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


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

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. 


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

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As parents, we want to make sure that our children have every chance to succeed and have all the support they need in place. One key component of ensuring academic success is to support literacy skills at home. If you are not a literacy specialist, it can be difficult to know exactly what to do to promote reading at home. Luckily, literacy skills can be practiced in a variety of fun ways that are both effective and engaging. 

Here are just a few ways to support your children at home and strengthen their reading skills. Keep in mind, these are activities that will help support skills your child already has acquired. If your child has a reading issue or needs to make forward progress, they may require more intervention and specialized knowledge than these activities offer. If this is the case, tutoring with a Structured Literacy™ intervention program is recommended. 

  • Flash card matching games: Kids of all ages love to play games with flashcards and they are easy to make using index cards. If your child is younger, use phonics patterns to practice skills they are working on like long a, blends, or consonant digraphs. To play, write several words containing the desired spelling pattern. Players take turns flipping over and reading a card. If they make a match, they keep the word. The player with the most matches when all of the cards are gone is the winner. Here is a short list of grade level appropriate spelling patterns to help you create your game. If your child is older, this can be a great way to practice base words, roots, and affixes. Write several root words and affixes on cards, players flip over each card, read the root or affix and explain its meaning, if they make a match, they get to keep it and the player with the most matches at the end wins. A few common prefixes you can use are <con-> (with or together), <un-> (not, opposite of), <re-> (again). Common roots include <struct> (to build), <ject> (to throw), and <cept> (to take).  For suffixes you can use inflectional endings which change the tense of a word like  <-s>, <-es>, <-ing>, or <-ed> or you can use suffixes such as <-ion> which turns a verb into a noun. Please note this is not a complete list and the roots and affixes your child needs to know will vary by grade level. You can also play memory match using sight words that your child needs to practice. 

  • Swatting games: I used these for independent practice in the classroom and kids love it! Write words using a phonics pattern, sight words, vocabulary words, or bases and affixes on pieces of paper and tape them on the floor. Give each player a fly swatter or they can use their hand. The referee says a word or definition and the players race to be the first to hit the corresponding word on the floor. This game is fast paced, action packed, and can be adapted for all skills and levels. 
  • Practice phonemic awareness: If your child is younger, read lots of rhyming books and books that have a natural rhythm and cadence. “Chick a Chick a Boom Boom!” and Dr. Seuss series are great for this activity. Have your child repeat words and phrases with you and ask them to give you additional rhyming words. You can have your child segment sounds with a rubber band and then blend them back together while releasing the tension. Legos can be used as well with your child pulling down one block for each sound and the running their finger under them as they blend the sounds back together.  Stick with two, three, and four sound words which can be real or nonsense words.  One example would be to progress from “at” to “lat” to “slat.” Clap out syllables in longer words. While phonemic awareness activities should focus on sounds, not letters,  these skills do transfer to reading and spelling. If your child is struggling to spell a word,  these activities can help. Ask them to segment the sounds in single syllable words or the syllables in multi-syllabic words. This will help them ensure they write the correct grapheme for the phoneme in the word. For more ideas on promoting phonemic awareness, check out our blog here

  • Make it multi-sensory: There are a variety of ways to make literacy practice multi-sensory and help those skills stick. Use words with a phonics pattern, base words, root words, vocabulary words, whatever your child needs to practice and follow these easy  and fun ways to activate other senses.
    •  Use a bumpy surface. An embroidery board is a great option and can be found at most craft stores. Have children use their index and middle finger to trace letters as they say the sound and letter name. Display the letter using index cards or a projector to incorporate the visual system as well.  
    • Use sand trays. Like an embroidery board, a sand tray provides a rough tactile surface. Have your child trace letters or words as they say the sounds and letter names. 
    •  Use shaving cream. Put some shaving cream on a non-porous surface like a counter-top or window. Your child can trace words and letters in it. This is a fun, messy activity that provides sensory feedback as they trace spelling patterns. 
  • Read, read, read: listen to audio books, read aloud, and have your child read books that are appropriate for their reading level and decoding skills. Ask questions while you read and practice rereading to encourage fluency. You can also practice poems and songs to improve fluency and give your kid some diversity in their reading material. Maps, cookbooks, and directions are great ways to practice reading functional text.  If you are feeling extra creative, you could even create a treasure hunt for your kids.

