Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Dyslexia is not a learning disability"

If you live in the state of Ohio like I do, dyslexia is not currently acknowledged as a learning disability for children in elementary grades.  Can you believe it?  Those of us with dyslexic children and who work with dyslexic children know it is as real as a child with a fine motor issue.

There has been some lobbying efforts at the state level to get Dyslexia included in the list of acknowledged  learning disabilities for the past few years and now they're closer than ever.

Here is a link to the Ohio IDA's information on what they're doing to get the new Dyslexia law passed.

There is another organization called Wrights Law that gives advice on the legal side of getting services for your child.  They have a great page on dyslexia and what's needed for the child as well as additional information.

Wrights Law information on Dyslexia

Having a child with reading problems can be challenging.  Reading is one of the skills needed for people to be functioning members of our society.  If we can't read, our choices in life are very limited, and not giving a child the correct services needed to help him achieve his full potential should be criminal.  It falls on us as parents to be advocates for our children and push for correct services in schools or pay for it out of pocket like we are doing for our son.

Most teachers don't know what a dyslexic child needs or even how to identify the possibility of having a dyslexic child in their classroom.  Hopefully, at least in Ohio, this law will change that.  These children deserve the best they can get, and by acknowledging that dyslexia exists and is real and that these children require specific services, we'll have taken the first step in Ohio and will be on our way.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Having a dyslexic child.

I am entering my fourth year as an Orton Gillingham tutor and originally got into it, as so many others do, because of personal experience.  When my son was in kindergarten and the first grade, he seemed very bright and it didn't make sense that he wasn't learning his letters in the same way that the other children were.  Other children with similar curiosities and intellect were picking things up quickly.  Even into the first grade things were slow.  People kept telling me to "give him time" and "he'll get it eventually" because he was so curious and seemed bright in so many other ways.  One very well meaning person even thought all he needed was a colored overlay to put over the print and that would help him read better.  She also suggested that we work with someone who did eye tracking exercises thinking that would help, since he already wore glasses.

This experience is very common for people with dyslexic children.  The reality is that most teachers, unless they have taken the initiative to learn more about dyslexia and what it looks like in children, have no idea what it looks like and how to help these children.  And, the reality is that unless these children get the help they need as soon as possible, they will continue to fall behind their peers and might never catch up.  This is called The Matthew Effect.  Basically it says that the good readers get better while the poor readers continue to fall behind.

 I knew to have him tested in the second grade only because I'm a teacher and I firmly believe in getting an educational assessment for a variety of reason.  But, the biggest reason is so that as parents we would know what was going on with him and be able to make a plan of action to help him learn to read and learn to read better.  As the old saying goes, "Knowing is half the battle."

Armed with test results, I went to the private school he attended and brought all of my recommendations with me.  Some were instituted, some not, and he continued to work with the "reading specialist" provided by our local public school system, and at the same time I found someone Orton Gillingham certified  to work with him.  She started working with him at the end of his 2nd grade year, worked with him over the summer and throughout 3rd grade, and made a world of difference for him.   She will always have a special place in my heart.  Of course, we had to pay for her services out of pocket, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.  She was wonderful.

Therein lies one of the biggest problems.  "Reading Specialists" are NOT required to know anything about dyslexia, its symptoms or its remediation.   Even in my current work at a local university, getting a Reading Endorsement on my teaching license, no one has even touched on dyslexia, what it is, or what to do about it.  Most of these children fall through the cracks.

My son is now in the 5th grade and doing much better.  He has an intervention specialist (who just happens to be a friend of mine) who comes in and works with him twice a week at school.  Last year they worked a lot on his language arts and reading assignments together.  She would help him organize his work and in the 4th grade they worked a lot on prefixes, suffixes, bases in words, etc.  He was fascinated, and his spelling has improved greatly because of it.    He's definitely not typical in terms of remediation for a dyslexic child, but he's been successful so far.  And I am very grateful.

Do you have a dyslexic child?  Do you have children in your classroom who, despite your best efforts just don't seem to get it?  Please let me know.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Vocabulary enrichment that's fun!

Vocabulary development in children is a real issue sometimes.  Even for us as adults, we're able to comprehend much more vocabulary than we use in our daily lives.   It's even truer for children.    

