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One Minute to Improve Reading Skills?!

I know I don’t post often enough. Keeping up with tutoring and managing all our amazing tutors at Ladder Learning has kept me so busy these days, and I can’t complain!

But I wanted to share something that recently changed the way I tutor, because it is SO SIMPLE and QUICK and it is something that parents, teachers, and tutors can start doing today to improve their student’s reading skills!

A few months ago, I was able to hear Dr. David Kilpatrick give a talk about reading science in Portland, Oregon (shout-out to the amazing IDA folks in Oregon who put on a great conference with wonderful food!)

Dr. Kilpatrick has written a few books which are of interest to teachers, psychologists, and those of us who tutor students with dyslexia. Here’s one of them, which is a great overview of where the reading science stands and what interventions are effective for students with dyslexia (paid link):

Another book he authored is less well-know. Those of us who dig pretty deep into reading science have recently become psyched about it, but it’s actually based on research and ideas that have been around for decades. The book is called  Equipped for Reading Success (paid link). Most of it is an overview of research with a few ideas for 1:1 or classroom work. But tucked away in the back of this book is a truly amazing idea, the One-Minute Drills for improving what he terms “advanced phonological awareness.”

Dr. Kilpatrick’s innovation in the research was the discovery that when older students with dyslexia were not making gains with automatic recognition of words, what was going on “behind the scenes” was their lack of these advanced phonological awareness skills.

Tests which are often given to show children have dyslexia don’t have a timing element (eg, the CTOPP). So some children can actually ‘game’ the tests by thinking of the spelling of a word and working backwards (not what the test is designed to measure). However, Dr. Kilpatrick includes a new assessment which he created called the PAST, to determine not only how well students can answer phonological-awareness questions (such as can they say “birthday” without “birth”?) but also how FAST they can get to the answer. (A copy of the PAST, with explanation and instructions.)

This innovation led to the development of the One-Minute Drills in his Equipped book, which are an incredible resource. Starting with the most simple tasks (removing a syllable from a compound word) and working step-by-step up to the most complex task (reversing the phonemes in a multi-syllable word completely to form a new word), you have hundreds of exercises to work with even the most phonologically-challenged student and slowly, one minute at a time, build up those skills they need to be successful readers.

I have seen my students take off and make incredible gains after adding this very simple exercise to their lesson plan! It’s something that is so simple to add into a classroom routine or to do at home– just one minute at a time can make all the difference for our students who struggle with reading and spelling skills. And, best of all, some of my students actually enjoy doing them (and the others really don’t mind them at all)!

If you do decide to start using the One-Minute Drills with your students, here is a freebie from me that you can use to track their progress: Equipped One-Min Drills Checklist.

Important Podcast about reading instruction in the schools

Why American kids aren’t being taught to read by American Public Media reports goes into detail about the importance of making sure our educators are properly using the science behind reading instruction. Here at Ladder Learning, we understand the science behind dyslexia and other reading disorders. We keep up with the latest research to ensure that our students are receiving the best instruction possible.

What to do if you can’t afford dyslexia tutoring

Recently, I responded to a mom who was looking for tutoring services for her son with dyslexia. They do not live near any dyslexia specialists, providers, or tutors. Although our prices are very affordable compared to other in-home tutors in the Atlanta area, the options we had were out of her budget.

I realize there are many parents out there in the same situation, so I thought that what I wrote to her may be helpful to other families.

Here are 3 options if you can’t afford a dyslexia tutor:

