Dyslexia, Reading, Phonics & the Brain

Decoding in Reading - The Dyslexic Brain

Dyslexia

So what is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is often genetic, and that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language. Dyslexic learners find it difficult to recognize and process letters and sounds accurately and automatically, and can also struggle with paired associate memory and/or orthographic memory. (For more on dyslexia, what it is, and what it isn’t, click here.)  It’s a neurological, often genetic disorder that makes

Some researchers in the field, however, believe that dyslexia is not always organic, but the result of ineffective reading instruction and a lack of phonics skill acquisition at the earliest grade levels. Regardless, the specific learning challenges, deficits and observed behaviors are very similar, as is the need for instruction to circumvent the inherent areas of learner-weakness and tap into alternative areas of strength. And these learners have many areas of strength! Dyslexia does not affect intelligence, as most students with dyslexia are of average or even above-average intelligence.

Dyslexic children, as well as dyslexic adults, are often the quintessential “backdoor” learners—looking for effective “work-arounds” to solve problems, and often exhibiting high levels of creativity in doing so. For dyslexics, the “front” door might be closed, but the backdoor is WIDE open!

They may not move from “A” to “B” to “C” as per the traditional learning path, but they somehow find a way….even if it means having to skip “B” entirely, circle “F” twice, and then work they way back around to “C!”  Traveling these unconventional paths allows them to observe more, think differently, be creative and build tenacity.

The key to helping dyslexic learners struggling to read is to provide them with an easily accessible, backdoor approach, so as to accelerate access to the phonics skills needed to read and write, and from the earliest possible grade levels.

The answers lie in the brain science.
(Before reading on, learn more about “backdoor” skill-access for struggling readers, here.)

Phonics for Dyslexia

Reading Intervention for Dyslexic Learners

Beth Guadagni M.A., a Learning Specialist at The Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, explains how dyslexic children can make great progress with reading when they’re given appropriate, intensive, and high quality intervention early. The following is an excerpt from her original post, which can be found here.


There are lots of good interventions that can be very effective in improving reading decoding. Remember that early intervention is critical, so if you suspect your child may have real reading problems, it’s best to consult an expert without delay.
  • Multi-sensory instruction and teaching techniques that recruit a child’s sense of touch, as well as their eyes and ears, is one of the most effective methods for teaching letter-sound pairings to children with weak phonemic awareness or paired associate memory. Similarly, kids with weak orthographic memory may respond better to multi-sensory methods, like tracing sight words on a textured surface, rather than simply drilling with flashcards. Multi-sensory teaching allows students to absorb information through different channels and can be extremely effective. For very intensive multi-sensory instruction, look for specialists or centers that teach using Orton-Gillingham or Linda Mood-Bell’s curricula. 
  • For teachers and parents, one of our favorite interventions for students who struggle with weak paired associate memories (i.e. difficulty connecting the phonics patterns to their sounds) is Secret Stories by Katie Garner.  It pairs pictures of letters and letter combinations with stories that explain “why” the letters make the sounds they do. Our favorite is the explanation of the au/aw sound (They have crushes on each other, so whenever they’re together, they say, “Awww!”). This clever technique helps kids understand the “logic” behind letter sounds, instead of simply having to memorize information. Context, especially when it’s fun and already familiar, really help kids with poor paired associate memory learn quickly.

Phonics Stories for Reading - Secret Stories

  • Many children with decoding difficulties, regardless of the cause, can comprehend more sophisticated material than they are able to read independently. It is important to give these students access to reading material that is at their intellectual level. Reading aloud while the child follows along is one way to do this. It also provides the added benefit of repeated exposures to words paired with correct pronunciation. Over time, this will help strengthen their weak paired associate or orthographic memories and improve their skills. For busy parents or kids who want a bit more independence, audiobooks are fantastic for kids to practice this on their own, as long as they can follow along with the text as they are listening.

 

  • Finally, practice, practice, practice! Accurate, fluent reading is the result of hundreds of hours spent with written words, so as to become automatic with letter patterns. We encourage lots of practice reading at home, but with a few cautionary notes. First, be aware that continued drilling without results can be very frustrating for your child, and may even be futile if the method he’s using isn’t one that’s best for his kind of mind. If he’s reading as often as his classmates, but falling further and further behind, ask his teacher or a reading specialist what other techniques he should try. Secondly, remember that reading, particularly for younger kids, should be a fun! Try to strike a balance: kids should not forgo reading because it’s hard, but reading shouldn’t feel like a grueling obligation either.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Elisheva Schwartz on the Dyslexia Quest Podcast (links to broadcasts, below). I first became aware of this popular podcast on Dyslexia after listening to an interview with Harvard-trained neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang, whose research on learning and the brain is incorporated into the Secret Stories “backdoor” approach to accelerate phonics for reading and writing.

