The best parts about teaching with the Orton-Gillingham approach

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What the heck is the Orton-Gillingham method?

The Orton-Gillingham method to teaching reading and spelling is an explicit, systematic approach to teaching literacy, based on the work of Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. In the early 20th century, Dr. Orton’s understanding of the brain and language development was brought together with teaching materials and methods compiled by Anna Gillingham to create an approach to reading instruction to support people with dyslexia. In 1935, Gillingham published The Gillingham Manual along with Bessie Stillman. Although there are different organizations that train and certify OG tutors, and their methods vary, The Gillingham Manual is still the foundation of the Orton-Gillingham method as it is used today.

Teaching using the Orton-Gillingham approach involves assessing a student, determining what graphemes (letters and combinations that represent an English sound) the student knows, and systematically teaching the ones they don’t know. Students also learn grammar, vocabulary, syntax and comprehension in the same step-by-step way. The underlying principle of the Orton-Gilling approach is that struggling readers need to be explicitly taught how written English works, including the history and spelling rules that make us think English is “weird” or “crazy.”

I love my job!

Working 1:1 with students

I was trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach while I was a public school special education teacher. On paper, I was responsible for a lot of the same things I do now. But here’s the big, exciting difference: Where I used to see group after group during the week, often for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, now I get nearly an hour, two or more times a week, with my students! 

Instead of trying to help them catch up in their classwork while working our way through the Orton-Gillingham learning sequence, in my 1:1 work with students I can prioritize the student’s needs and work through the Orton-Gillingham sequence of skills in a focused way.

Directly connecting with families

Another bright spot for me as a private Orton-Gillingham instructor is that I get to connect more directly with parents and families than I did as a teacher. I work with all my students online, using Zoom, so parents can pop in at the beginning or end of a lesson to chat, or can observe what their children are doing in lessons. I also have time to check in with parents by email or phone, share details about the student’s work, and make suggestions for materials for home or school. It’s easier to share progress and concerns with parents this way than it ever was when I taught kids at school and parents and I had to try to catch each other during the busy day!

Responding flexibly

One of my favorite things about working as an Orton-Gillingham specialist is the flexibility I can bring to my teaching. There are some great OG-based reading curriculums out there, like All About Reading, Barton, and Wilson. Many students get excellent results. The limitation of these programs is that they are designed to be taught in a particular order, over a specific number of lessons. Some students get excellent results from these programs! 

Other students need instruction at a slower pace, or they need more practice with a particular skill. With the Orton-Gillingham approach, I tailor my lessons to the individual student. So if we need to spend a few weeks on a concept, we spend it! We’re not “falling behind” or “stuck,” we’re just doing the next necessary step. By the same token, some older children know parts of what I teach, and we’re able to push ahead and introduce the skills they need as soon as possible. Either way, I’m able to give students what they need most, instead of being tied to a particular book or curriculum.

Some of the things I do with students fall outside the traditional Orton-Gillingham approach. Remember, The Gillingham Manual was written in the 1930s. We’ve learned a lot since then about the human brain, reading, dyslexia, and how people learn. As an Orton-Gillingham provider, I incorporate other approaches and resources for teaching phonemic awareness, fluency, morphology, and writing. For the most part, these approaches support the Orton-Gillingham method. Rather than replacing OG, many of these tools are supplements that let me give my students more of what they need more quickly!

More of the good stuff!

I loved many parts of my job when I was a teacher! I love the energy in an elementary school, especially at the beginning of the year. I love that point in the middle of the year sometime when we hit our groove and everyone is learning together. I love seeing children proud of their accomplishments and moving on to the next level of skills. 

But now, as a private Orton-Gillingham instructor, my days are filled with more of the good stuff! I get to see more students make more impressive gains because when I work with a student, I can zero in on the skills they need next and teach those. It’s incredibly rewarding to see students succeed and become more confident in their reading and writing.

If you are looking for an Orton-Gillingham-certified online reading tutor for your child, contact us for a consultation. Let’s talk about how the Orton-Gillingham method can help your child and whether online learning is a good fit for them.

What is visual dyslexia?

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What is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association , dyslexia is: 

“Dyslexia is 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.”

Dyslexia looks different for different people and even the same person at different ages. It can be quite severe, making it difficult for a child to read or spell at all, even after lots of teaching and practice. Dyslexia can also be very mild and students might “fly under the radar” for years or just be considered “careless” spellers or “reluctant” readers. Students with this profile are sometimes identified as having “visual dyslexia,” to distinguish them from students who have difficulties with the phonological (sounds) part of reading and spelling. But what is visual dyslexia?

Are there different types of dyslexia? 

The International Dyslexia Association is widely recognized as an authority on the subject of dyslexia. They do not recognize visual dyslexia as a subtype of dyslexia. In fact, they emphasize that dyslexia is not a vision problem. And therefore, glasses, colored filters and vision exercises are not treatments for dyslexia. But just the same, kids with dyslexia can be very different from each other. Terms like “visual dyslexia” and “phonological dyslexia” have gained popularity with some professionals because they describe how students are unique and help evalutaors and tutors communicate about what students need.

What is visual dyslexia?

Visual dyslexia is also known as surface dyslexia or dyseidetic dyslexia. These terms describe a reader who has difficulty remembering how to read and spell words, but who does not have significant problems with the phonological or sound parts of language. There is some research that shows this is a true distinction and may help us understand causes and improved treatments for dyslexia. However, these subtypes of dyslexia don’t completely explain differences between different students and there isn’t enough evidence to support giving these readers a different kind of treatment or intervention.

What is phonological dyslexia?

Phonological dyslexia is a term used to describe readers who have difficulty with the phonological or sound parts of reading. The might struggle with oral language skills like rhyming or repeating multisyllabic words when other kids their age are mastering the skill (kids who say pah-sketti for spaghetti beyond preschool, for example). Readers with this profile might not include all the sounds when they read or spell a word or might say the wrong sound for a letter they see.

