an expert in the structure of the language
  • Daily or near-daily deliberate practice

How Structured Literacy Can Help 

Structured literacy is a science-backed, comprehensive approach to teaching reading, writing, and spelling that is widely accepted as the world’s most effective way to teach literacy and to help struggling readers and writers.” The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) explains that “Structured Literacy explicitly teaches systematic word identification/decoding strategies. These benefit most students and are vital for those with dyslexia.” This instruction includes the “analysis and production of language at all levels: sounds, spellings for sounds and syllables, patterns and conventions of the writing system, meaningful parts of words, sentences, paragraphs, and discourse within longer texts.”

the ladder of reading by nancy young
Nancy Young’s “Ladder of Reading” infographic shows the relationship between explicit instruction and learning to read.

A structured literacy approach is critical for dyslexics. But the same three essentials required to overcome dyslexia can benefit all students to some degree. Nancy Young’s wonderful infographic, “The Ladder of Reading,” illustrates the value of a structured literacy approach: students who are not dyslexic may not need as much direct instruction and practice to achieve proficiency, but all students can gain fluency and improve their literacy through this approach.

Struggling readers, and especially students with dyslexia, need to be taught to recognize individual speech sounds. But so do all readers when it comes to some words. It is only through explicit instruction and practice that readers and writers learn to discern the difference between (for example) to / too / two  …or… their / there / they’re …or… boys / boy’s / boys’ …or… how to approach an unfamiliar written word, working out its pronunciation and meaning. 


What’s Next for Your Struggling Reader

Lexercise clinical educators are experts in structured literacy. The approach is individualized to each child. It includes a print-to-speech (reading) and a speech-to-print (spelling) structured literacy curriculum plus a program of daily practice that is engaging, instructive, and builds awareness and memory. In the first eight weeks of using Lexercise with a qualified Lexercise therapist, most students improve their reading proficiency by one full grade level.

To learn more, explore our dyslexia treatment pages online or contact us to discuss your child’s specific needs.


Additional Resources

To see Nancy Young’s infographic and links to supporting research, click here. This infographic was updated in 2021, see what was updated here.


Foundational Concepts: Where Literacy Begins

foundational concepts: where literacy begins

The Importance of Early Literacy

As we begin the new year (and, by the way, Happy New Year!) we’d like to do all we can to empower effective and efficient reading instruction. The science of how to teach reading effectively and efficiently has never been clearer. We know the main building blocks for proficient literacy and how to teach them.  And yet, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the “nation’s report card,” the percentage of U.S. public school students reading at proficient levels has dropped over the last two years (NAEP, 2019). Mississippi was the only state in the country where 4th grade reading scores improved. As Mississippi demonstrates, when parents, teachers, administrators, and policy makers work together to apply reading science, reading outcomes improve!

The more we understand about the building blocks for language and literacy, the better equipped we are to support our children and students as they learn these essentials and improve their reading and writing. So, over the next few months, we’ll be examining the most basic and essential elements of language and literacy.

Let’s start with how children learn words.  How does a child learn the meaning of a word like frog?

How does she learn to pronounce the word frog? In fact, this all begins inside the “black box” of a baby’s brain, long before the child can walk or even sit up!

Somehow, we learn to speak. But by the time we’re old enough to wonder how we went about it, we can no longer remember our own experience of language learning. It seems to have “just happened.” Even now, when we learn a new word we don’t think much about it. Word learning is largely an unconscious process. For example, do you remember exactly when and how you learned the word coronavirus?

As infants, we are surrounded by sensory stimulation. We hear the sounds that people make and watch their faces, gestures, actions, and reactions. Nobody stops to explain to us the formal meaning of words, but gradually we begin to make associations between words and actions—to comprehend the language even if we do not precisely understand the meaning (or spelling) of the words. We refer to all of that incoming stimulation, including visual, auditory, touch, etc., as input.

The linguist Stephen Krashen studied this process, especially in relation to learning to understand and speak a second language. Krashen’s theory, called comprehensible input, describes how adults learn to understand and speak a second language. This theory, now supported by scientific research, is easily illustrated by watching and listening to a story being told in a language you do not yet speak.

