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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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.

UNC Greensboro and Lexercise Partner for Professional Development

When their ideas for Lexercise were taking shape more than a decade ago, Sandie Barrie Blackley and Chad Myers set out to integrate the research-based approach of Orton-Gillingham (structured literacy) therapy with accessible, user-friendly technology. Since that time, every aspect of the Lexercise platform, from testing and basic therapy to professional therapy, has followed the same pattern.

That knowledge and experience placed Lexercise in a strategic position to offer professional training. Using the same approach – research-based knowledge plus user-friendly technology – the Lexercise Professional Development program took shape.    Lexercise has recently been recognized by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) as an Accredited ProgramPLUS.

Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders UNC GreensboroIn 2018, Lexercise was honored to form a partnership with the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in which Lexercise provided a course to train their speech-language pathology (SLP) masters students in the structure of written English. Now the program has been renewed for another year.



Lexercise and UNC’s Relationship Background

Sandie Barrie Blackley is no stranger to UNCG CSD. She joined the graduate faculty in 2002 to coordinate a large grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant provided funding to train SLP graduate students in the science of literacy and to provide them with practicum experience working with reading-impaired, at-risk adolescents in the Guilford County, NC, juvenile justice system. 

After the grant ended, Sandie stayed on for another nine years teaching language-literacy graduate courses, but when she left the university in 2016, those courses were no longer offered as part of the CSD curriculum. Since CSD graduate students needed competencies in language literacy, Lexercise formed a partnership with UNCG CSD to offer an online professional development course: The Structure of Written English.

Picture of Connie Williams UNCG CSD Faculty Coordinator
Connie Williams UNCG CSD Faculty Coordinator

Now part of the regular clinical curriculum at UNCG, the fully self-paced, semester-long course includes units on phonology, orthography, morphology, and syntax and semantics. Participants learn the units of analysis and structures of written English, with mastery exercises included for each unit. UNCG faculty member Connie Williams serves as the faculty coordinator, holding discussion sessions with enrolled graduate students and helping them to apply the information to their practicum clients.

At Lexercise, we see this as a win-win-win. It’s good for Lexercise, it’s good for the SLP graduate students, and most importantly, it’s good for the many hundreds of children who will benefit from the skills that newly minted speech-language pathologists attained through our successful partnership.

To learn more, visit the Lexercise courses page, find out about Lexercise online professional education, read the course objectives and contact us if you have questions.

How To Get Information “Out” – Retrieval Practice

diagnosing dyslexia (2)

Last week we talked about the importance of Spaced Out Practice.  This week we’ll discuss another technique that has shown to improve memory and learning: Retrieval Practice. Lots of learning exercises, like lectures, reading assignments, and watching videos are aimed at getting information “in”. However, retrieval practice aims at getting the information “out”.  Retrieval practice can be asking the student to name a concept, recite a definition or answer a question. Quizzes are often designed as retrieval practice. One of the main things that makes retrieval practice different from other types of practice, like re-reading or reviewing–and one of the things that make it work– is that retrieval practice is difficult!

Cognitive Learning Scientists, Megan Smith, and Yana Weinstein highlight the benefits of quizzes here, emphasizing that quizzes facilitate the retrieval of information previously learned.

We all have limited time, so we want to use the techniques that will work the best in the shortest time possible. In a study conducted by psychologist Pooja Agarwal and her colleagues, children with different working memory capacities were given different ways to study. Here is what they found:

  • Retrieval practice yielded better results than restudying the material – for example, by reviewing notes.
  • When tested after two days, children with lower working memory capacities actually benefited more from using retrieval techniques than did their peers with higher working memory capacities.

boy-computerIf you have been told that your child has weak working memory skills, this information is especially important because it suggests a science-backed way you can help your child! First, provide some
Spaced Out Practice.  Then, use short, focused retrieval exercises to strengthen the information in memory.  

