home schooling Archives - Lexercise

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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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 Help A Child With Dyslexia At Home

Many parents find it difficult to know how to help a child with dyslexia at home. As a result of COVID-19, this challenge has grown as schools transition to distance and blended learning and teaching responsibilities increase for parents. Unfortunately, parents may not get all the support they need from their child’s school. Thankfully, there are many scientifically backed activities and approaches to help a child with dyslexia at home. Here are our top 5: 

1. Provide structure and routine

Schoolwork can be stressful, especially for a child with a learning disability, but it doesn’t have to be. Structure and routine are extremely beneficial when parenting any child, especially one with dyslexia. First, start by creating a set schedule and a dedicated space in your home for schoolwork. Break up their school, homework and practice into parts to provide mental breaks to recharge. If they are able to write legibly, encourage independence by asking them to take notes (using the Cornell method – see right) on reading assignments, recording questions for follow-up discussion. Praise their notes and summaries that capture the important points. Teach organizational habits such as writing down tasks and homework assignments in a planner and filing class notes into folders. Lastly, create a separation of school and home by putting away all school materials at the end of the scheduled school day.

2. Develop your child’s curiosity about words

Team up with your child to investigate a word a week using the Word Inquiry method, an approach to word study that cements connections between meaning and spelling patterns. Work with your child to create a word sum by breaking the word into parts: prefix, suffix and base and discussing the meanings of each. Word Inquiry does not put a heavy burden on working memory or processing speed, so students who might otherwise resist word study often enjoy it and excel at it. See it in action in this tutorial with expert Pete Bowers, PhD.  Word Inquiry is the main vehicle for explicit teaching about word parts (morphology) in the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum©

3. Use a structured literacy curriculum

To gain proficiency in reading, spelling and writing dyslexic students need to be taught with a program that is research backed. The structured literacy (AKA, Orton-Gillingham) approach is supported by more than three decades of research from The National Institutes of Health making it “the gold standard” in teaching students to read and spell. It is not only the most effective method for students who are struggling with reading words and spelling them, but it is the most effective method for teaching the foundations of literacy to all students. This multisensory approach makes learning an active process, connecting sounds to letters and making sense of spelling. This is how you teach a dyslexic child to read and spell more automatically and fluently.

The structured literacy methodology is vast and complex but Lexercise makes it easy to help your dyslexic child at home using our online therapy programs.

4. Think outside-of-the-box when it comes to reading practice 

We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect”, and in life we’ve all seen it’s true. Neuroscience confirms that regular practice is a crucial component in learning a new skill. Encourage additional reading practice outside of school and homework by using other sources like joke books, comic books, graphic novels, and cookbooks. Additionally, sometimes reading using technology will be more enticing if they have been looking at paper books all day. Consider letting them play games on their laptop or tablet for a specified amount of time after completing a reading assignment, so that they want to read in order to play the games. Consider motivating your dyslexic teenager by leveraging their time on social media. They will be reading captions and comments about people and things they are interested in. Talk with them about what they read and what it means. This will also help your child realize that, while information is everywhere,  careful reading and thinking is often necessary for full understanding.

5. Use assistive technology to your advantage!

Assistive technology has greatly improved in quality and quantity over the past few years. One great resource is the text-to-speech functionality found on most computers, tablets and phones that will read text aloud. (Pro tip: this is a built in function to all Google Chromebooks, the same ones that many schools are supplying for at-home learning.) Other great tools include audiobooks, word prediction, spellcheck (especially those that check at a sentence level and catch misspellings of words like “their” and “there”), and electronic graphic organizers. Read more about these resources here

Helping a child with dyslexia at home can feel overwhelming, but we are here to help! Schedule time to speak with a qualified dyslexia expert. 

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.

Closing the Gap

parent and child looking at the computer

With schools continuing in lockdown and students turning to online learning, we have been hearing something surprising from some of our Lexercise therapists. They have been noticing that there is a group of Lexercise students whose reading skills have actually improved faster since school has been canceled. At first glance, this seems crazy, but after a bit of analysis, we think it makes perfect sense.  

These surprising results remind us of the work journalist Natalie Wexler has been doing. (In fact, we’re such big fans of Natalie Wexler that we recently named our practicum scholarship The Natalie Wexler Scholarship in her honor.)

In her recent article in Forbes, “Achievement Gaps Increase The Longer Kids Stay In School,” Wexler discusses the learning gap that has become known as the “summer slide.” Briefly, this phenomenon attempts to explain how students lose ground when they’re out of school over the summer. As a result, some school districts are suggesting extended school days and/or year-round school – and this was before COVID-19 closures!

Wexler argues that the studies around summer slide are old and don’t necessarily apply or offer a valuable solution to anticipated losses due to our current school closures.