In the two-part podcast interview with Elisheva shared below, we discuss learning issues that are associated with dyslexia, and why the Secret Stories® are often referred to as “Phonics for Dyslexics”.  To play, click the arrow under each of the descriptions, and for additional podcasts on the topic, visit www.elishevaschwartz.com. You can also access Secret Stories® free video library by subscribing on YouTube.


The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 1

Phonics for Dyslexics

      CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 1

The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 2

Phonics for Dyslexia

      CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 2

Finally, I wanted to share this review that I stumbled upon online. I am always so grateful when parents take the time to reach out and share their child’s struggles and successes, and while this one wasn’t sent to me directly, it was filled with some good information and helpful insight that I thought I would share.

How I Helped My Dyslexic Child Learn to Read

This book changed our life. I’ve taught my dyslexic daughter to read using the Secret Stories®.

After trying the regular phonics “programs,” Secret Stories was recommended by our homeschool support group. With the Secrets, we didn’t have to give up learning phonetically, despite my daughter having auditory processing problems.

We sat down with a print out copy of the first McGuffey Reader, and when we came to a Secret Story (i.e. letters not making the sound that they should) we looked it up its “secret” the book. The pictures that went with each Secret made them so easy for her to remember, not just the phonics pattern, but the sound/sounds. The Secrets helped her brain easily retain the phonics patterns and sounds that before she could never get, no matter what we tried or how many times we practiced them.

I’ve also begun using Secret Stories with my severely language-compromised son, and he giggles as we “make” the Secrets he knows out of his Theraputty (another great product) and make the words come alive! I’ve also used the Secret Stories in a fun way at our homeschool group—I made little capes with the Superhero Vowels® sewn onto the back to wear when the vowels “say their names!”

Seeing my daughter now want to read and write ALL the time is such a blessing, as it’s been a long road to get here! If she hadn’t learned the Secrets, I don’t think we would have ever made it to where we are now.

I wish every school would use Secret Stories along with their reading curriculum, as it’s so easy, and it covers all of the learning bases: kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and even emotion. It can help everyone, but especially those who don’t learn the “normal” way.

phonics for dyslexia


Learn more about how Secret Stories® can help struggling readers access critical phonics skills for reading and writing.

Phonics Stories - TH

 

phonics stories

phonics stories for reading

 

Phonics Stories

Learn the “secret” phonics stories that go with the pictures here!

And to subscribe to the Secret email blast for the latest tips, tools and tricks here!


 

What Dyslexia Isn’t…

As promised, I’ve asked reading specialist, Heather Vidal, to come back and shed more light on dyslexia, what it is, and more importantly, what it isn’t—despite the common misconceptions. If you are a new subscriber, or if you missed Heather’s previous guest post about how she uses Secret Stories® in conjunction with Orton-Gillingham to meet the needs of her dyslexic students, you can read it here.

I would like to preface Heather’s post by addressing the recent debate on use of the term “dyslexia” and its efficacy as a diagnosis for struggling readers, along with the International Dyslexic Association’s definition of dyslexia—

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

It’s important to note that while most educational researchers and reading practitioners believe that a diagnosis of dyslexia can help to shed light on a reader’s struggles and identify the best form of intervention, others in the field (including my colleague, Dr. Richard Allington, with whom I presented a series of keynotes at the Vulnerable Readers Summits) feel that use of this label could be a disservice to children with difficulties learning to read.

That said, something that all sides agree on—labels aside—is that there is a wide gap between what we know about the brain and how we teach kids to read, and that the most critical variable in effective K-2 literacy instruction is teacher expertise.

Dyslexic Brain

It is vital that teachers know about and understand the brain science so as to properly align instruction with the basic tenets of brain based learning, particularly in regard to what research shows is the weakest link in our reading and writing instruction—teaching phonics.

So with that said, here’s Heather…


Hey All!
Katie has graciously invited me to share more about what dyslexia is (and isn’t!) and why the Secret Stories® method works within a curriculumfor dyslexic students. You can read my other post here) As a reading specialist, private tutor and curriculum developer who works specifically with dyslexic students learning to read, I often get questions about what dyslexia is.

