Blog

Should my child handwrite or type their writing work?

When I was a kid, the process for written work at school was very rigid: 

  • You get a blank piece of paper and write your plan for the story.
  • You write a draft on yellow paper.
  • You meet with the teacher to talk about revising and editing.
  • You get the nice white paper and you write a final copy in your best handwriting. 

Even as a student teacher, we worked for weeks with students on the idea of a draft and making our writing better, and we did it the same way. But now it’s decades later, many schools have a computer or iPad for every student, and we’re still using those old ways of organizing the writing process. There are benefits of handwriting vs typing notes or an essay, but there’s a lot to be said for technology, too!

What’s the goal?

Young children

For young children, the keyboard is a much more abstract way of producing words than writing letters with a pencil. The connection between their ideas, their fingers, the keys, and the screen is weaker. Think of it as the idea having to travel further to become part of a story or sentence than if they can write it with a pencil. Before preschoolers and kindergarteners can write and spell, teachers often write down the sentence they dictate. Some students will continue to need this for a few more years, especially if their writing fine motor or spelling skills lag behind grade level expectations. While they build their skills, dictating to a person might help them produce the best quality work.

Middle grades

From third grade to the end of elementary school, typing goes from being a nice-to-have extra to an essential school survival skill. While I haven’t found any specific evidence to back this up, many experts, including occupational therapists, recommend beginning formal typing instruction around third grade. Before that, kids hands are often too small to be positioned comfortably on the keyboard. Besides, in the early grades they need plenty of time to focus on handwriting skills.

Benefits of handwriting vs typing
Boy writing in a notebook at a wooden table

Just like younger students needed adults to dictate to before their handwriting skills were efficient, middle grades students will need to use other strategies while their typing skills become efficient. Often, by the time a beginning typist finds the letters she’s looking for, she has forgotten what word she was trying to spell!

For students that are having a lot of difficulty with fluent handwriting, speech-to-text, like the Voice Typing feature in Google Docs, or the embedded feature in a Chromebook or iPad, can make the difference between writing telegraphic stories in messy pencil and writing long, well-developed compositions. Speech-to-text does bring up the next challenge, which is teaching students to revise their stream of consciousness writing. Speech-to-text lets students write so quickly that they don’t stop to think about where to begin and end sentences. But as a teacher, I would much rather students get some text on the page for us to edit and discuss, than watch them struggle to scratch out a couple of sentences. 

Moving on into middle school, being efficient on the keyboard can make the difference between knocking out a quick paragraph for homework and struggling through a lengthy pencil-and-paper writing and editing process. 

If your child turns in writing that is vague or full of errors, try these free checklists for revising and editing.


.

High school

By high school, students need efficient typing and computer skills to be able to keep up with the increasing workload. While many teachers make time for handwritten work in class, and there is some evidence that it has benefits, I don’t believe that having students write out longer compositions is the best use of their time. I would rather have students quickly put a draft on the screen and then have additional time to revise with adults and peers and opportunities to make quick changes to the document. There are lots of improvements to writing that will never be made if it means erasing a whole sentence or line on paper. But if the student can quickly type the replacement words, they get a lot more opportunities to think about and improve their writing. 

Final thoughts

For some students, starting typing a little on the young side and getting good at it can save them endless time and frustration as they get older. Students with dysgraphia or difficulty with handwriting will have so many  more chances to write out their ideas if they aren’t limited by their pencil speed! On the other hand, paper and pencils aren’t going away in our world any time soon, and being able to jot a quick note is also a valuable skill. It’s important to think about the purpose of the acitivity and how much writing is expected.

Along with the benefits of writing on screens come challenges. Devices can have many more opportunities for distraction, and technology needs to be explicitly taught if we want children to use it a certain way. Thoughtful computer instruction, including practice typing, should be a part of every elementary student’s learning. That way, they’ll have choices about the best tools for them in middle and high school!

Should my child handwrite or type their writing work?
Handwriting has benefits for building brain connections, but can be time-consuming or frustrating for some children. How do you decide when to focus on typing?
Don’t forget to grab your writing checklists!


.

Picking Books for your Children to Read at Home

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

We have books here. We have way too many books here. Between the collection my father-in-law saved from my husband’s childhood, the ones I own myself and those we’ve received as gifts, not to mention my years teaching in schools, we have more than we could possibly need. But it is still so hard to get my son to pick a book and sit down and read. So if you’re like me, wondering how to get your child to read on grade level, or read books that hold their attention, read on! 

Every Reader His/Her Book

In 1931, S. R. Ranganathan proposed the Five Laws of Library Science and “Every Reader His/Her Book” is number two. But finding the right book for your young reader is not always an easy feat. Here are some tips for finding a book that will keep your children reading.

Consider their interests

Whether your kids are into Minecraft, sports, princess or pets, there is a book out there for them. You can find lots of blog posts on this topic with internet searches like “Books for kids who love__.” For one student who loved Minecraft, I found a series by Mark Cheverton that takes place inside the game. My student found a lot of joy in picking apart the things that couldn’t really happen in the game, and in predicting what was going to happen next. 

Another tool I love for finding similar books is the website What Should I Read Next? It doesn’t always have some of the newer series for kids but it’s a great starting point for a search. 

Help my child read for free
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

For early readers, there are a wide variety of stories featuring their favorite characters from TV and movies. My son read these Marvel Meet the Superheroes books over and over. For quick read-alouds and more independent readers, the 5-Minute Stories series has many books with favorite Disney characters. This Pixar collection is terrific, and there are also Disney Princesses, Avengers, and many others. My library has many options.

Some kids prefer non-fiction books. I always did. Don’t give up on stories for them, but definitely indulge their interests, whether it’s cookbooks, Guinness World Records or creepy animals! Try to encourage their interests in narrative by introducing them to the biographies of people in these fields, or stories featuring chefs or animals. 

Consider their skills

If your child is reading at the same level as his or her peers, it’s a lot easier for them to grab any old book off the classroom bookshelf and get into it. If your child is an advanced or struggling reader, it can be harder to find a match between their maturity and interest level and their ability to read the words on the page. 

Graphic novels are one option for getting more complex stories in the hands of reluctant or struggling readers. Even classic literature, like 1984, is now available in graphic novel form, which can make it accessible to kids who have a difficult time sitting down and paging through a novel. 

How to get your child to read on grade level
girl reading a book on a red couch

If you’re looking for another idea for how to help a struggling reader at home, consider audiobooks. Many are available for download through the public library (Overdrive and Hoopla are two commonly-used services). Amazon’s Audible.com is a paid services that offers audiobooks, if you prefer to buy them. 

