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What Is the Science of Reading?

The science of reading has been a hot topic in education circles lately. Controversy has mostly been related to the different ways people define what is the science of reading. For example, while some have focused on the science of how humans learn to read, others have focused on the impacts of different instructional methods. 

The Reading League (TRL), a national education nonprofit, has proposed this definition of the science of reading:

The science of reading is a vast, interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing.

This research has been conducted over the last five decades across the world, and it is derived from thousands of studies conducted in multiple languages. The science of reading has culminated in a preponderance of evidence to inform how proficient reading and writing develop; why some have difficulty; and how we can most effectively assess and teach and, therefore, improve student outcomes through prevention of and intervention for reading difficulties.” (The Reading League, 2022)

As this definition suggests, there is growing consensus about how reading and writing skills develop and what can be done to help struggling readers and writers. In this article, we’ll have a look at this reading science.

 

The Simple View of Reading

The Simple View of Reading (Tunmer & Hoover, 2019) is currently the most widely accepted model of how reading develops. It has been validated in hundreds of scientific studies. Notice the multiplication symbol (x) in the graphic below. The model holds that reading comprehension is the product of two components: listening (language) comprehension multiplied by decoding (word recognition). 

graphic explaining how reading comprehension works

The process of learning to read has been described as a virtuous cycle, with reading comprehension as the goal. The series of graphics below illustrate how these two components multiply in an expanding and increasing cycle.

 

Defining the Virtuous Cycle

The virtuous cycle begins with the uniquely human feat of oral languagecommunication through listening and speaking. The blue blocks in the graphics represent spoken language or listening comprehension.

To learn to read a student must be taught to identify printed words, including printed words that they have never heard pronounced before. This is called decoding. Decoding involves pronouncing the speech sounds represented by specific letters and letter combinations and using that knowledge to pronounce printed words. Unlike oral language, decoding requires formal instruction. The pink blocks in these graphics represent decoding, from speech-to-print (spelling words), AND from print-to-speech (reading words). 

Here is an example:

From speech-to-print: Listen. Say the word sat. What sound do you hear at the end of the word sat and how do you spell it? (Answer: I hear a “t” sound. I spell it -t-.) 

and

From print-to-speech: Look. Here is a written word (sat). What is the last letter in this word and how is it pronounced? (Answer: The last letter is -t-. It is pronounced “t”.)

 

The key symbol (🔑) on the graphic below signifies that decoding instruction has been shown to be an important key in this virtuous cycle. 

the virtuous cycle includes an oral language comprehension component

 

But more than just decoding instruction is needed. Books for beginning readers are naturally limited to simple vocabulary and concepts so the virtuous cycle is boosted when adults read aloud to the student. That helps the student build background knowledge and vocabulary through listening (the blue blocks on the graphic). The student’s decoding skills (the pink blocks on the graphic) are also boosted by following the text with their eyes as the adult pronounces words and occasionally talks about how letters represent speech sounds.

the virtuous cycle includes a reading comprehension component

As Natalie Wexler (2022) has pointed out, a knowledge-rich curriculum in content subjects is essential for full literacy. 

This is the science of reading, a virtuous cycle that results in proficient reading. It serves as a guide to instruction, differentiated for students at various stages in reading development and those with different types of reading disorders.

The virtuous cycle moves from early reading instruction (on the right side of the graphic below) to using reading to learn (on the left side of the graphic below). The student who decodes accurately and fluently tends to find reading pleasurable and informative. Because it is relatively effortless and enjoyable, they read more. They read independently. Note the lock. The decoding key is absolutely necessary to unlock the cycle from here on. The more the student reads, the more knowledge and vocabulary they gain. The more they read the better they get at decoding, spelling, and print conventions. Of course, even proficient readers need a knowledge-rich curriculum and instruction in academic subjects.  

infographic depicting the virtuous cycle of the science of reading

Click image to enlarge it 🔍

 

Using the Science of Reading to Help Struggling Readers 

The Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™ is built on the Simple View of Reading, with its two componentslistening (language) comprehension and decoding (word recognition). Every lesson in the Lexercise curriculum uses a virtuous cycle model, beginning with the student’s oral language, explicitly teaching about sounds and letters, and then word reading and spelling. The curriculum includes conversations about meaningful word parts and vocabulary, and about the meaning of phrases and sentences. Between lessons, there is engaging, individualized practice with immediate feedback. 