Here are some examples of retrieval exercises used for daily practice in the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum©:

For beginning readers and spellers:

  • Seeing letters and saying the sound associated with each one;
  • Giving the definitions of the two types of speech sounds:  vowels and consonants;
  • Spelling the /k/ sound correctly (with <c>, <k>, <-ck>, etc.);
  • Using the correct movement pathway for writing lowercase letters.

For more advanced readers and spellers:

  • Explaining why the vowels in the 2nd syllable of words like tablet and metal  sound like “uh”;
  • Naming the term for 2 letters that spell 1 sound (e.g., the 1st sound in shell );
  • Naming the term for 2 consonant sounds next to each other in the same syllable (e.g., the first 2 sounds in stem).
  • Spelling words correctly with suffixes (e.g., tap→ tapping).

Retrieval practice can be difficult so it is important to be patient with your child, provide lots of encouragement and support and teach the value of persistence!  Retrieval practice in conjunction with spaced-out practice supports learning and develops expertise.

aid481086-900px-Make-the-Most-of-Your-Time-when-Studying-Step-07Lexercise Structured Literacy Teletherapy is designed with a little practice every day. Here is a blog series with information about how well-designed practice supports memory and learning.

You can learn more about Lexercise Structured Literacy Teletherapy and even schedule a free 15-minute consultation with a Lexercise dyslexia therapist here.

Neuroplasticity Research on Dyslexia

Neuroplasticity Research on Dyslexia.png - blogRecent research conducted by neuroscientists at MIT demonstrated that individuals with dyslexia displayed reduced plasticity in brain activity. As you develop, learn new information and have different experiences, connections in your brain alter and change – this is referred to as brain plasticity. Think of it as a lump of clay – You can mould it, connect it to more clay and ultimately change its structure.  

FMRI_scan_during_working_memory_tasksNeurons are cells in the brain that connect with each other to produce an action – similar to a set of dominos. For example, when you touch a hot object, certain neurons connect, sending a message to your body that the object is too hot and you should drop it!

When comparing scans of the brain between those who do have dyslexia versus those who do not, researchers found that scans of dyslexic brains revealed a decrease in neural adaptation upon repetition. That is, when presented with information that was shown in a previous trial, individuals viewed and processed the information as if it was completely new.

2289427576_7eb3b9c724_bSo, what does this mean? How does it affect your child’s behavior and learning capacity? Translated into actions, a symptom of reduced plasticity could mean a decrease in ability to adapt to repetition – both socially (as in face recognition) and academically (as in word repetition and retention). This research may provide an insight into reading difficulties in individuals with dyslexia. Reading involves elements of plasticity, where letters need to be converted into sounds and then blended into words. This can assist with explaining why static learning strategies such as memorization and rote learning may not be as effective for children with dyslexia.

The information provides an explanation as to the importance of flexible connections, however future research will go further to provide solutions for the issue. Lexercise assists with the development of brain plasticity using the researched backed Structured Literacy (Orton-Gillingham) method to improve your child’s literacy skills. Learn more about our live, one-on-one Structured Literacy therapy today.


Trafton, A. (2016, August 8). Study finds brain connections key to reading. Retrieved from


By John Graner, Neuroimaging Department, National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, 8901 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20889, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Image link

Brian Turner Image link

Selecting a Treatment Approach

selecting-a-treatment-blogParents of children with language processing difficulties often have trouble sorting out the sometimes fantastic claims made by companies selling various products and programs for improving reading and writing. With so many products claiming to work wonders like “balancing” and “building” the brain, improving “auditory processing,” straightening out “visual processing problems,” etc. no wonder parents are confused! Here are some things you can do to cut through the confusion and marketing:

  1. Before you look at any program review the “best practices” guidelines from authoritative sources and agencies that aren’t selling anything.  Possible sources include:
  2. Then, with a list of the guidelines you have compiled from step #1, make a checklist of the “best practice” features of reading and writing interventions.
  3. Using your checklist, review all the programs you are considering. Look at the claims on the company’s website. Be skeptical. Put on your “critical thinking hat”. Check off the “best practices” that you are sure each program features.
  4. Look for research that has studied methodologies (both branded and unbranded) using meta-analytic methods, combining results across well-controlled studies.  For example:
  5. Here are some resources for evaluating therapies:

There are 3 components needed for intervention to be successful:

  1. A Structured Literacy method
  2. Customized, dedicated daily practice
  3. A Clinician who knows language structure and how to teach it

If you only have 1 or 2 of the 3 necessary components, interventions will not be successful.

