Phonemic awareness (PA) is the foundation of reading success, yet many schools and reading programs do not emphasize these critical skills and many parents may have never even heard of them. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words without the association with specific letters. One way to think about phonemic awareness activities is that you should be able to do them in the dark. There is no need to read or use letters, just sounds.

A child’s ease in acquiring reading skills is closely related to strong phonemic awareness skills. In fact, according to the National Panel on Reading Research, strong phonemic awareness is one of the single most important predictors of reading success. Unfortunately, for our struggling readers, phonemic awareness is often not explicitly taught beyond the second grade if it is even addressed at all. 

Older children who struggle with reading, spelling, and written expression often have an underlying phonological weakness related to their ability to process, identify, and manipulate the sounds in words. In fact, nearly 88% of children with dyslexia have a foundational phonological weakness. When we address this weakness, we give them the tools necessary to become proficient readers and spellers.  

Phonemic awareness deficits have also been found to be the cause of weak decoding, fluency, comprehension, and spelling issues in older students who struggle with reading. In addition, research has shown that the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness skills like segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds has the greatest effects on spelling improvement with older readers, more so than any other single intervention. In addition, with older students in particular, phonics instruction alone may not be enough to close the gap with reading and spelling skills. They need direct, explicit, and multi-sensory instruction in PA skills in order to make progress. 

Since phonemic awareness is so critical to helping older students improve their reading and spelling skills, it is an essential component of any intervention program. However, not all interventions will incorporate PA instruction effectively. In order for phonemic awareness weaknesses to be effectively remediated, interventions must be explicit. Students with severe deficits and those with dyslexia will often not “catch on” naturally, they need direct modelling of PA skills.  

Another key component of an effective phonemic awareness intervention is that it should be short in duration when compared to the time devoted to other aspects of reading intervention like phonics, fluency, or comprehension. Older students showed the greatest improvements with programs that were short in the amount of time they took per intervention session and that were differentiated to address each student’s specific needs. This led to the most significant improvements with decoding and spelling skills. 

It is absolutely crucial that phonemic awareness interventions for older students focus on the specific skills that are most closely aligned with reading and spelling improvement. Here are a few key areas that effective PA interventions should address: 

  • Phoneme Segmentation: When we speak, many of the sounds in words end up being co-articulated. This leads to difficulty with spelling and decoding because children may have trouble segmenting out individual sounds. If you cannot stretch out individual sounds, spelling and reading will be difficult processes. Older students with a phonological deficit need direct, explicit, multi-sensory instruction on how to segment sounds within words and within syllable parts of larger words, as well as opportunities to apply this skill. 
  • Phoneme Blending: Simply stretching out the sounds in a word is not reading; the sounds must be blended back together to create a word. Students who struggle with poor spelling and inaccurate decoding must have direct modeling on how to blend segmented sounds back together. In addition, they need multiple opportunities to practice and review this skill. 
  • Phoneme Manipulation: Students also need to have instruction in how to change sounds in words to create new words. It is critical they receive direct instruction in changing beginning, middle, and ending sounds to create new words. This skill in particular has been shown to have a strong impact on spelling and reading improvement. In students with reading deficits, medial sounds can be particularly challenging and they need both direct instruction as well as multiple practice opportunities with this skill. 

With nearly 55% of 4th grade students, 58% of 8th grade students, and 53% of 12th grade students NOT reaching reading proficiency standards, it is evident that reading intervention is necessary in older grades. Often, these students have significant phonological gaps that must be addressed by an effective intervention program. In short, PA skills are not just for the K-2 crowd, they are necessary for ALL struggling readers. With older students, it is critical that the need for phonemic awareness remediation be incorporated into an intervention program that is designed to explicitly address their areas of weakness and remediate them.  

Here at RW&C, our highly qualified reading clinicians know how to incorporate phonemic awareness skills into every lesson and for every student. Our program incorporates explicit instruction for all students so that they can increase their reading and spelling skills. Contact us today for more information on how we can help your child improve their reading and spelling, regardless of their age or needs. 


Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com

Becky Welsch’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She has completed the Associate Level Training through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Professionals and Educators for one-on-one instruction with students using the Orton-Gillingham methodology. 

Becky has a Master’s Degree in K-8 Education She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has specialist endorsements in the areas of Reading and Structured English Immersion. 

Becky began teaching in the Arizona public school system in 2007. She worked in both primary and secondary grade levels as a reading intervention teacher and teacher mentor. Becky has training in Spaulding Phonics, DIBELS Next, The 95% Group, and other whole group, small group, and one-on-one intervention programs. 