If you’re struggling to get your child to sit down and read, grab our free Winter Reading Bingo board to get them excited about all the ways they can enjoy books!


.

Read to them (even when they are “too big”)

As your child’s reading skill grows, reading out loud to them is still a powerful way to enrich their vocabulary and build their comprehension skills for more complex stories. It’s tempting to tell your child to go read on their own all the time once you know they can but make some time for reading aloud in your week.

Reading out loud to big kids can even feel awkward, once they are too big to beg you for a story. Let them pick books that are too hard or too long to read alone. Or offer to take turns reading their book, especially at the beginning, to help build some reading momentum. You can even read them short selections of your own reading – things that made you laugh, or made you think, or news articles that made you think of them.

Audiobooks, especially at bedtime or in the car, can be a relaxing way to enjoy a story together. The Harry Potter and Narnia series’ are great audiobook experiences. Listening to books is a valuable experience on its own. Beyond that, the hope is that once you have introduced them to a book, or a series, kids will feel more confident picking those books up on their own a little down the road.

Good books matter

The volume of information we all have available to us can feel like drinking from a firehose. TV, YouTube, billboards, podcasts, video games and Instagram all scream for our attention. It takes deliberate planning to make sure we’re all digging in to quality literature, and not just snacking on whatever junk media comes our way. For our kids, sometimes getting them to read books means meeting them halfway, with graphic novels, audiobooks, or characters from popular media to help them develop the patience readers need to tackle bigger, more challenging, more rewarding reading.

What are the best books for my child to read at home?
We all hear that reading at home is important for children. But what should they be reading? Here are some ideas for kids of all ages.

Don’t forget to grab your Winter Reading Bingo Board!


.

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

What is up with schools and their weird dyslexia myths?

Even though dyslexia is listed by name in IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, lots of public schools in the US get really weird when a parent asks for evaluation for dyslexia, or when a student receives a dyslexia diagnosis from a provider outside of the school. Teachers, even special educators, are quietly asking each other, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?” And the answers are totally inconsistent! It shouldn’t be this way.

IDEA has been a US law since 1975, and it was amended in 1990 and reauthorized in 2004 and 2015. Along with the laws in individual states, IDEA governs the whole system of special education for children with disabilities, including requiring that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). While states have their own varying laws about education, including serving children with disabilities, no one is allowed to do less than is outlined in the IDEA.

OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about how some schools handle requests around dyslexia services and what approaches are effective.

What IDEA actually says about dyslexia

The IDEA identifies a “specific learning disability” as “a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” and goes on to say “Such term includes such conditions as dyslexia.” It’s right there in the law. 

IDEA also includes a component referred to as “Child Find” that requires “All children with disabilities residing in the State … regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated.

This seems pretty straightforward, right? But school districts, including many I have worked in, absolutely refused to bring up dyslexia in IEP meetings. Teachers received little to no training in identifying or supporting students with dyslexia. Even as a graduate student in special education in the early 2000s, I learned about dyslexia only in the most general way, certainly not enough to meet my students’ needs. And I had plenty of students who fit the dyslexia profile over the years, with and without diagnoses.

In fact, there was so much confusion and contention about dyslexia in public education that in 2015, Michael Yudin, the assistant secretary of the US Department of Education, published what is known as the “Dear Colleague letter.” In the letter, Yudin highlights the definition of specific learning disability under the law and reinforces the requirement that schools evaluate students for these conditions. He also clarifies that, while districts or states may use RTI (Response to Intervention) to teach students at risk for “poor learning outcomes,” the process cannot be used to delay a formal evaluation. Parents can also request an evaluation at any time, even if the child is participating in the RTI process. Further, Yudin encourages schools to consider the use of the specific terms “dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia” to describe children’s needs in evaluations and IEPs.  

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

Many parents are being told by school special education teams the school “doesn’t diagnose dyslexia” or, even worse, that the school “doesn’t recognize dyslexia.” Um, there are lots of people I wouldn’t recognize if I saw them on the street, but they do continue to exist, and so does dyslexia! Unfortunately, whether there is someone in the school qualified to actually diagnose dyslexia varies by state, and even by district.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, a thorough dyslexia evaluation should include assessments of: 

  • Oral language skills: speaking, listening, following directions, making inferences from spoken language, etc.
  • Word recognition: reading words in lists
  • Decoding: sounding out words, particularly nonsense words that can’t be memorized
  • Spelling: this counterpart to decoding involves writing words using knowledge about letter-sound relationships and spelling conventions (like dropping the e to change bake to baking.)
  • Phonological processing: identifying and manipulating sounds in spoken words. 
  • Fluency: reading accurately, smoothly, and automatically.
  • Comprehension: understanding what is read
  • Vocabulary: understanding and defining individual words both in written and spoken forms

A thorough assessment will also discuss the child’s performance in the classroom and background information about educational and family history. A cognitive assessment is often part of an evaluation for dyslexia, but more recent research shows that intelligence is not directly tied to success in reading and writing, so an intelligence test is not the best way to show that a student is underperforming.

OK, but can a school provide that? It depends. Different states have different guidelines about who is qualified to provide those assessments and to provide a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. A school-based team, which may include a school psychologist, special educator, speech-language pathologist, or others, can evaluate in all these areas, but may not be permitted in the state to give the dyslexia diagnosis. In other states, school-based professionals with expertise in dyslexia and/or formal assessment tools may be able to diagnose dyslexia in-house.

Where should we go for an evaluation for dyslexia?

If the school won’t address your child’s dyslexia, you may need the support of another assessor. If you have formally, in writing, asked the school for a special education evaluation, and you are not satisfied with the results, find out about your state’s Procedural Safeguards. These guidelines (states are required by IDEA to have them) explain what steps parents can take if the school does not provide special educatoin evaluation and services as required by law. 

In many cases, parents choose to seek the support of a special education advocate or an attorney to help them navigate these challenges. A lot of the experience a family can expect in this process depends on the school district and its administration, unfortunately. 

If you do choose to get a private evaluation, rather than pursuing an independent evaluation through the school district, a neuropsychologist or, in some cases, an educational psychologist can provide a formal diagnosis. This process can be lengthy, expensive, and frustrating. Check your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter or network with local parents to get recommendations for evaluations in your local area. It can be difficult to tell if someone will be a fit for your child’s needs just by looking at their website. Neuropsychologists and psychologists are humans. Some are great with kids and terrible with paperwork. Others are less pleasant to meet with but write detailed reports. And some are all-around fabulous. If you find one of those, don’t lose their card! You may need more testing down the road.

What if my child's school doesn't "recognize" dyslexia?
Dyslexia could not be any more real, but schools have the strange (and wrong) idea that they can’t or don’t have to talk about it. Here’s what to do if your child won’t recognize dyslexia and support your child.