One website I've come across is, and their mission is to fight hunger worldwide by donating 10 grains of rice for every right answer given on their site.  It's neat too, in that children can see exactly how much rice they've been able to donate via their right answers.    It's probably most appropriate for 3rd grades on up, but even adults will have fun with this site while doing something worthwile. 

Marcia Henry

As I began  my journey into learning about dyslexia and Orton Gillingham tutoring, one name that kept coming up over and over again was Marcia Henry.  Part of my requirements for training was to read her book, Unlocking Literacy, Effective Decoding and Spelling Instruction.  It's been one of the most useful books I have in my professional library and the one that has lots of dog-eared pages and a worn cover.

Marcia Henry is another reading researcher who has based all of her information on research and in turn has created some best practices.   Her forte is morphology, or the study of the changing words in the English Language.  Anytime you have a chance to listen to her speak or to even attend a conference that talks about the morphology of the English Language, I highly recommend it.

Whenever I get into morphology with my dyslexic kids, their spelling takes off.  It suddenly makes so much sense, and they are able to look at words in a different way.  I think it's because it appeals to their intellect and that's how these children learn best.

Here's a link to a blog post on Vocabulogic written by Marcia Henry.

Marcia Henry on Vocabulogic

Once you start reading her information, I hope you discover how wonderful her work is and how much sense it makes in literacy instruction .  Enjoy!

More Resources

 Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge proponent of research based practices.  We as teachers can look at what other teachers are doing and copy what they do, but unless it's backed by research as being proven to increase reading skills, we'll just be doing what's always been done.  I know we learn a lot from each others as teachers, but when you ask Sue down the hall how she increases her students fluency, you have no idea whether it's been proven by research to increase fluency, or it's just something that she's always done.  Doesn't mean it isn't a good activity, but it's not based in research.

I came across a website today that not only has information, but also links to papers this man has written, all based on reaserch he's conducted.   His name is Dr. Richard Allington, and his website is:

You can find the link to his papers and articles here.

I know we're all busy and barely have time to plan our lessons and keep up with life, much less do research on best practices.  But if you ever do have time and find that you're looking for a different way, take a look.  You just might be surprised. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Podcasts for Adults

I know I haven't touched much on my experience in working with Dyslexic children.  I will get into dyslexia more as the year progresses and tutoring starts back up again for the year.  I did come across a list of podcasts that have to do with dyslexia and related information.  You might find it helpful.

Go here and click on "Podcasts" at the top of the page.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!


As I was thinking more about audio books, I realized there are a plethora of podcasts developed for children, many of which are free.   One of my, my son's, and children with whom I've worked favorites is Story Nory.  The podcasts are available for free on Itunes.

I believe Story Nory podcasts originate in the UK, and the stories are mostly read by people with British accents, which makes them very lovely to listen to.  When my son was younger, we would download many stories for trips and he'd listen to them quite a lot.  His favorite story was Tick Tock Turkey and The Disappearing Sandwich because it deals with time travel, one of his interests.

I've used Story Nory stories for listening at school at the end of a long day with my 3-6 year olds, where the children lay on the floor in the dark, relaxing, and I've used them in a Reading Practicum I did this past summer with 4th graders.  They've all loved them.  I think you will took.

There are other podcasts of stories out there for children, and some of them are free.  These are the ones out of which I've gotten the most mileage.  Hopefully you will too.

If you know of others that have been successes for you, please leave a comment and let us know!  Thanks!

Audio Books

I recently came across this article on audio books and their benefit for young children.  Audio books for young children  are also known as books on tape, and some traditional classrooms call them "listening centers".  I've had books on tape and cd in the classroom for years and absolutely agree that they're wonderful for young children.

Sometimes when we're having a meeting at school I'll use a book on tape/cd for the meeting instead of reading the book aloud.  It's a completely different experience for the children.  They're mesmerized, taken to a completely different place in the world of the story.  It doesn't matter if it's the youngest child or the oldest child in the space, they get completely drawn in.

Quoted from the article,

"Hearing a book read on tape helps her see how the words on the page can come alive in a fluid, expressive way. It helps her focus on the sounds of words read without interruption and provides a model of fluent reading. Audio books also give her an important introduction to listening — a skill that she must master in order to learn to read. "

So true, so very very true.

Audio books for young children are available at the local library if you don't have access to any, and I have had much success in ordering them inexpensively through Scholastic Books.

