Each student undergoing reading remediation should have a private reading time. As discussed in a previous blog post, the student should read aloud for a minimum of twenty minutes at home from a book chosen based upon their independent reading level, and this reading should take place within earshot of the parent. Having parents within earshot is important because students with reading difficulty frequently will look at the first few letters of a word and say the first word that comes to their minds with a close letter sequence (e.g., “prerogative” may be pronounced “program”, and the student will just keep going). If the parent is within earshot, they will know whether the pronounced words actually fits in the sentence based upon context.
In order for parents and other specialists to accurately determine the reading level of their students, I highly recommend the Degree of Reading Power (DRP), a highly effective, yet relatively inexpensive, program by Questar Assessment, Inc. (www.questarai.com). The DRP Program offers a diagnostic test that may be administered by parents at home or by teachers in a classroom setting. Based upon the performance on the test, students earn two scores:
- an Instructional DRP score
- an Independent DRP score
The Instructional DRP Score indicates the most difficult text a student can read and understand with teachers’ or parents’ help. The Independent DRP Score indicates the most difficult text a student can read and understand without teachers’ or parents’ help. Our interests lie with the Independent DRP Score.
Questar Assessment, Inc. has a database containing over 36,000 titles that have been organized based upon text difficulty and assigned a number that corresponds to the Independent DRP Scores. Simply type in your Independent DRP Score, and you are presented with a detailed and comprehensive list of titles of books on your child’s independent reading level. Parents and other specialists will have no difficulty in finding these books at your local public library or online at Amazon.
Vocabulary is important for comprehension. Readers can’t understand what they read without knowing what most words mean. The most profitable and enduring manner through which to strengthen vocabulary skills is to teach students to use word structure to determine meaning. This study is called morphology.
As discussed in my book, School Success for Students with Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties, the English language is composed of a mixture of other linguistic influences. Here, the linguistic influences come in the form of how we construct the words that compose our spoken and written language. The three main linguistic models of word construction that constitute the English language are Latinate Word Construction (55%), Anglo-Saxon Word Construction (25%), and Greek Word Construction (11%). In order to successfully master our language, students must receive adequate exposure to the components of each of these three linguistic influences. This includes the foundational affixes and roots of Latinate word construction and the combining forms (roots) of Greek word construction. Students will encounter Latinate word construction in approximately the fourth grade, and they will encounter Greek word construction in approximately the seventh grade. Exposure to these two word constructions will prepare students for mastering advanced vocabulary. While we can never make dictionaries obsolete, through the study of morphology, we can make them less necessary. Additionally, students should be encouraged to read a variety of grade-level texts to acquire new vocabulary through the identification of these Latinate roots and Greek combining forms in action.
With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, most families are envisioning family trips and vacations that will allow many opportunities for bonding and life long memories. Summer is truly a wonderful time. Yet, parents of students who struggle with reading skills have additional luggage to bring along: extra difficulty in making sure that the dreaded summer reading list gets done.
Reading tasks during the academic year can be problematic in themselves, but students are more inclined to complete reading assignments as they are already in academic mode from September to June. Summer is viewed, and rightly so, as vacation time when students are free from the daily grind of academic achievement. Summer mode is quite different, naturally, from academic mode. A true life experience drove the point home for me.
I used to work as a language training instructor at the Kildonan School, a boarding school for dyslexics, in upstate New York. Each summer, I worked Camp Dunnabeck, a camp for dyslexics where they could experience arts and crafts, swimming, horseback riding, and, of course, language training. One summer, I was presented a little boy who had just finished the third grade. He was very excited as this was his first time at camp. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, I suggested that we walk to the library and pick out his book. He said, “What do you mean?” I pointed out that fifteen minutes of each language session was set aside for oral reading. He gasped, folded his arms, and threw his head down on the desk. After a few seconds, he lifted his head and, with a truly anguished look on his face, screamed, “You mean I gotta read?” As I looked in his eyes, I could see his heart sink. Yes, it is summer break, but the fact remains. Students from middle school through high school have literature that must be read and understood before the school bells ring in September. If parents approach it correctly, summer reading can be accomplished and accomplished well.