.

What kinds of services should a student with dyslexia have?

Another disturbing lie that some school districts have told parents is “We don’t give IEPs for dyslexia.” I’ve heard repeatedly from parents that they were told they could get a 504 (a different federal law governs this program and provides accommodations to help students access the curriculum but doesn’t provide any specialized instruction in the areas of need) but not an IEP. 

can schools diagnose dyslexia
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Students with dyslexia, or other specific learning disabilities, should have services that constitute a Free and Appropriate Public Education, according to IDEA. Students with dyslexia, in particular, need a structured literacy approach to learn to decode and spell words, work with the sounds of spoken language, and read fluently and with comprehension. Evidence-based approaches (also referred to as the Science of Reading) are based on research findings that support their effectiveness. Orton-Gillingham is one widespread approach under the structured literacy umbrella, and OG, in turn, has informed and influenced many different programs and curricula. 

My child’s school is doing it wrong. Now what?

I’m sorry you’re struggling with this. With all the many things we know about the brain and how we learn to read, it is so frustrating and disappointing that parents have to beg and fight for the things their children need in school. There is no reason that there are so many different answers to the question, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?”

Here are some tools and resources that can help empower you to push for informed educational decisions for your children:

  • Get connected: Join your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter (find them on Facebook) and look for groups connected to The Reading League and “Science of Reading.” The first one is more parent and education-focused and the second and third are great resources to educate yourself on how we learn to read and what the best practices are.
  • Get educated: There are many, many, excellent books that explain dyslexia. Some that I highly recommend are:
    • Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz – a researcher at Yale, Shaywitz has written an incredible book describing the science of dyslexia and shedding light on the experience of people with dyslexia. A new edition came out a year or two ago, with lots of excellent updates.
    • The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss – I had the opportunity to see Foss speak a few years ago and it was memorable. He is an adult with dyslexia and hearing him speak about his experience of growing up and attending school, as well as hearing about his strengths and needs as an adult, was eye-opening and encouraging.
    • Reversed: A Memoir  by Lois Letchford – the parent of a child with dyslexia, Letchford educated herself so she could help her son who (spoiler alert!) went on to complete his PhD. It’s an incredible story.
  • Get support: Connect with an educational advocate or attorney if possible, and connect with local parent groups who can give insight into how things work in your local school district (which is often very different from how things should work according to state and federal law). 
  • Look into reading instruction outside of school: There are non-profits like the Children’s Dyslexia Center, as well as other local organizations that provide less expensive or no-cost tutoring to students with dyslexia. You can also look for tutors who are completing a practicum in Orton-Gillingham or Wilson Reading who need students to tutor as part of their training. And, of course you can also find help through a tutor trained to help students with dyslexia.

If you’re ready to get your child some individual reading support and you’re wondering if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the way to go, contact us for a consultation today!

8 Realistic Ways to Conquer Backpack Clutter

It’s the middle of winter. All my dreams and ideals about how my kids will come in, greet me warmly and gently place their bags on hooks by the door are gone. Sometimes there are math papers between the couch cushions. Both children want to keep every precious scrap they bring home from school. It’s time for some new ideas for organizing school papers.

What doesn’t work

I speak from experience when I say the following systems do not work for everyone, and if it’s not your jam, you’re flirting with disaster by trying to live with a system that doesn’t fit your family.

  • Pinterest-perfect baskets – some people need to see what they have. Tucking it away in a basket means it gets forgotten
  • Deal with it later – putting everything in one place and promising that you will get to it is a recipe for missed deadlines and forgotten forms.
  • Keeping everything – in my opinion, this is as bad as keeping nothing. Original artwork buried between half-finished math worksheets doesn’t help anyone.
How to organize kids school papers at home
Table covered in paper and other clutter

How to Organize School Papers at Home

1. Notice where papers naturally collect

You know how, in a giant open parking lot, the fall leaves or drifting trash all tend to end up pooled in the same corner against a building or tree? We have those places in our homes, too. It’s often the first flat surface inside the door. For us it’s the dining room table, but other houses have counters or shelves or chairs that are magnets for everything that doesn’t belong on them. 

This is where your system belongs! Sorry, you’re not getting your whole dining room table back today, but we ARE going to make it less scary. You want everyone in the house to use this system, and if you tuck it away in the closet where “it belongs,” they’ll never think of it again!

2. Pick the best tools for your family

If you have one kid bringing home papers, you may be able to use a single basket or accordion file. For a larger family, consider a desktop inbox tray or a paper sorter. A file box seems tempting but it takes more effort for each person to find their name and put their papers in a folder, so this can backfire.

3. Be there

Prepare to stand between the after-school stampede and the snack cabinet and talk them through the process. Some children may be fine with a written list but others need the loving, annoying presence of a real, live parent.

I found that if my son gets past me to the kitchen, or even the bathroom, it’s ten times harder to get him to organize his school papers than if I catch him at the door. 

4. Write down the plan

Write a checklist of unpacking steps. Try to keep it down to 5 or fewer. Use pictures, even if your kids are readers. I count them off on my fingers when we walk through the door: 

  1. Unpack folder and lunch bag
  2. Wash hands
  3. Snack
  4. Homework
  5. Freedom!
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but we need more than a checklist. What if the papers don’t even make it home?” then you might need our free email course, “Academic Planners for Success.” This 7-email series will help you get your children and teens organized for school.


.

But What Do we DO with All This Paper? 

Organizing the papers by child is a good start, but what do you do with it all? There are things that need to be signed, read, and returned. Some are for your child and others are for you. And there’s homework to complete and return. 

5. Sort the papers every day

When papers come home from school, they need to be sorted into three groups:

  1. Keep at home (finished work and art projects, notices, etc.)
  2. Child needs to complete and return (homework)
  3. Parent needs to complete and return (forms, etc.)

6. Assign a folder

If your child didn’t get one at school, provide them with a home-school folder and label the sides “Keep at Home” and “Return to School.” 

  • The “Keep at Home” pocket contents go in the kid’s bin or box.
  • Sort the “Return to School” pocket into 2 piles:
    • Homework goes back in the folder and moved to the homework area
    • Parent paperwork goes in the parent bin for you to go through.

Weekly Routines for Organizing School Papers

If you follow this system, you’ll end the week with a pile of papers for each child and maybe some odds and ends for parents to do over the weekend. This is your opportunity to teach them how to organize school papers at home. 