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Finally, if you are still confused (and this CAN be confusing!) consider getting some professional guidance. Our dyslexia therapists meet and exceed the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, and we’d be happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and what science has shown works best for children with those patterns. Sign up for a free 15-minute consultation here. 

Dyslexia Series on NPR News: Part 2


A new NPR radio series, “Unlocking Dyslexia”, sheds some light on the most common learning disability in America that is still a mystery to most. Gabrielle Emanuel, nprEd writer, and correspondent is dyslexic herself. In her series, she goes through explaining the difficulties of dyslexia, the science behind it, and the necessary steps to overcome it. This is part 2 of our 2 part review. Click here to read part 1.

The effects of dyslexia “extend[ ] far beyond the classroom, causing stress, tension, and confusion for families with a dyslexic child”. Emanuel receives some testimonials from parents of dyslexic children:

“There would be days that she could not get on the bus… Just the look of fear in her huge eyes – Mommy, I can’t do this; I can’t do this; don’t make me do this.” – Megan Lordos

“You could feel the cloud hover over the kitchen. It was just – it was a nightmare every night” – Lance Pressl

“He would get off the bus, and he would say to me, Mom, I’m stupid” – Geva Lester

Many parents and their children find themselves in this emotional and destructive spiral without knowing what the problem is or how to fix it. One mother recounts the “‘school didn’t seem worried’…they kept telling her: ‘Well, let’s wait six more months, and we’ll see what happens”. This happens more often than not. “Schools are supposed to help children with dyslexia, but many don’t have the resources to do so.” As a result, dyslexia is often denied and intervention for it is delayed. “The research suggests early and intensive reading help is most effective”. Some intervention can be costly. As one family puts it “‘…we use their college fund to pay for it. We invest in the child that we have now. You know, college won’t be an option if they continue to hate school and reject everything that has to do with reading’” (Emanuel, “Raising A Child).

The radio series highlights one dyslexia program, Lindamood-Bell, a NPR financial supporter. Emanuel received intervention at a Lindamood-Bell center as a child herself. However, she explains that “I’ve never been able to sound out unfamiliar words. And I still can’t” (“Millions Have Dyslexia”). Learning how to pronounce unfamiliar words should be a focus of treatment, a cornerstone of Lexercise therapy. Furthermore, Lindamood-Bell is very expensive, often only available in metro areas and disrupts a child’s schooling by requiring intensive, 4-6-hours-a-day instruction for 6 weeks.

If your experience sounds like the testimonials above, get your child immediate help. Lexercise Structured Literacy can be done in the comfort of your own home, works around your schedule, and most importantly guarantees a grade level increase in 8 weeks of therapy. Call us at 1-919-747-4557 with any questions or to get paired with your expert therapist.

Works Cited:

Emanuel, Gabrielle. “Raising A Child With Dyslexia: 3 Things Parents Can Do.” All Things Considered. NPR. 29 Nov. 2016. Radio.

Emanuel, Gabrielle. “Millions Have Dyslexia, Few Understand It.” All Things Considered. NPR. 28 Nov. 2016. Radio.

Photo Credit: NPR

Unconventional Summer Learning

How to Correct Your Child Without Discouraging them (33)The summer is drawing to a close and the school year is going to begin again. You don’t want to burn your child out with new information, but you also want to warm up their brains for a new school year.

So what do you do? This would be a great time to explore topics outside of the conventional classroom instruction.