As an example (for those who do not speak Spanish), in the Fabulaudit series on YouTube, native Spanish speaker Francisco tells simple stories entirely in Spanish. We listen as we watch his face, his mouth, his expressions and gestures, and the drawings and words he scribbles on the whiteboard. He rarely translates or explains in English and there’s no “repeat after me” memorization. We watch and listen, and, somewhat like a child, absorb the story. 

This sensory input feeds complex networks of mental representations that underpin spoken and, later, written language. In future posts, we will examine some of the elements of language learning, how the remarkable human brain connects spoken language to written symbols for reading and writing and, finally, how the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™ helps students build proficient reading, spelling and writing using these building blocks. 

Learn more here about how Lexercise Therapy can help struggling readers.


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.

Meet the Therapist: Mindi Johanneman


In this post, we’d like to share a story about gratitude and generosity. It’s a true story and the main character is teletherapist Mindi Johanneman of Building Pathways, a Lexercise teletherapy partner.

mindi johanneman

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Mindi. She couldn’t read. She really wanted to read, and tried to read, but school was a nightmare. In middle school, Mindi was reading – barely – at the second or third-grade level. Her parents searched frantically for something, or someone, that could help. Happily, they found someone: a therapist who was able to diagnose Mindi’s dyslexia and knew the Orton-Gillingham method. Slowly, surely, and miraculously, the therapist helped Mindi “crack the code” of words.


picture of young mindi johannemanShe had a long way to go. When she was a junior in high school, Mindi’s teachers, counselors, and administrators discouraged her from thinking about college. But, like many people with dyslexia, Mindi was smart, creative, hard-working, and fiercely determined. She wanted to inspire struggling readers the way she had been inspired by her own therapist. So she went to college and graduated with a degree in early childhood education. After teaching in Seoul, Korea, for two years, Mindi returned to school. She got a second degree, in special education, and taught special ed in the Cincinnati public schools for ten years.

With certification from the International Dyslexia Association, Mindi started partnering with Lexercise in 2017. She calls it “the best decision I have ever made.” As a Lexercise teletherapist, Mindi works with students all over the country. She “meets” with each student one day a week using Lexercise’s user-friendly platform. A parent is involved in each meeting. Games and reinforcement activities coordinated with each lesson help continue the learning process throughout the week.

Mindi admits that, at first, she was reluctant to share her own story with the families she worked with. But then she realized that her story was an important part of her work. “Once you know what you have and that there are ways to overcome it, dyslexia is empowering,” Mindi says. “This brain that has given me so much stress, is also this amazing gift. Some of the most amazing people – Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Thomas Edison – have had dyslexic brains. These are the creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.”

In addition to her professional knowledge, Mindi’s own experience with strategies for education, advocacy, and accommodations, is immensely valuable. “It has been really awesome to help families understand that this is not the end of the world.”

Mindi was so moved by the importance of the work Lexercise is doing that she decided to donate part of what she earns every month to the Dyslexia Services Foundation. DSF is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides direct assistance to low-income families for structured literacy intervention. “After seeing what Lexercise can do, what this type of therapy can do in such a quick time period, I wanted to do something more,” Mindi explains. “What I love about DSF is that when you donate, every dollar is going to therapy for a child – every dollar goes right to reading.”

“I have dyslexia myself. That’s where mymindi johanneman, lexercise therapist passion starts. But I am the luckiest person I know. Who gets to have a career helping people overcome something that you have?”

And who reaches into their heart and
pocketbook to express their passion, their gratitude, and their generosity?

Mindi Johanneman.
Thank you.

From all of us at Lexercise: a very happy holiday season!

picture of dog on the field

Over the holidays, families often have a little more time together at home, and we hope that if you have a young reader in your home you will spend some of that time reading and talking together. 

Here’s a little fill-in-the-blanks poem that we hope you and your young reader will enjoy together.  Read the poem aloud to your student and when you come to a blank – stop and ask your student to fill it in.  Poems don’t have to rhyme, but rhyming can be fun. 