7. Go through it once a week

Set aside time with each child to help them go through the pile once a week and decide if they want to:

  • Keep forever (like special art projects)
  • Take a picture and let it go (drawings, some writing, great grades, etc.)
  • Recycle it now (worksheets and odds and ends)

8. Designate a (limited) space for the keep forever stuff

I have a file box for each child. They can add whatever they want but when it’s full, it’s full. My parents gave me one under-bed storage box and it has everything I wanted to save from about third grade through high school. Other parents designate a bin per year. This will depend on your available space and your personal philosophy about paper keepsakes. 

A Few Words of Caution

This system is something you will do with your children, not to your children. If you’re the one with your hands on all the papers, they will learn that their job is to bring you their backpack so you can unpack it. It is so much harder sometimes to stick around and give them reminders and ideas for organizing school papers. But when you start this system, you are committing to letting them make decisions and trusting that, with your guidance, their decisions will get better with time!

Decluttering backpacks and homework
Even if you have a place for homework, kids’ backpacks tend to get cluttered over time. Here’s a routine for organizing backpacks and homework areas.

For my free 7-part email course, “Academic Planners for School Success,” and periodic tips and updates for helping your child learn, sign up here.


.

How much should my child be writing?

As a parent, trying to figure out if your child is meeting grade-level standards at school is a little like looking through a peephole. You get a tiny, distorted picture of progress from the work your child brings home, paired with grades and feedback from the teacher. But how do you know what “good” writing looks like in, say, third grade?

Signs your child is struggling with writing

Handwriting, Spelling and Mechanics – Oh my!

Messy handwriting – There seems to be this bell-shaped curve with handwriting. Early writers are learning to form the letters. They come out backwards, all different sizes, wobbly and not on the lines. Around the end of first grade, many students hit their groove. They have fully learned letter formation and have developed firm habits about how they write (for better or for worse!) Later, many stop being as careful with their daily handwriting and, while they may be able to write neatly for forms and Christmas cards, their grocery lists are a scrawl that is readable only to them. If your child is young, make sure they have appropriate lined paper, short pencils (not fat ones!) and opportunities for practice and feedback. If they are older and handwriting continues to be a barrier, consider using speech-to-text or typing to help them get their ideas out.

Indecipherable spelling – Early writers use what’s often called “invented spelling.” They go from scribbling random shapes to mixing in some real letters to beginning to represent the sounds in words, like “gmu” for grandma. In kindergarten and first grade, students are encouraged to “write what they hear” but they should be held accountable for including any spelling rules or patterns they have been taught. If your child isn’t writing letters that match the sounds in the word by first grade, or if they continue to use phonetic spelling into third grade (such as misspellings like sed and wuz for common words like “said” and “was,”) they may need some help in writing.

Incomplete thoughts – You may feel like you need a secret decoder ring to read children’s writing sometimes. If your child’s writing is vague, “We went there after the other time…” or if they never pause to end a sentence, “We had popcorn and we saw the previews and the movie came on but it was too loud and we watched the robots and we got pizza that was my favorite part,” they may need some explicit instruction in choosing descriptive words or identifying a complete thought/sentence.

Why there’s no easy answer

Whether a child’s writing is deemed “good” depends completely on the situation. Based on my experience in public schools, there seems to be much less consistency and money invested in writing curriculum than there are in math and English materials and planning. As a result, writing instruction in different schools, or even in neighboring classrooms, can be all over the map. 

Even looking at state learning standards can make the issue cloudier instead of more clear. The Common Core Standards don’t say how long a piece of writing should be in any particular grade. It gives broader goals that, while important and true, don’t give us enough information to evaluate our children and see if they are on track. 

For example, a fourth grader should “Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.” Cool. But within that, there’s a huge difference between “Koalas are the best animals because they are furry and smell like eucalyptus,” and “The bird in Horton Hatches a Who treated Horton unfairly because she left him to sit on her eggs while she went on vacation.” They both have opinions, reasons, and information, but one shows knowledge about koalas (I made up that eucalyptus thing, but I’m using my imagination here) and the other shows understanding about character relationships and connections to a book. 

How to help child with spelling
Students writing at a table in a classroom

Some schools or individual teachers use rubrics to take some of the guesswork out of evaluating writing. A rubric is a grid that specifies the expected parts of a piece of work and gives a number of points for each item. Sometimes, a rubric can serve as a checklist for completing the assignment:

  • The cover page should have the title, author’s name, and date.

Other times, a rubric can be almost as vague as the Common Core Standards. What is “adequate support,” anyway?

Would an editing checklist help? Download our free writing checklists by signing up right here!


.

OK, but really, how long should the writing be?

For what it’s worth (I unfortunately don’t have any power over schools’ curriculum), here are some general benchmarks I like to see students meet. When I see these things, I am pretty comfortable that they are on their way to becoming competent writers.

By the end of Kindergarten: 

  • Form all 26 letters (some reversed b/d/p/q m/w g/q is still developmentally very appropriate at this stage)
  • Write words phonetically by sounding them out or spell them correctly by using resources (for example, looking at the school lunch calendar to spell the word school)
  • Produce simple sentences. Many (maybe most) kindergarten graduates can write a sentence of 4-8 words themselves. Others are still using an adult scribe to capture their whole thought before they forget. It won’t be spelled correctly, but it should be a complete thought and most of the words should be there.
  • Express themselves verbally in complete thoughts, given a model. So if you say, “I think we should have spaghetti for dinner because it’s delicious. What do you think?” they can say, “I think we should get pizza because it’s fast.” 

By the end of first grade:

  • Write a series of 3-6 sentences about a single topic. They may begin to have a main idea/topic sentence, like “I’m going to tell you about my dog.” The writing might be repetitive: She has fur. She loves me. She likes walks.
  • Spell words in a way that makes sense, even if they pick the wrong option for some sounds, like writing trane for train

By the end of third grade:

  • Here’s where things start to vary more, both in school expectations and individual development. Sometime between the beginning of second grade and the end of third, children should learn to write a paragraph with a topic sentence and an appropriate number of details. 
  • In a narrative/story, they should have a clear beginning (where a character has a problem), middle, and end (where the problem is solved.) 
  • Most of their writing is often based on personal experience or general knowledge.

By the end of elementary school:

  • Write a paragraph that refers to specific facts from something they have learned and comments on those facts. 
  • Write a narrative that is several paragraphs long and talks about characters’ feelings and motivations. Children should be using conventions like quotation marks and punctuation to make their story clear.

Middle School: 

  • In middle school, students should be writing more and more about what they are learning in class. 
  • They should understand at least 3 kinds of writing (narrative, persuasive and expository) and be able to identify differences between the types.
  • Before high school, students should be able to string together at least 3 good paragraphs, with specific details and quotes from text they ahve read, into a coherent essay. They might need guidance to do this, with graphic organizers or sample papers to get them going.
  • Understand that they are writing for reader and that there are things writers do – like explaining their thoughts in detail – that we might not do in a spoken conversation.