Educational Screen Time: You can do this at your home with channels like PBS or History, but you can also take your child to see a documentary in an IMAX theatre. This makes learning an exciting experience that you can do together. This brings along positive thoughts to a learning experience for your child that may have had difficulty before with learning prior. Some good documentaries that are circulating at IMAX are “A Beautiful Planet” and “National Park Adventure.”

A day at the museum: Kid’s Museums are a great way to get out of the house for an educationally fun day. Not only will kid’s museums teach topics related to the classroom, it will also encourage your child to use their social skills to meet and play with new friends. These museums can assist you in facilitating productive play with your child, skills you can bring home.

pexels-photo-11523Cook together: Have your child read you the recipe steps and help you get the ingredients together. Recipes are less intimidating to read because there aren’t many words, but they may learn some new vocabulary. This will help your child learn patience and how to follow directions. It will also teach them that hard work leads to rewards.

If you suspect your child may have dyslexia or may need some extra reading practice, visit our website here. Our program is a perfect supplement to the start of the new school year.

Dyslexic Advantage in Entrepreneurship

How to Correct Your Child Without Discouraging them (31)Dyslexics tend to go through life unconventionally. They have to come up with alternative routes to garner successful results– and often by themselves. They regularly deal with adversity and build up resiliency.

This is why dyslexics excel in entrepreneurship, the dyslexic advantage.

In small businesses, almost nothing goes as planned and the likelihood of failure is high. Dyslexics learn from an early age that the odds are stacked against them and they must think creatively to surpass their barriers. Those without a learning disability may not have this same learning curve as a child which can lead to being risk adverse.

planning-meetingJulie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London compiled a report regarding dyslexia in business. She found that 35 percent of entrepreneurs identified themselves as dyslexics in America. She also found that dyslexics are more likely to delegate authority and to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.

James Banister, a successful CEO has discovered that being dyslexic has advantages in business.

“Its strengths are ones which are particularly useful in building a strong company – problem-solving abilities, strong reasoning and being able to picture how circumstances will evolve,” he says in an interview with The Guardian. “I consciously focus on the wider picture and likely consequences, for example in formulating my business strategy. Dyslexia doesn’t impede my ability to see and analyze things – I may simply see them differently from other people.”

Lexercise provides children with the tools they will need to be successful in the real world, helping with the “school stuff” so they can go on and build upon their natural talents.


Right-Brain, Left-Brain is a Myth

How to Correct Your Child Without Discouraging them (20)Some sources will say that personality and learning style differ according to what side of your brain is dominant– well that is a myth.

This myth of people being inclined in either right brained or left brained activities originated from the Nobel Prize-winning research of Roger Sperry in the 1960s. Sperry cut the brain along a structure called the corpus callosum in patients who have epilepsy and found out that the left and right sides of the brain could no longer communicate once that structure was cut.

He then did some studies and determined which sides of the brain were involved in different parts of thought. Psychology enthusiasts ran with this idea and convoluted it to mean more than it was meant to.

The neuroscience community never believed it, and now we have evidence from more than 1,000 brain scans showing absolutely no signs of left or right dominance.

Scientist_looking_thorugh_microscopeIn an interview with, Neil Degrasse Tyson who is a popular scientist completely shuns the theory. He thinks it was thrown into mainstream media as another attempt to categorize people rather than recognizing them as individuals.

According to, brain scan technology has confirmed that the two sides complement each other. Scholars used to think that language processing only occurred in the left hemisphere, but now know that it occurs in both hemispheres.

The only part of the original assumption is that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left side controls the right side of the body.

So, when you are looking for credible sources shedding light on your child’s struggles, stay away from sources that rely on left-brain, right brain reasoning.

If you have questions about your child’s struggles or want to take our free dyslexia screener, visit our website.


Building the Literacy Staircase

How to Correct Your Child Without Discouraging them (19)A pattern of hard work followed by disappointing results and limited progress can naturally lead struggling readers and writers to the conclusion that they “just aren’t smart.” What’s going wrong when bright students work so hard but still can’t seem to develop the type of reading and writing expertise that seems to come naturally to so many of their peers?  

