The embarrassing reason I didn’t finish my grad program

Like a lot of people who become teachers, I really liked school. I liked the predictable routines of reading a chapter, answering the questions and then taking a quiz. In college, I hit a few speed bumps, like papers I wrote at the last minute or an overwhelming volume of completely uninteresting reading but I came out of it unharmed. Even my master’s program was pretty comfortable, with lots of reading and writing, but nothing that really stumped me. Teachers frequently gave us templates for writing essays or reports, or examples from previous classes that gave us guidance as we planned our own writing.

But to advance in my teaching career, I needed to earn more credits after my master’s. I enrolled in a CAGS program (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study) at a local university and had the opportunity to choose my focus (literacy and special education) and select classes to gain a deeper understanding of the subjects. I took lots of classes on literacy development, the assessment of reading difficulties, and different approaches to teaching reading. So far, so good. But then it was time to plan my capstone project: a thesis or an action research project. That’s when I got stumped. 

Why are templates important?


The thesis process at that university goes like this: First, choose your topic and develop an annotated bibliography and proposal. Then, find a professor to serve as your advisor. After that, work with their guidance to complete the research and write the thesis. But when I submitted my annotated bibliography and the roughest sketch of a topic to my program advisor, they said I would need a LOT more before they could connect me with an advisor who knew my subject matter.

And that, dear reader, is when I quit.

I was pregnant with my second child and working full time, and as much as I wanted to finish this degree, I just couldn’t see how. I had spent hours Googling random combinations of words like “graduate thesis education,” “thesis proposal template,” and any other phrase I could think of that might give me some insight into what was missing from my proposal. And asking for help from my program advisor turned out to be a dead end. That person wasn’t in the same field as me and either I didn’t know how to ask or they didn’t know how to tell me what my submission was missing. 

My plan was to take some time off and then try again. And I did the first part, but never the second part. Oops.

Should students get templates for writing essays?

Now imagine that instead of a thirty-something educator, I was a ninth grader, assigned my first high school essay. Or a middle schooler writing my first lab report. All that knowledge I had in my head about reading and education, and all the writing I had done in my life up to that point, didn’t prepare me to write this proposal because I didn’t really know what it was

It reminds me of The Great British Baking Show, where the characters are given just the vaguest outline of a recipe and they are supposed to use their knowledge of baking techniques to reproduce one of the famous hosts’ classic recipes. When you give vague directions, you can’t expect the product to turn out like you imagined. And the same is true of templates for writing essays. The more specific a teacher can be about what he is looking for in an essay, the more opportunities the students will have to succeed with those expectations!

If your middle or high school writer needs to strengthen their academic writing skills, check out our small group offerings. A new session of our paragraph writing course will be offered in Winter 2023. Contact us now to get on the list when enrollment opens.

What is a writing template?

Templates for writing essays are documents that lay out all the parts of the assignment, including models for what should be included in each part. For example, a simple template for a 5-paragraph essay would look like:

  • Introduction – include a thesis statement
  • Body paragraph 1
    • Quote 1 and explanation
    • Quote 2 and explanation
  • Body paragraph 2
    • Quote 1 and explanation
    • Quote 2 and explanation
  • Body paragraph 3
    • Quote 1 and explanation
    • Quote 2 and explanation
  • Conclusion

Most students will need more detailed guidance, and would benefit from a paragraph-writing template. I like to use the TBEAR model for most middle school and high school writing. It looks like this:

  • T – thesis statement: This sentence makes an arguable claim that the writer will support with examples
  • B – brief explanation: A sentence or two (not much more) to give the reader background about the part of the text you will discuss. 
  • E – evidence: This sentence will either directly quote or paraphrase a sentence or phrase from the text that supports the thesis statement. (A good body paragraph usually has 2-3 pairs of evidence and analysis sentences.)
  • A – analysis: In a sentence or two, explain why the evidence above supports your thesis. Make the connection between your thesis and the quote clear.
  • R – relate: Show how your evidence relates to the big ideas of the reading. This could be relating the section you analyzed to the whole book, making a connection to real life or your own experience, or a connection back to the main thesis of the essay, depending on the exact assignment.

Why are templates important in writing?

