Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

If you are a parent of young children today or you teach your children at home, chances are very good that phonics is your exclusive go-to approach to teach reading. A conviction that phonics is the ONLY way to teach reading, and success with other children with this approach, leaves you purchasing one phonics program after another for a child that just doesn’t seem to “get it” with the current phonics program. Yet still, a satisfactory result eludes you. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. Definitely showing my age now! This method did work and I got through college while maintaining Dean’s List status. After graduation, my first job was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the students and I still find it very helpful in decoding unknown words to this day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love phonics as a way of teaching reading! I “taught” both of my girls to read in our home school with an intense phonics program. Well, to be perfectly candid, I only successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics. The other one, labeled as developmentally delayed, struggled to read anything past a three-letter-word even though she mastered all 70 phonograms in isolation. I was perplexed, to say the least!

Reading is complex. The individual has to gain meaning from a string of symbols making up a word and then combine that with other strings of symbols to gain an understanding of what is written. Let’s explore from a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the skills that make a successful reader?

 

Skills of Successful Readers

1. Visual Skills:

    • Acuity – a reference to 20/20, is the eyes giving a clear picture to focus up close or focus at a distance 
    • Tracking – the eyes moving smoothly across a horizontal line without darting back or forth that would give the wrong feedback to the brain about what is seen
    • Convergence – the eyes working together, placing the image of one eye directly on top of the other so there is no distortion of the letters or swimming of word on the page
    • Central Detail Vision – the ability to see directly in front of you – children that didn’t go through the proper developmental steps to gain good central vision often don’t have good eye contact, they don’t write on a line well and often skip little words or parts of words on a page while reading. Consider this video from the  YouTube Channel – Brain Coach Tips for information about checking the eye function at home.
    • Visual Discrimination – the ability to see subtle differences between very similar words like “then” and “them” can be developed with practice – consider this  Visual Discrimination Game to advance that skill

 

2.   Auditory Processing:

A prerequisite skill to reading in general and for phonics, in particular, is auditory processing (auditory short-term memory). You may not have thought about it but phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of auditory information (sounds) in sequential order and sometimes even a rule together in your short-term memory to decode the word. The capacity to hold auditory sequential pieces of information together is called your auditory processing ability.

Without the foundational skill of auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, an individual’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be effective. An individual needs a strong level 5 or better yet, a 6 auditory digit span for phonics to work well. To get a free test kit to discover processing levels for your whole family visit  www.BrainSprints.com (scroll down to the “Tools” section). This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. When you accelerate this skill, you accelerate success in reading. Learn more: Auditory Processing-Best Kept Secret in Education

 

3.  Information Storage:

From a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the efficient storage of information or being able to get what is in that little brain out into a functional form requires proper placement of the information. It is a bit like a filing cabinet. If you put information in the 2nd drawer in the proper folder, it is easy to get it when you need it. Improper filing of a piece of paper in the 2nd drawer with no folder can be frustrating, time-consuming and energy expending to find. The same can be true of storage in the brain. For more understanding of dominance that is key to storage, watch “You Knew It Yesterday!” 

 

An Alternative Approach

Many families have found help with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach.

While you are working on the child’s auditory processing for two minutes twice a day, teach “sight words” by flashing cards and telling the child what the word is. If your child is an emerging reader, consider  3Rs Plus with the accompanying flashcard and detailed instructions. Beginning readers are very encouraged when they tell dad, “I read this whole book!” Granted the book is only 12 pages long and contains one to two sentences on each page but in their mind, they did read the whole book.

Children reading at 1st-grade level, I recommend Pathway Readers and the flashcards developed for the first few books in this series.

You can also read a sentence or two and in some cases a paragraph or a full page and have the child read the SAME selection after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence! For leveled books that will work on reading recognition as well as comprehension, just search “Reading” at the  Brain Sprints Store.

 

Bringing This Information Together

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? First, you realize that we are all sight-readers. Let me ask you this – Do you read all the words phonetically when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be extremely slow and laborious to do otherwise.

Secondly, rest assured that as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, you can go back to the phonics approach. In the meantime, your child has developed a really good sight word vocabulary and will feel encouraged by a new ability to read. The best of both worlds is now achieved! Your child has a head-start on identifying a word immediately and then will master an ability to phonically decode unknown words. 

If a phonics approach or the sight word approach is not effective in teaching a child to read, one must explore other root causes by looking at how the eyes are working or where information is being stored in the brain. For more individualized direction consider a  Free 15 minute Consultation with a Brain Sprints’ coach.