After each blank, we have suggested a rhyming word. Maybe your student will come up with a different one. The sillier the better! 

Happy Holidays from your friends at Lexercise!


Fill in the Blanks Poem

The Neighbors’ Dog

Just as night was growing dark

I heard the neighbors’ poodle _______ [bark].

Like every night, he’s standing guard

outside the door in their back_____ [yard].

He doesn’t wonder, doesn’t roam,

just waits and waits ‘til they come ________ [home].

And then they take him for a stroll.

He likes to run. He likes to ________ [roll].

His tail is up, his neck is bent,

his nose attends to every _______ [scent],

and when he’s had a good long roam,

he pulls his leash to hurry _______ [home].

I like that dog, his bark, his whine.

Sometimes I wish that he was _______ [mine].


For book ideas to enjoy during the holiday break, click here.

Can we say “dyslexia”?



Dyslexia?  “Oh no no. We don’t say that.”  

In Part 4 of her Unlocking Dyslexia series on NPR’s All Things Considered,  Gabrielle Emanuel explored the issues that public schools have with the term “dyslexia”.  

NPR_CYMK_2014Emmanuel quotes an English teacher recalling an administrator explaining that they are not allowed to use the term because, “….we don’t have the capabilities to support that particular learning difference.”

Over the last several decades, language scientists have developed clear and specific procedures for identifying dyslexia and differentiating it from other types of learning problems.  Educators are typically not trained to diagnose or treat dyslexia, but parents don’t understand this.  If educators do use the term dyslexia in discussing a child’s reading and/or spelling difficulties, parents understandably assume that means the child will be getting an instructional program designed to address it.

The federal special education law does require public schools to provide qualified disabled readers and writers with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). But the specific services provided under an IEP are decided by the local school district.  Most public school interventions are provided in group settings and, often, using methods that do not address dyslexia’s core deficits.

Odd as it seems, clarity about the nature of a child’s reading, spelling and writing difficulties is often left up to parents.  This is why Lexercise partners with parents to provide intervention matched to the child’s specific reading, spelling and/or writing difficulties.

Click here to learn more about our therapists and how Lexercise partners with parents!

How To Get Information “In” – Elaboration Learning Technique

diagnosing dyslexia (4)

In the past two weeks we’ve discussed the benefits of two kinds of practice:  spaced-out practice and retrieval practice.  

This week we are going to talk about a method called elaboration.  Elaboration aims to put information “in” memory in such a way that is more likely to “stick” and to be easier to retrieve.  

The word elaborate means to add details or expand.  There are many different elaboration techniques, but they all work on the principle that using details, especially related to the student’s life and what they already know, will improve understanding and memory of new information.

Let’s “listen in” on a little part of a Lexercise online session to see how elaboration is used in Lexercise therapy.
















Using the Lexercise Isolator Procedure with the hand, students begin with what they already know (how to say the word) and then elaborate the word’s letter-sound structure. 

The base of the word elaborate is the Latin word for labor. This suggests that elaboration takes some work and, as you can see in the example above, that’s true!  But with elaboration the student is likely to retain and retrieve spelling patterns, not just for the Friday spelling test, but permanently.

How To Get Information “Out” – Retrieval Practice

diagnosing dyslexia (2)

Last week we talked about the importance of Spaced Out Practice.  This week we’ll discuss another technique that has shown to improve memory and learning: Retrieval Practice. Lots of learning exercises, like lectures, reading assignments, and watching videos are aimed at getting information “in”. However, retrieval practice aims at getting the information “out”.  Retrieval practice can be asking the student to name a concept, recite a definition or answer a question. Quizzes are often designed as retrieval practice. One of the main things that makes retrieval practice different from other types of practice, like re-reading or reviewing–and one of the things that make it work– is that retrieval practice is difficult!

Cognitive Learning Scientists, Megan Smith, and Yana Weinstein highlight the benefits of quizzes here, emphasizing that quizzes facilitate the retrieval of information previously learned.