If you have a struggling reader, writer, or speller, structured literacy therapy might be right for them. You can schedule a free consultation with one of our expert therapists or learn more about our curriculum on our dyslexia therapy page.

4 Dyslexia Myths That Can Confuse Parents

As Lexercise therapists communicate with the families of children with dyslexia, they are continually impressed by the amount of research parents have done. Getting a dyslexia diagnosis for their child and then finding the right treatment for a student with learning differences is never simple. 

At the same time, Lexercise therapists express their surprise and concern at the prevailing myths and misunderstandings surrounding dyslexia. Thanks to these myths, some parents may even be persuaded that their child’s learning difficulties are not treatable.

Below is an infographic that gives you a quick overview of four of these dyslexia myths. Keep on reading for more information.

Here is more information on the four dyslexia myths that persist in spite of solid evidence:

MYTH #1: Dyslexia causes people to see words and letters backward. 

In 1925, Dr. Samuel Orton used the term strephosymbolia, literally reversed symbols, in explaining why some people have great trouble reading despite adequate intelligence. A decade later, Orton said that he thought the main problem was actually in “the process of synthesizing the word as a spoken unit from its component sounds.” (See What is Orton-Gillingham and How Does it Treat Dyslexia?

Since the 1970s, with modern neuroscience technologies, it has become clear that most dyslexics do not have difficulties with vision or visual perception. Instead, most people with dyslexia have difficulties with processing speech sounds. Still, the old idea that dyslexics see words and letters backward or reversed has persisted and become a popular myth. Some recent research suggests that a minority of struggling readers may have difficulty with some aspects of vision, such as visual spatial attention. In his book, Reading in the Brain: the New Science of How We Read, French neuroscientist Dr. Stanislas Dehaene sums up the current science: “…brain imaging supports the claim that the crux of the problem often lies at the interface between vision and speech….” For more information, see a related post by Dr. William O. Young, Five Ways Not to Treat Dyslexia.

MYTH #2: A student who is making good grades must not have dyslexia.

Good grades do not rule out dyslexia! We are going to address common concerns about grade level in an upcoming post, but meanwhile, see 5 Reasons Why Good Grades Don’t Rule Out Dyslexia.

 

MYTH #3: Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis that can only be used by a healthcare practitioner. 

Learning disorders, including dyslexia, have well-documented lifelong negative effects on health and wellbeing, especially when treatment is withheld or delayed. But a learning disorder like dyslexia is not considered a medical diagnosis, nor, in most cases, is the treatment for dyslexia covered by medical insurance.

Neither the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition (ICD-11) nor the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, has a specific classification code for dyslexia. Instead, both include reading disorders under a broader category of learning disorders

Physicians and other medical providers are typically not trained in how to evaluate learning disorders like dyslexia. The exception might be some developmental pediatricians, who have additional training in cognition and learning. The professionals who are trained to evaluate learning disorders more often include psychologists, special educators, and speech-language pathologists. See Who is Qualified to Make a Dyslexia Diagnosis?

 

MYTH #4: People with dyslexia will never read well, so it’s best to just give them accommodations and other ways to compensate.

With targeted, science-backed intervention, people with dyslexia can become highly proficient readers. In conjunction with appropriate intervention, accommodations and technologies can certainly play a role in reducing fatigue and improving academic performance (see The Limits of Reading Accommodations). It is the appropriate intervention–consistent, targeted therapy plus consistent daily practice–that turns struggling students into confident readers.

 

To find out more about the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia, or to learn more about myth-busting dyslexia research, contact Lexercise today.