High school:

  • Write a paper of 3-8 pages, with structure and guidance from a teacher.
  • Use specific evidence quoted from multiple sources to support their points in writing.
  • Use “writerly” academic language, including words like however, meanwhile, and on the other hand to show the relationship between their ideas.
  • Understand themselves as writers and use their knowledge to plan their writing process. For example, do they prefer to write a detailed outline or just start with a draft? What tools do they need to organize their notes or to keep their draft on track? How long does it take them to write a page?

But what if they aren’t?

Not everyone is going to choose a career or an education option that requires a lot of daily writing, but all students need and deserve to be able to communicate clearly in writing. Especially in a world of texts and emails, being able to write your message effectively can make an enormous difference. 

Not everyone is going to choose a career or an education option that requires a lot of daily writing, but all students need and deserve to be able to communicate clearly in writing. Click To Tweet

While every child’s development as a writer will vary, and my list above is only a rough guideline, children also sometimes need more than they are getting in the classroom. Without a strong writing curriculum, many teachers give students “inspiration” and “time to write,” which may not be enough structure for a child who just plain doesn’t know how to write. Other students need direct teaching about spelling or building sentences in order to do it successfully. If you have concerns about your child’s writing progress, or if they are avoiding writing or melting down, ask their teacher about writing expectations for the year. 

If your child is struggling with writing at school, whether it’s expressing themselves completely or spelling so others understand them, we can help! Contact us for a consultation and no-cost demo lesson today.

How much should my child be writing?
Writing expectations change a lot as your child moves through school. How do you know if they are meeting the expectations for their class?

My child is Guessing Words When Reading!

If you’re the parent of a young reader, you may have caught wind of terms like “The Reading Wars” and “The Science of Reading.” The issues always boil down to, “What is the best way to turn children into capable and eager readers?” Like everything, the questions and answers get oversimplified and misrepresented in media. But if you have a school-age child, varying approaches to reading instruction can make a huge difference. Especially if you’re wondering, “Why does my child guess words when reading?”

If a child guesses words while reading…

The (Vastly Oversimplified) Process of Reading

To read written English, we need to:

  • Connect the right sounds to the symbols (letters) printed on the page and blend them together to “hear” a word
  • Read quickly enough to not get exhausted and not run out of attention
  • Recognize a real word and understand what it means in this sentence
  • Read a whole story, remember it, and understand things about the story

One philosophy of teaching reading, called balanced literacy, advocates encouraging children to “use context clues,” including pictures, to figure out “what would make sense.” The problem with that approach is that, eventually, the books they read have fewer and fewer pictures to help them figure out hard words. Kids who rely on this coping strategy end up stranded because they don’t know how to say multisyllabic words. These kids have often been very successful in the classroom until third or fourth grade, but by fifth, they start to struggle. They can’t keep up with grade-level science texts, or lessons that require them to read for information. 

How to help children who guess words when reading
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

The worst part is that this is not what mature readers (like adults) do. Efficient readers quickly recognize whole words or chunks of words and combine them to read words they might never have seen before. By encouraging children to check the pictures, or by letting them fall back on this strategy, you’re promoting a reading habit that will become less and less effective as they progress as readers and eventually, it will leave them stranded. 

This parent noticed the problem when she tested her daughter on a predictable book with pictures to provide support. With the pictures, it sounds like beautiful early grades reading. But when the pictures are removed, the child stumbles and gets stuck. Think about the last 10 books you read. How many had pictures to help you read the words? Relying on the text alone is what reading really is!

How to Help Your Child Avoid Guessing

If you’re trying to figure out how to stop your child from guessing, first you need to understand “why does my child guess words when reading.”

Use decodable text – “Decodable text” is the term for stories that follow a sequence of introduction for different phonetic spelling patterns. The exact sequence is different for every set of decodable books, but generally “easy” books include one or more short vowel sounds and short words in short sentences. Think “Val sat on the mat.”

Text becomes “decodable” when students have learned the spelling patterns included in it. This doesn’t always match grade level or any other commonly used book leveling system. To know what decodable books your child needs, you have to know what patterns she has been taught: short vowels, silent e, vowel teams, etc.

Give “hard” words to them for free – Readers guess when they don’t know a word and don’t have the tools to figure it out. Once you have picked appropriate books, it helps to anticipate the tricky words and warn your child when they come up. It can feel awkward to interrupt their reading, but remember that you’re trying to stop the guessing behavior before it starts.

Even if they can read almost every word in the book, they might need help with character names. I know I’m not the only one who read Harry Potter without knowing how to pronounce “Hermione” until the movies came out!

Instead of “What would make sense?” – In the guided reading philosophy, teachers cue children when they get stuck on a word by asking “What would make sense here?” It leads them to say horse when they can’t read pony or hat when they can’t read helmet. Sometimes those substitutions are OK in early stories, and so kids over rely on that strategy. Then they get to more challenging texts. What would make sense in this sentence from the Wikipedia entry on electricity?

“The ____ of this force is given by Coulomb’s law.”

You didn’t guess magnitude? Me neither. That’s why having a strategy for breaking down unfamiliar words is so important.

One way to make reading more fun is to use our Winter Reading Bingo Board. Download it here.


.

Why is this still happening?

I heard the statistic that actual classroom instruction in public schools lags about 20 years behind educational research. It makes sense. If a teacher works in the schools for 30 years, it has probably been at least 20 years since she was a grad student. And administrators and curriculum coaches are likely at least a few years out of school. Not to mention, college teacher preparation programs are still teaching this approach to reading instruction and churning out new teachers who teach the same ineffective strategies. 

Is there hope?

Lots of people are asking their school districts hard questions, bringing effective, evidence-based, strategies into the classroom, and moving towards better curriculum. As a parent, finding these people (or becoming these people!) is one of the most powerful ways you can help your child and all the children in your district.

Look into local Decoding Dyslexia or Reading League chapters. 

For your own child, consider whether your current public school is the right place for them to learn to read. I taught my own son to decode because he attended kindergarten via distance learning, in a balanced literacy district, to boot. If your child is struggling with guessing and avoiding reading, it may be the best approach to choose a home instruction program or find a tutor who can teach your child using structured literacy so they have the skills and confidence required to sound out words without guessing. 

If it’s time to get some highly trained, 1-on-1 help to teach your child to read, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson.

What should I do if my child is using the pictures to guess words when reading?
Some children learn to use the picture or other clues to guess words that are hard to read. Here is how to help your children move away from using pictures and rely on the words printed on the page.