1. Work with a tutor doing a practicum for a lower fee per session until they are certified. (send us an email at ladderlearning@gmail.com to see what we have available. Or email your local branch of the International Dyslexia Association)
2. Find a parent, grandparent, babysitter, etc. who can do the Barton Reading and Spelling System with the student at home. If you’re in the state of Georgia and are a member of the Georgia Cyber Academy you can get sent to you for free. Otherwise, you can buy it at www.bartonreading.com First, you need to make sure the tutor can pass the tutor screening and your student passes the student screening.
(If the student doesn’t pass the Student Screening, we might be able to work with him online until he’s ready to pass.)
Yes, it can be difficult to work with your own child. If nothing else, you can try to get them through the first 3 levels of the program, and we can take over from there– and you have saved yourself some money that way.
3. You can try to get your school district to provide the tutoring and pay a tutoring company  like ours directly. Other parents have been successful with this if they either get an advocate, lawyer, or are knowledgeable about their rights. (Typically, these families have older students who have been failed by the school system for many years, and there is a history of neglect on the school’s part.) You must know your rights, the law, and be very assertive about what your child needs. More information about this can be found from this website: www.wrightslaw.org We are happy to work directly with a school district to do tutoring services.
NOTE: The MOST important thing is that no matter what the school says, DO NOT WAIT to start the intervention your student needs. Because of the “Matthew Effect,” without the correct type of help our students with dyslexia only continue to fall further behind as time goes on. http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/test.matthew.effect.htm
Hopefully one of these options will work out for your family!
PS–Research shows that children who do not read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate high school on time… and dropping out of high school increases your odds of ending up in prison dramatically.  I’m not trying to scare you, but I want you to know the facts so you make the best decision for your child. Yes, there are dyslexic high-school dropouts who started successful companies and became billionaires too… but I’m sorry to say they are few and far between, and that isn’t a chance I recommend taking with your child’s future.

What is the best way to teach a dyslexic spelling?

On an email list I participate, Susan Barton recently wrote this response to a tutor who was looking for the best program for a child who has what was termed Orthographic Dyslexia (a sub-type where spelling is more of a difficulty than phonemic awareness). Here is her response (shared with permission) with some great links to do further research:
No other O-G program focuses on spelling as strongly and intensely as the Barton Reading & Spelling System.
Yet all of the research shows that spelling and reading and strongly linked, and you need to work intensely on both skills.
Here is a link to a great article called Why Spelling Matters that quotes the research.
The International Dyslexia Association has a 4-page fact sheet on Spelling (“Just the Facts…Spelling”), which states that people with dyslexia have “conspicuous problems” with spelling and writing. The fact sheet quotes the research and explains how spelling needs to be taught.  You can download and print their fact sheet by going to:
Also show them the article called “Brain Images Show Individual Dyslexic Children Respond To Spelling Treatment”  published on MedicalNewsToday.com, in February 15, 2006.  Here’s a summary:
Brain images of children with dyslexia taken before they received spelling instruction show that they have different patterns of neural activity than do good spellers when doing language tasks related to spelling. But after specialized treatment emphasizing the letters in words, they showed similar patterns of brain activity.
These findings are important because they show the human brain can change and normalize in response to spelling instruction, even in dyslexia, the most common learning disability.
To download that article, go to:
And in case any teacher claims that a student can just use a spell checker, read this article by a dyslexia advocate, entitled “To Spell or Not to Spell:  Is it really that important?” by clicking on this link:

Background Knowledge for Comprehension

One often overlooked factor which can really make-or-break a child’s comprehension of a passage of text is background knowledge.

Just today, I was working on summarizing 3 short 5th grade level paragraphs with a 5th grade student who is dyslexic but reads at her grade-level. As we read through the paragraphs, I asked her some comprehension questions and came to realize that she had little to no background knowledge of the topic we were reading about (World War II).

In order for her to understand these short passages, we had to talk about many different things that were implied knowledge in the text, including:

  1. World War II happened in the 1940s (roughly her great-grandparent’s time)
  2. Germany (specifically Nazi Germany) was invading other countries in Europe and North Africa
  3. We looked at a map, and discovered where Germany was in relation to other countries mentioned in the text: France, Great Britain, and North Africa and we compared with where we are in the United States.
  4. We talked about how Great Britain/England/and the United Kingdom are all basically the same place.
  5. How it’s called the United Kingdom because they have a Monarchy (king/queen) and we don’t have that here
  6. The meaning of the words “French Resistance”
  7. Who Winston Churchill was

Having not studied yet about WWII in school, nor read much about it, she really had no concept of any of these things. For starters, she believed the war was a very, very long time ago and she did not understand the geography of the world at all. So this made reading the passages very confusing to her.

Part of her confusion about geography may stem from a dyslexic’s difficulty with directionality. I find my students are also very confused by terminology and have trouble differentiating between what is a continent vs a country or state or city. And, I am often quite shocked by the lack of geography and Social Studies knowledge my students have (this particular student has an IQ which is in the Superior category and does very well in school).