In 2014, she took the leap into using teletherapy to deliver one-on-one Structured Literacy tutoring. She has accumulated hundreds of hours working 1:1 with students via teletherapy. 

Sources: 

https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading/nation/achievement/

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz 

Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills by Judith Birsch 

images from pexel.com

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Is handwriting important? 

Many people would suggest that it is not. Students, parents, and even some teachers may view an emphasis on teaching handwriting as a relic of the past, a skill made obsolete by the modern reliance on typing and other technology supports for written communication. However, the research shows otherwise. While handwriting is not emphasized in the common core standards, many state standards, and many classrooms, explicit teaching of letter formation and handwriting skills is an important pillar of literacy development.

Handwriting is a powerful, multi-sensory tool that aids in orthographic mapping, a key component of reading and writing development. In a study at Indiana University, researchers examined how writing impacts the brain. Children were shown a letter and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways, trace the image on a dotted line, draw it freehand, or type on a computer. The results showed that when children were asked to draw the letter freehand, there was increased activity in three areas of the brain. The students who traced the letter showed less activity and those who were asked to type it showed no increase in the areas of the brain in question. 

Additional research with MRI scans and brain imaging has shown that handwriting practice stimulates the areas of the brain that are involved in memory, impulse control, and attention.  Research also strongly indicates that writing by hand helps move information from short term memory storage to long term memory. A study conducted in 2014 found that college students who took notes by hand demonstrated a greater understanding of the material and were able to retrieve information more quickly and accurately than those who took notes on a laptop. 

Handwriting in the early grades is linked to reading and spelling achievement. Students who learn how to form a letter can simultaneously learn the sound of the letter.  This creates a stronger orthographic link and reinforces early literacy skills. Orthographic and phonological coding are directly related to handwriting and spelling. Explicitly teaching handwriting skills creates powerful connections in the brain that lead to better literacy outcomes in children and adults. 

The research is clear,  teaching handwriting is important, however, like all literacy skills,  handwriting instruction methodology must be effective in order to work. It cannot be a quick five-minute skill that happens occasionally with tracing worksheets. In fact, research has shown that tracing an already created line actually does very little in terms of brain activation. In order to produce results, handwriting must be taught in conjunction with phonics. Students need to link the letter name and sound to the formation of the letter. 

Handwriting instruction must also focus on form over perfection and even legibility, at least initially. When children are first learning a letter, large strokes will help to activate their gross muscle memory and make the process more efficient and meaningful. They can use skywriting to trace large letters in the air, sidewalk chalk to write large letters on concrete, whiteboards, sand trays or needlepoint canvas to increase tactile feedback when tracing letters with their fingers, or even carpet squares to trace letters with two fingers. They should be making large, sweeping movements with their whole arm, not just their hand, to emphasize the motor pattern and correct formation. 

It is also important to teach children to write with continuous strokes when possible. Letters like <f> and <t> will of course require them to lift their hand for the second stroke, but writing is more efficient if it can be done with a single stroke of the pencil. Also, writing is a more efficient process when students start at the top of the line rather than the bottom. 

It is also critical to separate letters that are often confused and use a logical scope and sequence for letter formation instruction. For example, you would not teach the letters <b, d, p, q> in the same lesson. Having children master one before moving on to another of these commonly confused letters is a far more effective instructional approach. In addition, you want to group together letters that use the same strokes. The letters <c> and <a> both start at the same position and require a looping stroke so teaching them together is logical in your instructional scope and sequence. 

You can also use arrows to help students remember the directions that letters face. While letter tracing is not the most effective way to teach handwriting, it does have a place in the early instructional sequence, especially when working with a larger group of students. Just make sure that sooner, rather than later, students move on to forming letters freehand and not relying on tracing patterns. 

It also bears repeating that handwriting instruction must be integrated into a cohesive literacy program. Do not teach it in isolation. Letter formation should be directly tied to letter sounds and names so that students can transfer these skills into their reading, writing, and spelling. 

While computer and assistive technology are tools that can help mitigate writing issues common in dyslexia and dysgraphia, early intervention in handwriting can help reduce the number of students who rely on these accommodations. They should absolutely be used when necessary, however effective instructional techniques in handwriting can help eliminate their need later in the educational process. 

Handwriting instruction can also aid in orthographic mapping, making spelling and reading easier. It helps to eliminate load on working memory when letter formation becomes automatic. This allows students to focus on the content of their writing and their spelling rather than the formation of letters. 

Typing skills and technological literacy are important, but so is handwriting. By incorporating handwriting and keyboarding skills in a multi-sensory literacy program, children can have the best of both worlds. 