Are there other types of dyslexia?

While there are not clear cut “types” of dyslexia, students can have varying degrees of need in different skills. They are similar, the same way a pink striped sock and a pink polka dot sock are similar. They might both match your sweater and be made of wool. That doesn’t mean they’re a perfect match!

Some people with dyslexia mainly have weaknesses in their phonological skills. They might need a lot of practice to learn to read long science words or a lot of practice counting the sounds in words and making sure to include all the letters.

Others might have no problem with phonological skills, but have a great deal of difficulty rapidly and fluently applying rules and patterns they know to words on the page. This often shows up in testing as a weakness in Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), the ability to quickly and accurately recall knowledge, like letter and number names. 

Still other students have difficulty in both of these areas. This profile is known as “double-deficit dyslexia” in which students have difficulty in both phonological skills and RAN. These students often make slow progress and need more repetition and review than those with only one deficit.

What helps with visual dyslexia?

If a student is evaluated and given a diagnosis of dyslexia, the chief recommendation is usually an explicit, sequential, program of reading instruction that includes instruction in letter-sound relationships, spelling rules, vocabulary and comprehension. Orton-Gillingham (OG) is one approach for teaching dyslexic readers. These approaches may also be known as “structured literacy” and, while OG is older and well-known, there are many other programs and instructional approaches that can also be quite effective.

Students whose signs of dyslexia are mostly visual (poor spelling) and not phonological (segmenting and blending sounds in spoken words) might need more spelling and morphology instruction, and less practice with phonemic awareness exercises or letter-sound drills. But this is still done effectively under the umbrella of structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham instruction. As an educator certified in Orton-Gillingham, I’ve taught students who fit each of these profiles, and some who didn’t quite fit any. I’ve had other students without a dyslexia diagnosis at all. For all of these different students, the Orton-Gillingham approach has been effective, as long as we are accurately recognizing the skills they need.

As different as these profiles seem, their needs are very similar, at the core. We use the language parts of our brain for reading (not the same visual parts we use to recognize faces or objects). So whether a reader is struggling with mostly spelling or mostly decoding or mostly fluency, the answer still lies in studying the English language. 

For example, I work with some middle grades students (4-7th grade) who are adequate readers and are good at spelling the sounds in words, but they forget which there/their/they’re or to/two/too to use. Their writing might be phonetically readable for other words, but not correct. They may spell compete as cumpeet or walked as wockt. It helps tremendously when they learn the patterns and rules behind English spelling. They learn about words that come from Anglo-Saxon, and those that come from French, Latin and Greek. They learn how often a certain spelling is used in English words so they can start to make educated guesses about words they aren’t sure of. They learn how meaning impacts spelling. Walk + ed sounds like /wokt/ but it means that someone did the action (walk) in the past (-ed) and that’s how we spell it.

So is it wrong to say my child has “visual dyslexia?”

I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to use the term “visual dyslexia,” but I would say it’s imprecise and sometimes not a useful piece of information. Our scientific understanding of dyslexia and reading development has come a long way, but it is still growing. Scientists use brain imaging and studies of people with dyslexia over years to learn more about what kind of instruction is effective. We may learn something different through this research that helps us help students more promptly and more efficiently by tailoring instruction to their needs.

But for now, no matter how your child’s dyslexia presents, the most important thing is to get connected with teachers or tutors who are experts in the process of learning to read. Finding a tutor certified in Orton-Gillingham or an OG-based program (Wilson, Sonday, etc.) is one way to make sure the person has sufficient expertise. It’s more important to recognize that a child is struggling and give them the instruction they need than it is to give that struggle a specific label. 

And that’s what we do at Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc. We offer Orton-Gillingham instruction in a convenient, effective, online format. If your child needs explicit, systematic reading instruction, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson . Let’s talk about how we can help!

What to do after dyslexia diagnosis?

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If you’ve just learned that your child has dyslexia, or you are in the middle of an evaluation, you likely have many questions. Once you start following experts in the field and chatting with parents, your “to do” list, along with your “to read” and “to buy” will fill up quickly. Here are my recommendations for families who are wondering what to do after dyslexia diagnosis and are beginning their journey into dyslexia.

Learning that your child has dyslexia can be a time of intense emotions for you, your partner, your child, and other children in the family. You might feel overwhelmed by all the information, relieved to have an answer, guilty for not seeing the problem sooner, or something totally different from these. For many people, dyslexia isn’t even something on their radar until a child struggles with reading and writing. 

Some people like to gather all the information they can and they hit Google hard, bookmarking and highlighting and printing everything that seems useful. Others might feel like they are slowly drowning in reports and recommendations and just hope that some expert will throw them a life preserver. It’s important not to lose sight of your real goal: helping your child with dyslexia be confident, skilled, happy and successful. 

Tools for you, Supports for your child

Educate yourself

One of the first steps a parent should take when their child is diagnosed with dyslexia is to educate themselves about the condition. There are many widespread misconceptions about dyslexia, like that it’s an “old-fashioned” term we don’t use anymore, or that people with dyslexia physically see letters and numbers backwards. We have learned a lot about the brain and about dyslexia in the last several decades and there are many good sources of information. 