How Does Orton-Gillingham Treat Dyslexia

If you have been exploring ways to help your child with dyslexia or other reading difficulties, you have probably heard the term “Orton-Gillingham.” So what is the Orton-Gillingham approach and how is it used in the treatment of dyslexia? Is it really the best approach? Is it up to date? We thought we’d provide a little background on Dr. Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham and the development and evolution of their vital and highly successful approach to making struggling students into fluent and confident readers.

The History of the Orton-Gillingham Approach

During the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a neurologist, described what he called strephosymbolia, or twisted symbols (Orton, 1925, 1937). Orton was puzzled by students who had great trouble reading despite having adequate intelligence. The study of brain-behavior relationships was still in its infancy, and the objective testing of intelligence (IQ) was also new. Modern brain imaging had not been invented.

Orton used the tools he had, including what he knew about brain function from his work with brain-damaged adults. He noticed that his struggling readers often had “static reversals and letter confusions.” But he found that the main problem was in “the process of synthesizing the word as a spoken unit from its component sounds” (Orton, 1937 cited in Hallahan & Mercer, 2001). Though nearly a century has passed since Dr. Orton made his observations, his findings are still central to our understanding of dyslexia: children with dyslexia do not automatically or intuitively recognize speech sounds and make the connection between the spoken word and the printed word.

To help such students overcome their reading struggles, Dr. Orton endorsed teaching phonics with multisensory inputs (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic).

Anna Gillingham, an educator with degrees from Swarthmore, Radcliffe, and Columbia Teachers College, had worked with “very high IQ children” (Swarthmore Bulletin, 2019). She met Dr. Orton in New York City in 1929 and over the next five years, she developed detailed methods for teaching reading using Orton’s ideas. In 1936, with her co-author, Bessie Stillman, she published what came to be known as the Orton-Gillingham manual: Remedial Work for Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship.

An Orton-Gillingham Dyslexia Approach Timeline

The history of the Orton-Gillingham approach is linked with the history of the professional association named for Dr. Orton: The Orton Society.

  • 1982 – The original name, The Orton Society, was changed to the Orton Dyslexia Society to reflect the growing acceptance of the term “dyslexia” to describe the type of students Orton and Gillingham had worked with. 
  • 1997 – The Orton Dyslexia Society was re-named the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) to reflect a growing international consensus about how people learn to read. Leaders in the United States from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development  (NICHD) and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) were part of this consensus. 

    • An important part of this growing consensus was a framework called The Simple View of Reading. The Simple View was first proposed in 1986 to clarify the role of efficient word recognition (decoding) in reading. It explains how “the ability to read age-appropriate material will be impaired if the child has difficulty understanding the language being read or recognizing the words of text, or both.” (Tunmer & Hoover, 2019)  Students with strong skills in listening to material read to them but with weakness in recognizing the words of the text were more and more being called dyslexic. Orton had described this type of student as suffering from “twisted symbols.” Gillingham and Stillman had developed the Orton-Gillingham approach to help such students improve their weak word-reading skills. 
  • 2014 – The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) announced a major campaign to describe how reading should be taught, based on the research consensus. Some elements of what had been called the Orton-Gillingham method had research backing but others needed modernizing. IDA used the term structured literacy to describe the family of research-aligned methods for teaching reading. (See Malchow, 2014)

An Orton-Gillingham Dyslexia Approach Timeline

The Orton-Gillingham approach had become known as the gold standard for teaching reading to students with learning difficulties, including dyslexia. Private schools for students with learning disabilities specialized in it. Parents pressed their public schools to provide it as part of special education services. However, Orton-Gillingham methods had “seldom been well-defined, and clinical wisdom has been waiting for scientific research validation and explanation.” (Farrell & Sherman, 2011)

 A Modernized Orton-Gillingham Approach

Structured literacy methods might be called the grandchildren of the Orton-Gillingham approach. The original Orton-Gillingham approach focused mostly on decoding. Modern structured literacy methods include procedures to help students with all aspects of reading, not just decoding. Structured literacy approaches share a set of features: 

