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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.

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.

Homeschooling’s Surge and Lessons Learned

Homeschooling’s Surge and Lessons Learned

As we move into another school year, parents everywhere are scrambling for resources and examining the “lessons” of last year’s experience. Whether the local school district implemented virtual learning or parents elected to homeschool their children, 2020 pushed families into new educational territory.

Given increased concerns for health and safety, homeschooling is surging. The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that while homeschooling rates had remained steady at about 3.3 percent for nearly a decade, they showed a sharp increase during the pandemic, from 5.4 percent of households in spring 2020 to more than 11 percent by October 2020 and about 19.5 percent in May 2021.

Prior to the pandemic, parents cited bullying and other forms of aggression as well as discontent with the curriculum as their primary reasons for homeschooling. Many parents who recognize their children’s learning challenges, including dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, have witnessed the value of the one-on-one learning environment that homeschooling offers. (In a July NPR segment, one parent expressed concern that mandated classroom masks might pose a greater difficulty for her speech-delayed child.)

Of course, homeschooling is a significant commitment that must consider the standard curriculum, teaching materials and how to acquire them, and the particular learning abilities of each child. According to School Library Journal, personalization has become a key element, with parents tailoring both subject matter and teaching techniques to meet the individual educational and cultural needs of their children.

Homeschooling has also boosted the importance of libraries and social media. Parents “gather” in like-minded online groups to share resources and increasingly turn to libraries and librarians before purchasing new materials.

Whether families will choose to continue homeschooling remains to be seen. School Library Journal suggests that pandemic restrictions and economic resources will certainly influence that decision, but the success of a family’s recent homeschooling experience may be just as important.

When it comes to success, Lexercise online reading and writing therapy offers consistent, measurable language improvements to students with dyslexia and other learning differences. In fact, we guarantee it.

 

During this unusual time, we are particularly excited to extend our curriculum to meet the needs of families with Pre-K students. Our research-based, one-on-one, individualized approach includes on- and offline practice, and generous guidance for parents as they support their child’s successful, early start with literacy.

Lexercise provides young students with the foundational skills they need to move easily into the classroom—wherever that classroom may be.

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Can Letter Formation Promote Literacy?

Letter Formation and Dyslexia

January 23 is National Handwriting Day, established in 1977 by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association to encourage people to buy pens and pencils. Today, it seems, our writing involves more key-clicks than ink and graphite, but, as research is discovering, letter formation by hand is a critical step in letter and word identification as well as spelling proficiency, especially among struggling readers and writers.

It’s so critical, in fact, that Lexercise has just released a new online practice game: Letter Formation.

Though we don’t fully understand why, children with dyslexia tend to have less efficient motor control over letter-writing. They may take more time to write letters even as the resulting letters are less legible.

Letter Formation and Literacy

Handwriting is deeply entwined in the brain’s literacy network. Children who have difficulty with handwriting often have problems with spelling and language fluency. In addition, children with dyslexia may struggle with mirror invariance for letter images. Mirror invariance is a normal and helpful feature of the mammalian brain. It refers to the ability to recognize a mirror image as the same object. A chair is recognized as a chair no matter which way it is turned. A person’s face can be recognized from multiple vantage points. But, to master literacy, a student must overcome mirror invariance for alphanumeric symbols. Letters are special. A -b- is not the same as a -d- and a -p- is not a -q-.

Neuroscience has shown that overcoming mirror invariance for letters is facilitated by Letter Formation and Dyslexiaattending to the hand’s movement pathway when forming letters. Each lowercase letter has a distinctive movement pathway – where it begins, how it moves and where it ends (entry, movement, exit).  To achieve fluency, this pathway is followed every time the letter is written and practiced over and over until it can be done with unconscious ease. Students who are taught to form letters using a targeted, structured, movement-based handwriting approach recognize letters more quickly, decode and spell words more accurately and fluently, and formulate written language more easily. 

Unfortunately, in the U.S., a structured approach to handwriting is not supported in public education and the Common Core State Standards curriculum has no specific guidance about how to teach this vital skill. While research supports teaching transcription (letter and word writing using a writing tool), teachers are rarely trained for the task.

Letter Formation Practice Helps Students Overcome Difficulties

The good news is that a targeted structured approach to letter formation can help students to overcome difficulties related to mirror invariance and letter identity and become more fluent writers, spellers, and readers.

The Lexercise Letter Formation game teaches students each letter’s distinctive movement pathway. The goal is legible, fluent, and automatic handwriting that promotes comprehension and memory and does not disrupt written expression. The multisensory (kinetic) focus can help dyslexic children anchor in memory otherwise confusable letters. For example, -d- and -b- have opposite movement pathways, so when learned as movement pathways they are not at all confusable! 