We all have limited time, so we want to use the techniques that will work the best in the shortest time possible. In a study conducted by psychologist Pooja Agarwal and her colleagues, children with different working memory capacities were given different ways to study. Here is what they found:

  • Retrieval practice yielded better results than restudying the material – for example, by reviewing notes.
  • When tested after two days, children with lower working memory capacities actually benefited more from using retrieval techniques than did their peers with higher working memory capacities.

boy-computerIf you have been told that your child has weak working memory skills, this information is especially important because it suggests a science-backed way you can help your child! First, provide some
Spaced Out Practice.  Then, use short, focused retrieval exercises to strengthen the information in memory.  

Here are some examples of retrieval exercises used for daily practice in the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum©:

For beginning readers and spellers:

  • Seeing letters and saying the sound associated with each one;
  • Giving the definitions of the two types of speech sounds:  vowels and consonants;
  • Spelling the /k/ sound correctly (with <c>, <k>, <-ck>, etc.);
  • Using the correct movement pathway for writing lowercase letters.

For more advanced readers and spellers:

  • Explaining why the vowels in the 2nd syllable of words like tablet and metal  sound like “uh”;
  • Naming the term for 2 letters that spell 1 sound (e.g., the 1st sound in shell );
  • Naming the term for 2 consonant sounds next to each other in the same syllable (e.g., the first 2 sounds in stem).
  • Spelling words correctly with suffixes (e.g., tap→ tapping).

Retrieval practice can be difficult so it is important to be patient with your child, provide lots of encouragement and support and teach the value of persistence!  Retrieval practice in conjunction with spaced-out practice supports learning and develops expertise.

aid481086-900px-Make-the-Most-of-Your-Time-when-Studying-Step-07Lexercise Structured Literacy Teletherapy is designed with a little practice every day. Here is a blog series with information about how well-designed practice supports memory and learning.

You can learn more about Lexercise Structured Literacy Teletherapy and even schedule a free 15-minute consultation with a Lexercise dyslexia therapist here.

A Guide to Understanding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Understanding Section 504

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights has published a new resource guide:
Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The main aim of the guide is to help students with disabilities and their parents and teachers understand disability rights under federal law and specifically the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The guide explains that the federal law defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”. Reading and spelling problems like dyslexia qualify as a disability because reading and writing are major life activities, not only for school but also for the workplace and personal life.

The guide aims to help eliminate discrimination against students with disabilities by promoting an understanding of disability rights under federal law and by explaining what kind of assistance is available and how to seek help.

The guide stresses that students with dyslexia are eligible for modifications and assistance in a classroom setting even if they are getting good grades:

“A student who has dyslexia and is substantially limited in reading finds it challenging to read the required class material in a timely manner. …..[T]he student spends far more time preparing for class than other students and earns good grades because of the student’s intelligence and extreme efforts. The student would still be substantially limited in the major life activity of reading despite earning good grades and may require a multi-sensory approach to learning, and additional time to complete in-class tests or quizzes, even if that student earns mostly A’s.” (p. 5)

Especially in students who are earning good grades, it can be difficult to observe the language processing impairments that underlie dyslexia. A specific language-literacy assessment is needed to describe and document this type of impairment and its impact.

Lexercise therapists work directly with the family, providing assessments and effective, research-based intervention, as well as information and support for appropriate school accommodations.

If you aren’t sure if your child has dyslexia, take our free, online dyslexia screening test.

Learning Methods and Note Taking Skills for Dyslexic Students

Neuroplasticity Research on DyslexiaDyslexia has been defined as a neurological disorder that causes difficulties with accurate word reading and spelling.  Listening comprehension is typically a strength, but reading comprehension may be weak due to disruptions when reading words.

Dyslexia can cause significant academic problems because, especially after 3rd grade, teachers expect students to be independent readers. Strategies that help students comprehend and remember what they read can be helpful.