  • Lessons and practice are adjusted to the student’s needs, with reference to the Simple View of Reading framework. Structured literacy methods are designed to build awareness of and conscious attention to the basic structures of language, which include: 
      • speech sounds
      • letters
      • letter-sound pronunciation and spelling patterns
      • syllables
      • words and word parts (e.g., prefixes and suffixes)
      • phrases and sentences
      • text passages 
  • Concepts are taught in clear, easy-to-understand terms, with examples, and modeling.
  • Concepts are taught and practiced in a logical order, from simple to complex, in a cumulative manner.
  • Teaching begins with the most basic skills the student has yet to master.
  • Errors are used as learning opportunities, with prompt, targeted, and supportive feedback.
  • Practice is designed to focus on specific concepts in a way that is not too difficult or too easy. 
  • Progress is checked in an ongoing manner to adjust instruction and practice.
example of the structured literacy approach
Like Orton-Gillingham, Structured Literacy focuses on how words are pronounced and spelled. For example, there are three sounds in the word “coach” but five letters.

Other aspects of instruction are how often lessons are taught and how much practice is done. We know that students with reading difficulties need more practice than do their peers. But getting students to do enough practice can be hard! This is especially true when students are taught in groups, as they are in schools. How much and how often is typically defined in terms of lessons per week and length of lessons. But lessons often don’t include much, if any, practice. For example, Nicholson (2011) reported this observation by Phillip Gough, one of the authors of the Simple View of Reading framework:

“Our children do not read enough. A few years ago, I observed a first-grade classroom in Austin and watched a reading lesson. The lesson lasted half an hour and I timed with a stopwatch the minutes the children spent actually reading, that is, looking at print and deciphering it. It was less than five.” (p. 11)

In the coming years, Gough’s stopwatch would be replaced with high-tech ways for tracking how much and how often students are “looking at print and deciphering it.”

In the more than eight decades since the Orton-Gillingham approach was first described it has been continually informed through the science of reading. It is steadily being improved with new technologies. The modernized Orton-Gillingham approach referred to as structured literacy is leading the way to more and more effective intervention systems for dyslexia and other types of literacy difficulties. 

 

The Lexercise Structured Literacy CurriculumTM

The Lexercise Structured Literacy CurriculumTM combines a science-backed curriculum with the latest in educational technology, modernizing the
Orton-Gilfamily utilizing the Orton Gillingham approach to help with dyslexialingham approach to maximize effectiveness. We combine face-to-face, individually paced lessons
with online games for daily practice, plus parent-teacher support materials for offline activities.

If you are looking to help your child manage dyslexia and to become a fluent, confident reader, check out our online dyslexia therapy solutions or contact us for more information.

 


References

Farrell, M. L. and Sherman, G.F. (2011). Multisensory Structured Language Education. In J. R. Birsh (Ed.), Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills (3rd ed., pp. 25-47). Brookes. 

Hallahan, D. and Mercer, C.D. (2001). Learning Disabilities: Historical Perspectives. Office of Special Education Programs (Learning Disabilities Summit). Archived from the original on 2007-05-27. Retrieved 7/14/22 from http://www.nrcld.org/resources/ldsummit/hallahan2.shtml

History of IDA. Retrieved 7/14/22 from https://dyslexiaida.org/history-of-the-ida/

How a Class of 1900 alumna influenced dyslexia research. (2019). Swarthmore Bulletin. Retrieved 7/14/22 from https://www.swarthmore.edu/bulletin/archive/fall-2019-issue-i-volume-cxvii/second-looks.html

Malchow, H. (2014). Structured Literacy: Teaching Our Children to Read, Lexercise Guest Blog Post. Retrieved 7/14/22 from https://www.lexercise.com/blog/structured-literacy

Nicholson, T. (2011). The Orton-Gillingham approach: What is it? Is it research-based? Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin, 43 (1), 9-12.

Orton, S. T. (1937). Reading, writing, and speech problems in children. New York: W. W. Norton.

Orton, S. T. (1925). “Word-blindness” in school children. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 14, 581-615.

Spear-Swerling, L. (2022). An Introduction to Structured Literacy and Poor-Reader Profiles. In L. Spear-Swerling (Ed.) Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6 (p. 4). Guilford. 