  • Join your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter – these groups are made up of parents, educators, and educational advocates. They are great sources of more local information about state education laws and local resources. My state’s Decoding Dyslexia Facebook group is very active and just by reading along I have learned so much about how the state and local school districts respond to dyslexia.
  • Find your local SEPAC – many school districts have a Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, a group made up of district parents that communicates with the school board or school committee about the needs of special education students. In some districts, the SEPAC also sponsors educational speakers or events that are relevant to needs of their students. 
  • Check out the International Dyslexia Association’s fact sheets – The IDA puts out lots of informative fact sheets, for parents and teachers, about a wide range of topics that impact people with dyslexia. 
  • Get some books. There are so very many good books you could read about dyslexia, education, parenting, and literacy. (Keep in mind, these may be available as audiobooks through your public library or through Audible.) Here are my recommended starting points:
    • For inspiration: Reversed by Lois Letchford is a memoir about how Ms Letchford taught her severely dyslexic son to read and write when the schools could not.
    • For the scientific basics: Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz. Dr Shaywitz is the co-director and co-founder of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and has an incredible wealth of knowledge about both scientific and practical aspects of dyslexia.
    • For the non-academic challenges: It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend by Richard Lavoie. Dyslexia can impact so much more than a child’s reading and spelling. It can also impact the way they communicate and process information, socially as well as in the classroom. Rich Lavoie has advocated for the social and emotional needs of kids with learning differences for decades and his workshop F.A.T. City is an eye-opening window into how it feels to be different in school.

Services for dyslexia

You’ve heard that dyslexia is life-long, that it affects many parts of a person’s thinking and achievement, not just reading and writing, and that it can be complicated to address. So, can anything be done for dyslexia? Absolutely, yes! The International Dyslexia Association recommends a structured literacy instruction approach. That means reading and writing instruction that addresses all 5 components of literacy (letter-sound relationships, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) and is systematic, cumulative explicit, and diagnostic. 

That means skills are taught directly (not inferred from lots of reading, which is something dyslexic readers find incredibly difficult or impossible). Instruction follows a purposeful sequence, usually from most common patterns to less common ones. It is cumulative and diagnostic, meaning skills are built and reviewed over time, until a child has mastered them, and that lessons are planned based on frequent assessments of a child’s particular needs, rather than adherence to a prescribed curriculum.

One type of structured literacy teaching is the Orton-Gillingham approach. It’s been around since the early 20th century, and has a long track record as one of the most effective ways to improve reading and writing in people with dyslexia. Many popular reading curricula are based on Orton-Gillingham, like The Sonday System, Wilson Reading, and Barton. No matter what approach you choose, instruction should be individualized and intensive enough to allow a child to make progress. At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we strongly recommend that students work with a tutor at least twice a week, for a 50-minute session. That’s pretty standard among Orton-Gillingham tutors. 

How to get the school to provide dyslexia tutoring

Even after you’ve addressed the first challenge of finding your child dyslexia services – understanding the different approaches – you may be dealing with the challenge of getting your child’s school to educate them appropriately. While some schools have dyslexia therapists or Orton-Gillingham or Wilson-certified teachers working intensively with students, other districts are not forthcoming with those resources. A child who is struggling with schoolwork due to an identified learning disability, including dyslexia, should qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that includes appropriate literacy services. 

In order for a child to get an IEP, the school will evaluate them through testing and a review of their school records. This process can be daunting, but it is important to understand that you and your child have rights in this process, outlined in the Procedural Safeguards document the school must give you as part of this process. The details vary by state and it is worth reading and understanding. The bottom line is that those safeguards help ensure that your child gets the services and supports they need and that their voice and yours are adequately represented in the IEP process. 

What if the school isn’t?

But what if the public school isn’t providing the right services? This can happen for a lot of reasons, and it can be very challenging. For example, the school might respond to a dyslexia diagnosis by saying something like, “We don’t use the term dyslexia.” or “Dyslexia is handled under 504 plans.” Blanket statements like that are illegal, to put it bluntly. The term dyslexia is part of IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act , which is the federal law that governs the IEP process and special education services. In many cases, the district has policies or common practices in place that aren’t in line with IDEA. Administrators sometimes get the mistaken idea that those policies take precedence over federal education law. This document from the US Department of Education from 2015 is a great starting point to share with them to help clarify their understanding of their responsibilities. 

Another reason schools sometimes fail to provide needed services is staffing. They’ll say, “We don’t have a teacher who teaches that,” when asked for a service like Orton-Gillingham reading instruction with a certified provider. If these services are deemed necessary, and the district does not have a teacher who can provide them, they need to a) train one (certification for Orton-Gillingham or another reading approach takes more than a year) and/or b) hire one. In some cases, the district finds a professional to hire or contract with, and in other cases, parents have been able to refer a tutor they have been working with to contract with the district instead.

As a former special education teacher, I would love to say “Work with your district! They know your child and have her best interests at heart! Trust them!” In many cases, that’s true at the school level. But there are still many cases where the district does not act in a child’s best interest. You may consider hiring a special education advocate (or at least bring a knowledgeable friend to the IEP meetings to help you take notes) to help you navigate the process and ensure that the IEP meets your child’s needs . Always request that the district put their decisions in writing.

An alternative if the district is not meeting your child’s needs is seeking services elsewhere. If there is a Children’s Dyslexia Center in your area, they provide free Orton-Gillingham tutoring to children who qualify. If you want to hire a private tutor, look for lists of certified tutors from the Children’s Dyslexia Center, Orton-Gillingham Academy or Wilson Reading . If there are not many tutors in your area, many tutors also offer their services online. If you want to talk about whether online tutoring with us would be a good fit for your child, contact us here .

Beyond seeking tutoring services, some parents choose to send their children to a private school (or even choose to move to a different location!) that will better meet their needs. This is an enormous change, and I think it speaks to how challenging it can be to get appropriate services in some schools! In some cases, school districts end up paying for a child’s private school placement when the local school is not able to provide needed services. This process is long and complicated, and often best navigated with the support of an advocate or special education attorney.

Another option if local schools aren’t the right fit is homeschooling. There are many parents whose homeschool journey began with concerns about children who weren’t learning to read. There are many groups of homeschool parents who teach using structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham, and many programs designed to meet the needs of parents teaching their children. For some families, this is a short-term decision to focus on getting reading skills up to speed, and for others it’s a long-term schooling change.