After we explored these different topics, she was then able to read the passages and have a much clearer understanding of what the passage was saying, and was then able to get the “main idea”. While she may still have been able to answer some basic test questions about the passage without all that knowledge, some other details may have escaped her completely. For example, the meaning of the word “Resistance” when it was applied to the French Resistance. What were they resisting? She had no idea about that, or what those words would have meant without that background knowledge.

When working with a dyslexic student, it’s especially important to realize that while they may be quite intelligent, they may lack the reading experience of other children and they will often have a lack of background knowledge of many topics. Therefore, they may not do well on test questions for reading comprehension on those topics.

Multisensory Winter Holiday Practice

If you’re looking for a fun, simple idea to practice your Orton-Gillingham tutoring clients over these winter holidays, Orton-Gillingham tutor Heather Groce has a wonderful idea to share:

Multisensory Winter Holiday Bingo
Multisensory Winter Holiday Bingo

“I made a bingo game for segmenting phonemes. I bought a Christmas go fish card game at Dollar Tree. Then I taped them together in different order to make “BINGO cards”. I saved one set of cards out of the box to use as my caller set. I circled phonemes/graphemes/blends that are only found in that particular word. So,when I call out the phoneme/blend they will look at the word and see if that sound is in the word. If it is then they mark it.Just like a BINGO space. So,for example,when I call out /oo? They should mark the “igloo”. I hope that makes sense and is helpful. I believe I will be playing this with different cards for all the holidays. If you can’t find the cards,you could use stickers and index cards to create your boards.”

Thanks Heather for sharing!

Great simple idea for multisensory practice

If you are looking for a simple way to practice building decoding skills and fluency along with an Orton-Gillingham program, this mom/tutor has a great idea for a DIY board game where you can change out the words. She’s using the Barton Reading and Spelling System, but you could use this concept with any Orton-Gillingham program’s word list (real or nonsense words would work great). What a wonderful idea for at-home practice between lessons! I love the simple ideas, because they usually are so versatile. Also, I love how this is a larger game, so that gets your kids moving around while they learn– always a great thing!

Required materials:

  • posterboard
  • markers
  • post-it notes (squares)
  • tokens
  • dice
  • washi tape (optional)

Multisensory Monday: TacScreen Review

Hi Everyone,
I know it’s been awhile since I posted for Multisensory Monday– it’s been a busy time at Ladder Learning as we prepare for many new students this summer!

TacScreen
TacScreen

Today I have a video review of the TacScreen, which is a great multisensory tool for travelling Orton-Gillingham tutors or those who just want another option to keep their students engaged (most of our students love some occasional iPad work to break up the lesson.) The TacScreen would be ideal for students with ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, and Autism Spectrum.

I was sent a free copy of TacScreen to evaluate it, although I had previously purchased a few for my tutors in Atlanta to use. I have been personally using the TacScreen for a few weeks now, and I can definitely say I’m going to leave it on my iPad and continue to use it in my tutoring sessions!

If you would like to purchase your own TacScreen cover, you can do so at www.tacscreen.com

Summer Sign-up Last Day!

Hi everyone,

Today is the last day to sign up for our GREAT DEALS on our summer tutoring packages! We offer experienced tutoring in-home or in-school in the Atlanta metro area or ONLINE with our Literacy and Math specialists. We specialize in DYSLEXIA, DYGRAPHIA, DYSCALCULIA, SLDs, and ADHD!

If you miss the 4/15/16 deadline, you can still register with us for summer tutoring, just go ahead and fill out the form on our home page instead and we’ll contact you with more information.

If you have any questions about summer tutoring with us, please contact Dite at 404-654-3557 or ladderlearning at gmail.com

Reversing Reversals Series

Good Sensory Learning is a great company that makes workbooks and curriculum for students with dyslexia and other learning challenges. They recently came out with a new set of activities in their Reversing Reversals series. Reversing Reversals is a wonderful series that involves fun exercises and activities for students who need help with b/d, p/q, and other types of reversals of letters, numbers, or words. My students love the different activities where they are racing to beat their time (by circling all the b’s or p’s or q’s in a row) or coloring all the b’s one color and d’s another to make a neat picture. These are easily transportable activities that parents, tutors, or teachers can use with their students to help them improve their attention to detail and reduce those reversals!

Reversing reversals products