The first thing to remember is the most obvious: your child does not want to do it. This simple, yet, direct assessment of the situation places you in a position where you can approach the task at hand with patience and understanding. No one enjoys being confronted with their weakness. Even we, as adults, stay away, as much as possible, from tasks or duties that place our weaknesses on display. I, for example, am terrible in math. Growing up, I hated report card day because I knew that each of my grades in math was a “U”. (For those of you who don’t remember or know, the “U’ stood for “unsatisfactory”.) Today, I don’t work with numbers. I don’t even handle the family finances. I just give my wife my earnings, and, magically, the lights stay on and there is always plenty to eat. Remembering your own weaknesses as you approach your child’s summer reading will provide you with the right perspective. Remind them that they will naturally gravitate toward professions that suit their skill set, and the summer reading is a very small slice of their history that must be accomplished.
Additionally, here are a few suggestions that can help make the summer reading process more manageable:
- Schedule a time each day where your child can read for a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes. This scheduled reading time should occur early enough in the day so that students do not spend the whole day dreading the impending task.
- During the scheduled reading time, students should be encouraged to read out loud. This allows parents to help monitor accurate decoding of what is read. Students who struggle with decoding frequently will look at a new or unknown word, and will say the first word that comes to their mind with similar construction. For example, students may look at the word, “transmission,” and quickly say “transfer” and keep right on going. If you are sitting within earshot, you will know whether the word, “transfer,” fits in with the context.
- Read with your child using their summer reading book. This provides you with an opportunity to “track” the student as he reads. Tracking is done using two techniques together. The first is for you to place an index card directly above the line the student is reading. The card must be directly above the line because, in the English language, we read from left to right and top to bottom. We want the eyes of the student to swing freely from the end of the line to the beginning of the line beneath it. Having the card above the line being read prevents you from being an obstruction to this process.
- In addition to the index card, you should track each word the student reads with a pencil, moving the pencil along the index card as each word is read. If a mistake in pronunciation has been made or a word has been inappropriately identified, you should stop the tracking of the pencil at the site of the error and tap the pencil tip on the index card at the error site. This signals to your child that an error of some sort has been made.
- Helping a child identify an error in pronunciation is important for their edification. When a child mispronounces a word, I recommend that you divide the word into syllables if the word is multisyllabic. If this does not provide enough assistance to enable your child to identify the word, pronounce the first syllable. Be mindful, though, that in some cases, it may better serve the time constraint for you to give your child the entire pronunciation.
- Share the reading task with your child. You can read one paragraph or page out loud, and they can read the next. As you read, make sure that they are following along with the text. This shared reading also provides an opportunity for echo reading, where your child attempts to match your pitch and cadence.
- While reading with your child, either shared reading or letting them read out loud, you have a chance to occasionally stop the reading and ask a comprehension question to monitor whether he understands what is being read.
Children who struggle with reading are going to drag their heels during the summer reading process, regardless. Approaching the task with the right attitude and tools will make it more manageable. As Mary Poppins reminds us, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… in the most delightful way.”
The Orton-Gillingham approach is a unique language training system that was designed by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. Dr. Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, was a pioneer in focusing attention on reading failure and related language processing difficulties. He revolutionized modern thought concerning learning disabilities, determining that language-based disorders were biological and not environmental in origin. He extensively studied children with language processing difficulties and formulated a set of teaching principles and practices for such children.
Anna Gillingham was a gifted educator, psychologist, and school administrator. Working with Dr. Orton, she devised methods of teaching these students based on the principles formulated by Dr. Orton, and she published The Gillingham Manual, which she wrote with Bessie Stillman.
The Orton-Gillingham approach revolves around the scientifically-based concepts that humans acquire and master language through three distinct neurological pathways: visual processing (seeing), auditory processing (hearing), and tactile-kinesthetic processing (feeling). In the last pathway, tactile refers to small muscle movements (handwriting, manipulation of the vocal tract, tying a shoe lace), and kinesthetic refers to large muscle movements (movement of the arms or legs). The Orton-Gillingham approach incorporates all three pathways (visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic) in the remediation of language skills or in primary language instruction.