Recommendations for kids with dyslexia

OK, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a topic that’s a little lighter. Let’s talk about the rest of your kid’s life, outside of schooling. Here are some ways to support your child after a dyslexia diagnosis, outside of education decisions:

  • Get some decodable books: These books are written for readers in the process of learning to decode. They limit the word choices in the book to words the kids can sound out, and a small handful of irregular words (like was). These books provide essential practice while kids are learning to decode, as well as building their fluency, reading stamina, and confidence! Some of my favorites are listed below. Check out the whole list here
  • Read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco with your child. This picture book about a struggling reader who finally learns to read beautifully captures the experiences of embarrassment and frustration many children experience when they struggle in school, as well as the pride and joy when that begins to change. In this video version, Jane Kaczmarek reads the book .
  • Enjoy audiobooks! Audiobooks (from Audible or from your local library’s ebook collection) are a great tool for helping kids with dyslexia develop comprehension, vocabulary, and knowledge while their decoding skills grow. They can also be a helpful tool for older students who are trying to keep up with the volume of reading in middle and high school. 
  • Do things that build joy and confidence. Some things are hard right now, especially when a dyslexia diagnosis is new. The gap between your child’s reading and their peers can seem huge and overwhelming. Resist the temptation to overload them with services and tools and programs and whatever else. Leave time in your family’s schedule for laughter, physical activity, rest, and sleep. That means balancing multiple priorities, like tutoring, sports, dance, and family time. It’s hard and will need adjustments over time, but it’s worth it because happy, healthy kids learn better, too!

But first, breathe!

Choose your favorite inspirational meme, whether it’s putting on your own oxygen mask first, pouring from an empty cup, or boulders, pebbles and sand. Take some time to feel your feelings about this new aspect of your child’s life, write down your thoughts and questions, and plan your next steps. You won’t be able to conquer every challenge at once, but you can steps in the right direction!

For parents, navigating what to do after dyslexia diagnosis can be confusing, exhausting, frustrating, and expensive. Of course, you want to do what you can to get results as soon as possible, but remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll be guiding your child through the education system throughout high school and likely beyond. You’ll find resources and people that will help you fill in the gaps and meet new challenges. And you will get better at it as you go.

If you are considering online Orton-Gillingham tutoring for your child, contact us for a consultation and demo lesson to see if it is a good fit for your family.

What goes in a middle school homework toolkit?

We hope our kids are pretty independent by middle school. Ideally, we’d like them to come home, fix a snack, and dive into their middle school homework. 

In reality, lots of kids still need parent help to get organized, plan projects, and remember deadlines. But planning ahead on the “get organized” part, you can make sure that your child’s middle school homework doesn’t become your homework! 

Planning ahead beats problem solving

A place for homework 

Ideally, homework should be done in a quiet environment. Some kids strongly prefer to listen to music or have TV on while doing homework. Try to get them to do a scientific experiment – try one day’s homework without background noise and another day’s with. Measure how long it takes and how completely it gets done. For some kids it works, and for others it distracts them in ways they aren’t aware of.

I liked to study by spreading all the materials I needed around me on the table or couch. Other people like to have one thing out at a time. Talk with your child to come up with a consistent place to do homework where they can work comfortably. If they commit to working in one place, they are less likely to lose materials or run around looking for tools they need.

Tools to have on hand

Writing tools: pens, pencils, a sharpener, highlighters

Writing tools: notebook paper, graph paper, blank computer paper, sticky notes, index cards

Other tools: ruler, protractor, calculator, scissors, little stapler, tape

Technology: charger and a convenient outlet so they can keep working while they charge

Communication and accountability 

Your middle schooler should be keeping track of their own homework using a planner or calendar of some kind. Some middle schools have all kids use the same planner. Others post assignments to their websites or Google Classroom. Regardless of the school’s policy, I recommend some kind of simple planner or list tool for all middle school students. 

Writing down the assignment helps your child pay attention to the details and gives them an opportunity to ask questions about the assignment and make a mental note of how long the work will take. If kids have access to a homework list online, they might want to just list upcoming assignments on a whiteboard in their room, or a list app in their cell phone, to keep track of what’s due.

You may need to help your child navigate teacher’s websites or Classroom links. Unfortunately, many middle schools don’t seem to have a consistent policy about this. Teachers often do what works best for them rather than what easiest for the students to manage. Even if your child is successfully checking for and completing their assignments, you should still plan to check in with them regularly about upcoming deadlines and tests. This helps you keep them accountable for finishing their work and you can back them up by reminding them about tests or due dates.

Expectations vs. reality

Babies usually start to walk sometime between the age of 12 and 15 months. At 15 months and 3 days, you wouldn’t put your baby down and tell them to fend for themselves, would you? No, you’d keep guiding and supporting them until they could do it on their own. And if they were walking somewhere tricky, like on gravel or in traffic, you’d hold their hand or carry them, right?

Middle school homework is the same deal. Most kids can independently manage most middle school homework expectations. But some kids, at some schools, in some classes, for some busy seasons, will still need your help getting organized and managing their time. And if you help them do it in a systematic way, instead of dealing with late nights and bad test scores, you are giving them the tools to do a better job when they take it all over on their own!

If reading fluency or comprehension are holding your middle schooler back, contact us to see if online literacy tutoring is the right fit.

What do children’s reading levels mean?

Reading levels are one of my least favorite things about elementary school. They are a quick way for teachers to decide what books to read with which students but they don’t do much for students. But knowing your children’s reading levels can help you select books to read with them at home, as well as give you a little bit of information about whether they are meeting the targets for their grade level.

Different systems, different data

Lexile Levels

Lexile levels are assigned to a book or article. A student gets a Lexile score on certain literacy assessments, like the MAP Growth assessment. A Lexile score is a 3 or 4-digit number. This chart shows Lexile levels for the average (50th percentile) and high achieving (90th percentile) reader by grade level.