In their new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Ericsson and Pool explain that, while hard work is important, it is not enough. To overcome their literacy difficulties struggling readers and writers must develop what Ericsson and Pool call rich mental representations or “patterns of information.”  To explain, “The relationship between skill and mental representation is a virtuous circle: the more skilled you become, the better your mental representations are, and the better your mental representations are, the more effectively you can practice to hone your skill.” (Peak, p. 70-80)  

Children who develop reading and writing skills normally demonstrate their high-quality mental word representations by spelling, generally with unconscious and automatic ease.

14143338033_20c1ce9c44Every skill has its own set of mental representations, patterns that expert users apply automatically and often unconsciously but novices struggle to remember or even notice.  The value of practice that focuses on the key mental representations needed for expertise has been demonstrated for various activities, including many sports. For example, research has shown that golfers improve more and faster when they watch videos that spotlight key actions as opposed to videos that show examples of good swings but without highlighting key actions.  

Ericsson and Pool describe mental representations needed for a skill as “….a staircase that you climb as you build it. Every step of your ascent puts you in a position to build the next step….Your existing mental representations guide your performance and allow you to both monitor and judge that performance.” (Peak, p. 83)

Fortunately for struggling readers and writers, research has identified the mental word representations that are needed for skilled reading and spelling and has described how those mental representations are most efficiently and effectively developed. The term for this method is structured literacy.  It begins by identifying the mental representations that the individual student is missing and then provides a “staircase” to expertise.

If you would like to learn more about Lexercise Structured Literacy therapy, you can talk to one of our wonderful, expert therapists here>>>

Dyslexics Need Deep Instruction

How to Correct Your Child Without Discouraging them (16)

Deep vs. Surface Instruction

Is your child getting deep or surface reading and spelling instruction?  How can you tell and does it matter?

In the 1970s Marton and Säljö (1976) described two types of learning approaches based on clinical studies of students:

  • a “deep” approach that focused on understanding
  • a “surface” approach that focused on memorization.

A student’s learning approach is not a personality trait; rather, it is produced by the interaction of the student with specific learning tasks.  

  • A “deep learning” approach allows a student to take what’s learned in one situation and apply it to another. It develops procedural knowledge of what, how, why, and when to apply concepts.
  • In contrast, a “surface approach” (also called a “holistic” approach) aims at reproduction and often uses analogies and illustrations rather than procedural instruction. (Pask, 1976).

Reading and Spelling Instruction

Students taught to read and spell with a “deep” approach would be expected to use a specific procedure to sound out and spell novel words, to explain spelling patterns and to correct errors.

Students taught to read and spell with a “shallow” approach would be expected to memorize words as whole units (“by sight” or as strings of letters), to use context to guess at words.Census-reading-hi

Reading and spelling instruction may use both “deep” and “shallow” types of instruction at different times.  Students with dyslexia have difficulty with the “surface” approach and benefit greatly from a “deep” approach. This is the basis for structured literacy intervention, which has been shown to help struggling readers and spellers develop an understanding of how words work.  Of course, teaching with a “deep” approach requires a teacher who has deep knowledge of word structure.

For example, a teacher with deep word structure knowledge will be able to answer these 10 questions:

  1. Why are these words homophones (sound the same)? tax – tacks
  2. Why are there double letters in each of these words?  letter, kiss, tapping
  3. Why does the -i- in this word sound like “uh”?   habit
  4. Why is <in> spelled with one “n” while <inn> is spelled with two?
  5. Why is does the <y> sound different in these words?  gym, cry
  6. How can the spelling of these words be explained?  to – too – two
  7. Why are these words spelled with an -e- at the end? rate, judge, rinse
  8. Why does the -a- not sound the same in these words?  ash – wash 
  9. Why is the /k/ sound spelled <ch> in school but <c> in cool?
  10. Why does <gh> sometimes spell a /f/ sound (laugh) and sometimes a /g/ sound (ghost)?

If you aren’t sure, ask a Lexercise therapist!