Yale University has provided note-taking and study tips for students. These techniques can be adapted for elementary school students. The Cornell Method of note-taking remains one of the most popular and is outlined below:

Cornell Note-Taking Method

When taking notes on a reading assignment or lecture aim to take down the main points rather than copying everything verbatim. Call out any questions or points you don’t understand. Use diagrams or sketches if that helps. Finally, write a 3-4 sentence summary.

Divide the page of your notebook into three sections:

  1. Notes (main points)
  2. Questions and/or illustrations
  3. Summary

note taking blank exampleClick to expand image

Note-taking strategies can be helpful, but the student must have a basic skill level to use note-taking tips. For example, the student must be able to write legibly enough and with
good enough spelling that they can later read and make sense of what they have written. Students who are not quite at that point may be showing symptoms of dyslexia. You can screen your child for dyslexia in 10-15 minutes here, for free. Dyslexic students benefit from technological accommodations and researched-backed intervention.  Our dyslexia therapists meet and exceed the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading and Spelling. Sign up for a free fifteen-minute consultation here.

Healthy Routines for Your Child

helpful-tips-for-homework-time-14It can be hard to get back into the school year routine when summer comes to a close. Your children may get used to the slower, more relaxed summer pace and need to get back into a productive one. Use these tips from our founder, Sandie Blackley to help you and your child shift your routines!

Morning Routines

  • Develop a morning checklist for everyone in the family so everyone knows what they need to do without any nagging.  Post the checklists where they can not be missed, perhaps on the refrigerator or on a whiteboard in the kitchen.
  • Get your child to help make their morning checklist. They’ll be more likely to be excited about using it if they helped make it.  Here are some ideas and products.

Evening Routines

  • Plan to get homework done –or else set it aside if it’s not done–by one hour before bedtime. That last hour is precious and it is needed for more important things than more homework.
  • If your child has an unreasonable of homework assigned ask to meet with your child’s teacher to discuss it.
  • Bear in mind that there is no research showing that homework is effective for elementary school children and there is plenty of research showing the effectiveness of regular reading aloud to children and adequate sleep!
  • Control media so it doesn’t control you (or your child)!  
  • We recommend that children do not have a television screen in their bedroom.
  • Because screen-time is incompatible with reading aloud and sleep we recommend no screen-time for anyone in the home in the last hour before the child’s bedtime. (Screens include TV, computers and smart phones!)
  • Reserve the last 30 to 60 minutes of the evening before bedtime for what matters most–a family read-aloud time and conversation. Even for older students, no homework is more important than this!    

If you think your child may have a learning disability, visit our site and take our free screener.


5 Incorrect Labels for Dyslexia

Helpful Tips for Homework Time (10)If your child is diagnosed or shows signs of dyslexia, there is a huge possibility that you will hear terms that are completely incorrect to describe your child’s disorder. You may even be confused by round-about diagnostic terms given to hide a diagnosis of dyslexia like a Specific Learning Disorder. If you are misinformed, it could affect the kind of treatment he or she receives in school– which could be detrimental to early intervention.  Though there is research being done looking into subtypes of dyslexia, there is only one official form.

Directional dyslexia/ spacial dyslexia/ geographic dyslexia: This refers to the issue some dyslexics experience with telling left from right. Though, this is simply something that comes along with dyslexia and is not a separate condition.

Visual Dyslexia: This term suggests that dyslexia is a visual problem, which is completely incorrect. This theory suggests that dyslexia can be improved through eye exercises or tinted lenses– and the only thing that helps dyslexia is structured literacy therapy. Countless neuroscience studies have proven dyslexia is not a vision condition. Experts do not endorse vision therapy as a treatment for dyslexia and never use this term to describe dyslexia.

13584535514_c2bb726231Math Dyslexia: This is an inaccurate name for dyscalculia– which is a brain-based math learning issue. Dyscalculia is not a form of dyslexia, but it isn’t unusual for kids to have both dyscalculia and dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a widespread issue with many nuances, but there is only one official type. If you see your child is showing any symptoms of dyslexia, take our free online screener. Early intervention is crucial to your child’s success.