Becky Welsch

RW&C, LLC

www.rwc4reading.com


Becky Welsch’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She has completed the Associate Level Training through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Professionals and Educators for one-on-one instruction with students using the Orton-Gillingham methodology. 


Becky has a Master’s Degree in K-8 Education She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has specialist endorsements in the areas of Reading and Structured English Immersion. 


Becky began teaching in the Arizona public school system in 2007. She worked in both primary and secondary grade levels as a reading intervention teacher and teacher mentor. Becky has training in Spaulding Phonics, DIBELS Next, The 95% Group, and other whole group, small group, and one-on-one intervention programs. 
In 2014, she took the leap into using teletherapy to deliver one-on-one Structured Literacy tutoring. She has accumulated hundreds of hours working 1:1 with students via teletherapy. 

References:

https://www.readingrockets.org/article/importance-teaching-handwriting
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-02238-020
https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/case-handwriting/
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When it comes to dyslexia, an accurate diagnosis can be a critical first step for many students to begin receiving appropriate interventions. In his article “Why Is It So Difficult to Diagnose Dyslexia and How Can We Do It Better?” Richard K. Wagner, PhD. (Florida State University and Florida Center for Reading Research), suggests that a hybrid model for testing that accounts for multiple facets of reading development can give evaluators a more complete picture of a child and make diagnosing dyslexia more reliable than a single factor model. 

With an accurate diagnosis, children can get the intervention they need. A delay in diagnosis and intervention can lead to loss of critical intervention time for students who are already behind in their reading development. 

For more on Dr. Wagner’s research, check out his article here: https://dyslexiaida.org/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-diagnose-dyslexia-and-how-can-we-do-it-better/


Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com

Becky Welsch’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She has completed the Associate Level Training through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Professionals and Educators for one-on-one instruction with students using the Orton-Gillingham methodology. 

Becky has a Master’s Degree in K-8 Education She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has specialist endorsements in the areas of Reading and Structured English Immersion. 

Becky began teaching in the Arizona public school system in 2007. She worked in both primary and secondary grade levels as a reading intervention teacher and teacher mentor. Becky has training in Spaulding Phonics, DIBELS Next, The 95% Group, and other whole group, small group, and one-on-one intervention programs. 

In 2014, she took the leap into using teletherapy to deliver one-on-one Structured Literacy tutoring. She has accumulated hundreds of hours working 1:1 with students via teletherapy. 

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As a classroom teacher, administrator, counselor, coach, interventionist or other school personnel you play a crucial role in early identification of reading issues. You can make the difference in a student’s life by ensuring they get the help that they need. As someone working with many students day in and day out, it is critical that you are able to notice signs of a reading difficulty. 

In the classroom, a few tell-tale signs signal a potential reading, spelling or comprehension challenge exists. The student may:

  • avoid participation in reading exercises
  • read the same word differently across a passage
  • read the beginning of a word correctly, but guesses at the rest of the word
  • work 2-3 times longer (harder) to complete an assignment
  • struggle to remember the content of the reading material because, for that student, the process of reading is so laborious.

Most importantly, the student may show limited growth (relative to peers) in reading, spelling or comprehension DESPITE participation in an outstanding academic program. 

As an educator at a prestigious and rigorous school, you know that your students are participating in an outstanding academic program. You know that the instruction in your classrooms is exemplary and you know that you and your peers are giving students what they need to excel. 

Yet, you still find that you have students who have gaps and need extra support with reading and written expression. This is not a reflection on your teaching or the academic rigor of your school. In fact, since you know that both of those are variables are outstanding, you can feel confident that your struggling students need more intensive reading intervention

That is where we come in. The clinicians at RW&C have completed advanced training to work with students with literacy challenges. RW&C delivers online, person to person remediation services for reading, writing, and spelling difficulties. Our program is:

  • Based on the Structured Literacy framework and aligns with IDA standards for reading remediation
  • Individualized for each student
  • 1:1 live conferencing with a highly qualified reading clinician 
  • Flexible for busy families

As your students receive targeted, one-on-one intervention for their reading struggles, you will find that it enhances their performance in your classroom and school. By working with a private tutor, your students can have their needs met and get exactly what they need to thrive in a strong academic environment. When you recommend outside intervention to parents, you can help them ensure that their child is receiving the one-on-one, intensive, Structured Literacy intervention they need to be successful. Reading is truly the gift of a lifetime and you are a critical player in giving that to your students. 

Contact us today to discuss if our program is the right choice for your struggling students. 


Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com

Becky Welsch’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She has completed the Associate Level Training through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Professionals and Educators for one-on-one instruction with students using the Orton-Gillingham methodology. 