Often times, it is easier to explain what Dyslexia is not:

Dyslexic Brain

  • Dyslexia does not mean that students read entire words or sentences backwards.
    While some dyslexic students do flip letters and transverse words, this is not the only sign of dyslexia, and some dyslexic students don’t do this at all.
  • Dyslexia cannot be outgrown.
    With the proper instructional approach, students can become excellent readers. However, this does not mean that they no longer have dyslexia.

Diagnosing Dyslexia

So what does all of this mean, and what does it have to do with Secret Stories?

At one of the first trainings I took regarding the Orton-Gillingham approach, the trainer explained dyslexia like this—
“Imagine comparing a page of text to a brick wall. An efficient reader can see the mortar in between each brick (letter sound) and the different color variations that each brick possesses (the possibilities of letter sounds). If you were dyslexic, you would know you were looking at a wall, but segmenting each brick would be very difficult.”

Signs of DyslexiaDyslexia can manifest in many ways, but all of these ways come back to students having difficulty reading and spelling (and most often, segmenting words into individual sounds.) Since dyslexia is classified as a neurobiological learning disability, the best way to help dyslexic learners is to utilize instructional methods that are compatible with the way the brains works.

Dyslexia is classified as a learning disability that causes students to struggle with fluency, word recognition, and poor decoding and encoding skills (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2). Seventy plus years of research has shown that the best way to help dyslexic kids learn to read is to employ a multi-sensory, phonics and linguistics based approach to reading instruction that offers continuous feedback.

How to Fast-Track Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction with Secret Stories®

All of these tenets are compatible with Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories approach, but using the two together (in my opinion) is the best way to help students with dyslexia learn to read well. Secret Stories activates the brain’s earlier-developing social and emotional systems for learning (i.e. the brain’s “back-door”) and provides students with meaningful connections to all of the foundational phonics skills covered in an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum.

Are there differences between Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories®?

When speaking with Katie a few days ago, she shared some of the questions she receives from teachers asking about the differences between the Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories methods, so for those who are interested, I’ve made this handy chart of the two reading/phonics programs/tools.

Orton-Gillingham PhonicsHopefully this helps clear up some of the differences, but if you have any questions, please send them my way— TreetopsEducation@gmail.com. You can also check out my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here.

By applying a brain based approach to reading instruction through the combined use of these two powerful teaching tools, teachers can reach not only dyslexic students, but all students who struggle with learning to read—providing more meaningful (and fun) ways to learn!

For more information about dyslexia, visit The International Dyslexia Association

Guest Post by:  Heather MacLeod Vidal— Learning Specialist & Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions, St. Petersburg, Florida

Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References
Lyon, G.R., Shaywitz, S.E., & Shaywitz, B.A. (2003). Defining dyslexia, comorbidity, teachers’ knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 1-14.


I am so grateful to Heather for taking the time to share her insight and expertise! If you have any questions or comments for Heather, you can leave them in the comments below and she or I would be happy to answer them.

Orton Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics Method

Learn the “Secrets” About Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction

I receive so many questions about whether or not Secret Stories® can be used with Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and if so, how.

If you’re familiar with or already use Secret Stories®, then you know that it is not a phonics program, but an “accelerant ” used to fast-track access to the whole code that kids need to read and write—and from the earliest possible grade levels! The Secrets are like “steroids” that pump-up your existing reading curriculum and/or phonics program to make the learning go “warp-speed!” Not more reading instruction, just better and more efficient, as the Secrets are always there….always teaching, and always ready for use to read and spell words! (This was the focus of my previous post, which you can read here.)

Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, like Secret Stories®, is a multi-sensory approach to reading. I love seeing the two paired together, as they are a reading “dream-team!” They compliment each other beautifully, with Secret Stories® fast-tracking learner access to “high-leverage” phonics skills that can otherwise take years to acquire; and Orton-Gillingham providing an optimal reading and writing “playground” on which kids can use them! (This combination is especially effective with dyslexic learners and other struggling readers.)

Heather MacLeod Vidal, a learning specialist and curriculum writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, is an expert in Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and has been incorporating Secret Stories® into her OG lessons for years. I’ve asked her to share her insight and ideas here.

Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories®


Greetings from sunny Florida!

I am so excited to write a guest post for Katie because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Secret Stories. You see, I work as a reading specialist in a fabulous school in St. Petersburg Florida, and I actually write my own Orton-Gillingham phonics-based curriculum to help meet the needs of my kiddos.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach proven to work with students struggling with reading, writing, and spelling. It is primarily suggested for students diagnosed with Dyslexia (which some numbers put at 17% of the population!). Here’s the thing though….sometimes, working with the same approach every day can get a little bit stale for students. This is where Secret Stories comes in!