As you can see, it is possible to have fun and practice literacy at home. Literacy skills are so much more than sitting and reading in silence. Practicing with your child will help support skills they have and may keep them from regressing. 

However, if you  want your child to make forward progress or they need extra support in reading, our online tutoring program can be a good option to supplement literacy activities at home. Contact us today for more information. 

Becky Welsch

Becky Welsch is currently an Associate in Training with the Orton-Gillingham Academy of Practitioners and Educators. She 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 tele-therapy. 

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It is widely understood that, on average, students lose academic skills during summer break. For many typical students, this can be a setback, for students with reading challenges, it can be devastating. Reading does not develop naturally and, according to research conducted by Judith Birsh “is highly dependent on language development and quality instruction” (2005). Without quality instruction over the summer months, many students will fall behind.

In 2018, the Northwest Evaluation Association conducted a study to determine how significant the summer slide is for students in grades 3-8. The results were sobering, with third grade students losing nearly 20% of their reading gains they had made during the school year. As students got older, this regression became even more alarming with the average student losing 36% of reading skills they had gained in 7th grade over the summer months (NWEA, 2018). 

While these numbers are alarming, they are not inevitable. Individualized, systematic, Structured Literacy based tutoring can help ensure that your child does not lose close to 40% of what they learned during the school year. If your child struggles with reading, this is even more important as underlying phonological deficits as well as working memory issues make learning and retaining skills even more difficult.  However, using scientifically based reading intervention with children has been found to make “significant and durable changes” in their brain’s organizational systems and patterns and in turn, significant reading gains (Birsh, 2005).

When you are exploring your options for summer tutoring for your child, it is crucial that you choose a program that follows the Structured Literacy framework (also known as the Orton-Gillingham approach). In addition, the tutor delivering the instruction should meet the guidelines laid out by the International Dyslexia Association for remediating reading difficulties. The program should also be individualized and customizable for your child. No two children need the exact same instruction which is why many box programs that are scripted cannot and do not work for everyone. Here at RW&C our highly trained and qualified reading clinicians meet IDA guidelines and are able to use their professional knowledge to personalize their instructional approach when needed. In order to prevent summer regression, your child needs personalized instruction. Additionally, the tutoring your child receives needs to be systematic, cumulative, explicit, and sequential in its approach. The program developed by RW&C explicitly teaches phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension in a systematic and cumulative way until mastery is reached. The online tutoring program also uses diagnostic assessments as well as informal observation to customize each session to the needs of each client.

Other than program and clinician qualifications, it is also important to think about your schedule and lifestyle during the summer months. While instruction is important, so is the ability to have family time and opportunities for fun. Many families find intensive in-person programs to be impossible to navigate while still traveling or engaging in other activities. This is where an online tutoring program can be a perfect fit. Generally, online programs are more flexible and they can be done anywhere. Going on a trip? No problem, as long as you have internet access you can logon and have your child meet their reading clinician for their tutoring session. I have even had families use their phone as a hot spot so we could meet while they were camping. Online tutoring can fit into your busy lifestyle and allow you the flexibility you need to meet your child’s needs and still enjoy activities and trips. 

If you are considering an online program, it is important to critically evaluate all of your options and decide what will work best for your child and budget. In order to be effective, it must be multi-sensory and explicit. If you are evaluating different online programs, check out this useful checklist that can help you make an informed decision on what is right for your child. 