Guided Reading Levels

Guided Reading scores are letters of the alphabet from A (beginning of kindergarten) to Z (usually around 5th or 6th grade). A child’s reading level is determined by the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (BAS). In this assessment, a child is asked to read out loud from a leveled book and then answer questions about the story. This assessment has several large flaws. First, the score doesn’t tell us whether the child is having trouble reading the words on the page, remembering what happened, or communicating his answers. Second, these assessments are very subjective and a child’s score can vary greatly depending on who assesses them.

Developmental Reading Assessment

The Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) is another common assessment used in elementary schools. DRA scores are numbers from 1 to 70. Students are usually given the DRA once or twice a school year. This chart compares DRA levels to grade levels.  

Once you know the level, what’s next?

If your child’s reading level is on-target, according to their teachers or according to one of the charts linked above, that’s good news. If you don’t notice any problems with your child’s reading, and the scores are as expected, keep doing what you’re doing!

If they haven’t met the goal on their reading assessments, it’s time to gather some more information. What do you see and hear when you ask your child to read? What other assessments have the teachers done that might give a fuller picture? Check out this blog post for more info about what to do if a child is not reading at grade level.

How to help kids build a reading habit

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A habit is a behavior that we do consistently, without consciously thinking about whether to do it, over time. It can be good (saving money, eating vegetables), bad (smoking, staying up too late), or neutral (walking the dog around the block clockwise). Wondering how to build a reading habit for your kids?

At first, even the best and most desirable habits can feel uncomfortable and it’s easy to forget to do them. But if we set the right conditions, they get easier with time! Here are some ways to help your child build a reading habit. 

How to build a reading habit

BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, says every habit has a cue, a behavior (that’s what we think of when we say “habit,”) and the reward.


Cues are things in the environment that prompt you to start a habit. Snacking because you walk by the candy dish, starting the coffee maker because it’s 7am, running home when the street lights come on. Here are some cues for reading to think about in your child’s environment.


Designate a reading spot that is comfy, well-lit, and quiet. Keep needed supplies (a book basket, pencil and sticky notes, a reading log) nearby. Minimize distractions like toys, screens, and people who aren’t reading quietly.


Pick a time for reading when kids are quiet but not sleepy. Make sure they aren’t hungry or in a rush to get outside with their friends. 

At my house, there’s a quiet period on weekend afternoons that make for great reading time! We fit in reading on other days but on weekends it’s a really nice experience. Other families read while waiting for siblings to finish practice or lessons. That has the advantage of keeping siblings and their distractions away for better focus. I could never read in the car without feeling sick, but some kids are able to read while their parents are driving. 

Reading behavior 

When you say you want your kids to read more, what do you mean? To help kids build a reading habit, you have to make the reading itself as enjoyable as possible. If you start them off with books that are too hard and frustrating (or too easy and boring), they are less likely to stick with it. Some thoughts about keeping reading engaging and appropriately challenging:

Choosing books

Some teachers are firm about expecting kids to read books “at their level,” but when we’re talking about building a habit of reading, there’s a big place for books that make kids happy! If that’s a dense book of sports stats, great! If it’s a comfy favorite picture book, great!

If your kids have finished a favorite book or series and you want to keep the momentum going, try searching online for “books like _” for recommendations. You can also ask your child’s teacher or your children’s librarian for books that are popular with kids that age. 

Fixing errors

Reading isn’t fun when you can’t read the words on the page. If a book has too many words your child can’t decode yet, reading will be slow and frustrating. They will have trouble understanding the story because all their bandwidth will be used up just to figure out the words. 

You can help your child with challenging books by

  • Choose easier books – ok, this one isn’t quite fair but one way to make reading more enjoyable is to choose books at an easier level.
  • Offer to take turns – when you read every other page, they hear your fluent model. Plus it helps them move along through the story, which can improve their comprehension.
  • Get the audiobook – audiobooks are a great resource for letting kids enjoy stories they can’t decode effectively yet. For some readers, it builds confidence to hear a book that’s a little challenging first, and then read it again on their own. 
  • Talking about it with them – ask questions or point out things that’s surprises you or made you laugh. 

Thinking about the story

Some kids race through the pages of a book, trying to get through as many pages as they can. Others flip through a book randomly and don’t get much of the story. Knowing that you’re going to ask them about it later sometimes motivates kids to pat attention to the details. At the same time, don’t interrogate your kids about their reading. Think book club chitchat, not Final Jeopardy! 

For some kids, writing a quick note on their bookmark when they stop reading, or sketching a picture at the end of the chapter to make a little comic strip of the story, can help them remember what they read. 

Make these a small part of your child’s reading time, though. When I was a kid, a journal entry was required at the end of each chapter. I had a hard time writing a succinct summary, so I would get stuck on a book for weeks because I fell behind in my journal. The strategy of having us write about our reading backfired for me! 


It’s tempting to offer prizes and praise and rewards to get kids to do things they don’t want to do. Mini M&M’s saved my sanity while potty training! But giving kids rewards for reading can backfire, according to some research. 

Reading that lasts

So focus on rewards like learning interesting facts, being entertained, and having cozy quiet time with a parent. Making reading an inherently enjoyable experience is the goal. That’s the best way to help kids build a reading habit that lasts a lifetime!

If your child is struggling with reading, we can help! Contact us today to talk about how we can help your child become a capable, confident reader.

Do Kids Outgrow Dyslexia?

I was explaining to a student how our brains process language when we read and how some brains don’t do it as efficiently, which can lead to slow reading. I named dyslexia as an example of what can cause reading difficulty. My student nodded knowingly and said, “I had dyslexia when I was little, but I outgrew it.” I mentioned that there are lots of different types of reading difficulties, but that dyslexia isn’t something a person outgrows. But it’s a common perception about dyslexia that it only affects children.

Why can’t you outgrow dyslexia?

What is dyslexia?