Tunmer, W.E. & Hoover, W.A. (2019). The cognitive foundations of learning to read: a framework for preventing and remediating reading difficulties, Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 24:1, 75-93, DOI: 10.1080/19404158.2019.1614081

 

How to Help a Child with Dyslexia at Home: What Parents Can Do

Many students in the United States today are struggling readers. The U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics evaluates reading comprehension every two years. Recent testing (2019) showed that one-third of students in 4th and 8th grades are reading below basic level and struggle to understand their school work. Not surprisingly, these challenges are even more acute for students with dyslexia.how to help a child with dyslexia at home

Is difficulty reading the same as a diagnosis of dyslexia? 

No. But whether a student has dyslexia or not, being unable to read can lead to a lifetime of struggles with daily living. For example, beyond completing their school work, individuals who cannot read may later find themselves unable to:

    • apply for a job or take a test to advance to a new position
    • read a menu or a map
    • follow written instructions
    • take a driver’s license test
    • manage health care decisions, medications, and dosages (their own and others’)
    • follow a recipe
    • work with technology
    • communicate on social media
    • make informed decisions
    • live independently
    • vote
    • follow operating instructions
    • help with homework and read to their own children

Poor reading skills have been shown to result in higher rates of unemployment, lower-quality jobs, lower-income, and reduced self-esteem.

 

How you can help your struggling reader at home

woman sitting at table helping child with dyslexia at home with reading

Most struggling readers do not qualify for public school special education services, but parents can do a lot to help – right at home. These are simple steps that can benefit the entire family, whether or not children have been diagnosed with dyslexia.

 

 

 

Activities to Do Every Day

  • Set aside a family read-aloud time.
    • Designate an adult or other skilled reader for each session.
    • Select materials that interest the child and that the child can understand as a listener. (Your local librarian can help.)
    • The reader should sit next to the child and encourage them to follow along, looking at the words on the page as they are spoken.
    • Stop from time to time for a little conversation about the story and the characters. Ask questions to make sure the child is following the story and answer any questions they may have.
  • Discuss the meaning of any new or unusual words that come up during the day. If a word has an interesting spelling pattern, point it out.
  • Encourage and model a growth mindset.
    • Encourage deliberate practice and model it, showing the child how people get good at what they practice.
    • Respond to errors in a way that helps the child understand that mistakes are helpful. They help us improve.

Activities to Do Several Times a Week

  • Engage your child in brief writing tasks such as personal notes, making lists, recording events in a diary or on a calendar, etc.
    • Encourage and model writing by hand, with legible and consistent letter formation.
    • Provide guidance for accurate spelling and sentence punctuation.
    • Model and support the use of digital technologies like keyboarding with a sentence-level spelling and grammar checker or project management using a digital calendar.

If your child struggles with reading, writing, or spelling, consider getting help from a qualified structured literacy professional. Learn more about dyslexia testing and structured literacy reading, writing, and spelling therapy for children.

If you are a parent with questions on how to better help a child with dyslexia through proven treatment options, contact us today for a free consultation.

How to Do a Spelling Analysis

Spelling analysis is a powerful tool for helping students master decoding and spelling.  Spelling patterns are like little lights illuminating how the student’s brain has processed a word. A brief conversation about a spelling error can light the way to more accurate and automatic reading and writing.

graphic showing how proficient spelling develops
How Proficient Spelling Develops

 

Spelling Analysis in Practice

To use spelling analysis you need to know how the English spelling system works.  For example:

  • English has 44 speech sounds spelled with 26 letters and letter combinations.  
  • English spelling uses both phonics (how letters represent speech sounds) and morphology (how word parts combine to represent meaning), but it prioritizes the consistent spelling of meaningful word parts over their pronunciation.  For example, the past tense suffix is pronounced three ways (“d” as in filled; “t” as in backed; “uhd” as in lifted), but it is always spelled -ed. 
  • English spelling operates on predictable patterns, but most of the patterns are not obvious. 

