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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.

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.

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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Gratitude and Appreciation

As we advance into the holiday season, I hope this post finds you and your family safe and healthy.

The year has certainly delivered more surprises and challenges than anyone could have anticipated. Even more than in previous years, I have been deeply moved by the students, families, and educators who have demonstrated the relentless commitment to the daily practice that is required to overcome a reading disorder.

In the face of upended schedules, unusual requirements, and social uncertainty, you have carried on with the practice, practice, practice, that makes decoding, spelling, and writing skills more automatic. You have found ways to overcome the disruption of having to work from home and the disappointments of not spending time with friends and extended family. Working together, you have focused your dazzling creativity to turn ordinary into extraordinary.

The work you have done and continue to do, together, will turn struggling readers and writers into confident, capable students. 2020 has tested your capacity for managing negative emotions and circumstances, and you have proved, again and again, your determination, adaptability, and sense of humor in the face of those challenges.

Thank you for your commitment. I know I speak for the entire Lexercise team in expressing my deepest appreciation and admiration for every one of you.

Whether you celebrate at one table or virtually at many, I hope you have a delicious Thanksgiving and look forward to working together in the months ahead.

Sandie Barrie Blackley

P.S. If you are figuring out how to gather your family for a virtual Thanksgiving, have a look at these tips from the Associated Press.

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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.