As a reading specialist, I have the amazing luxury of seeing students in a one-on-one environment, so I scaffold all of my lessons for each student. The amazing thing that I have found about Secret Stories is that I can jump around and hit the Secrets as they align with my Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction lesson plans.

This means that when we cover open syllables, I don’t have to teach “vowel y” anymore. Now my students know the Secret Story about Sneaky Y®, the “sneaky cape stealer of e and i!”

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

Click to view the above Secret Stories® Phonics Flash Cards
(w/the Secret sound picture on one side & the story on the other!)

We act it out with pillowcases that have Sneaky Y® with /e/ and /i/ felt letters glued to them. My students can get into the role by simply clothes-pinning the correct cape to their shirt as they read a given word.

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Capes

Sneaky Y® Capes

(For another cute “teacher-made” idea for Sneaky Y® storytelling with and hands-on fun, check this out!)

When it’s time for Secret Stories Mommy E® to make her debut, my hair goes up in a bun and my glasses are placed promptly on my face. My students love how insistently I ask them to speak up and “say your name”, and I love that they remember the Mommy E® rule!

Secret Stories® Mommy E® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Mommy E® tells any vowel that’s one letter away, “You Say Your Name!”
(And to crack those tricky, multi-syllabic words, watch this video to learn the Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels® trick!)

You see, this type of multi-sensory activity is precisely what Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction is all about. Without getting too technical, in order to build connections (known as “synapsis”) in the brain, we need to provide students with meaningful ways to remember a given skill.  The more meaningful, the more connections, and the more the learning will “stick!”

You can repeat yourself 50 times, but if it is not in a way that is meaningful to your student, they still might not remember it! I promise you, your dyslexic students are much more likely to remember a skill if they have something special to connect it to!

Here’s the thing though, Secret Stories and OG do not have to be paced side by side. This year at my school, something really special started happening. One classroom teacher started using Secret Stories, and I saw glimpses of understanding in those students before having the Orton-Gilligham phonics instruction.

One of my kindergarteners who is severely dyslexic came to me on the day that I was planning to teach the /th/ rule in with Orton-Gillingham, and something amazing happened. She noticed that I had written several /th/ words on the whiteboard. I kid you not, my student said, “T and h are so rude to each other! They are always sticking their tongues out at each other!”

The NEW Secret Stories® Decorative Phonics Posters

The “TH” Secret Phonics Poster /NEW “Decorative Squares” Set

I nearly fell out of my chair! This was a student who had just recently mastered her consonant sounds after months of intensive Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction tutoring. Yet, here she was, teaching me about a skill that she had already learned after hearing it just a couple of times in her class. This initial introduction in her class stuck with her so that by the time she was ready to work with me on the skill, she already had an idea of what the consonant digraph should look and sound like. And that is the magic of the Secret Stories!

This is her writing sample after just one day of explicit /th/ phonics instruction. Notice that while she still has many areas to work on, she correctly identified the /th/ in both its unvoiced (“with”) and voiced form (“the”). These connections continued throughout the year, and my students from that classroom were more prepared to tackle new skills since they had been introduced to the Secret in their classrooms.

Kindergarten writing sample: “I go with my dad to the playground near my house.”

(Click here to view more kindergarten writing, as well as first grade writing with Secret Stories®)

Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction can (and in my opinion should) be used with Secret Stories brain based phonics stories in order to help build the neural pathways necessary for learning phonics skills. I am so glad to have found the Secret!

If you are interested in more on how Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction works with Secret Stories, I will be doing another post on this topic for Katie soon, so stay tuned!

Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction

Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction Curriculum

Guest Post by:
Heather MacLeod Vidal
Learning Specialist/ Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions
St Petersburg, FL


I want to thank Heather for taking the time to share this, as I think it’s great information for all those wondering if and how Secret Stories® and Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction could be used together. And as Heather mentioned, I will be sharing two more posts on this topic that Heather has written for my blog, which should be posted there within the week.

And if you would like to read more about Secret Stories®, I would invite you to check out this recently published article published in the Arkansas Reading Journal, which you can download here. I am excited to be one of the keynote speakers at the Arkansas Reading Conference this October.Arkansas Reading Journal Article by Katie Garner

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner
https://www.KatieGarner.com