Becky has a Master’s Degree in K-8 Education She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has specialist endorsements in the areas of Reading and Structured English Immersion. 

Becky began teaching in the Arizona public school system in 2007. She worked in both primary and secondary grade levels as a reading intervention teacher and teacher mentor. Becky has training in Spaulding Phonics, DIBELS Next, The 95% Group, and other whole group, small group, and one-on-one intervention programs. 

In 2014, she took the leap into using teletherapy to deliver one-on-one Structured Literacy tutoring. She has accumulated hundreds of hours working 1:1 with students via teletherapy. 

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Many children with reading difficulties like dyslexia also display signs of having trouble with executive function. Executive function, simply put, is a set of skills that relate to working memory, task completion, flexible thinking, and emotional regulation. Executive function skills allow us to plan, organize, and execute a task. Every task from something as simple as putting a sock into a dirty hamper to those that are more complex like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner requires the use of executive function skills. Trouble with executive function skills can make it hard to focus, follow directions (even those that are step by step), and can cause difficulty with emotional regulation. Children who struggle with executive functioning may:

  • Have trouble completing tasks, even simple ones
  • Often forget information they just heard or read
  • Have difficulty following a sequence of steps or multi-step directions
  • Have issues transitioning from one task to another
  • Get excessively emotional
  • Have trouble with time management
  • Be unable to keep track of their belongings

One of the main consequences of executive functioning issues, particularly for students with dyslexia, is that it can take longer for them to learn new information, retain, and process or manipulate this information.

While executive functioning issues can be frustrating for many parents, there are ways to help encourage their development. Here are five ways you can help your child learn, develop, and improve their executive functioning skills:

  • Teach the skills they are lacking, do not expect them to simply observe and internalize them. For example, if your child struggles with time management, explicitly teach them how to use a planner or set up a color coded schedule to help them block their time throughout the day.  
  • Make their tasks shorter. Many children with executive functioning issue struggle with task initiation. If they struggle to get started, a lengthy task will seem daunting and will not provide an incentive to start. If you want your child to clean their room, start with something simple like put their dirty laundry in the hamper. 
  • Make the steps in multi-step tasks explicit. Rather than telling your child something vague like “go clean up your room,” give them clear, short, manageable steps with an end in sight for each one and a measurable goal. For example, you may ask them to:
    • Put their dirty laundry in the hamper
    • Pick up their stuffed animals
    • Make their bed
    • Put their books on the bookshelf
    • Put their toys in the toy box

Each of these steps is explicit and short. By breaking it down for your child you make it more likely that they will succeed. 

  • Make their tasks appealing. You can attempt to turn their tasks into games by challenging them to pick up a certain number of toys during a set amount of time, having them draw a chore from the chore jar, or playing music while they work. With homework, giving them a choice can also be very powerful. For example allowing them to choose whether they want to work on reading or math first gives them more ownership and makes them more likely to be able to complete their task. 
  • Play games to help build executive function skills. Jenga is a great game to help with executive functioning skills because it requires self-monitoring, flexible thinking, and impulse control. It also requires them to control their emotions if they lose (although in some cases this is easier said than done). Games like Distraction and MindTrap can also help with strategic and flexible thinking. For a longer list of games that can help build executive functioning skills, check out the list here.

If your child’s executive functioning deficits are impacting their reading skills, it is important to also get them Structured Literacy tutoring. Children who receive explicit and systematic instruction will have a strong advantage in committing challenging phonetic patterns to long term memory for automatic recall while reading, spelling and writing. 

Our reading clinicians at RW&C use explicit strategies to help students with reading difficulties and executive functioning issues. Our program meets the standards set by the International Dyslexia Association and we know that it works. Contact us today for more information and find out how we can help your child succeed. 


Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com

Becky Welsch’s certifications include the CEERI Tier I Qualification Exam (aligned with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading). She has completed the Associate Level Training through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Professionals and Educators for one-on-one instruction with students using the Orton-Gillingham methodology. 

Becky has a Master’s Degree in K-8 Education She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has specialist endorsements in the areas of Reading and Structured English Immersion. 

Becky began teaching in the Arizona public school system in 2007. She worked in both primary and secondary grade levels as a reading intervention teacher and teacher mentor. Becky has training in Spaulding Phonics, DIBELS Next, The 95% Group, and other whole group, small group, and one-on-one intervention programs. 

In 2014, she took the leap into using teletherapy to deliver one-on-one Structured Literacy tutoring. She has accumulated hundreds of hours working 1:1 with students via teletherapy. 