 

How You Can Help Your Child

Perhaps schools should be taking a page from the Lexercise approach. When we look at the Lexercise students who are sprinting ahead during their homeschooling, what they have in common is this: Each student has an involved adult (a parent, tutor, therapist, or teacher) who does two vital things:

  1. Makes sure they do their 15 minutes of structured literacy practice at least four days a week
  2. Connects with them – even very briefly – to comment on their practice results and provide some – even very brief – focused coaching and support

This involvement seems like a remarkably simple intervention – one that doesn’t require specialized knowledge or training but demonstrates a shared interest and shared investment in the student’s achievement.

 

See how our structured literacy approach can help your child with reading, writing, or spelling. We offer parent resources to help you connect with your child and turn your challenged reader into a reader for life. Schedule a free consultation with one of our highly-trained therapists here.

Bringing the Classroom Home, Part 3: Lindsey Blackburn

hands typing on laptop

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

Working online is engaging, not isolating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please stay safe and stay healthy!

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

Bringing the Classroom Home, Part 2: Josie Moretti

online therapy at home

Last week we shared the reflections of Lexercise teletherapist Leahann McLaughlin.  This week, Lexercise teletherapist, Josie Moretti shares her thoughts about online structured literacy intervention.

This is high level therapy.”

Lexercise teletherapist Josie Moretti was a guardian ad litem for six years. In that role, she encountered a number of “bright, smart children” who were being held back in school because they could not read. Some of them had a dyslexia diagnosis, and Josie knew she had to learn more.

picture of Lexercise Therapy, Josie MorettiJosie observed: “Before the printing press came along, a person’s physical actions would have been more valued.  In our culture, reading and writing are prized. But we know now that the dyslexic brain doesn’t work the same way as the non-dyslexic brain – and our school system is designed for the non-dyslexic. Roughly one in five children have some form of learning difference.”

Josie earned the Structured Literacy Dyslexia Interventionist certification from the International Dyslexia Association/CERI and completed Special Education Advocacy Training through the Council for Parent, Advocates and Attorneys. 

She admits that, at first, she was a little concerned about working online. “I had always worked face-to-face in people’s homes,” Josie says, “so I was skeptical. But it is extremely easy. Click, and boom it’s there, the same link each time. We do a tech check before the first session. It’s so easy. Lexercise is the real deal. This is high level therapy.

The advantages of working online are enormous, Josie agrees. “Focus issues (ADHD, etc.) may come along with language processing disabilities such as dyslexia. The online platform is so interactive that I can see if the child is having some difficulty and I can switch in an instant to something that’s more appropriate for the child so they get all the advantages of the learning platform.”

“I also love the team approach – the parent learning alongside the child, so the parent can work with and support the child outside of therapy hours. With ‘old school’ therapy, the parent is doing something else. With Lexercise, the parent is a vital part of the team. Plus, of course, with traditional therapy, I have a session with the child, I leave, and nothing happens until I return. With the repeated exposure offered by the practice sessions, you can see the child’s progress.”

“Also, I have more resources online,” Josie adds. “I can’t bring everything with me when I see a child in person. But online everything is here at my fingertips.”

Many families are today experiencing the world of online learning for the first time. If you have questions about how online therapy works or how it can benefit your child, we invite you to browse the Lexercise website and we hope you will contact us.

Please stay safe and stay healthy!

Tips for Online Instruction

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

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

Utilizing Technology to Keep Students Engaged


Both the teacher and the student(s) need:

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

 

Task Mastery

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

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

 

Safe & Effective Online Teaching

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


Safety

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


Administrative Procedures and Tools

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


Setting Up Content

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


Best Practices for Online Instruction

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


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

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

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

Our Interactive Online Games Get Even Better!

screenshot of Lexercise online game for children with dyslexia

You may have noticed that we recently made some dramatic improvements to the Lexercise practice platform, with new games that enable students to practice the concepts they learn during each weekly lesson. Of course, the quickest way to see these improvements is to try the online demos. But we thought we would let Rob Morris offer a little background.

What is New in Lexercise’s Games?

Now you might think that the Chief Technology Officer would respond to the “What’s new?” question with a lot of tech-speak. Not Rob. With his combination of techno-wizardry and big-picture understanding, he talks about the Lexercise platform with passion and pride. Here’s what he told us:

“When Sandie Barrie Blackley and Chad Myers started envisioning Lexercise nearly 15 years ago, there was always one guiding principle: the platform would be research-based and science-driven. They recognized that there was inadequate structured, deliberate practice built into most dyslexia treatment programs. The child would see the therapist, practice during the session, and that would be it until the next session.

screenshot of Lexercise game to help children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities“But MRI research and neuroscience was confirming practice a few days a week was not enough for the dyslexic brain. Remediation is a process of re-patterning the brain with very specific input – breaking down words into bits, teaching and practicing patterns, and providing specifically targeted examples and micro-challenges over and over to recruit the parts of the brain that are not currently being used efficiently for reading.

“That’s what our games do, and that helps explain why Lexercise works as well as it does. Language literacy is enormously complex. These games allow us to supplement what’s learned in instructional lessons, taking tiny pieces of language and building them, one on the next, creating fluent, confident readers.