    • There are sound-based patterns, such as the pattern that predicts that -a- will be pronounced “aw” when it comes after a “w” sound (as in want).
    • There are letter-based patterns, such as the pattern that predicts that the consonant sound “k” will be spelled -c- when it comes before the letters -a-, -o-, or -u- (as in cut) and the pattern that predicts when the -e- will be dropped when adding a suffix (as in making).      
  • English has a lot of homophones (words that are pronounced alike but that have different meanings), like tax & tacks; meet & meat; which & witch; to, too & two
  • English has a number of heteronyms (words that are spelled alike but that have different pronunciations and meanings), like tear meaning “rip” and tear meaning “liquid from the eye.”
  • Letter case is part of spelling, so capitalization matters, like in holly & Holly

 

Using Conversation to Correct Spelling Errors

Conversation (sometimes referred to as Socratic dialogue), used in conjunction with spelling analysis, can be a powerful and memorable way to correct a student’s spelling errors. 

conversation spelling analysis

In the example illustrated above, in which a student misspelled the word pig as peg, the conversation might go like this:

  • Adult:  (The adult realizes that the child’s error is related to a letter-sound confusion so asks a question to clarify that.) There is one letter-sound that is spelled wrong. Let me hear you isolate the three sounds in the word pig.  
  • Student: “p” “ih” “g”
  • Adult: Great! Now just pronounce the middle sound, the vowel.
  • Student: “ih”….. Oh!  I should have spelled it -i-! 
  • Adult: Exactly! Great job spotting your error! Let’s fix it.

 

An example of a more advanced student who misspelled the word defrosting as dufrosting, the conversation might go like this:  

  • Adult: (The adult realizes that the child’s error is related to over-extension of phonics. The prefix is spelled de-,  but it is pronounced “duh”,  so the adult asks a clarifying question.) There is a spelling error here. Let’s see if you can spot it. What is the base part in the word defrosting
  • Student: frost
  • Adult: Right!  So, what are the other word parts?
  • Student: Well, the suffix is -ing. And the prefix is…..Oh!  It is spelled de-!
  • AdultYes! Exactly How did you figure that out? 
  • Student: Because defrost means to remove frost. 
  • Adult: Super! The prefix sounds like “duh” but it is spelled de-, not du-.  It was in our lesson this week, in words like depart and delay.  Do you remember what the prefix de- means?  
  • Student: I think it means…like off or remove? 
  • Adult: You nailed it!  One more question.  Why is the de- prefix pronounced “duh”?
  • Student:  Because…it is… weak and mushy …uh….a schwa sound?!
  • Adult: Very impressive! 

 


How Lexercise Can Help

If you are a parent whose child is struggling with reading and/or spelling, consider Lexercise Professional Therapy, with a therapist who can use spelling analysis and error correction adjusted to your child’s current level and specific patterns.  

If you’d like to learn more about structured literacy, check out our Professional Education Courses and make sure you subscribe to our blog below for information and resources on literacy and dyslexia. 

Finally, here is a rationale for evaluation and teaching of spelling by D.K. Reed (2012), funded by the US Department of Education. It includes a chart of (basic) spelling expectations by grade according to the Common Core State Standards. Why Teach Spelling?

 

 

Sentence Patterns in English

english sentence patterns

Readable letters and correctly spelled words are two must-have building blocks for literacy.

But literacy is more than words. To be literate students must be able to read and write sentences and paragraphs.

Writing is one of the most important skills that students develop during their K-12 schooling.  Teachers use writing to test what students know.  Students who struggle with writing are likely to struggle in school.  But even beyond school, people are judged by their writing. In text messages, emails, job applications, and work reports – writing matters!  People who have solid writing skills have a huge advantage over their peers! 

Writing also helps us learn! Writing improves:

  • memory
  • critical thinking
  • organization 
  • planning

 

Helping Struggling Readers with Sentence Patterns

Writing involves letters and words…in sentences!  Students often struggle to understand what is and what is not a sentence. They may struggle with writing clear, complete sentences.  Terms like phrase, clause, noun, adjective, and adverb don’t make much sense to struggling writers!  Before learning terms like those it helps to give students guided practice writing top-notch sentences.  This step-by-step plan can help:

  1. Write a base sentence by naming what is it about (the subject) and the action (the verb).
  2. Describe the action (add words to describe when, where, why how).
  3. Develop the action (move the verb phrases around and decide the best arrangement).
  4. Describe the subject (add words to describe which, what kind, how many).
  5. Look at each word and decide if there is a better word to use instead.
  6. Add punctuation, capitalization, and check spelling. Write the final sentence.