Resources: 

www.understood.org

Smart but Scattered by Ped Dawson, EdD, and Richard Guare, PhD

images from pixels.com

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When we think of reading issues like dyslexia, we often only consider how to help students be successful in their language arts classes. However, many learning issues that are related to dyslexia  can impact a student’s performance in other academic areas as well.  Students with reading difficulties need to have the appropriate accommodations and scaffolds in place so they can truly thrive in all environments. 

Math: For many students, accommodations needed to be successful in math classes can be overlooked because we often do not think of dyslexia as impacting performance in math. This could not be further from the truth. Many students who struggle with reading also struggle with rote memory issues. This can make memorizing math facts very challenging and hinder their ability to complete higher-level problems. Often, these students  can perform more complex mathematical calculations but their inability to memorize multiplication facts makes it nearly impossible for them to do so in an efficient manner. One way to support dyslexic students in math classes is to give them references for math facts. This may include multiplication charts, number lines, or even calculators to aid in solving memory-based math problems. 

Another simple and easy to implement math accommodation is to allow students to use graph paper. Often students who struggle with reading and writing will have trouble lining up problems and organizing their work. Graph paper provides a way for them to line up their numbers so that they can solve problems correctly. If you are a teacher who wants to try graph paper with your students, make sure to teach them how to use it correctly. Like any other math tool, it is only effective if students know how to use it to help them organize their work. 

You may also notice that many students have trouble with word problems. You can accommodate them by allowing the problems to be read to them. You can also teach them critical reading skills as they relate to math. Things like finding key information and coding problems using boxes and circling key words can help students with reading difficulties be more successful in solving word problems. If you are a teacher using this strategy, teach students how to find, code, and use essential information in word problems. It takes time to teach a consistent system, but it is extremely helpful for all students, especially those who struggle with reading. 

Social Studies:  As children get older, this content area becomes very reading intensive. Make sure that all teachers are following reading goals and accommodations for all students. These may include extra time on assignments or having audio options for grade-level text. Teachers can also re-write complex passages to an easier reading level but still include all key information. 

If you are a teacher and want to try re-writing text to make it more accessible to students who are not reading at grade-level, this can often seem like a daunting task. To make it more manageable, first decide on the main idea. Ask yourself “What do I want students to take away from this text?” If you are teaching the revolutionary war it might be something like “There were many important battles in the American Revolution.” If this is the case, you are going to type out this sentence somewhere in the beginning of the text. Make the main idea obvious for students who struggle. Then you will add in details from textbook or other text that you are using for reference. Break down complex sentences. Rather than  stating “The battles of Lexington and Concord were crucial battles that showed the British that the Americans were a force to be reckoned with,” you can make this same idea two simple sentences. “The battles of Lexington and Concord were critical battles. They showed the British that the Americans were able to fight.” The important thing here is not to create a literary masterpiece but to make the text more accessible to student who struggle with reading. Once you finish, you can turn on readability in your word processor and it will give you an approximate grade level of the final text. 

This may seem like a daunting task, but the more you practice the easier it will become. Additionally, with 1 of every 5 students having dyslexia, I guarantee you will have more students in the future who have trouble with grade-level reading. You can use these resources for years to come and share with colleagues. The benefits to students are immense as it allows them access the content without their reading abilities hindering them. 

Another accommodation that can help students who need reading intervention is to allow them use graphic organizers to sequence key events. A hallmark of dyslexia is difficulty sequencing so using a graphic organizer consistently can help them understand and internalize the content more efficiently. 

Science: Like Social Studies, this subject can be quite reading intensive and difficult for students who are not reading at grade-level. One way to help students with dyslexia be more successful in science is to pre-teach all content specific vocabulary using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic processes before asking them to read it in text. Teachers may even consider having them make their own dictionary of science related words with pictures and drawings to help them remember the vocabulary. 

Another way to make science more accessible to students with reading difficulties is to break down directions for experiments into multiple parts. Children with dyslexia often have issues with sequencing multi-step directions. Breaking directions down into simpler steps can help them be more successful. 

Science teachers may also try using graphic organizers for them to categorize, classify, or sequence what they are reading. Having a consistent way to organize information can help them when they need to recall facts or when they are completing a reading assignment. 

Another way to help students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties in a science class is to find audio books of their text. Often, science text is complex and above the reading level of even proficient readers. Having audio options available can help ensure that students with reading issues are still able to access the content. If you teach science, you may also want to re-write some of your textbook at a lower reading level. Check out the directions in the social studies section for some tips on how to do this. 

Although we may traditionally think of dyslexia as primarily a reading issue, it can and does often affect all academic areas. By pushing for accommodations in other areas, you can help your child be more successful. As a teacher, you can help your students achieve in your classroom by mitigating the role of their reading difficulty and providing them access to the curriculum. 