 

 

 

 


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By Jan Bedell, PhD, M.ND

We all want our children to read so they can read God’s Word and get along better in the world. Much of learning comes through the ability to read. As moms, we often make it “our mission” for our children to read well. This is an admirable mission.

The Truth About Phonics
I am going to say something controversial now and get it out of the way. Are you ready? Here it is: Phonics may not be the best way for you to teach reading to a particular child. Unless foundational skills are in place, phonics will be ineffective. I know it may be a shock to hear me say that about phonics. This was quite a surprise when I first heard it as well. I had diligently been trying to teach my daughter with special needs to read with a phonics approach for five years!

Before my own attempts at this reading quest, the public and private school were also trying to teach her to read with phonics. She was a phonics dropout, but she was a phonogram champ! She knew the sounds of all 70 phonograms, even the ones like “ough” that have six sounds. Even though the sounds of the phonograms were solid, she couldn’t hold the sounds together past a three letter word to read anything! This was rather confusing, and I have to admit extremely frustrating.

I found out after my five-year, miserable struggle with phonics that she had low auditory processing. That meant she couldn’t hold the pieces (phonograms) in her short term memory long enough to put them together to get the word out. We were in an endless loop of sounding out the same word over and over until something sort of like the word came out. So, by the time she got to the end of the sentence, she had no clue about the meaning of what she read. WOW!

The Auditory Processing Disconnect
For some children, learning to read using the phonics approach is a breeze, but for others it is a huge struggle like it was for my daughter. When children have low sequential auditory processing abilities (an inability to hold a series of items in consecutive order in short-term memory), phonics doesn’t work well. Why is auditory processing so important for using phonics? Phonics is an auditory learning system, meaning the child must be able to hold all the pieces of the word and the rules together in his brain long enough to get the word out of his brain. Phonics is a fabulous way to learn to read for those with good auditory sequential processing! I love, love, love it! For those with low auditory abilities though, it can be a nightmare for parents and students alike.

When auditory processing is low and words get longer and more complicated, the child gets lost by the end of the word and starts guessing. There are also some developmental issues with the eyes that can make reading in general difficult. You can listen to Podcast #17 – Make Reading Easier for a better understanding of other developmental challenges. Number 17 at  www.BrainCoachTips.com will also help you learn how to raise your child’s auditory processing abilities so he can be more successful with phonics in the future.

Some Brain Coach Tips for More Reading Success: 

  • Determine if your child is struggling with low sequential auditory processing by ordering your Free Auditory Processing Test Kit. Your child should have a strong 5 digit span and preferably working on a 6 digit span before reading with phonics is effective.
  • Do some auditory processing activities twice a day for two minutes (instructions included in your free kit). In my opinion, this would be the best investment of your homeschooling time that you will ever make! The benefits go far beyond phonics help.
  • Read to your child with him following word by word. Then have the child read the same sentence or paragraph immediately after you (Echo Reading). I know this sounds a bit like cheating and memorizing, but prepare for another shocker that you might not have realized yet: We are all sight readers! Once we know a word, we don’t sound it out again. I know that is hard to believe, but read the statement at the end of this article: Phonics vs. Sight Reading. Now tell me if you read it with phonics. 
  • Don’t let your child struggle. Tell him the words he doesn’t know or sound it out for him.
  • Have your child listen to auditory books daily and read aloud daily. At least an hour a day of listening will help develop the auditory processing.
  • Teach your child sight words while building auditory processing levels. Then work more successfully with the phonics approach when the foundation of processing is set. Find resources here. We become sight readers once we know a word, so by combining these approaches you have the best of both worlds and a happier, more successful reader.

 

 

 


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By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

Are you working with a bright, hard working child or teenager who has to work too hard to learn?  This is the child who does not respond to other curriculum or materials and teaching strategies that have worked so well with your other children. In fact, you may be on your fourth reading/phonics program, your third math program, and your fourth spelling program.  

If it is your first child or student who is struggling, you may now have a younger sibling or other students who are yelling out the words from the corner of the room. That’s when you decide, “Something isn’t right” with this child.  You wonder if this child has a processing problem, a learning disability, or Dyslexia.   You are puzzled because orally, he/she is so good in many things, and loves to listen to stories.  What is going on?