The International Dyslexia Association has developed this definition of dyslexia:

“Dyslexia is 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.”

For young children, it often looks like poor reading and spelling, difficulty remembering or pronouncing words, trouble rhyming, and resistance to reading. At this stage, teachers often say that kids are learning “at their own pace” or that we should “wait and see” if they catch up. But research has shown us that kids don’t outgrow dyslexia! They need systematic, explicit, literacy instruction to get the skills they are missing.

Often, older children with dyslexia have learned some reading and spelling skills but their reading remains slow, or they have poor comprehension. They sometimes avoid reading or writing, and might demonstrate behaviors (like arguing or goofing around) that take the focus off their difficulties and make it easier for them to avoid what they struggle with. But even if a child with dyslexia can learn to read, that doesn’t mean they outgrow dyslexia.

If you learn to read, is dyslexia cured?

Unfortunately, learning to read and spell isn’t the end of the journey for a person with dyslexia. Through the IEP process, schools will complete formal testing and sometimes, if instruction has been effective, they will determine that a child no longer qualifies for an IEP because their scores are average now. Unfortunately, that isn’t the same as outgrowing dyslexia. 

While reading and spelling skill gaps can be remediated – meaning students get the skills they were missing – the brain of a person with dyslexia can still process information differently. They may need explicit instruction in vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, or writing. Older students and adults with dyslexia may also use assistive technology to help them do reading and writing tasks.


What happens to adults with dyslexia?

Adults with dyslexia continue to exist! They become scientists, teachers, athletes, writers, lawyers, parents, and many other things. With skills, accommodations, advocacy and support, people with dyslexia can grow up to be successful, powerful members of our communities.

Unfortunately, without the right teaching and support, people with dyslexia have outcomes that aren’t as good. According to, there are over 43 million adults in the US who struggle with math, reading and writing tasks above a third grade level. Many of those adults may have dyslexia and not even know it. Poor reading skills can lead to a lack of job opportunities, as well as making people more likely to end up incarcerated. 

If you can’t outgrow dyslexia, what should we do?

A dyslexia diagnosis is something that will be with a person for the rest of their life. It will affect the way they learn, the way they communicate, the jobs they choose, and the tools and supports they use every day. Many adults with dyslexia are proud of their identity as dyslexic and say it also includes strengths like creative thinking that help them succeed! 

But embracing dyslexia is not the same as ignoring it. For a person with dyslexia to succeed and thrive, they need high quality, explicit instruction in reading and writing and consistent support from teachers and family who understand dyslexia and advocate for the student’s needs. 

If you suspect that you or your child has dyslexia, learn more from the International Dyslexia Association. If you are looking for systematic, explicit, literacy instruction, contact us for a consultation to find out if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is right for you! 

An Orton-Gillingham Tutor Near Me

As the school year comes to a close, many parents are thinking about using the summer to help their children catch up on skills with the help of a tutor. But if you are looking for something specific, like an Orton-Gillingham certified tutor, you might have to do a bit of digging. Often, searching for “Orton-Gillingham Tutor Near Me” gets you search results for large tutoring organizations or referral services. Sometimes you even end up in the weeds, with information about how to get OG certified instead of how to find a tutor that is already trained! Here are my top tips for finding an Orton-Gillingham tutor near you!

Finding an Orton-Gillingham tutor near me

Some of the best local Orton-Gillingham tutors I know are totally invisible online. They built their businesses on referrals from parents and schools and so they don’t come up in a search when you look for “tutor near me” online. The best way to find these hidden gems is to ask around. Your local Decoding Dyslexia branch, Facebook parent groups and local teachers are three great sources of information about local OG tutors near you. 

If you’re not ready to ask about your child’s needs in a public forum, you can also search any Facebook groups you are in for older discussions about tutors in your area. 

Finding dyslexia therapy near me

The term “dyslexia therapy” is used to describe structured literacy instruction done by a highly-trained expert who has passed an exam through the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA) and completed their certification requirements. Some states also license dyslexia therapists, such as the state of Texas. In other states, certified dyslexia therapists are difficult to find. If your “dyslexia therapy near me” search leaves you empty-handed, there are other trainings and qualifications that can help you find a highly skilled dyslexia tutor for your child. 

How do I find tutoring for dyslexia

I’ll tell you how to find tutoring for dyslexia, but a word of caution, first: Many teachers and principals, and some whole schools, are completely uninformed about dyslexia. If a teacher that hasn’t helped your child grow significantly in reading this year is recommending something like, “Just go to the library and read to her plenty! She’ll catch up!” smile and nod and find a more knowledgeable source of information.

Tutoring for dyslexia should be done by a person with training (certification is even better!) in Orton-Gillingham or another structured literacy approach to teaching reading. Orton-Gillingham is a systematic, sequential, diagnostic, multisensory approach to teaching language skills. While some large, national tutoring companies offer tutoring for dyslexia, make sure the staff is certified in OG or another approach before signing up. There are a few people qualified to offer tutoring for dyslexia on any large directory of tutors. An exception is the Literacy Nest’s Tutor Finder directory. These tutors are not all OG-certified but there is a good concentration of them.

What is Orton-Gillingham training?

Orton-Gillingham training is an intensive combination of both classwork and a practicum supervised by an Orton-Gillingham trainer. Certified OG tutors study the structure of the English language, learn about dyslexia, and practice assessing and teaching children with dyslexia and measuring their progress. My program ran from January to December and offered the equivalent of 6 graduate credits of instruction, and a 100-hour practicum. That means I submitted my first 100 lessons to my trainer for feedback, and she also observed some of my lessons and gave live feedback.

What are certified tutors?