If you have academic performance concerns about your child or a student, Structured Literacy Intervention (also known as the Orton-Gillingham approach) can help with reading success. Contact us today for more information for yourself or to pass along to parents. 

Our online program is effective reading intervention that fits your schedule. 

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com






Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 

Images from pexel.com

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In many classrooms, reading instruction takes the center stage during allotted literacy minutes and spelling can become an afterthought. It is often assumed that if students learn to read, they will spell naturally. This leads to many teachers and educators giving little importance to the direct instruction of spelling throughout the day. However, this view of spelling fails to recognize the vital role it plays in learning to read. Explicit, multi-sensory spelling instruction is an essential component of Structured Literacy instruction. 

Before we dive into discussing how spelling can be effectively taught to children of all ages, let’s first look at the research on spelling. First and foremost, spelling enhances reading instruction through the reinforcement of phonemes and letter patterns. Learning to spell requires explicit instruction (Moats, 1995). It is not a skill that children will naturally acquire as they learn to read. 

It should also be noted that there is a strong correlation between spelling and reading ability. In 2017, Treiman concluded that spelling knowledge facilitated vocabulary growth and increased a child’s word recognition speed. This indicates that children who are more proficient spellers will be able to read more quickly and will know and understand more words than those who struggle with spelling. An additional study found a strong link between spelling skills and reading comprehension. Students spelling abilities were correlated even more strongly with their reading comprehension abilities than automatic word recognition (Mehta et al., 2005). These results demonstrate that not only does spelling increase word recognition speed, but that it might be even more important than automatic word reading in increasing reading comprehension skills. 

The research demonstrates that explicit spelling instruction is crucial for children to become proficient readers. However, it is important to note here that this does not mean that children should be given a list a words to memorize each week. Spelling is a complex and interactive process that requires both phonological and orthographic knowledge. Put a bit more simply, children need to be able to hear, segment, and blend sounds in spoken language and then transfer those sounds to a written form. 

Like all literacy skills, spelling develops on a continuum and is not a simple process. There are a variety of skills that must be mastered in order for children to become proficient spellers. Firstly, students must have a strong phonetic foundation. Phonetics refers to the characteristics of individual speech sounds that make up spoken words. In order to represent spoken words in writing, children must be able to hear and segment speech sounds. For example, if a child needs to correctly spell the word “cat,” they must first be able to identify and segment the three sounds in the word. If a child struggles with spelling, the first issue to examine is their phonological awareness as it is impossible to be a proficient speller without having a solid understand of phonetic skills. For more information on phonemic awareness and ideas on how to strengthen it, check out our blog here

In addition to be able to produce and segment phonemes, children then have to associate those phonemes to graphemes, their written representation. This is true for all levels of spelling instruction. From simple, phonetically regular words like “cat” to advanced spelling patterns children must know what spelling patterns are possible to make that sound, which are allowable in the rules of English, and which are most common in order to choose the most likely spelling patterns. For example, if a student were asked to spell the word “boy,” they need to understand the two sounds in word are /b/ and /oy/. They then need to know the possible spelling patterns to make those sounds which would be “boi” or “boy.” Finally, they would need to understand that in written English, words do not end with the letter “i” (with a few exceptions) so “boi” is not an allowable spelling of the word. This requires direct and explicit orthographic instruction with direct modeling of how to transfer those skills from reading to spelling.

Another critical skill in spelling is morphology which is the study of morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest unit of language that has meaning. A one-syllable base word like jump is a morpheme. Other derivatives of this word can be created using suffixes like “jumping, jumped, jumps.” Phonetic spellers often spell the word “jumped” as “jumpt” because that is phonetically what the word sounds like. Explicit instruction in morphology includes systematic instruction in suffixes and inflectional endings like “-ed” so that students know even though they hear the /t/ sound, it is a past tense word and therefore spelled with “ed.” 

Direct and explicit instruction in prefixes, roots, and suffixes facilitates students’ ability to spell multisyllabic words and is critical for helping them develop higher level spelling skills. An effective Structured Literacy program includes the study of morphology at all levels. 

It is also important to understand that English is a mix of different languages. Many people, parents and educators alike, will say that certain words are “an exception.” Often times, the words they are referencing are not exceptions, they are simply derived from a different language. For example, words of Greek origin use the <ph> digraph to make the /f/ sound. Words with Latin roots make up around 55% of the language and are often comprised of a base connected with a prefix or a suffix. Anglo-Saxon root words comprise around 20% of the language and are usually one-syllable words that name common objects. They are also responsible for many of those pesky silent letters like “kn” and “-tch.” 