Bad News About Dyslexia

This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

I wanted to respond to a disturbing phenomenon I’m noticing as more parents and schools are becoming aware of dyslexia, but not yet meeting kids’ needs. Parents are lost in the system, trying to figure out, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?” and “How do I get an evaluation for dyslexia?”

In several instances, I’ve seen “online dyslexia tests” that claim to be able to identify dyslexia through a brief questionnaire and (surprise!) they know exactly what your child needs! 

Dyslexia, and other related conditions, cannot be diagnosed through an online quiz. There is no such thing as an “online dyslexia test” that gives a diagnosis. I feel silly writing those words but based on a product I encountered recently, it apparently needs to be said. 

What is dyslexia, anyway?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological 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.”

See? That’s a lot. It’s not quick to diagnose “poor spelling and decoding abilities” or “a deficit in the phonological component of language,” even for a professional who is using appropriate tools. 

How NOT to diagnose dyslexia

So that’s why, when I was browsing Pinterest and I found an online dyslexia quiz, I was too curious not to take it. It was a series of maybe 20 multiple-choice questions that asked me to check one or more boxes for each item.

Without a real child in mind, I checked the boxes almost at random. If there was an option that seemed to correlate with a low probability of dyslexia, I chose that one. For some questions I chose none of these. I didn’t choose more than one symptom for any of the questions. I tried to describe a student who was as successful in reading and typically-developing as I could. 

Within seconds of putting in my email address, I had a PDF report in my inbox describing my fictional child as having “severe dyslexia.”

The report was full of typos as well as downright misleading and wrong information about dyslexia. I couldn’t even finish reading it because I was so angry but the end of the report offered something that so many parents are looking for when they turn to the internet for information about their child’s learning struggles. 

It offered hope. This hope, of course, comes at a price. Parents are invited to buy the program and spend just 15 minutes a day remediating their child’s dyslexia, at a cost of about $50 a month.

If you are a parent who has spent afternoons and evenings struggling over your child’s homework, miserable meetings with teachers about your child’s lack of progress, poor attitude, or declining behavior in the classroom, 15 minutes a day and a few hundred dollars seems a small price to pay if it will fix the problem, right?

do schools diagnose dyslexia?
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I hate to be the one to be dashing those hopes but a program like that, while it might be good for a child in some general way, will not fix dyslexia.

But, like desperate people with all sorts of problems, parents turn to the internet for a quick fix and there it is. This was the first such program I had seen, although I know many providers have built successful practices for themselves based on interventions for dyslexia that have little or no research basis.

What it really takes to help a dyslexic reader

Getting help for a child with dyslexia is, unfortunately, more complicated. And takes more than 15 minutes a day. To address the symptoms of dyslexia in a systematic and effective way, first parents and teachers and providers need to come to an understanding of what dyslexia really is. Kids with reading difficulties need to be thoroughly evaluated by educational professionals like educational psychologists, speech pathologists and special educators before a diagnosis of a learning disability, including dyslexia, can be given.

After diagnosis, the recommended intervention for reading impairments including dyslexia is systematic, explicit, structured, multi-sensory teaching of reading and language. 

Unlike the quick fix promised in the free pdf report, this can be a long road. If they are older when the problem is identified, children may need weekly tutoring for several years to close the gap that has grown due to years of inadequate instruction. They may need supports like audiobooks, copies of teacher notes, or spellcheck throughout their educational careers. 

Remediating dyslexia is a long process and that isn’t as appealing a package to sell to parents. They have been dealing with the symptoms of this reading disability for years and once they finally have a name for it, it is frustrating to think that the journey has just begun.

I’ve listened to many parents describe their child’s process after dyslexia diagnosis and I’ve read the accounts of many more. Parents who are trying to help their children, especially at the beginning of a journey with dyslexia, are sometimes in an enormous amount of pain. They’re watching their children struggle. Many are being told by the school that the child does not qualify for an IEP or that the school does not offer the help the child needs. Some find that the school won’t “say dyslexia” at all and it feels like parents and their children are being dismissed or ignored. 

Many parents are telling each other to not trust the school with any decision-making and to immediately begin the stressful, often expensive, and sometimes contentious process of getting an outside evaluator to diagnose the child and getting an educational advocate or a lawyer to fight the school to give the child what he or she needs. 

That process is daunting for even a parent who is an expert in the school system, but it can be completely overwhelming for parents who feel they are out of their element. A quick fix that you can buy on the internet in the middle of the night must be extremely tempting.

And that’s why the existence of these products make me so angry.

Reputable sources of dyslexia information

Recent research has shown that even most teachers don’t have sufficient expertise to effectively support their students with dyslexia. This lack of awareness makes it hard for people to recognize a fake solution when they see one. And that can lead parents and children down a path that wastes precious time and money and doesn’t help them read and write better. A child with dyslexia needs systematic, multisensory, explicit instruction in reading, writing and spelling, such as Orton-Gillingham or related programs.

A child with dyslexia needs systematic, multisensory, explicit instruction in reading, writing and spelling, such as Orton-Gillingham or related programs. Click To Tweet

So please, if you are concerned that your child has dyslexia, get some good information from an expert. Some good places to start are:

If you’re not sure if your child has dyslexia, or if you’ve been given a more general diagnosis like a “specific learning disability in reading,” structured, explicit literacy instruction at school or with a tutor can still make an enormous difference in your child’s reading and spelling. I work with many students who don’t have a diagnosis, but because Orton-Gillingham is a prescriptive, diagnostic approach, I use informal assessments and observations from my lessons to plan the next steps, based on what the student needs most.

If this sounds like the approach your child needs, contact us today for a free consultation and see if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the right step for you.

Bad News About Dyslexia
Quick fixes for dyslexia sound like a dream come true for some struggling families. But those quick fixes can be time-wasters, or can actively harm dyslexic kids. Here’s how to know if a solution is real or too good to be true.

How to help a child read better at home

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

Happy New Year! Among the many resolutions we all make to eat better and get organized, many parents are wondering how to help their children have a great year. As a parent, you may be looking for ideas about how to help a child read better or how to get your child to read on grade level. Read on for some ideas about how to help a child read better and read more.

Identify the Problem

Sounding out words

Sometimes, children are reluctant to read because reading feels very hard! Especially for younger readers, books “at their level” can be filled with tricky irregular words that don’t follow the rules they know. For example, a sentence like “Bill made a card to give his mother” would look right at home in a first grader’s book, but there’s a lot to take in here: 

  • silent e changes the vowel sound in made, but not in give!
  • in mother, the o makes the /ŭ/ sound instead of the /ŏ/ sound!
  • card has an r-controlled vowel sound, which many reading programs don’t introduce until later on!

