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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Jan Bedell, PhD, M ND

 

Math is a necessity for functioning independently in life so the sooner our children get it, the better. In our view, mathematics is divided into three main areas: Understanding of all the concepts, word problems, and math facts mastery.

 

1. Concepts of operations matter 

The word “concept” means what exists in the mind as something comprehended or understood. We want our children to easily understand when they see certain math symbols like +, -, x, ÷. They should instantly know that when referring to addition it means putting things together to get a larger amount; having a certain number of items and then taking some away is subtraction; multiplication is groups of the same number and division is separating things into groups with the same number in each group. 

You can use manipulatives to help the process of mastering the concept but far too quickly our educational practices tend to put the children on their own to do the assignments. Our skewed perception is if we “help” that somehow we are cheating, that the child just needs to do it on their own.

Let’s look at it from another angle. What if you were teaching piano and right after introducing the names of the notes on the staff and teaching the timing of whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes you put a piece of Mozart in front of the child and say, “Now play this”. You would never think of doing that! 

It is the same with anything you want to teach to mastery. You demonstrate, observe and help the process along a continuum of steps. The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to math involves lots of “input” (giving the answer, demonstrating the concept often, guiding as the child has their turn with new and review material) and the results are stellar.

If you really want to accelerate math skills, do what we call at Brain Sprints, 50% instruction. This is teaching and instructing goes fast while giving input for future success in math operations. Here is how it works. You do a problem and the child does a similar problem until that concept is mastered. For a beginning mathematician, the whole page would include additional problems where you alternate from mom to child even if you think it could be done independently.

If your child is older, say 3rd grade and beginning multiplication, your page might have a multi-digit addition problem that you do and a multi-digit subtraction problem that the child does and the rest of the time is spent on the new concept of multiplication. After the “review” of addition and subtraction, you do a multiplication problem and the child follows with a multiplication problem until you have done six to ten problems alternating between mom and child. It goes fast and you avoid any need for correction as you are guiding so no mistakes are made. Imagine your child’s continence when math is fun, easy and quick instead of a drudgery followed by frustration and the need for the dreaded corrections. 

There is a resource available here:  Visual Circle Math that gives specific directions on how to do this technique with sample pages. This is terrific for those children labeled with or suspected of dyscalculia or those that are exceptional in math and need to move on to more complex concepts without going through a full curriculum to reach those next levels.

 

The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to math involves lots of “input”… and the results are stellar.

 

2.  Word problems are fundamental

Word problems are the application of the understanding of math concepts. Along with the conceptual understanding, you have to be able to hold the information in your short-term memory to know what operation(s) to use to solve the problem. One factor that has been a huge deterrent to a child’s ability to complete a word problem is the auditory processing level. Parents are often confused when their child with a full understanding of a concept has such a struggle with answering a word problem. It makes more sense when you realize that your ability to hold pieces of information for a short time and manipulate that information in your mind takes that foundation ability called auditory processing. When this developmental skill is low, word problems are often a nightmare.

The solution seems contrary to traditional approaches. Many curriculums teach strategies for solving word problems that often fail when the problems become more complex. Instead of strategies we recommend working on the child’s auditory processing ability. This will not only help with accomplishing word problems but will increase the child’s ability to stay on task, follow directions, comprehend what is said and read and many more functional abilities that will help the child through school and life.

Scroll down to the bottom of this auditory processing information to get your Free Test Kit. If you start increasing this skill, the struggle with word problems will greatly diminish.

 

3. Math Facts are important

Some public schools are not putting any emphasis on math facts but still expecting correct and speedy answers on classroom assignments and standardized tests. This is counter-intuitive. It only makes sense that when children have rapid recall of math facts they enjoy math assignments more as it takes less time to finish a lesson and there are minimal to no corrections needed. The struggle often is, how to get a child to retain math facts. The educational system has come up with these “magic” cards with a problem and no answer that makes the children want to hide when they see them because they don’t know the answer. The other “tool” often used is a speed drill with 70+ problems and the instructions given are, “Get faster at this!”

Not equipping a child with instant recall of math facts is like strapping their legs together and asking them to run faster. If math facts mastery is your goal, try The Rapid Recall System (created by former home school mom and now Master NeuroDevelopmentalist, me). Here your children will see, hear, say and write five specific math facts 14 times a day and only two of those times is information coming from the child. Instead of asking the children to guess at the answer which reinforces the wrong answer when they say it wrong, with Rapid Recall, the children have twelve times of input where the information is going in so it is stored for easy access. The good news is that it only takes 6-9 minutes a day and after 5 days, they are on to the next set of facts with daily reinforcement of the previously learned facts.

Not sure if your child needs to work on math facts? Take this Math Facts Proficiency Test and see how the score compares to different grade levels in this skill. No matter what the age, Rapid Recall System can help your budding mathematicians to retain math facts for life. 

For the SPED Community, use the Discount Code RRS20SPED for 15% off.

 

 

 


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Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

The controversy, almost hostile conflict, over the best way to teach reading has been waged for decades. The pendulum seems to swing to one side or the other to an extreme. When the extreme is reached on either side of the issue, many children struggle to read and the pendulum swings back in the other direction. If you are a homeschool teacher of young children, chances are very good that phonics is your go-to approach. A conviction that phonics is basically the ONLY way to teach reading leaves many parents purchasing one phonics program after another to no avail. Maybe your current phonics program is failing to produce the reading level that you desire or maybe it worked for other children in the family but not for this particular child. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. I know that method works as I got through college on the Dean’s List. My first job after graduation was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the children and 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 homeschool with an intense phonics program. Actually, I successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics and the other one 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!

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

I discovered that there are prerequisites to reading in general and for phonics specifically. One of those prerequisites is good auditory processing. Phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of information 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 good auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often an ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, a person’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be successful. 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 family members go to www.LittleGiantSteps.com. This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. 

If your child’s auditory processing is low and reading recognition, as well as reading comprehension, are a challenge, a sight word approach to reading may be helpful. I know the following statements are almost heresy in the homeschool community, but let me ask you a question. Do you sound out each word when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be to slow and laborious. 

Many families have been helped 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. 
  • You can also read a sentence and have the child read the same sentence after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence!  

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? Simple, as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, 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 information about The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to reading struggles, go to www.BrainCoachTips.com or Brain Coach Tips channel on YouTube and search “reading”.

 

 

 

 

 


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