Knowing the origin of a word can aid students in understanding its spelling. For example, take the word “come,” it sounds like it should have a “u” instead of an “o” as the vowel. Well, guess what, originally it did. However due to scribal writing styles, it was too hard to read when it was written so the “u” was changed to an “o.” The “e” was added at the end to show its relationship to the past tense form of the word, “came.” While this may seem complicated to an adult who has the spelling memorized, it can help the written language make sense to a child who is struggling. 


Formal spelling instruction must include all these elements to be effective. It must include multiple instructional experiences with phonological skills like blending and segmenting,  as well as opportunities to use phonics skills and invented spelling in the primary grades. All spelling patterns need to be introduced directly, explicitly, and systematically while using multisensory instructional techniques. The visual, auditory, and kinesthetic parts of the brain must be engaged simultaneously during spelling instruction. Students should also have multiple opportunities to analyze and sort words and there needs to be a multisensory procedure for learning irregular words. Word sorts that are approached from a visual skill are ineffective. In order to become automatic in any spelling pattern, the students must engage all modalities while reading the word and analyzing the orthographic patterns. Simply looking at the word and transferring it to a specific column will not enable the students to become proficient spellers. 

Our online reading program incorporates the best practices in spelling instruction and uses spelling as a tool to enhance reading and literacy skills. For us, spelling is never an afterthought. Explicit spelling instruction by a trained Reading Clinician is life-changing for many of our students. We teach them the language;  we do not ask them to memorize words and rules. 

If your child struggles with spelling, don’t rely on rote memorization and do not accept the answer that it will come with reading development. Spelling needs to be explicitly taught. Contact us today for more information and to get your child the help they need. 

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com






Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She has completed 64 hours of Orton-Gillingham training at the Associate Level with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Professionals and Educators. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 

Resources: Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills by Judith Birsch

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As parents, we are our child’s number one advocate and are often the first to notice when they are having issues. This is particularly true in the area of reading development. Often parents may begin to notice warning signs in their children as early as preschool, yet they are often told by teachers and educational specialist to wait and see. Yet, as I have stated before, this approach is ineffective for the majority of kids with reading difficulties. Early identification means early intervention which leads to better outcomes and remediation for your child. 

However, many parents are not literacy experts and don’t always know what to look for when it comes to red flags for a reading difficulty. In fact, some of you might be wondering what to look for in a preschool student because, well, most three-year-olds are not reading so how can they have a reading difficulty? 

I understand your frustration and I want you to be able to effectively advocate for and make decisions about your child. So, I put together a list of some warning signs of dyslexia at various ages. It is very important to note a few things though. First and foremost, many of us may have one or two of these characteristics that does not mean that we all have dyslexia. Usually a child with a significant reading issue like dyslexia will have multiple characteristics that persist over time and make learning difficult. It is also important to note that this list is not exhaustive and if you are concerned about your child, it is important to get them Structured Literacy intervention to help remediate their difficulties. 

With that being said, here are a few common characteristics of dyslexia in preschool and kindergarten aged children:

  • Late learning to talk and slow to learn new words – if your child was a late talker without an apparent hearing difficulty, this can be an early sign of dyslexia as oral and written language are related.
  • Difficulty following directions – if you ask your child to perform directions that are age appropriate and they have difficulty remembering what to do, this can be an early sign of dyslexia. Of course, I think all preschool parents can relate here, it can also just be a sign of being three. However, if you know that your child is not being willfully defiant, it can be a warning sign of language processing issues. 
  • Avoids letters despite being explicitly taught them –  if you have worked on the alphabet with your five-year-old daily yet they only know two letter names, this is a sign that they are at risk for reading difficulties. 
  • Difficulty rhyming – by age 4 or 5, children should be able to identify and produce rhyming words, if they cannot they may have a reading issue like dyslexia. 
  • Cannot recall letter sounds – if your child is in kindergarten and does not know letter sounds it can be red flag for reading issues. 

As your child gets older, these signs generally persist and are compounded by some of these in grades 1st through 3rd :

  • Cannot recall sight words even after practice
  • Poor phonics skills 
  • Inaccurate and slow reading
  • Difficulty sequencing – this applies to sequencing events in a story as well as days, months, time, etc. In some cases, your child may even have difficulty with words like before or after saying things like they brushed their teeth “after” they went to bed. 
  • Poor spelling skills – this is an especially important indicator if they eliminate speech sounds. For example, if the word is bend and they write bed, it suggests they do not have the phonological skills necessary to be successful without structured literacy intervention. Make sure to pay attention to this on writing assignments, not just spelling tests. Many dyslexic children can fool their teachers and parents because they have good visual memory skills so they can memorize spelling words. 