If your child is still learning about phonics and how to sound out words (usually up through second grade, possibly later), look for decodable books that match what they have learned. For kindergarten, Bob books are a great option. These Simple Words books are a terrific choice for older kids who want to read “real” books but are still learning to decode. Check out all my recommendations for decodable books here.

Reading Fluently

Even if a child can accurately sound out words, they may do it in a slow, laborious way that makes it hard for them to follow a story. If you’re wondering how to help a child read better and more fluently, one of the best ways is to provide a good model. This can mean taking turns reading pages, or having an older sibling read with them. Reading along with audiobooks is another option for letting children hear a fluent reader.

Beyond modeling, fluent reading comes from tons of practice. Suggest that your child read to pets, or dolls, or grandparents, or the neighborhood squirrels, whatever captures their attention. It’s important that children read frequently and read lots of different types of stories to become more fluent. It’s like learning a musical instrument – it can be boring, and it can be painful for the people listening, but slow and steady practice is an essential part of becoming a great reader!

Need ideas to jazz up your home reading routine? Sign up here to grab my free Winter Reading Bingo board and get email updates with more ideas to help your readers at home!


.

Sticking with a Book

Maybe your children read beautifully but they still don’t like it. Reading time is “boring” or “too long.” In our modern world, it can be so hard to block out distractions and sit down with a book. I read a lot of eBooks and often have to dodge email notifications, game requests, ads and weather reports to even get my book open! Those things are designed to get us to look at them. Think about how you can design reading time to make it appealing.

You can help a child read better and help them build reading stamina by:

  • Creating cozy reading spaces – cushions, blankets, good lighting
  • Keeping book collections fresh – hit the library regularly or trade with other families for new-to-you titles
  • Keep old favorites handy – there’s nothing wrong with rereading well-loved books!
  • Set an example – I know you don’t have time, no one does! But if you want your child to read, let them see you read. Keep a book in the kitchen and steal a few minutes while you wait for the water to boil, or create a bedtime reading ritual for everyone.

Finding books they can stick with is another challenge for growing readers. If your child has a limited reading diet, you may be wondering how to get your child to read on grade level. I often search websites like whatshouldireadnext and Good Reads for books like a current favorite. School and public librarians, as well as reading lists published by schools, can be great resources for book ideas. The Holy Grail of reading is finding a series your child loves, written by a prolific author. 

You can help your child expand their repertoire by:

  • Introducing new series – bring home one or two books from a new series and be willing to go back for more.
  • Learning about popular authors on YouTube or on their websites
  • Trying graphic novel versions of popular books – These can be quick reads that give them a taste of a more complex story.
  • Finding a common thread – If they like non-fiction about animals, try a novel that features animals.
  • Adding audiobooks – While we don’t want to give up on “eye-reading,” adding audiobooks can expose children to new kinds of stories in a more fun, lower effort way that might motivate them to read similar books themselves

Kids Who Read More, Read Better

Skipping reading when everyone is tired at bedtime or on a busy night of soccer and scouts doesn’t feel like a big deal. But daily reading has huge cumulative impacts on learning and development. Kids who read for 20 minutes a day can read six times as many words each year, compared to kids who read just five minutes a day. That can make an enormous difference in vocabulary, knowledge, and ability to understand stories.

Kids who read for 20 minutes a day can read six times as many words each year, compared to kids who read just five minutes a day. Click To Tweet

So let’s get started! Make it your New Year’s Resolution to increase your children’s reading time by 5 minutes a day, to start. Once you take the first step of making sure they sit down with a book daily, it’s much easier to grow the habit from there!

How to help a child read better at home
Most of us don’t remember learning to read. Here’s how to help your children get the help they need as they learn to read.

Don’t forget to download the Winter Reading Bingo board!


.

Becoming an Orton-Gillingham Tutor

When I realized I wanted to get out of the special education position I was in, I had no idea where I would go. I had heard of Orton-Gillingham but I didn’t really know what it was.

I was still passionate about education and I felt committed to the students I was teaching. But I was exhausted. My program was substantially separate, meaning my middle school students were in my class for the majority of the day, and when they attended other classes, like social studies or gym, they were attending with the support of paraprofessionals. Coordinating all those people and schedules, never having an empty classroom, and supporting children in both academics and social-emotional needs was more than a full-time job and I felt like someone was always getting short-changed.

Although being in a public school classroom limited what I could do in some ways, I also found a lot of satisfaction working with a team and helping my students succeed in our school community. But I felt like I really didn’t know everything I needed to to help them grow. Then I had a couple of lucky experiences that led me to become an Orton-Gillingham tutor.

Frustrations and Opportunities

Teaching Reading

I got my undergrad degree in psychology, with an elementary teaching license, at a time when my university was just beginning to rebuild their special education department. My state (Massachusetts) had just rolled out its standardized tests for teachers (MTEL) and the entire school of education was trying to learn together what was expected of new teachers. 

My courses on reading were almost all from a balanced literacy perspective. We learned about how to foster a love of reading, how to incorporate diverse literature, and how to engage students with books and learning. But we had just a couple of short class sessions on basic reading skills – phonics, sounds in English, assessment. The message was that, while we had to learn that stuff for the test, it wasn’t really what teaching elementary school would be about.

My entire master’s program in special education included one single class on reading and math instruction, called “Literacy and Numeracy.” I finished that master’s, went into a classroom teaching students with autism, and didn’t really question why we were only using sight word instruction programs. I moved on to a new school where some students were getting a bit of phonics instruction, others were getting mostly sight words, and no one was talking about whether one was better than the other or why. I dug into the closets and pulled out some dusty old readers to use with my groups. But I was still piecing it all together.

Orton-Gillingham, Finally!

In 2014, a new administrator brought in an Orton-Gillingham trainer to train a cohort of teachers. Up until that point, many of the teachers of students with moderate special needs were trained in the Wilson curriculum, and students whose needs were different, or who needed more intensive reading instruction, were often being taught by tutors who contracted with the district. The administration decided to get some of their own teachers trained so they no longer had to outsource those services.

From the first class, my mind was blown! Here was all the stuff that I felt like I was missing. I had known just enough to know I didn’t know enough to taech reading effectively, and here was the missing piece. Or the many, many, missing pieces. 

I realized that not only had I not been taught to teach phonemic awareness, decoding or spelling, but I hadn’t even been taught these skills myself. When I was growing up, whole language was the main method of teaching reading. Anything I knew about the writing system of our language came from my English teacher mother or things I inferred on my own from lots and lots of reading.

After 6 months of classes, papers and reading, and 100 lessons written and taught with feedback from our trainer, I was certified at the teacher level to teach using the Orton-Gillingham approach. 