We invite you to try Letter Formation and the other Lexercise practice games and of course we are happy to answer your questions about online reading, writing, and spelling therapy for dyslexia and other language processing differences.

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The Best Dyslexia Games Online With Our Lead Artist, Iszzy

example of one of Lexercise's dyslexia games

Try Our Fun Online Dyslexia Games Here!

Thanks to the proliferation of games, films, phones, and other digital media, today’s school-age children are already visually sophisticated. They expect their online experience will come loaded with plenty of colors, sound, and motion, and might find it laughable that, just a few decades ago, a simple line of green text on a black screen could dazzle anyone.

Students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities are no exception. In fact, compelling visual elements may help to keep them interested when learning involves many repetitions. At Lexercise, we recognize the importance of graphics and build our educational dyslexia games online for children into an exciting visual framework.

The technological bells and whistles are designed to serve the purpose of the Lexercise games: to reinforce structured literacy concepts and make reading and spelling automatic and effortless. Each game’s artwork is a labor of attention and love. In fact, it is the dedicated attention of Lexercise Lead Artist Isabel Hennes that puts the visual pizzazz into our games.

So, meet Iszzy.

illustration created by Iszzy

A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Iszzy studied Art and Design at North Carolina State University, where she was introduced to serious games in a studio class during her junior year. She could immediately see herself pursuing a career in educational gaming.

Describing her relationship with education as “complicated,” Iszzy’s school experience will sound familiar to the families of children with learning difficulties. “From kindergarten through grade school I found myself faced with challenges that felt above my level of capability and skill,” she says. “The lack of confidence in my academic ability stemmed from years of misguided teaching and inflexible education systems; as a result, I found myself struggling to keep up with the heavily standardized, test-based curriculum. Fortunately, what I lacked in book smarts, I made up for in creative aptitude and a proclivity for hard work.”

Designing Computer Games for Dyslexia

Recruited to work on a National Science Foundation-funded project in game-based learning, Iszzy was inspired to pursue a graduate degree. For two years she worked with a team to develop a serious learning game that sought to improve fifth-graders’ reading comprehension of scientific text using metacognitive scaffolding. At the same time, she worked on her own project that focused on how anxiety-coping mechanisms could be integrated into a serious game. 

“It brought me a tremendous amount of peace to know that people were finally recognizing that not all children learn at the same pace or in the same way, and were finding creative solutions to such ubiquitous problems. Fortunately, the accessibility of technology today means that no student should be subjected to a teaching style that does not suit his or her personal needs.”

Lexercise was a great fit and Iszzy worked as part of the development team of our online games for dyslexia for quite a while before she became a full-time Lead Artist. While she has a fundamental understanding of the technical aspects of game-building, Iszzy says, “I have always considered myself first and foremost an illustrator, so I try to draw as much as I can whether it is on the computer or on a piece of paper.”

Iszzy learned about dyslexia by redesigning the Lexercise instructional materials, and reviewing them, again and again, to make sure she understood the concepts well enough to illustrate them.

Lexercise game design, she explains, “is 100% a team effort.” Practice is a fundamental step in the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum©, so the student dyslexia games have to accurately and efficiently target concepts. Everyone contributes their expertise to the plan that will eventually become a game.

 

Making Online Games For Dyslexia Fun!

Once a specific learning concept is targeted for a game, “we try to come up with a metaphor that not only applies to the concept but also comfortably fits into the world we’ve created – the Lexercise games platform. The game concept not only needs to fit all of the educational criteria but also must be engaging and motivating for the user. This step usually involves us scribbling all over a whiteboard and pieces of paper until we are satisfied with an idea.”

Inspiration for lively and relatable images can come from anywhere – “science fiction movies, games, television shows” and even the roof garden of the Lexercise communication tower!

Iszzy is quick to credit Lexercise Chief Technology Officer, Rob Morris, with “the majority of the heavy lifting,” saying he is “an incredible developer who makes the entire process such a pleasure.”

Before a game is released for use by students and therapists, there is a lot of testing and last-minute tweaks. “My favorite Lexercise game has to be Spell In The Blank,” Iszzy says. “I think it is incredibly satisfying.” 

Plus, she adds, “We do have another game coming in the future, so be on the lookout!”

Thanks, Iszzy! Try out some Lexercise dyslexia games online now or contact us for more information on reading, writing, and spelling instruction for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Creativity Combats School Burnout

picture of hands covered in colorful paint

The psychological term burnout has been around since the 1970s when it was coined to describe a kind of emotional exhaustion experienced by those in the helping professions. Today it’s a term familiar to just about anyone who has to do one task over and over.