“When I came on board, the games were working, but there were limitations to the technology. For example, they were based on Flash, which wasn’t up to the job for a variety of reasons. So we started to plan changes that would allow Lexercise to have the power and flexibility it requires.

screen shot of word game used on Lexercise's platform to help struggling readers“That’s an ambitious project. The games need to appeal to a broad range of users and cover a broad range of skills, plus they need to offer students, parents, and therapists measurable results. Originally, it seemed like the target audience was beginning readers – first-graders. But over time, we’ve learned that it usually isn’t until grade 4, 5, or even 6, that parents, teachers, and school districts finally agree that a child is struggling to read and that the child needs testing and help.

“In addition to adjusting our graphics and vocabulary to appeal to a slightly older audience, the last decade has seen a revolution in the use of technology. Kids are exposed to very sophisticated graphics from the time they start watching television, playing games, and looking at phones. Our platform had to step up to that level of sophistication, while still meeting the research and science standards.

“What Lexercise is doing now is fairly cutting edge. Each game reinforces a lesson concept or a specific skill and each of our new games keeps track of what the student is working on and how well they’re doing it. That generates useful, actionable data for therapists, parents, and educators.

“The look of the games is new, too. Our fabulous graphic artist, Iszzy, developed the color palette and the graphic design of the games. The games have to be engaging, rich, and animated, but they also have to be attentive to various constraints. Students with dyslexia may also have attention, focus, and sensory issues, so the graphics can’t be overstimulating or overwhelming. They have to strike a balance between exciting, interesting, and of course educational.

 “In the game design, we’ve also incorporated what we’ve learned from Lexercise therapists. For example, therapists told us that breathing exercises in their live sessions help reduce anxiety. So we built an optional breathing-break ‘game’, called Calming Breath, into the practice.

“The games work with the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum©, which is a speech-to-print approach to word-study, structured from simple to complex in a series of lessons. The curriculum and the teaching and practice tools are continuously reviewed for scientific accuracy and effectiveness and refined with feedback from kids, parents, and therapists. The beauty of the new Lexercise platform is that the games “know” what concept the child is being challenged on and how they perform, while at the same time providing the child with feedback and a sense of control and mastery.

“We went live with the new games late in 2019 and the demos are now online. You’ll notice that each game has a ‘bot’ who guides the user through the game. That’s Anna. We named her in honor of educator and psychologist Anna Gillingham, co-founder of the Orton-Gillingham Approach. In the actual games (not the demos), Anna personalizes her language and instructions so they are age-appropriate. We have more games in the pipeline. They’ll just keep getting better.”

We’d love to hear from you. Please try out the demos and contact us at any time with questions about dyslexia, language learning, or Lexercise.

Reading Togetherness

image of book with a heart shaped bow and a christmas tree behind

The holidays are upon us. The days and nights are chilly. It’s family time. And what better way to share these winter hours than reading aloud together?

As you probably know, I am a big advocate of reading aloud and have written about it on numerous occasions. I’ve praised the work of Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (now in its eighth edition!), who has done so much to encourage young readers.  More recently, Natalie Wexler, author of The Knowledge Gap, has written about the impact that building vocabulary and knowledge has on academic success.

Now a study out of The Ohio State University pegs the value of reading aloud down with a dazzling number: “Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to.”  

Reading aloud to a child and continuing to read aloud even after they can read instills knowledge, expands vocabulary, and supports critical thinking. It’s hard to imagine a better gift!

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season, and I hope you will take these words to heart and spend some time together each day reading aloud.

Happy Holidays!

Sandie Barrie Blackley

Are Dyslexia Fonts Helpful?

are-dyslexia-fonts-helpfulWe don’t know yet. They may be, but they also may not. There are some sites that will let you download them for free but there is no scientific evidence supporting their claims. Dyslexie and OpenDyslexic are two of the services that supply free fonts. But they have not had any research published on their fonts. This is crucial because peer-reviewed articles are highly respected and reliable when it comes to new research. News entities and social media outlets get so excited about new findings but fail to mention that these are not researched and supported accommodations or solutions to dyslexia.

Though Dyslexie’s research has not been published in a journal, there has been some research done that seems to be promising. To be clear, this font is not an intervention or solution to dyslexia, but it may make reading a bit easier.

11949868361000070562abc_blocks_petri_lummema_01-svg-medAccording to understood.org, Here are some of the ways the creators of these fonts say they differ from traditional fonts:

  • Parts of the letters have thicker lines.
  • Letters are slanted a bit, such as a lowercase L that leans to the left.
  • Letters that have sticks and tails, such as b, d and p, vary in length

 

 

Fonts, colored overlays, and vision therapy are all ways NOT to treat dyslexia. A child with dyslexia needs a very specific method of teaching to learn how to read, write and spell in a way that their brain is wired to learn. If you would like more information about our research-backed dyslexia therapy please visit us here.