According to Dr. Mel Levine, MD, in his book, One Mind at a Time, all learning requires energy. He refers to it as “battery energy.”  I like this term.  It clearly describes what we see happening with the struggling learner. This child is using way too much battery energy to write or remember sight words or phonics for reading.  We see the battery drain happen before our eyes.  Our question is, why does this child have to work so hard at things that should not take so much energy to learn or remember?  

This energy drain is generally because this child has one or more of the Four Learning Gates blocked.  We think of these learning gates as information pathways.  Children who learn easily seem “smart” because they don’t have any major blocks in their information pathways.  Our struggling learner may have many blocks.  When we speak of a blocked learning gate, we mean that the processing skill has not transferred into the Automatic Brain Hemisphere. The child continues to need to concentrate on the processing task because of this lack of transfer.

 

Exploring the Four Learning Gates
As you look at the list of characteristics of a struggling learner, it is important to remember that many children have one characteristic, but aren’t struggling.  Conversely, a child does not need all of the characteristics to be struggling.  It is also common to find that a child has all four learning gates blocked.

 

1. Visual Processing Gate
The act of moving the eyes over a page from left to right is not a naturally developed trait.  For example, in Israel they read right to left, and in Japan they read in a column.  We teach this process when a child is first learning to read, by having him track with his finger across the page to train his eyes to move in this fashion.  After some practice, this should transfer to the child’s automatic hemisphere.  

 

How do we know if this process has not transferred and is taking too much energy?  

These are some of the characteristics this child will exhibit:
  • Reading reversals (on=no; was=saw…after age seven)
  • Skipping of little words, but can read longer word
  • Reading begins smooth, but soon becomes labored
  • Older children who can read, but tire easily…yawning shortly after beginning reading.

 

2. Writing Processing Gate
When the child’s visual/spatial skills, or the act of writing, haven’t transferred into the automatic hemisphere, he often looks like he’s “sloppy, lazy or unmotivated.”  His papers are poorly spaced, or he refuses to write much of anything for the parent or teacher. This is the most common learning gate that is blocked in gifted children.  It seems like they are “allergic to a pencil.”  Transferring his thoughts into writing, or just copying something, takes a huge amount of battery energy for this child.  

 

Characteristics of this gate being blocked include:
  • Frequent or occasional reversals in letters after age seven (even if only “once in awhile”)
  • Copying is laborious
  • Poor spacing in math papers
  • Great stories orally, but writes very little
  • Does mental math to avoid writing

 

3. Auditory Processing Gate
A common myth about Auditory Processing is,  “My child has an auditory processing problem because he can’t remember three directions at once.”  This is likely more of a focusing/attention issue.  For example, if we would ask him to ”Go into the kitchen and get a candy bar, a glass of chocolate milk, and a dish of ice cream for you,” the child would likely remember these directions.

 

A child, who is suffering with an Auditory Processing Problem, generally has trouble with reading.  

  

Common characteristics of this gate being blocked are:
  • Phonics sounds don’t stick; no matter how many games you have played.
  • Sight words are hard to memorize…even learning alphabet letter names can be hard
  • Sounds out same word over and over in a story
  • Can’t easily sequence sounds…like months of the year or skip counting
  • Is a “Word Guesser”
  • No phonetic pattern to spelling…doesn’t hear consonants.  “Thursday is Tuesday”

 

4. Focus/Attention Gate
This can be the most puzzling blocked learning gate to identify. A child may look like he has no memory, or a true learning disability, when what is really going on is that this child has to use too much battery energy to remain focused during the instruction, or completing the lesson.  The child may look like he is “paying attention” to your lesson by giving you good eye contact.  However, in his head, he is “two doors down playing with his friend, or in the dinosaur village.”   

 

Here are some characteristics of a child who has to use too much battery energy to remain focused:
  • Inconsistency in performance from one day to another
  • Needs to have someone sit with him to finish work
  • Forgets previously learned work much of the time…seems to have a “memory” problem
  • Can have impulsive behavior…easily getting upset when things go wrong.
  • Sensory Processing problems (little things bother him a lot, like tags on shirts, loud noises, transitions, foods, etc.)

 

Be assured, you do not need to be an “expert, or professional” to make learning easier for your child or student.  In the many articles I have on my website, I discuss each learning gate individually, and show you the corrections that I developed when I taught these wonderful children in my special education classes.  

 

You will see that it is not hard to do.  It just requires some tools, strategies and techniques that you may not be familiar with right now.  

 Bottom line:  Learning does not have to be so hard for your child.

 


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