 

For example, a student was asked to write a sentence using this picture prompt.

illustration imageFollowing the 6-steps above the student started with a three-word base sentence, The girl looked.  

By step 6 the student had expanded the sentence to, The puzzled engineer squinted through the darkness at the flickering light on the distant tower.

When students can write such sentences independently they are ready to learn the eight terms that describe the roles words play in sentences:

    • Noun
    • Pronoun
    • Verb (including auxiliary verbs)
    • Adjective
    • Adverb
    • Article
    • Conjunction
    • Prepositions

These eight parts of speech are the building blocks for all kinds of sentence patterns! Sentences weave words into rich webs of meaning, making sentences a keystone of literacy. 

If you’d like to learn more about structured literacy, check out our Professional Courses and make sure you subscribe to our blog below for information and resources on literacy and dyslexia.

 

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.

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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: Emergent Literacy

foundational concepts: emerging literacy

Emergent Literacy Skills

The goal of literacy, like language itself, is communication. In our previous post, we introduced comprehensible input – the way, through a variety of sensory stimulation (visual, auditory, touch, etc.), we comprehend language even if we do not precisely understand the meaning (or spelling) of the words. Such sensory input feeds into the complex networks of mental representations that underpin spoken and written language. In this post, we’ll examine some of those mental representations and their role in emergent literacy.

For children with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, language fluency is not automatic. While such individuals are capable of enormous creativity and complex understanding, their brains are “wired” differently. Rather than absorbing words through exposure and repetition, they need a more individualized and explicit approach in which each concept is clearly and explicitly defined and then practiced with enough consistency to establish mastery for both reading and spelling.

How Structured Literacy Can Help Children with Dyslexia

Most of us don’t think very much about how we learn a new word, but often with just a few exposures, we learn not just what the word means but also how to use it in different contexts, how to pronounce it, and how to spell it, even with different suffixes. But decades of scientific research demonstrate that to learn to read and spell words, struggling readers and writers do have to consciously think about words and, usually, more than just a few times!  

The Lexercise Structured Literacy

The Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum provides struggling readers and writers structured opportunities to learn words through listening and speaking, and reading and writing,  tailored to the student and supported by brief, daily practice games.

 

Recognizing Individual Speech Sounds and Syntax

Spoken interaction, otherwise known as conversation, requires turn-taking, joint attention, and words.

Words are made up of speech sounds, which have specific identities and a specific order. Speech sound identity – “bat” vs. “pat” – and speech sound order – “ask” (æsk) vs. “sack” (sæk) – are foundations for reading and spelling. Struggling readers, and especially students with dyslexia, need to be taught to recognize individual speech sounds. Awareness of individual speech sounds is not something that all students “get” intuitively or “pick up” from reading or speech that they hear at home or in the classroom.

An example of syntax: “a boxing chicken” versus “a box of chicken”
An example of syntax: “a boxing chicken” versus “a box of chicken”

Word order (syntax) is also critical to meaning. Consider the difference between “the pet hen” and “pet the hen” or ​​“a boxing chicken” and “a box of chicken.” Same words, different order, different meaning.

Another aspect of language is that words may refer to things and actions that are not present. Remembering and describing yesterday’s game with the red ball requires a complex mental network of words, sounds, and images.

 

Building Proficient Reading, Writing, and Spelling

Reading and writing (literacy) involve using the alphabet (letters) to represent words and meaning. Each letter has a name and a unique identity. In words, letters are used to represent specific speech sounds, such as the letter -m- that represents the speech sound “m,” and specific meaning elements, such as the -ed suffix that indicates past tense.

Mirror images of letters are not identical to one another.

To become literate, students have to learn that letters are special and different from other objects. Mirror images of letters (e.g., -b- and -d-) are not identical to one another. Font differences and color variations do not change the identity of letters.