The summer slide is scary, but it is not inevitable. With quality Structured Literacy tutoring, your child will not only retain what they learned during the school year but will also make progress towards mastering new skills. By enrolling them in a tutoring program, you are giving them the gift of reading, which lasts a lifetime. 

For more information on our online tutoring program, contact us today. 

Becky Welsch

Becky Welsch is currently an Associate in Training with the Orton-Gillingham Academy of Practitioners and Educators. She 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 tele-therapy. 

Sources: Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, Judith R. Birsh 2005

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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

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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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

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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For many kids, the beginning of the school year can be a time of butterflies in their stomach and stress. If students struggle with reading, spelling, or written expression, these worries can be intensified. While I am not a child psychologist, I have seen my fair share of the first days of school and kids with apprehension about their new grade level both as a teacher and – a parent. If your child is not looking forward to the beginning of the year it can cause you both to worry. Here are a few simple and easy to implement solutions that you can help calm your nervous child and set them up for success this school year. 

  • First and foremost, make sure your child is getting the support they need. You are their number one advocate. Whether that means having an IEP meeting, writing up a reference sheet of IEP accommodations for their teacher, or making sure your child is getting the Structured Literacy tutoringthey need to be successful you need to be their voice. It’s also important to make sure they know what is going on and what is going to be expected from them. Talking through their accommodations and discussing when and where things will be happening can do wonders to help calm your nervous child. 
  • Once you know that proper supports and interventions are in place both inside and outside of school, as a parent, you want your child to know that there are ways to talk about the worry they are experiencing. For some children drawing or writing their worries may help. As tempting as it is, try not to ask them to “calm down” or “not worry about it.” Your child needs a place to express their concerns through talking, drawing, and writing. Make sure your child knows they can come to you with their worries concerns. 
  • Come up with a schedule. All kids function better with structure and predictability. This is particularly true for kids who are having apprehensions about their school schedule. Talk to your child about your family schedule, their after-school activities, and any other events. Make sure to include after school tutoring if your child needs additional reading support. For some busy families online tutoringmight be a good option to get in the intervention without sacrificing too much family time. 
  • Help your child practice deep breathing skills. Once they are able to identify their worry, they can begin to use practical skills to help lessen it. One important way to calm their nerves is to help them learn to focus on their breathing. There are tons of different deep breathing techniques available on the internet and you need to find one that works for your child and aligns with your family belief system. 
  • Help your child create a toolkit for home and school. This may include some supplies like a stress ball to help them manage their nerves. You may also try using Velcro to attach a textured fabric like flip sequins to the underside of their desk. This gives them something to do with their hands when they start to feel worried at school. Having it underneath the desk is discreet and does not distract other students. For this one you are going to want to make sure it is ok with your child’s teacher. If under the desk in not an option, consider a small piece of fabric in their pocket that they can run between their fingers to help calm them. 
  • Make sure your child is having all of their physical needs met. Many stress related issues can tend to rear their heads when you don’t get enough sleep or have a poor diet. Make sure your child is sleeping and eating well. 
  • Also make sure they move their body every day. Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce stress naturally. Not every family enjoys traditional exercise but there are many fun ways to make sure your child is moving everyday. Going for a bike ride, playing outside, jumping on a trampoline, or making up silly dances to your favorite songs are all some fun ways to help your child get moving. 

These tips may help  to reduce mild angst related to going back to school. Keep in mind that many bright students struggling with literacy skills may develop stress in trying to deal with their deficits. If this is the cause of your child’s stress, we can address these deficits in a comfortable environment….your home….via audio-video conferencing with a certified literacy specialist.  If your child continues to struggle or has intense anxiety symptoms, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor. 

Once your child is able to feel calm and comfortable, they can begin to thrive at school. If they struggle with reading, spelling or written expression, it is imperative that you get them involved in Structured Literacy tutoring. Our online option is a good fit for many families. Contact ustoday to learn more.

Becky Welsch

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. 

Additional Resources:

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