Monday, November 23, 2009


If we look at the letter "h" for example, we can turn it backward and end up with, of course, a backward h. If we turn the letter 'b" backward, we DON'T end up with a backward b: we end up with a FORWARD letter d. The names of the letters sound almost identical, as do the sounds for the letters. What distinguishes that? Spatial orientation. Write a big letter "b" on a piece of acetate. Tell the student it is a b and ask the student to tell you the name of the letter. Now start to rotate the piece of acetate along the vertical center axis. (The result will be the student looking at a "d" now.) As you are rotating slowly, however, tell the student it's still a b, it's still a b, it's still a b, but when the opposite side starts to appear, say now it's a d, not it's a d, now it's a d. You are dynamically showing the student that spatial orientation is the big difference between b and d. Initially, exaggerate the pronunciation of the letters to make them sound less similar. Do this a few minutes a day for a few days (if necessary). Rotate the acetate and ask the student, "What letter?" Correct by telling answer, then rotating acetate and again asking, "What letter." Start with b sometimes and with d sometimes. Continue to exaggerate the differences in the sounds of the letters until the student responds perfectly several times in a row. You can start with sounds instead of letter names, but under no circumstances should you work on sounds and letter names at the same time. Tell us how this works for you. Stick to details.


I agree with Bob's advice for the letter-sound learner who is having such difficulty. My son could not learn addition facts even using the procedure outlined in Carnine's Direct instruction book. After weeks and weeks, he'd finally learn four facts and then when two more were introduced he'd forget them all. Precision teaching graphing indicated that he shouldn't be working on the skill, but who is going to give up on one's own child and math basics. Seven days a week we worked on learning the facts. When he forgot the first four, we'd start all over learning those. When I'd introduce two more facts and he'd forget them all, it was starting over time. We did that several times going back to those darned ole first four facts. Eventually, slowly but surely he began to learn the facts and the best part was that as they finally were in his long term memory, he began to learn other facts more quickly. It took us almost three years of this type of systematic work to get through additions, subtraction, division, and multiplication. After learning the facts, fluency was another issue. He began by doing e facts a minute and we had to slowly work our way up with one-minute timing drills to build up speed. The best news was that when the teacher gave a first-day of class math facts test in sixth grade, he was the fastest student, and on the SAT he cut a 560 (my goal back in grade school was eventually enabling him to get a 500.) I've seen this same thing in learning letter-sounds. We had one child in our project who despite Reading Mastery in a group of two and additional tutoring support, left kindergarten only knowing two or three letter-sound associations. Despite parent support, his progress was very slow during first grade, but during that summer school something started to click. The upshot was that he was one of the most fluent readers at grade level by the end of second grade. The teachers in the lunch room said, 'Someone like Ronald would never have learned to read in our school before. Now we know that any student who makes the same slow progress he is doing, has the potential and just might make that same progress he did." There are some (I haven't been able to find research support however) who say that some students need hundreds and maybe thousands of times reading a letter-sound or word until it is in long-term memory. Bob's advice will get anyone there. Sometimes the hardest part is for us to be patient and not move on. I know at times it was tough for me.

Blog Revised

Thanks to Susan Smethurst, I think I've reorganized this blog to work the way I had originally intended.  Individual instructional problems should show up individually with my responses as comments.  I was hoping that people with similar problems could find a problem and a proposed answer, without having to read anything else.


OK Bob, I have a humdinger for you. This is the first, and so far only, child I have seen in decades (not admitting how many decades) for whom DI seems not to be working. M. is now 7, in Grade 2, and has had two years of K and a year of Grade 1 (with an outstanding teacher in first grade-- one in the top 5% anywhere). He is a native English speaker, clearly not developmentally delayed, well-organized, good gross and fine motor skills. Went to a half-day K program for kids with oral language delays and seemed to benefit. His PPVT is in the normal range, about the 70th %ile, which rules out intellectual disability. He does have some speech issues -- still uses inappropriate syntax, like "he goed" and "I gots" but receptive language is at least average. So what is the problem? This boy has not been able to learn sound-symbol correspondences. We started working with him in the middle of Grade 1. I always use Fast Cycle, providing repetition as necessary, but he could not keep up the pace, so we switched to RM I (Rainbow edition) and began at the beginning. He could do the " say it fast" tasks, caught on to blending sounds after a little while, but could not learn new sounds. He already knew s, m and a -- we managed to add r and ee -- but when we got to f and t he stalled. We did every lesson (the sounds parts) over multiple times. We had practice sheets where we did just those sounds, in an I do -it -- We do it -- You do it fashion. We practiced timing him on those sheets (did only 15-second timings) and he never passed a rate of 25/min. We could get through a RM lesson with him meeting criteria (after "repeat until firm" several times) but he never remembered the next day, and it was back to square one. We also tried having him write the sounds as in Spelling Mastery. He could never do this "cold." We tried having him write the sounds, while saying them, 10-15 times at the beginning of each lesson. Harking back to graduate school (really, grasping at straws) I decided to try the kinesthetic/tactile approach as well. I got some Montessori tiles where the child can trace the letter with his finger while saying the sound. He would do this (with t, for instance) 10-15 times, then trace the grapheme on paper. Now, between the time his finger left the tile to when he went to trace the letter t on paper (about 2 secs), he *forgot* the sound (this was after several days of practice). At this point he would get upset, because he KNEW he had just done it!! If you dictate a word like "it" to him, he can't spell it even when you tell him the letter names, because he can't remember how to make an i or a t. Both letters are in his name. We've tried cards, computerized practice, games, making the letters with finger paint and wikki stix -- and his teacher and an aide in the class have done everything they can think of. He still knows only about 6 sounds, whether for reading or writing. He does not have the ability to learn "sight words" (maybe that's just as well). His printing is good and he can copy accurately -- but not read anything he copies. I confess I am stumped, I think for the first time. On the other hand, he had no difficulty with Language for Learning, and once when he came at the wrong time, and a group doing Language for Thinking (lesson 75) were halfway through their lesson, he joined in and responded perfectly. Ideas? Please! M. is a great kid. But he is starting to get discouraged.


My son, is reading using the Headsprout program- he can decode and works well when given a list of vocabulary words as spelling words. We call out the words and he writes them down. He does well with this task. However, when he spontaneously generates words on his own, he almost always misspells words that he should know and he often leaves out vowels. Yesterday, he wrote me a note that said " I lc sm kac." He read it to me and he said that he wrote "I like some cake." These are ALL words that he can read, decode and spell during lessons! Help!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blogging Backwards

Instead of me writing posts and having people comment, I'm aspiring for parents, teachers, tutors or anyone else to post very specific examples of a learning problem.  A NON-SPECIFIC problem would be:  my son has dyslexia.  A spedific problem would be:  sometimes, by daughter reads the letter d with a /b/ sound and the letter b with a /d/ sound.  We don't need speculation on why the problem exists:  just state the problem itself as specifically as possible.

I'd like to respond with a comment that outlines a remedy for the problem that is as specific as the problem identified.  When I don't have a response I have complete confidence in, I'll get one from my small group of friends and colleagues who routinely cut to the chase to successfully solve problems.  Solutions will be apolitical, with with respect to the politics of education or national and local politics.

My next post will address b/d reversals.