We have previously discussed the visual and auditory neurological pathways and their impact on language acquisition and processing. What remains to be explored is tactile-kinesthetic processing. Tactile-kinesthetic ability refers to motor movements, and there are two classes: tactile or fine motor (speech production, handwriting, typing) and kinesthetic or gross motor (running, athletics). Motor memory is a very powerful tool. Physical activities such as riding a bicycle remain in active memory, once the skill has been acquired, despite the time lapse that occurs between rides. Therefore, the movements of the hand while writing and the movements of the speech organs and vocal tract during phoneme or word production provide a crucial pathway of the learning process. The area of the language brain that controls the vocal tract is called Broca’s Area.
Figure 1. Broca’s Area
Broca’s area is located on the inferior frontal gyrus in the frontal lobe. It is the speech center of the language brain as it directs the muscles of the jaw, tongue, and throat to form the sounds that make up words.
The Orton-Gillingham approach incorporates all three pathways from start to finish. During one component of an Orton-Gillingham session, a student will look at a letter or phonogram and make the corresponding sound. In a reverse process, the student will hear a sound and must name and form the associated letter or phonogram. Sound-symbol correspondence must be systematically and explicitly taught. It must be firmly established in a logical progression from single vowels and consonants through consonant and vowel pairs (digraphs and diphthongs). The sequence is always from the simple to complex. Even within this vital, yet short, portion of the Orton-Gillingham session, all three neurological pathways are incorporated into the learning process.
The Orton-Gillingham approach is an intensive, sequential phonics-based system that teaches the basics of word formation before whole meanings. The approach accommodates and utilizes the three learning pathways through which people learn, and it teaches to a student’s strengths while seeking to improve weaknesses through explicit and systematic phonics instruction. The approach will foster in your child the ability to forensically master reading, writing, and spelling. The tutorial is ideal for traditional school settings or the parents who want to personally tutor their children in home-school environment. The Orton-Gillingham approach has been the most powerful intervention designed expressly for the remediation of the language processing problems of children and adults who struggle with reading, writing, and spelling due to auditory and visual processing deficits due to a language-based learning disorder. However, due to its design and manner of implementation, research supports that all students can and will benefit from a multisensory approach. The Orton-Gillingham process places students in position to master the eighty-five percent of the English code that is phonetic. Further, and most importantly, it allows them to make intelligent choices towards mastering the remaining fifteen percent of the English code that must be analyzed in order to be applied properly.
The Orton-Gillingham approach as presented in this work is language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, emotionally sound, and diagnostic-prescriptive.
The Orton-Gillingham approach is based on a technique of studying and teaching language, understanding the nature of human language, the mechanisms involved in learning, and the language-learning processes in individuals.
Orton-Gillingham teaching sessions are action-oriented with auditory, visual, and tactile-kinesthetic elements reinforcing each other for optimal learning. The student learns spelling simultaneously with reading.
- Structured, Sequential, and Cumulative
The Orton-Gillingham teacher introduces the elements of the language systematically. Students begin by reading and writing sounds in isolation. Then, they blend the sounds into syllables and words. Students learn the elements of language (e.g., consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs, etc.) in an orderly fashion. The student, then, proceeds to advanced structural elements such as syllable types, roots, and affixes. As students learn new material, they continue to review old material to the level of automaticity. The teacher addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.
Students learn about the history of the English language and study the many generalizations and rules that govern its structure. Students also become aware of the neurological pathway which serves their learning style best. This fosters the ability to learn and apply the language knowledge necessary for achieving reading and writing competencies.
- Emotionally Sound
In every lesson, the student experiences a high degree of success and gains confidence as well as skill. Learning becomes a rewarding and happy experience.
The method is infinitely adaptable. Students are taught only what they require, in the manner that is appropriate for that particular student.
 For a step by step Orton-Gillingham training session, see my book, School Success for Students with Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties.
Many of the teachers in public education are unaware that different learning styles exist or if they are aware of their existences, most are unprepared to teach in a way which accommodates the distinct learning style. Learning styles are simply different approaches or ways of learning. Better stated, learning styles are the method through which the student learns best, and they are three in number: visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic.