For students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, “over and over” describes the way learning happens: repeat, repeat, repeat until the skill is mastered. Little surprise, then, that students with learning differences may feel burned out with school work.

We recently had a conversation with Lexercise therapist Amanda Bush, a Texas-based Certified Academic Language Therapist who works primarily with elementary- and middle-school kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. During a monthly Zoom session with Lexercise therapists, Amanda described her experience with Lydia, a 5th-grader, who was feeling unmotivated, negative, and resistant.

Amanda has been working with Lydia for almost two-and-a-half years, since well before the COVID-19 shutdown. Hardworking, committed, and great at completing her practice, Lydia understands that repetition is helping to “rewire” her brain and make her new reading and spelling skills automatic.

As Amanda explains, for students with dyslexia, the 15-minute daily practice “can be looked at like a daily routine that you don’t even think about. Much like brushing our teeth, we may not always enjoy the activity, but we do it to keep our body healthy and pretty soon it is just a part of our schedule.”

But when summer came around, Lydia became frustrated and distracted. She felt like “they were forcing me” to study and she was missing out on fun activities. She was resentful that her practice had to be completed before she could be with her friends or go to the pool. She might refuse to complete her work or not try her hardest, saying, “Why do I have to do this and no one else does?”

child feeling burnout

This kind of resistance is not unusual. Amanda has seen it in other students, who would rather watch videos, play with the dog, or make excuses to leave the online lesson. Students with dyslexia and other language-processing disorders may under-perform, not be able to focus, and not take their practice seriously.

When Amanda encounters resistance in a student, she explains, “I always take a few minutes to brainstorm with the student to get to the root of the problem. Do I need to adjust my delivery? Is the content truly too challenging? Do I need to adjust the duration of sustained focus on the practice or lesson? Does the student have external factors that are distracting them from completing work? Do they understand the directions? Are they just bored? Do they need a bit of novelty to spice things up? Have they been working with me for so long that they have lost motivation/excitement? Is there a miscommunication between the parent and me as far as the expectations? Is the student overwhelmed with other school assignments?”

“Once I get a better idea of what is truly causing the frustration, we can brainstorm solutions together. I find this step to be critical because it helps when the solution is the student’s idea.”

Lexercise is based on the Orton-Gillingham structured literacy therapy model, which is a diagnostic, systematic, and explicit teaching method that follows a very specific approach to learning. Lexercise gives therapists the freedom to tailor and implement therapeutic decisions to create the best learning experience possible. Lydia understands that “it is important that we keep the format and content the same,” Amanda says, but that still leaves plenty of room for creativity and flexibility.

In their conversation, Lydia and Amanda agreed on a number of changes:

  • Lydia would choose the days and time for her practice. Would she practice before dinner? Would she practice after swimming?

  • She would mark those dates on her calendar in advance and make a commitment to complete her assignments.

  • Amanda and Lydia also discussed changes to Lydia’s workspace that would give her “a fresh take on a tired task.” They thought about how they might create the calming ambiance of a spa. “We looked on Pinterest and searched for ‘Teen workspace.’ Lydia immediately lit up with all of the crafty DIY projects to transform her learning space. She got inspired to make a desk organizer out of mason jars and to organize all of her colorful pens.” 

  • Amanda helped Lydia with Google docs to make a sign that said, “Watch Out It’s the Study Zone.” Lydia chose the typestyle and size “to make the sign look professional and just right.”

  • Lydia set up her desk on a comfortable blue rug and adorned it with loving photographs of her family. She set out battery-operated candles to create an even more inviting space and organized all of her supplies “to design her perfect study zone.”

  • As a prize for accomplishing her points goal, Amanda sent Lydia some lavender aromatherapy room spray to add to her workstation’s calming effect.

Amanda also engaged the support of Lydia’s parents and grandparents. “I asked them to be mindful of how Lydia is feeling. We are asking her to do something multiple times a week that is inherently difficult for her. I try to help parents have empathy for their children. I ask parents about something they feel they are not very good at and do not like to do, like public speaking, singing karaoke, running a mile, or solving a quadratic equation. What if they had to do that thing every day when they’d rather be watching a movie?”

“Knowing what to expect and when to expect it is key to making dyslexia intervention more approachable. Having some control is also a huge factor. Being in a safe, positive, and encouraging environment with some novelty, incentive, and fun is what has worked for my students.”

“We can’t control that we have dyslexia. We can’t control that we need to work harder and practice. We CAN control our choices: when we practice, our attitude, our environment, our amount of effort, our positive or negative self-talk, our learning space, our writing tools, our posture, etc. Kids can feel like nothing is fair, they are always being told what to do, they are bossed around all day by adults. It helps to know that they can do some things to change their situation, perspective, or attitude.” 

