Lexercise Archives - Lexercise

How to Do a Spelling Analysis

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

graphic showing how proficient spelling develops
How Proficient Spelling Develops

 

Spelling Analysis in Practice

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

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

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

 

Using Conversation to Correct Spelling Errors

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

conversation spelling analysis

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

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

 

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

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

 


How Lexercise Can Help

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

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

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

 

 

Sentence Patterns in English

english sentence patterns

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

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

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

Writing also helps us learn! Writing improves:

  • memory
  • critical thinking
  • organization 
  • planning

 

Helping Struggling Readers with Sentence Patterns

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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The Best Dyslexia Games Online With Our Lead Artist, Iszzy

example of one of Lexercise's dyslexia games

Try Our Fun Online Dyslexia Games Here!

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

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

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

So, meet Iszzy.

illustration created by Iszzy

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

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

Designing Computer Games for Dyslexia

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making Online Games For Dyslexia Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creativity Combats School Burnout

picture of hands covered in colorful paint

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

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

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

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

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

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

child feeling burnout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To 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.

Making a Case for Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some ways to encourage daily practice:

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

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

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

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

———

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

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.