Scholastic Audio Books

Happy Listening!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reading a Book to Your Child

Very often when people start reading a book with a child, the adult will open the book, maybe read the title, and then start right into the story.  There's a lot to be gained by talking about the book before it's even opened.

When I read a story with a child, we'll look at the cover of the book, the picture on the front.  We'll talk about who the author is, and who the illustrator is, or who it is that made the pictures.  I always like to ask the children, "What do you think this story is going to be about?"  It gets the juices flowing in their brains.  Talking about the author and the medium used by the illustrator helps children learn which authors they like and would like to hear from again.  

As we go through the book and look at the first page, I'll read the words and ask them if they know what a word means if I think they might not be familiar with it.  Sometimes I'll ask them what they think is going to happen next in the story before we turn the page, and sometimes I'll ask them what's happened so far in the story.

If the story is predictable,  as some Eric Carle books are, it's easy to omit the last word from a line and let the children fill it in.  They love it.  

When the story is over, children will always have something to say to relate the book to their life.  In reading lingo, it's called, "Text to self connections".   If you take the time to listen to what the children are saying, they are making some very important connections and sometimes they might even surprise you.  :)

Online Resources

I recently discovered the Florida Center for Reading Research and it is an amazing treasure trove of activities for teachers and parents alike.

Florida Center for Reading Research

What I love about this website is that they've developed activities based on current research in reading.

If you go to their website, there's a search box in the upper right hand corner.  Enter what types of reading activities you're looking for and a menu will pop up and you can take your pick.  I like to print the activities out on cardstock, cut apart, laminate, and they're ready to use in your classroom or with your children.

There's also part of the website that deals with assessments for different age levels, and the "Teaching and Learning" section has information on what to do with struggling readers of all levels.

If you ever have some time to poke around their website,  you won't be disappointed.

If you've been to this website before, what's your favorite activity there?

Friday, September 3, 2010

One more comment on Phonological Awareness...

I had someone contact me about all of the auditory games I play with phonological awareness.  The question was how do I know where to work with a child, do I start at the beginning and move through sequentially, and how long do I work on one particular skill.   Once you start working with your child, or the children in your classroom, you'll know.

I had a child in tutoring who consistently when spelling would leave out the n's and m's in blends at the end of words like rent and bump.  She would spell them "ret" and "bup" because she couldn't hear them.  Once I realized why she was spelling them that way, we would spend about 5 minutes at the beginning of our lesson making words with a Montessori material called The Movable Alphabet.  I would dictate a word like wet, she'd write it with the letters.  Then I'd say, "Now we're going to make it say went."  She realized what she needed to do.

She and I worked on this skill at the beginning of our lessons for about two months, then she finally got it.  She is a child struggling with dyslexia so we needed to work on it until she'd over learned it, but through working with her I realized where she needed to start with phonological awareness.   As you work with your children you will too.

With the 3 year olds in my classroom, we always always always start at the beginning and play "I Spy" with objects and beginning sounds.

If you're not sure where to start, feel free to contact me.  :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Other blogs

Being an Orton Gillingham tutor, I am very fascinated with the English Language and how it works.  I've recently completed the advanced Orton Gillingham training which focuses on the morphology of the English Language (basically).  We learned about bases (roots), prefixes, suffixes, words with Latin origins, words with Greek origins, etc.  It's all fascinating stuff and makes me wish I would have taken Latin when I was in high school.  When I teach these things to the dyslexic children I tutor, they are very quickly able to write very long multi-syllabic words that previously were a mystery to them.

Gina Cooke was one of my instructors and I recently discovered she has a blog.  If you're a "word nerd" like me, you'll like her blog.  She's a linguist by trade and comes from a linguists perspective, but she's dynamic and fun and great to listen to.  Her blog is Lex, and you can find it here:


Manipulating Sounds in Words

Wow!  This is really the mother lode of being able to play with sounds in words.  Most of us naturally learned how to do it when we were young and learning to read, but for some children, especially those with reading problems, this is very very very difficult and must be taught directly.   Why is it important?  Because when you see a word like "bat" and you see a word like "cat" most "normal" readers are able to pick out the part of the word they recognize and substitute the new sound, making a word. For children with phonological awareness problems, it's like seeing a new word, causing much more work in decoding, and in most cases that means more struggling.