After about 6 months of literacy instruction, most students have mastered these foundations.  For students who struggle to master these foundational elements, research proves that early intervention is an important key to future success.

 

In our next post, we’ll dive a little deeper into the foundational concepts. Meanwhile, if your child has difficulty reading, writing, or spelling, we would be happy to help you find the evaluation and/or treatment that will turn your challenged reader into a reader for life. Schedule a free consultation with one of our highly-trained therapists 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.

 

A Season of Gratitude

Here at Lexercise, we make a special effort to express gratitude. It takes just a moment to say Thank you, but the benefits can be long-lasting. As we move toward Thanksgiving, we want to extend our special thanks to the students, families, teachers, and Lexercise therapists and staff who have gone above and beyond in this year of less-than-ideal conditions.

For public school struggling readers who qualify, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is supposed to define the specialized instruction and services they need to thrive academically. Unfortunately, many struggling readers don’t qualify or are never identified and never get the help that could be life-changing. Recent research indicates that even for those who are identified, it takes more than a year, on average, for a student just to be provided with an IEP so they can begin to get services. Schools may be under-resourced, and teachers and even school psychologists unprepared to provide the full evaluation necessary to confirm a diagnosis. 

As parents see their children falling behind their peers and contending with issues of anxiety, anger, frustration, and low self-esteem, they search desperately for answers. Happily—for parents and students—that search often leads them to Lexercise. Whether or not their child has an IEP, others find their way to Lexercise through referrals from psychologists, pediatricians, teachers, reading interventionists, and other consultants. 

We know, and any Lexercise family will tell you, that success requires commitment on the part of the student, the parent, and the therapist. It requires time and patience. It means showing up again and again, even when you’re not certain of the outcome.

So THANK YOU: to all those who refer struggling readers to Lexercise, to the students who commit themselves to daily practice, to the parents who encourage and support them, to more than a hundred qualified Lexercise dyslexia therapists who help parents and under-resourced schools identify and treat their struggling readers, and to the small but mighty Lexercise staff, who continue to support the Lexercise vision and our science-backed methods.

We are not alone in our gratitude. Read (and watch) some of the heartwarming stories we have received from Lexercise families

We are grateful to each and every one of you and look forward to continuing our work together.

Stress Management 101

stress management 101

In a recent “Best of NPR” newsletter, Christopher Dean Hopkins writes about helping young students cope with unusual conditions as they return to school. He talks about mask use and alternate settings to closed classrooms, but also, very importantly, emphasizes the presence of stress “for kids as well as grownups.”

At Lexercise we often discuss stress and anxiety, as they are among the most common features of dyslexia. In The Vortex of Dyslexia, we share why these emotions are so prevalent among children with dyslexia and other language-processing disorders. October is Dyslexia Awareness Month so this is a good time to re-examine how struggling students can manage stress and anxiety, which are typically a result of feeling out of control.

At Lexercise, our priority is helping students get the effective intervention and treatment they need to succeed and to feel in control in school and in life. In our Lexercise blog posts, and in the daily work Lexercise therapists do with students, we frequently address the importance of combining comprehensive testing and evaluation, skilled professionals, and research-based treatment—in other words, best practices—to develop the level of reading proficiency required for academic success.

Long experience has demonstrated that fun can inspire students to practice, so Lexercise designed a set of practice games that offer valuable feedback as kids learn essential skills. Enlivened by the graphics of Lexercise Lead Artist Isabel Hennes (Iszzy), our games help to produce the “mental muscle memory” needed for proficient reading. 

But we know it’s not all fun and games. As Hopkins writes, when stress is “amped up” it can easily interfere with health, learning, and social interactions. So, among the colorful Lexercise games, we’ve added one called Calming Breath. A cuddly purple creature with wiggly ears demonstrates how to use the calming breath procedure to manage stress as the instructions guide the student (or parent!) through the exercise. Give it a try!

If you are stressed about your child’s skills with written or spoken words, we invite you to learn more about Lexercise therapy on our website or contact us today.