Building Confidence in Dyslexic Learners

Dyslexia is directly impacts a student’s learning ability, mainly in reading and spelling. From an early age, many dyslexic students start to realize that they learn differently from their classmates, which can cause frustration and severely impact a student’s self-confidence. Helping students understand these differences in a healthy way is key to building up their self-esteem regardless of the challenges they face in the classroom.

Here are some tips for parents to build and foster self-confidence in dyslexic learners from an early age.

  1. Give Students the Power of Understanding 

Equipping students with knowledge about dyslexia can help them understand their learning struggles and not feel so alone. There’s an important difference between “I struggle with reading because I’m not as smart as my classmates” and “I struggle with reading because I learn differently than my classmates.” If students are given accurate information about their dyslexia from a young age, it will be easier for them to put these differences into perspective and they may be less likely to compare their abilities to their peers’. It’s crucial for dyslexic students to understand that learning challenges have nothing to do with intelligence. This mindset may help them understand why they face more difficulty than others.

  1. Encourage Their Strengths

Although it’s important to work on reading and other subjects they struggle with, it’s equally necessary to help them identify their strengths, both academic and otherwise. While your student may have trouble reading, they most likely excel at something else. Maybe your student is really good at math, is curious about science, or knows a million facts about Ancient Egypt? Even if your student is not a fan of school, they are certainly skilled at something else. Maybe they’re an amazing older brother or sister, like to cook, or can build intricate Lego buildings. It doesn’t matter what the skill is, as long as your student is encouraged to pursue it and is consistently reminded of their ability to accomplish great things. Focusing on their strengths can overshadow any feelings of inadequacy they may feel throughout the day, especially at school. This recognition can help them see the value they have to offer those around them and that they are capable of achievement.

  1. Focus on Effort over Results 

Providing students with positive reinforcement for their efforts can build confidence and help them maintain a healthy relationship with reading even though it’s challenging for them. Focussing only on the results, which may fluctuate and take time, can be disheartening for students. Learning can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but when students feel encouraged to keep trying, a healthy and confident attitude can emerge. 

  1. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Those with a “growth mindset” believe that intelligence and skill set can be strengthened. When we apply extra effort to subjects that are difficult, it just means we are increasing our intelligence and improving our skills. This idea is far more liberating than a “fixed mindset,” which claims that intelligence is unchangeable and there is no point in working to improve in a subject that is too difficult. Cultivating a growth mindset from an early age will help students believe that they can learn new things and help them see the value in hard work. For example, it may be beneficial to adopt the word “yet”. “I can’t read this” becomes “I can’t read this yet.” “I’m not good at this” becomes “I’m not good at this yet.” A growth mindset can positively impact the way a dyslexic learner views challenges and setbacks. Instead of feeling defeated, students will ideally feel more prepared to continue working hard to achieve their goals. A growth mindset will lay the foundation of self-confidence for the rest of their lives. 

  1. Find the Right Tools 

Like all parts of life, problems are easier to solve when they are small. Noticing signs of dyslexia and receiving a diagnosis at a young age can help students get connected with the right tools early. This will help students find alternative reading strategies and resources from an early age. Additionally, make sure your child has books to read that match their skill level. It’s discouraging to attempt a book that is far beyond one’s current reading level, which can tempt students to stop trying altogether. Instead, low-level/high-context (or “hi-lo”) books are more beneficial and enjoyable for young dyslexic readers. Connecting students with the appropriate tools at an early age will bring fewer struggles, cultivate a healthier relationship with reading, and improve self-confidence.

Using 1-Minute Drills with a 2nd Grader

Lately there has been some debate among reading professionals about whether training students’ advanced phonemic awareness skills is a useful endeavor. We have seen success with using this approach with our students who have weak phonological skills by incorporating Kilpatrick’s One-Minute drills (from Equipped for Reading Success) into our twice/weekly Orton-Gillingham tutoring sessions. Below, I present a case-study of a student who has greatly benefitted from this approach. Student “A.” was tested using Kilpatrick’s PAST assessment both in October of 2020 (2nd grade) and again in January of 2021 (2nd Grade). A’s parents were wanting to know, if A. needed Auditory Processing interventions (as an Audiology assessment had indicated) or simply needed tutoring on phonological skills and dyslexia-specific interventions, so we decided to take data to see what type of gains she could make in 3 months of intervention. She ended up doing well with our tutoring and did not need any further audiology interventions.

Case Study: A.

A. was tested using the Kilpatrick PAST asessment at 3 months apart, during which she participated in twice/weekly Orton-Gillingham tutoring using the Kilpatrick Drills. My hypothesis was that if we did not see much or any growth on the PAST, then it would indicate A. would need to pursue the auditory processing interventions; if she did show gains, then our tutoring is doing what it should be and she should stick with it. (And probably what the audiologist was seeing on their testing was more just the struggles common with dyslexia.)

What we found was some good growth in her phonological awareness skills, about what I would expect with a student who has dyslexia and is receiving interventions targeting this skill.

At this point, I advised A’s parents that the only reason they may still want to consider the auditory processing interventions is if they see that they may be indicated in other areas (for example, if it would help her to hear in a noisy classroom environment, or for some other reason). Her phonological awareness is showing typical gains with our work, which is great and will support her reading and spelling knowledge.

After 3 months, A. achieved the level of a typically achieving 2nd grader in phonological awareness skills using our interventions.

Here are some before/after graphs so you can see what I am referencing.

First assessment, the PAST (Kilpatrick) Version B, given in October 2020:


Highest Automatic Level was “I” but she did not pass F, G, or H. So I would consider this Late Kindergarten/early 1st grade level, but with gaps.

Second PAST assessment, Version C, given in January 2021:


Much improvement in the Onset-Rime, Basic Phoneme and some improvement in Advanced Phoneme levels. She is still Automatic at “I” but without ANY gaps, so that means she’s now at a typically achieving 2nd grade level in phonological awareness skills.

After this testing was done, A. continued tutoring with us until July of 2021. She graduated Level H in the Kilpatrick Drills, and got half-way through Barton Level 4 lessons (multisyllabic words). Her word-reading fluency (as tested by Easy CBM 1st grade lists) went from 73% accuracy 27 CWPM in March of 2020 to 94% accuracy with 46 CWPM in May of 2021. In Feb 2021, she read a 2nd grade assage at 84% accuracy and 41 CWPM. My hypothesis is that her improved phonological skills (from doing the Kilpatrick Drills) are translating to faster reading skills on these measures, although her reading is still below grade-level which indicates a need for continued tutoring services.

A. was able to read a 2nd grade level passage with 96% accuracy at 71 CWPM by July of 2021, so that puts her at the 30th percentile for her grade. Her vocabulary and comprehension were never a concern, so we focused on testing her phonological and decoding skills.

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 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 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: 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.
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, 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!


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