While there are options for shorter OG tutor training programs, such as a 30-hour training, these do not give tutors the depth of knowledge and experience needed to effectively help dyslexic students. Certified tutors have completed a supervised practicum. During that practicum, certified tutors have had their lessons critiqued by a trainer. They have also assessed students and planned and taught lessons that moved them along the sequence of skills. While OG training is an excellent option for many, especially classroom teachers, certification makes a difference. Certified tutors, in my opinion, are the best choice for students who are dyslexic or struggling greatly to learn to read.

At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we choose tutors who are certified, or who are in the process of completing their practicum for certification, to work with our students. An OG tutor that has completed a rigorous training and practicum program for OG certification is qualified to assess a student’s changing literacy needs, bring in additional teaching resources as needed, and recognize needs that may best be referred to other professionals. 

Are all OG tutors the same?

Find a certified OG tutor: check. Should be pretty easy, right? You know they need to complete a practicum, and that certified is better than trained. But there are several different organizations that provide OG tutor training, and they all use slightly different terminology. And Google does not know the difference, so when you search for “Orton-Gillingham tutor near me” you’re going to get a mixed bag of different training backgrounds. Here are some of the big ones:

Orton Academy

The Orton-Gillingham Academy (OGA), formerly known as AOGPE, is one of the largest and most well-known of the organizations training OG tutors. They train individuals at four levels: Classroom Educator, Associate Level, Certified Level and Fellow Level. An Associate Level OG tutor works under the supervision of their training fellow, and a Certified Level OG tutor is able to teach and tutor independently of their fellow. So if a tutor you are considering is OGA Certified, they have cleared a pretty high bar of training and supervision! The Academy offers a directory of tutors it has trained.

International Dyslexia Association

The International Dyslexia Association also certifies OG tutors through an affiliated program, The Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI). Tutors can complete an IDA Accredited Program and become Dyslexia Interventionists (formerly known as Dyslexia Practitioners) or Dyslexia Specialists (formerly known as Dyslexia Therapists). These OG tutors have also passed an exam and completed a supervised practicum. CERI also certifies people at the classroom teacher level.

OG reading programs

Orton-Gillingham is an approach to teaching, rather than a specific curriculum. OG tutors often follow a specific sequence of reading skills introduced in their training, but compose their own lists of practice words and decide when to practice a skill more and when to move on. They may use materials from many different sources, with a focus on teaching the next skills a child needs, rather than getting to the next chapter or unit of a program.

In addition to these “pure” OG tutors, there are many different programs that are based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham or structured literacy. Some are taught by teachers who receive live training in using the materials. Others are designed to be used without explicit training because the instructions are in the lessons.

Barton tutoring

One popular program for dyslexia tutoring is the Barton System. Barton is an “Orton-Gillingham influenced” program that consists of 10 levels. It is designed for parents, or other individuals without teacher training, to study and teach on their own. Each level includes training DVDs for the tutor and lessons and materials for the students. The upside of choosing Barton tutoring is that everything is laid out and the lessons are explicit and systematic. The downside of choosing Barton tutoring is that it’s not as flexible as OG because students need to begin at Level 1 and progress through all the levels, regardless of their starting skill level.

Wilson Reading

Wilson Reading (WRS) is another Orton-Gillingham based program that is commonly used in some parts of the country. In Massachusetts, where I live, it is commonly offered both in schools (usually in special education) and by private Wilson tutors. Wilson certifies teachers in its program, so make sure if you are selecting a Wilson tutor they are certified at the appropriate level. The Wilson Reading website also provides a directory of certified providers. 

Final thoughts

Children with dyslexia, or with characteristics of dyslexia, need specialized literacy instruction to gain skills and become successful readers and writers. Finding a tutor can be quite challenging in a world where dyslexia is often misunderstood, even by those in the education field. If your family is investing time and money into tutoring for your child, it’s important to find a person who is the right fit, someone with the skills and training to help your child succeed. 

If you are looking for a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor to work with your child online, contact us today! We have spots open. We would love to give you a demonstration of what our online lessons look and feel like and help you decide if working with an online OG tutor is a good fit for your child.

Can kids with dyslexia learn to read faster?

Even with lots of good reading instruction, some readers with dyslexia still read very slowly. While the Science of Reading is pretty clear about the best ways to teach students to decode words, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students is another challenge, and one that can be harder to overcome. Here’s what it takes to help students with dyslexia read faster.

It takes knowledge and patience

Do all dyslexics have trouble reading?

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.”

Many students with dyslexia struggle to read from the very beginning of their schooling. They may be slow to learn letter names and sounds, and even have early difficulties with conversational language, like recalling specific words or pronouncing multi-syllabic words. 

For other students, strong visual memory capabilities and lots of practice can memorize an impressive number of words. They may read slowly, or mix up similar words (saw/was, though/through/thorough/tough) but can often read well enough with these so-called compensatory strategies to read “at grade level” through second or third grade. Students with this profile are sometimes diagnosed with “stealth dyslexia,” meaning they have dyslexia but it is very difficult to detect. These readers may find reading exhausting or unpleasant, or be known for their poor spelling, but don’t get any specialized instruction because their needs aren’t recognized. 

In one example that really changed my thinking, I assessed a fifth grader who was pretty successful in class, but his parents had long-standing concerns about his reading and spelling. I found that, while he was passing grade-level reading assessments, he did not know the sounds of the short vowels! When he encountered unknown words or nonsense words, he did not have the skills to decode them. That severely limits a person’s ability to gather information about an unfamiliar topic through reading. 

So do all dyslexics have trouble reading? I’d say: eventually, without support, most will.

What is the best reading program for dyslexia?

The recommended reading approach for students with dyslexia is structured literacy. This can include lots of different programs, including Orton-Gillingham and OG-based curricula, like Wilson Reading or Barton. But structured literacy describes any program that teaches literacy skills in a comprehensive, explicit, sequential manner. It includes instruction in phonemes (sounds in spoken language), sound-symbol correspondence (phonics/”sounding out” words), orthography (spelling patterns), morphology (including prefixes and suffixes), semantics (vocabulary and comprehension) and syntax (grammar).