Visual learners learn through seeing. These learners need to see the teacher’s body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. These students tend to prefer sitting at the front of the classroom to avoid visual obstructions. They frequently think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including diagrams, illustrated textbooks, overhead transparencies, videos, and handouts. During a lecture, visual learners prefer to either take detailed notes to absorb the information or receive a printed copy of the instructor’s lecture notes. Visual learners are “big picture” people, and, as such, make great navigators, artists, inventors, architects, mechanics, or engineers.
The study habits of visual learners are strongest if they involve a quiet location where the student can view notes and materials. It is imperative that these students limit their visual distractions as they scan pertinent chapters and use diagrams to reinforce sequencing.
Auditory learners learn through listening. They learn best through verbal discussions, lectures, and dialogue. Auditory learners may ask frequent questions in order to clarify information as they interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, and cadence. Information in written form may have little meaning for the auditory learner until it is heard. These learners benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder as they think in words instead of pictures. Auditory learners are wonderful speakers, and they are very persuasive. With this skill set, auditory learners make great journalists, writers, lawyers, politicians.
When studying, auditory learners also benefit from having a quiet location where the student can view notes and materials. Here, though, it is imperative that these students limit their auditory distractions as they read their notes aloud. Auditory learners should never study while listening to music. Further, these learners will greatly benefit from having a partner who will ask questions, forcing the auditory learner to verbalize the information coherently.
Tactile-Kinesthetic learners learn through moving, doing and touching. They learn best through a hands-on approach as they need to actively explore the world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods of time and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration. These learners use their bodies to solve problems, and express themselves through movement. As such, tactile-kinesthetic learners make great athletes, dancers, and actors.
When studying, tactile-kinesthetic learners benefit from having a quiet location where the student can view notes and materials, as well. This is where the similarities in study habits with auditory and visual learners end. In order for tactile-kinesthetic learners to embrace academic material, a fine motor neurological gateway must be introduced. The cleanest method in which to activate the neurological pathway for muscle movement is to make sure that they are physically comfortable, and write, write, write. If they speak what they are writing, the tract of articulation adds an additional tactile enforcement as the muscles of the tongue and jaw are activated.
As visual processing ability referred to word recognition and recall of words after the image has been received by the eyes, auditory processing ability refers to what happens to impulses of sound in the brain after the ears have received them. You will recall that sound is processed into understandable words in an area of the temporal lobe of the dominant hemisphere called Wernicke’s area. The level of functioning of Wernicke’s area directly impacts the auditory recognition and recall of words. Those students who have a high level of activity in Wernicke’s area have good auditory processing ability. Those who have low levels of activity in this region struggle with the verbal skills associated with spoken words and ideas.
Figure 1. Wernicke’s area
These students have Auditory Processing Disorder (a.k.a., Central Auditory Processing Disorder), a neurological condition that prevents students from being able to process information that they hear in the same way as other students without the disorder. Something interferes with the brain and its recognition and interpretation of auditory input, most notably the sounds composing speech. As a result, these students have difficulty remembering what was said (following oral directions), are highly susceptible to distracting noises, and find it extremely difficult to master foreign languages. As with visual imagery and word recognition and recall, auditory processing ability is independent of intelligence. Further, longitudinal research demonstrates that almost seven out of ten people (66%) with visual processing difficulties also have auditory processing deficits.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder “Red Flags”
The following list are common indicators of a language-based learning disability founded upon the auditory processing of language (central auditory processing disorder):
- Difficulty remembering or following directions
- Excessive yawning and sleepiness in class
- Difficulty understanding text because of underlying oral language problems
- Confusion with letters that have similar sounds ( d/t, b/p, f/v)
- Difficulty remembering common sight words (was, the, and, she, etc.)
- Difficulty taking notes in class
- Poor auditory discrimination
- Poor ability to retain
- Difficulty in finding the “right” word when speaking
- Does much better with oral testing
- Difficulty pronouncing words correctly (for example, “aminal ” instead of “animal ”)
- Difficulty rhyming
- Problems learning the names of shapes and colors
- Difficulty learning letter names and letter sounds
Again, if a student demonstrates multiple indicators, parents and teachers are encouraged to pursue diagnostic testing from a qualified educational diagnostician to determine the presence of a specific language disability.