The change was immediate, Amanda says. Once Lydia had her new setup, “she was very excited to show off her study zone. She felt independent and more mature. It added the touch of newness that motivated her to do her best. She wants to do more projects. Lydia is excited, reinvigorated, motivated, refreshed, and energized for learning. She even shares her experience with dyslexia with her peers at school. Lydia is an advocate for students who learn differently. She is confident and open-minded.” As an unexpected benefit, Lydia’s sister was inspired to create her own desk, so now the two of them can work without distraction.

Amanda adds, “Is Lydia doing the same research-based practice that she had done before? Yes. Did her attitude toward the experience change? Yes. By focusing on what we CAN change rather than things that are out of our control, we were able to unlock some powerful modifications that will result in continued literacy improvement.” 

Amanda has plenty of other creative ideas up her sleeve for combating burnout and boredom. Students can earn points for small privileges, such as very short (under one minute) “brain breaks.” This time, tailored to the student’s interests, may be used for a Pictionary-like guessing game or even “a quick peek at the San Diego Zoo live webcam to see what the polar bears or penguins are doing.” It’s important to offer positive feedback on what the student has done well, even if they haven’t done everything perfectly.

Amanda also notes that “Lexercise encourages therapists to share ideas with one another and continue to improve. They promote professional development and collaboration to ensure we are at the best level we can be. Lexercise is life-changing.” 

The Lexercise team is hugely grateful to Amanda Bush for generously sharing the story of her success – and we are also very grateful to Lydia and her family for allowing us to tell this important story.

Learn more on how you can help your students with dyslexia here.

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.

Making a Case for Practice

Perhaps you’ve had this experience: you decide to learn a new skill. Let’s use bread-baking as an example, but it could easily be a foreign language, golf, piano, etc. You sign up for a class and after the first session you can practically smell the loaves of fresh bread coming out of the oven. But then you discover some of your loaves are hard as rocks; others are still raw in the middle; yet others taste like salt. Yuck. It’s then you realize what’s missing: practice. And sure enough, as you practice you become more comfortable and fluent in the language of bread.

We know that practice is absolutely essential for developing skills of all sorts, yet we may forget this principle when it comes to learning to read. We think if a child just shows up in the classroom, they will learn the necessary skills “automatically.” Indeed, that may be true for some children, but for those who struggle with reading, consistent, structured practice is essential to produce the “muscle memory” of language fluency.

For decades, research has provided strong evidence for the benefits of structured literacy.

Explicit, systematic, and diagnostic, structured literacy includes all the components needed for struggling readers with decoding and spelling difficulties: phonology, phonics, syllables, word parts, vocabulary, and sentences.

But wait. This list is missing an essential piece: practice. Struggling readers need structured practice to improve outcomes and make skills automatic. In fact, struggling readers may need 10 times more practice than typical readers; what a typical reader may achieve in two practice opportunities is likely to take a struggling reader 20 practice opportunities.

Neuroscientist Stan Dahaene (2020) lists daily rehearsal as one of his 4 Pillars of Learning, along with focused attention, active engagement, and error feedback. But this is not new science. This principle of frequent practice has been established for more than a century. In 1880, Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered landmark research in the field of retention and learning, measuring how much we forget over time. He discovered that without any reinforcement or connections to prior knowledge, information is quickly forgotten – roughly 66 percent after just one day!

So if we accept that frequent practice is essential to reading success, how do we achieve it? Compliance is certainly a challenge. Almost every struggling reader can – at least initially – think of many things they’d rather be doing than practicing their literacy skills!

Here are some ways to encourage daily practice:

  • Keep it focused and brief
  • Make it engaging
  • Report practice compliance to the parent and teacher 
  • Provide error reports to parents and teachers for focused coaching and progress monitoring 
  • Incentivize practice compliance
  • Incentivize correct responses
  • Provide special privileges, prizes, certificates, and awards

At Lexercise, we have found that drawing in the student with engaging graphics, offering meaningful feedback, and tracking progress add up to eager participants. For example, have a look at one of our practice games, Pickatron.

Designed to provide daily practice with concepts taught in regular lessons, these review and  practice games integrate Dehaene’s 4 Pillars of Learning. We stress to parents and teachers the importance of completing the 15 minutes a day of practice at least four days a week. Students who practice four or more days a week get two-and-a-half times more practice opportunities than students who practice one or two days a week; the two additional days of practice each week improved spelling accuracy an average of 6%. This could mean covering the curriculum twice as fast since students with 80% accuracy would likely be moved to the next lesson rather than repeating the same lesson the following week.

Practice makes a lot of sense, whatever the skill. We’d be happy to talk with you about your child’s learning needs and practice habits. We can almost smell the fresh bread!

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