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.

Dyslexic brains work 5 times harder

I just came across this interesting article, which describes a study showing that dyslexics use almost 5 times more brain area when processing language (real vs. non-words and do the words rhyme or not). This is likely also true when they are reading, as reading is directly tied into language processing and this type of phonemic awareness skill.

No wonder your dyslexic students are so tired after reading a passage. No wonder they often read slower than their peers. No wonder they struggle to keep their attention when reading. And no wonder they have to work much harder just to keep up with their peers in school.

An Orton-Gillingham program works to build a stronger, more efficient reading pathway in the brain (starting with those auditory skills of rhyming, and using non-words to engage those auditory processing centers of the brain). We re-train the way a dyslexic student is processing sounds and reading, so they are not using so much of their brain when dealing with language and reading.

Happy Dyslexia Awareness Month!

In honor of October being Dyslexia Awareness Month, I challenge you to learn more about this neurological difference which affects up to 1 in 5 people.

Here is a short video explanation of dyslexia:

And some recent articles to get you started learning more about the world of dyslexia:

At Ladder Learning Services, we offer specialized tutoring services which can change the brains of dyslexics to make them more efficient readers and spellers. We also offer a free Dyslexia assessment for Kindergarten and 1st graders in the Atlanta area.

What’s really going on inside a dyslexic brain?

This great video explains in broad terms how dyslexic brains function and how to help them be more efficient! We use the multisensory program mentioned in the video. Any program based on the original Orton-Gillingham method will help a dyslexic brain learn to process language more efficiently! We also use the BEST spelling program for dyslexic students (kids and adults!) the Barton Reading and Spelling System.

Free Reading Readiness Screener for Preschoolers

Here is a free reading-readiness screener for parents of kids age 3-5 to fill out. It shows if your preschooler is progressing normally and what skills they need to work on (“action plan”) to be a strong reader.

If you want tutoring for your preschooler, send us an email (ladderlearning at! We love working with young kids on pre-reading skills! Research strongly supports addressing any reading issues as early as possible to make sure your child has a life-long love of reading.

Is cursive really better for dyslexics?

I have heard a lot of teachers and Orton-Gillingham tutors tout the benefits of cursive writing for their students with dyslexia. In my experience though, this is the wrong idea for most of our students. This recent article from the Yale Center for Dyslexia makes an argument for teaching keyboarding skills instead. “Once dyslexic students change to keyboarding [from cursive], their volume of word use increases dramatically as well as their written clarity, spelling, and overall editing.”

As someone who struggled with cursive writing myself, I can say that it just doesn’t ever “flow” for a lot of students, especially our students with dysgraphia.

Over the years, we have worked with many students who have started learning cursive writing from the beginning, and when these students also have dyslexia they struggle. They have a hard time with forming the letters properly, connecting them properly, and telling them apart from each other. Often, when we introduce them to printing they seem to form clearer images of the letters in their mind (they’re not all running together) and then learn their letter-sound associations more quickly.

One reason I have heard for cursive supposedly being better is that it prevents reversals– but our dyslexic students who learn cursive still do reverse b/d and p/q just as frequently as our dyslexic students who learn to print.

I think printing and keyboarding skills are much more important for our students. They can be taught to read cursive writing as an important life skill, but writing in cursive can be very laborious and difficult. Teaching them keyboarding skills will be much more useful for their future.

Of course, if your child attends a Suzuki, Montessori, or Waldorf school (and some other private or charter schools) they will be expected to learn cursive writing and we can help them with this task using a simplified cursive style called Handwriting Without Tears (it is how I finally learned cursive writing myself, and I can attest that it is much easier than “traditional” cursive!) Using multisensory techniques will help them learn to properly form their letters and the proper way to connect their letters.

Orthographic Dyslexia

This article from the Dyslexia Training Institute is a good description of a sub-type of dyslexia which we often see. It describes a dyslexic student whose phonological awareness is average or even above-average, yet they can not spell and have trouble with reading. For these students, we use a program which specifically targets spelling skills (orthography), the Barton Reading and Spelling System, which uses an Orton-Gillingham approach. This system is highly effective for improving both spelling and reading skills. As the article says, if you can spell a word, you can read it, but the reverse is not always true.