Dyslexia is a common disorder that hinders the development of reading skills. Some researchers refer to dyslexia as a visual processing disorder that is neurological in nature. Dyslexia is defined by the International Dyslexia Association as “… a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” Dyslexics struggle with language acquisition skills despite having been exposed to scientific-based reading teaching methodologies.
The visual pathway is the most important pathway involved with the acquisition of written language skills; however, when discussing visual processing ability, the actual process of seeing is not the issue. There are two components to visual processing ability: The first involves recognizing that words are a systematic string of individual graphemes (letters). Each individual sequential combination represents a different word. Therefore, students must be able to accurately track, from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and string together the individual phonemes (sounds) to produce these words (word identification). The second component involves the acquisition of a visual image in the “mind’s eye” based upon the text decoded (concept imagery).
Visual processing ability is believed to be determined by the level of functioning of the angular gyrus, an area in the left hemisphere, the hemisphere that serves as the language center of the human brain for ninety percent of the human population. The angular gyrus sits on the junction of the temporal lobe and the parietal lobe, and it translates visual input into auditory code. It is located directly behind Wernicke’s area, the language center of the brain that is responsible for processing sound into understandable words. The level of functioning of the angular gyrus directly impacts the recognition and recall of words. Those students who have a high level of angular gyrus activity have good visual memory.
Figure 1. The Angular Gyrus
Those who have low levels of angular gyrus activity struggle with reading, spelling, and composition due to a deficit in visual processing ability. These students have poor visual imagery and pronounced word recognition difficulty. Those toward the lower end of the spectrum, approximately fifteen to twenty percent of the world’s population, can be described as dyslexic with a specific visual processing difficulty.
Visual imagery and word recognition ability have no direct correlation to a student’s intelligence. Cultural icons such as Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein had visual imagery and word recognition skills toward the lowest end of the spectrum. In fact, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were both dyslexics.
Genetic Cause of Dyslexia
Researchers have known for quite some time that there was a genetic link between dyslexics and their families. Anecdotally, for each dyslexic with whom I have worked, either one of their parents or one of their grandparents recalled displaying symptoms of dyslexia during their academic careers. Researchers, however, have recently identified dyslexia and one gene in particular.
In November of 2005, Dr. Jeffrey Gruen, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, and his research team discovered that reading ability is influenced by a gene called DCDC2. This gene is located on chromosome 6. The team studied 153 families with dyslexic children and identified a altered stretch of DNA within the DCDC2 gene of the study group that correlated to a severe reading disability.
Dyslexia “Red Flags”
The following list are common indicators of a language-based learning disability founded upon the visual processing of language (dyslexia):
- Reversals of letters and words when learning to read
- Difficulty in direction and laterality
- Continued uncertainty of left and right handedness
- Uneven levels in academic achievement in various testing situations
- Persistent, unusual spelling errors
- Difficulty with mathematical skills
- Normal intelligence with patchy defects
- Reading is slow and labored
- Tendency to make wild guesses with new words
- May skip over small words (e.g., a, an, the) while reading
- Mixes up order of letters
- Listening comprehension much better than reading comprehension
- Difficulty segmenting and blending individual letter sounds and syllables
- A tough time learning to write one’s own name
- Difficulty with sound/symbol correspondence
- Significant difficulty reading and spelling multisyllabic/longer words
- Difficulty recognizing and producing rhymes
- Confusion with letters that look alike ( b/d/p, w/m, h/n, f/t)
- Reduced awareness of word structure (prefix, roots, and suffixes)
- Slow rate of reading
- Continued difficulty with spelling and written composition
- Difficulty learning new information from text because of word reading errors
- Trouble learning a foreign language
- Significant difficulty writing, due to spelling and organization problems
- Reading and spelling errors that indicate difficulty sequencing sounds ( blast vs. blats)
- Avoids reading aloud
- Omission of grammatical endings when reading and writing ( –s, –ed, –ing)
- Difficulty remembering spelling of words over time
The aforementioned list is not all inclusive. However, if a student demonstrates multiple indicators, parents and teachers are encouraged to pursue diagnostic testing from a qualified educational diagnostician to determine the presence of a specific language disability.