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

Improving reading fluency dyslexic students

While the core problem for most readers with dyslexia is in the phonological (sound) part of reading, some students also have trouble quickly identifying letters (and/or numbers, colors or objects). Students who don’t perform well on this rapid naming task, in addition to having phonological awareness deficits, are sometimes described as having a double deficit. When readers have low scores in both areas, they take longer to develop reading fluency and may always be slower than average readers.

For these students, I often use a fluency-focused program in addition to Orton-Gillingham to help them develop these skills. There are many different possibilities for improving fluency, but the basic principle is that students benefit from repeated reading with feedback, and from hearing a model of a more fluent reader. 

While we often think of reading fluency as “reading fast enough,” there are actually three components of fluency and they are all important. Fluent reading is reading that is accurate, expressive, and fast enough to allow for good comprehension.

  • Accuracy – it should go without saying that for reading to be considered fluent, the words have to be read accurately to understand the text.
  • Speed – reading fluency assessment too often focuses on fluency, getting kids to read faster. Kids become aware of these speed goals and focus on zooming through the text, at the expense of accuracy or understanding.
  • Prosody – prosody is the most challenging component of fluency to explain, but you know it when you hear it. I tell students it’s reading “like a storyteller,” using phrasing and intonation to express the emotions of the story. Lots of the feedback we give students – stop at the periods, notice the quotation marks, act out what the characters are saying with your voice – promote prosody. 

It’s not glamorous

Teaching the early stages of reading can be really exciting. Students go from non-readers, struggling to remember individual letter names and sound, to slowly joining together sounds and then having that a-ha! moment when they recognize the word they’ve just read. My son used to giggle uncontrollably every time he sounded out a word successfully. This stage is lots of work, but rewarding!

Building fluency can be a slower, less glamorous process. Even with the best types of instruction, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students can take years. Take data, like counting how many words per minute a student is reading, or take a short audio recording of them reading now, and again in a few months, so you can celebrate that growth, even when it takes a long time!

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

How do I help my child write an essay?

In a perfect world, students build their writing skills bit by bit over time, writing good sentences, then good paragraphs, and then combining those paragraphs into an essay. Kids can do this with support starting around third grade but it’s a project that might take weeks in class. 

Unfortunately, teachers don’t always build in all these steps, or not all students in the class are ready to be independent at the same time. Either way, the result is an essay that your child has to write on their own and they have no idea where to start! 

Break it Down, Build it Up

Chunk the assignment

Some teachers think about turning their assignments into a step-by-step checklist, while others write a dense paragraph with all the detailed directions buried inside. If your child gets an assignment that seems like a pile of complex instructions, the first step is to help them break it down and decide where to start.

Turn the teachers directions into a checklist. If the directions for the essay say, “Make sure each paragraph has a topic sentence, supporting details, and uses transition words,” turn that into a checklist:

  • Body Paragraph
    • Topic Sentence
    • Supporting Detail 1
    • Supporting Detail 2
    • Supporting Detail 3
    • Transition words

No matter how obvious a detail might seem to you as an adult, like “Make sure your name is on the first page.” or “Number your pages,” include those on your child’s checklist. Those details easily get lost in the shuffle of trying to actually write the content of the paper.

Develop a Plan

Even if your child is full of ideas and could discuss a topic all day, the idea of writing it down in a formal essay can be overwhelming. Start by having your child write down what they know. Everyone has personal preferences for this brainstorming process. Here are some options:

  • Write a formal outline, listing the topic for each paragraph and any known details. (I haaaated this as a student and used to write my paper early just so I could go back and write the outline after and turn it in.)
  • Write each idea on a sticky note or index card so they can be shuffled and grouped differently as the plan develops.
  • Draw a mindmap or web, with the main idea in the center and details in branches around it. You can use a tool like Mindmup to make a digital mindmap or draw one on big paper.

Download my Revision and Editing Checklists to help your child polish their paper.


Write a draft

I grew up writing drafts on paper (dingy manila paper in elementary school and notebook paper in middle and high school) and having to turn in and edit a draft to earn the opportunity to write a typed final draft. While there are arguments on the subject of handwriting vs typing essays, I can’t justify asking kids to spend their time writing and rewriting an essay when the time could be better spent strengthening their ideas!

I recommend having kids start to organize their notes right on the computer screen. It’s so easy to cut and paste sentences and even whole paragraphs that, as long as we keep in mind that this a draft and it will change, putting first drafts on the screen can work great!

Edit and Revise

Editing and Revising are two different, but related, processes. Revise has 2 parts re (again) and vise (look at/see). So to revise a piece of writing is to look at it again and make meaningful changes. This can include adding missing ideas, using more precise and descriptive vocabulary, or rearranging sentences or paragraphs so they are in a logical order. Many students struggle with this process because they think, “I already wrote this. There’s nothing more to say.” It helps to give them choices or a specific action they can take. For example, “This sentence is too short. You could add the word because at the end and explain more about why this event happened.”

Editing is more about the process of correcting errors in the writing. Like many teachers, I use the acronym COPS to remind writers what to look for when they edit. Grab my Editing and Revising checklist for more detailed steps.

  • Capitalization
  • Organization (this includes how the text looks on the page: fonts, sizes, line breaks, indenting, etc.)
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

What’s the point of the assignment?

Remember that your child’s teacher assigns an essay for a reason. Your child may be writing it at home because the teacher believes they can do it independently and show their sklls. The teacher may want to assess their knowledge of some content or build their reading stamina. 

So as much as you want to reduce your child’s frustration or make the essay-writing process easier, make sure your role is to facilitate, not to do the work. Make sure the words on the page, and any final decisions about revisions or editing, belong to your child. You can remove barriers, like unclear directions or not being able to find a starting point, but you have to let them struggle sometimes so they can grow as writers.