Ways we can manipulate sounds in words are:

Deleting syllables from words.  Again, we're going to start with compound words because it's easy to hear the different syllables in those words.

  • "Say baseball."  "Now say baseball without saying ball."  Hopefully at this point the child would say "base".  
  • Say hotdog without saying hot.
Then we would move into syllables:
  • "Say silver.  Now say silver without saying ver."
  • Say bandit without saying band.
  • Say prepare without saying pre.
  • Say hinder without saying der.
  • Say also without saying so.
  • Say dismay without saying dis.
From there we go into deleting sounds from words, starting with beginning sounds:
  • Say cat.  Now say cat without saying /c/ (Hopefully the child would answer "at".)
  • Say bat without saying /b/.
  • Say quilt without saying /qu/.  (NOTE:  In the english language q is almost always with the letter u unless it's a word that originated from the French.  When I teach my children q, I always teach it as "qu" because of this.  By the time they realize there are words of French origin with a q standing alone in our language, they're much older and can deal with it at that time.  That's why I treat it as a single initial sound here.)
  • Say shrug without saying /sh/
Then we go into deleting ending sounds in words. I always like to start with long vowels here because long vowels are easier to hear in the middle of the words.  Try it for yourself and see if you agree with me!
  • Say tide.  Now say tide without saying /d/.
  • Say Mike without saying /k/.
  • Say bead without saying /d/.
  • Then go into short vowels..... Say pack without saying /k/.
  • Say tub without saying /b/.
And this is probably the hardest.  Finally we delete medial (middle) consonant sounds from words.
  • Say cast.  Now say cast without saying /s/.
  • Say went.  Now say went without saying /n/.
We substitute syllables in words as well.  I have never done this with my kindergartners, but I have done this with older dyslexic children.  It's really hard for them, but they love it.
  • Say publish.  Now replace "lish" with "lic".  The child would hopefully come up with the word public.
  • Say prepare.  Now replace pare with vent.
  • Say invert.  Now replace vert with vest.
  • Say content.  Now replace tent with test.
  • Say enjoy.  Now replace joy with tail.
And finally, we substitute sounds in words, starting with the beginning:
  • Say gate.  Now change /g/ to /l/.  Hopefully they come up with the word "lame"
  • Say Meg.  Now change /m/ to /l/.

Substituting sounds at the end of the word:
  • Say soap.  Now change /p/ to /k/.  Hopefully they come up with the word "soak".
  • Say life.  Now change /f/ to /m/.

Substituting sounds in the middle:
  • Say cup.  Now change /u/ to /a/.  Hopefully the response is "cap".
  • Say bag.  Now change /a/ to /i/.

You can also add sounds at the end of the words:
  • Say mass.  Now say mass with /t/ at the end.  Hopefully that response would be "mast".
  • San bran.  Now say bran with /d/ at the end.
  • Say men.  Now say men with /d/ at the end.  
  • Say bell.  Now say bell with /ch/ at the end.  (Yes, they completely crack up and love to be silly with words like this.)

I know I've spent a lot of time detailing phonological awareness activities, but I cannot overstress how important these are in developing reading skills.  Phonological awareness is one of the strongest indicators in kindergarten of good reading skills later in school.  It's huge.  

A wise mentor of mine once said that a good kindergarten teacher can make all of the difference in the world for a child who is struggling with phonological awareness by identifying it and playing games like these with the child.  I couldn't agree more.  Feel free to use these activities with your child, have fun, and increase her phonological skills at the same time.  

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at all.  :)

Blending sounds into words

This is the basis of reading!!  After we've played all of these games with sounds in different places in the words, the children can't wait to start reading!!

When I'm teaching children how to blend, I first like to start with compound words (Notice a theme here?  This is where we started with segmenting too.)  I'll give the children two parts to a word and they have to tell me what the word is.  For example:

  • base + ball 
  • dish + pan
  • arm + rest
  • flash + light
After the first example, the children completely understand what we're doing and they can't wait to give the answer.

Then, we start working on syllables.  I'll give the children two syllables and they have to tell me what the word is.  Gradually I'll increase it to three syllables and in some cases, we'll actually get to four syllable or five syllable words, if they know the words.  " Can anyone tell me what this word is I'm thinking of?"
  • ro + tate
  • pam + per
  • fast + er
  • mis + take
  • o + ver
  • rai + sin
  • cel + e + brate
  • re + strict + ion
The next step is to start blending sounds into words.  We'll start with two sound words and then gradually move into longer words.