If you’re an educator who wants to learn more about becoming a tutor, check out my educator resources.

The Grass isn’t Always Greener…Until it is

With my new Orton-Gillingham qualifications, I applied for a different position in my building. I moved from teaching students with severe special needs (the designation in Massachusetts for the highest-need students) to students with moderate special needs, in a resource room setting. That meant they came to me for only certain subjects. I taught reading to some students, math to others, and a study hall-type tutorial to many of the middle schoolers. Better than before, but with a schedule of 30-45 minute groups throughout the day, nothing was as intensive as my students needed. 

I started to tutor privately on evenings and weekends. At first, I was reluctant to offer Orton-Gillingham tutoring online, but as I learned new tools, I was able to offer better reading instruction online and I realized that there is certainly a demand for OG services everywhere, and some places just do not have enough trained teachers. Eventually, among the many changes brought in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, I quit my teaching job and started to tutor full time. 

Aah, finally. Now, through Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc., I have the freedom to meet students’ learning needs flexibly. I’m not limited by “service delivery minutes” or district policy. I love working with families to decide what students need, and how often, and offer it to them. And I love watching my students learn and grow as readers, as writers, and as people as their reading catches up to their other skills. 

A Happy Ending…For Now

I’m so thankful to spend every work day teaching what I love. I am helping students learn to read and spell in a way that they will use every day for the rest of their lives. 

Sometimes I get itchy, though, thinking about the students I’m not reaching. I know there are a lot of students, like the ones I used to teach in school, whose teachers don’t have the skills and resources yet to teach them in a way that’s consistent with the Science of Reading. So, while I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me or for my company, my goal is to bring good reading instruction to more kids, especially kids in my community. 

If your child needs more help to become a skilled, confident reader and writer, contact us today for a consultation and free demo lesson!

What to look for in an online Orton-Gillingham Tutor

What to Look For and Where to Find Them

For many parents and students, the possibility of online tutoring has opened up a world of options. Students who did not have any professional private reading tutors in their small towns can now find online Orton-Gillingham tutors to teach them. There has been an explosion in tutors offering their services across the United States and all over the world. Overall, this is incredible positive for students struggling to read. But it does mean parents have more complex decisions to make.

What to look for in an Online Orton-Gillingham Tutor

Certified Orton-Gillingham Tutors vs. Trained Tutors

There are an almost unlimited number of trainings that educators and parents can take about reading and writing. The Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading is considered to be a “direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy.” Orton-Gillingham tutoring is one type of “multi-sensory language education.” It is recommended by the International Dyslexia Association for teaching students with dyslexia. It’s also beneficial for students who are struggling to read but may not be diagnosed with dyslexia.

When you are looking for an online Orton-Gillingham tutor for your child, make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. One important thing to check is whether the tutor is certified in Orton-Gillingham or trained. Certified indicates that the teacher has completed a supervised practicum. They have taught a certain number of lessons under the supervision of a trainer. This is valuable because it helps them become more efficient, effective, and responsive teachers. Several of these programs also offer exams that educators can take to prove their knowledge.

There are several main organizations that accredit teacher training programs and train and certify Orton-Gillingham providers.

  • IDA – The International Dyslexia Association accredits literacy programs for professionals. It also provides individual certification in Structured Literacy through the Center for Effective Reading Instruction. Professionals who meet the qualifications and pass the exam are listed in their directory as Classroom Teachers, Dyslexia Interventionists or Dyslexia Specialists.
  • IMSLEC – The International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council is a group that accredits programs and set standards for educators learning about Orton-Gillingham, but does not certify individuals. 
  • ALTA – Like, IDA, the Academic Language Therapy Association also offers a certification exam for teachers who have completed qualified programs. Educators can test to become either a Certified Academic Language Practitioner (CALP), or with further training, a Certified Academic Language Therapist.
  • AOGPE (OGA) – The Orton-Gillingham Academy, (formerly known as the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and educators) is the third major organization for training and certifying educators in Orton-Gillingham. Like the other programs, a provider can be a Classroom Educator Level, an Associate or a Certified member, and each one signifies a different level of training and different supervised practicum requirements.
  • IMSE – The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education also offers Orton-Gillingham training and certification. This organization seems to be a popular first step for teachers learning about Orton-Gillingham for the first time, although they do also offer a supervised practicum.
  • Various programs and curricula – There are many reading programs that are based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham or structured literacy. These include some well-known programs like Wilson Reading and Barton and others that are less well-known. Like with the large OG organizations, teachers can be trained or certified in a particular curriculum and it’s important for you to know what that means. How long was their training? Did it cover students at all levels of learning, from beginning readers to students mastering upper level fluency and vocabulary?

Experience Online

Experience working online is another important piece of the puzzle when you’re looking for an online Orton-Gillingham tutor. Now that it’s become so common to tutor online, lots of tutors who prefer to work in-person are offering an online option, either temporarily during the pandemic or long-term now that they’ve discovered the benefits. 

But not all online tutors are created equal. Some have taken the opportunity to become online tutoring experts and some are offering it reluctantly because, although their students need it, they don’t feel comfortable. Tutors who don’t enjoy working online, frankly, aren’t as good. They might be distracted by technology challenges or limited in the tools they can use in lessons. So when you are interviewing an online Orton-Gillingham tutor, don’t just ask if they tutor online. Ask why they tutor online. Or ask what benefits they see of tutoring online.

If you need an online Orton-Gillingham tutor now, get in touch and schedule a free demo lesson today!

Experience with kids like yours

Everyone has a specialty, and online Orton-Gillingham tutors are no exception. Some are incredible at engaging young children and bringing fun and magic to the early stages of reading. Others have a way with older children who might feel embarrassed about working on basic skills with a tutor. Some have experience with children with different diagnoses or learning characteristics, such as learners with ADHD or autism. And of course, every student comes to tutoring with different strengths and needs, but the transition to tutoring can be easier when the tutor has some tools that have worked for kids like yours before.

If your child has particular needs, make sure you ask how the tutor might approach a student with that need. Even if they haven’t worked with a child just like yours, they should have some ideas to start with. If they sound clueless, you might not have found the right tutor!

Conclusion

Online Orton-Gillingham tutoring can open up a whole new world of reading and writing skills for children who are struggling, especially if there aren’t a lot of local services in your area. The good news is, you’re not limited to tutors in your town anymore. The bad news is tutors and their students are spread out all over the U.S. so it can be harder to get a good word-of-mouth recommendation. Know that you may have to speak with a few different tutors before you find one that is the right fit for your child but be patient! When you find the right tutor, the results are worth it!

Still have questions? Book a consult and free demo lesson today to see how online Orton-Gillingham tutoring works!