As children move into intermediate grades 4th and then into high school, many of these problems will persist and there will be additional signs like: 

  • Slow , inaccurate, and laborious reading – at this point your child is working so hard to decode words that reading fluency is seriously affected. 
  • Weak reading comprehension when compared to listening and oral comprehension 
  • Poor spelling skills and handwriting in written assignments 
  • Slow at working on literacy skills – homework will often take hours and lead to frustration 
  • Poor comprehension and vocabulary due to lack of access to grade level text
  • Needs intensive intervention to increase reading and spelling skills 

It is important to note that in many cases these reading, writing, and language issues exist despite being part of a strong instruction program or being read to by a parent. I have often heard “but my son is in a good school” or “I read to her every night.” Dyslexia and other reading difficulties develop without regard to exposure to literacy. 

If you have concerns about your child, start getting them the help and support they need to be successful. You are their number one fan and the person they need in their corner. 

Contact us today if you have questions  or need more information.

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com






Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 

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As teachers, we work with kids in many different subject areas other than reading. In the case of middle school or high school teachers, we may not even work with our students on reading at all. However, with research showing the nearly two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders are not proficient in reading and 1 in 5 students having dyslexia, it is up to all of us to be aware of reading difficulties so we can get our students the help they need

If you do not teach reading, there are still telltale signs that a student may struggle with a reading issue. If you teach a content that is reading heavy like science or social studies, you are in a prime position to help identify reading difficulties. Here are a few things to look out for in all content areas that may signal a possible reading or spelling challenge…

  • When you ask students to write an essay or short response, check their spelling on rough drafts. Here are a few common spelling mistakes a student with a reading or spelling deficit might make…
    • Spelling words as they sound (fol instead of fall)
    • Mixing up letter sequences (silp instead of slip)
    • Swapping vowel sounds (hilp instead of help)
    • Using the wrong vowel digraph (broun instead of brown)
    • Using a t instead of the suffix -ed (helpt instead of helped)
    • Misspelling grade level appropriate words
    • Words are correct on spelling test but misspelled when writing connected text
  • When you ask students to read a content related passage you can also take note of any comprehension issues. If they do not understand what they have read, it is an indication they may be struggling with reading. 
  • Notice how long your students take to complete tasks. Often students with reading difficulties take significantly longer than their peers to complete academic tasks. 

Even in math, you can help notice reading and spelling difficulties. Here are a few ways they may present themselves in a math class…

  • Trouble remembering basic math facts, especially times tables
  • Difficulty remember strings or sequences of numbers including phone numbers
  • Difficulty knowing left from right
  • Trouble remembering and following sequential directions
  • Reversing numbers (writing or reading 37 as 73)
  • Writing numbers backwards beyond when it is developmentally appropriate 

If you are a content area teacher and you notice these signs in one or more of your students, it is important that you help them get the Structured Literacy intervention they need to be successful. Not only will it improve their reading, but it may also improve their performance in your class. 

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com






Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 

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The beginning of the year comes with many challenges for teachers. Perhaps one of the most important considerations for language arts and self-contained teachers is how to structure their reading block. Research has shown that systematic, explicit, and purposeful reading instruction is vital for all students to learn to read. In addition, the National Reading Panel found that the most effective reading instruction requires a 90-minute time frame that includes differentiated reading instruction. 

Sounds like a piece of cake, right (that’s sarcasm there, carving out 90 minutes of a day is anything but a cake walk)? The truth is that between back to school staff meetings and meet the teacher nights, it isn’t always easy to find the time to create an effective Structured Literacy block. However, it is vital for student success. A second hurdle to overcome is figuring out exactly what should be included during your reading time. 

Lucky for all of us educators, we don’t have to figure it out on our own. We know that reading skills are a critical foundation in the pursuit of academic achievement. Early detection and appropriate intervention can improve achievement and self-esteem.

There has also been research conducted by a number of scientists and educators that have helped us figure out what we need to be doing during that reading time. Research has identified elements that are critical in implementing an effective structured literacy program. These elements are:

phonological awareness

syntax

phonics

semantics

syllable instruction

comprehension

sight word recognition

oral reading fluency

morphology

silent reading fluency

In addition, effective instruction will include spelling, grammar and syntax focus for written expression. When designing your reading lessons, it is critical that you include all components to reach all learners. By creating a reading block that focuses on the Structured Literacy methodology, you will help ensure that all of your students experience reading and writing success. 

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com






Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 

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