  • c + ar
  • g + o
  • l +igh + t
  • f + i + sh
  • c + a + t
  • m + a + s + k

I have found that if children are able to identify the letters and their sounds, yet are unable to blend those sounds into words, if we go back to some of these simple games, they will eventually be able to blend the sounds on the page together to read.  


Segmenting is an important skill because we all have to be able to take sentences and recognize the words within that sentence.  We also need to be able to take the words and break them down into their sounds.  Then, when we write, we have to be able to assign the correct spelling to that sound.  It's amazing how our minds learn unconsciously to do that, but if you have a child with a specific learning disability, this can be a difficult task.

In learning to segment sentences into words, I like to use pennies, coins, or some other placeholder for each word in the sentence.  I'll dictate a sentence to a child, have the child repeat it, and then say each word individually, laying down a cube for each word.  For example,  "The man hit the ball far" has six words.  As the child would say each word THE - lay down a cube - MAN - lay down a second cube, etc., the cubes would be laid down in left to right order, keeping with the directionality of writing and reading.

It's best to start with shorter sentences like "Be safe" and "Tom is tall" to provide success for the child and gradually build up to longer sentences.

When separating words into syllables, you can use cubes or pennies again, and go through the same process as with sentences.  Start with compound words.  It's easier for children to hear the distinct syllables in a compound word.  For example:

  • cowboy
  • farmland
  • bypass
  • bookmark
  • campsite
  • bathtub
From there you can move into easily distinguishable syllables like:
  • dusty
  • candy
  • shifted
After that you can go into separating words into sounds.  Start with words that only have two sounds.  
  • shoe
  • up
  • in
  • go
  • hi
  • at

From there we typically move into words with three distinguishable sounds (shut, map, kite, etc.) and then move into four letter words with easily distinguishable consonant blends (past, stop, stuck, bench, self, etc.

Some games I like to play with the children in my classroom are:

Which word has more sounds, go or elephant? It's easy to distinguish at this point.  We gradually make the words of more equal length and see if they can tell the difference.

Which word is longer:  butterfly or hat?  Again, gradually make the two words of more equal length until you get to words like gasp or grasp and see if they can tell which word is longer.  It's challenging, but they love it.  

Phonemic Awareness

A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech in the English language.  For example the sound /sh/ is one phoneme, even though it has two letters that make up that sound.  /b/ is also a phoneme, as is /p/ or /ch/.

Phonemes are important because they help us distinguish between words like bit and pit.  When children are learning to read, phonemes are important because we need to listen for the different sounds in words in order to be able to spell them, and we need to be able to pronounce them.  The difference between pin and pit is only one sound, but that one sound can tell us exactly what the other person is thinking.

When children are developing their ability to hear phonemes in words, they typically can hear the first sound in each word.  After that, they are able to hear the last sound in words.  If a child at this stage of development is writing a sentence like "My dog went on a walk."  The sentence might look some thing like "mi dg wet n a wk."    Finally, children are able to hear the medial or middle sounds in each word.  In my work with 3-6 year olds, at this point in the year almost all of the kindergartners can hear beginning and ending sounds in words.  By the end of this school year they'll be able to hear medial sounds as well.

Some games you can play with phonemes:

  • Again, play "I Spy".  Find beginning sounds in objects in the room.  Then do ending sounds in the room when you think your child is ready.
  • Use pictures in books and find things that either start with a certain sound,  or end with a certain sound.  
  • "What's the last sound you hear in the word _______________?"
  • Give your child words and ask her if they sound the same.  "Do bat and bat sound the same?"  "
  • "Do bat and car sound the same?"  
  • "Do bat and bag sound the same?"
  • "Do big and banana have the same beginning sounds?"
  • "Do clip and clutch have the same beginning sounds?"
  • "Do Mike and rake have the same sound at the end?"
  • "Is there a /v/ in van?"
  • "Where is the sound /w/ in went?"
  • "Where is the sound /f/ in laugh?"
  • "Where is hte sound /a/ in hat?"
Always remember that these games are for having fun.  :)