Often, we show students examples of good writing and hope and expect that they’ll be able to produce something similar. But the problem is that weak writers don’t know enough about good writing to tell the difference between good and bad essays. They don’t know what to imitate because it’s not clear to them what makes the writing good. 

A template for essay writing goes further than just providing examples. Instead of “do what the author did here,” a template makes the instruction explicit. “Just like the example, your essay will have 3 body paragraphs, each with 2 pieces of evidence quoted from the text.” Now that is a direction students can take action on. 

And by writing, students become better writers! Once they have produced some essays, they will become better at recognizing good arguments and understanding the structure of other people’s writing. And that’s why templates are an essential part of good writing instruction for all developing writers.

If your middle school or high school student is struggling with essay writing, let me know. I’m looking forward to offering our paragraph writing class in the winter of 2023. If you are interested, drop your email in the contact form on that page and we’ll update you when the class is scheduled.

How to Help a Slow Reader

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Slow reading can lead to stress, overwhelming time spent on homework, poor grades, and loss of confidence. Students who read more slowly than peers will end up reading less over time – that’s just math. If you’re here wondering how to help a slow reader in your life, you have a big job ahead of you, but one that can be very rewarding!

Reasons for slow reading

What does it take to read fluently?

Listening to a young child read is painful. They are slow and they are working so hard for every word. It’s not until around second grade that the average child’s reading starts to sound like “reading.” For many children, this ability develops later, or they continue to struggle. For a child to read fluently, they need to be able to automatically recognize and blend all the different spellings of all the different sounds in English. They have to have a robust vocabulary to recognize words in context. They have to have sufficient knowledge of punctuation, sentence structure and stories to read sentences smoothly and anticipate what’s going to happen. They also need enough background knowlege about the topic to anticipate what’s coming. For a reader to be fluent, these elements need to come together all at once. There are lots of different things to go wrong, which means there are lots of options for how to help a slow reader.

Decoding issues

One reason kids read slowly is that they don’t know how to sound out words. We can memorize a certain number of words, but trying to memorize them all will lead to errors. Our brain stores words we read automatically in the language parts of our brain, not the visual parts. Think about though/through/thought/tough – they all look similar and our brain isn’t good at memorizing the details. If students aren’t able to connect each of those spelling “chunks” with sounds, they might mix up those look-alike words or other words with similar visual features.

Students need to learn how to decode words with all the many spelling patterns in English, as well as how to chunk words into syllables, or into root words and their prefixes and suffixes. Without the skills to segment words into syllables and individual sounds, students have to rely on their visual memory, which is not as detail-oriented as the language system for decoding words.

So if you are trying to figure out how to help a slow reader, one answer is you have to find out what is behind the slow reading. For many kids the cause is inefficient word recognition. What they need is some solid instruction in phonics and morphology (root words, prefixes and suffixes) and when that  need is met, their fluency will be just fine.

Bad habits lead to slow reading

Most kids I’ve taught read slowly because they were still learning to decode. But sometimes if you want to know how to help a slow reader, the answer is: read to them and read with them.

  1. Some kids read as fast as they can, not stopping at punctuation or varying their reading speed or tone. The result is flat, rushed reading and poor comprehension. And they may also skim over their errors without correcting them, so they miss important information. The solution is getting kids to think about “sounding like a storyteller” or an actor. 

How to fix it:

  • Take turns reading. Hearing you read every other page, or every other paragraph, Point out things you’re doing, like how you read a sentence with an exclamation point or question mark. 
  • Read a short selection a couple of times, and give them feedback after their practice. The goal is not to memorize the words and read it super fast. Comprehension and fluency support each other, so having a handle on the story will improve fluency. Repetition will also help them anticipate tricky sentences.
  • Record them, either on video or just audio. Have them read something they feel comfortable with out loud. Help them (kindly!) critique their reading. Pick one thing to focus on – like pausing at punctuation or not repeating words – and have them practice a bit and then record again. 
  1. Other students read accurately but very slowly. Sometimes this looks like a lack of confidence. But there’s usually something behind it. Either kids have learned to accurately decode, but they aren’t automatic yet. For that, keep offering practice at that same level, text they can decode. Sometimes slow reading is related to slow processing speed or inattention. For these kids, the strategies above help, but their progress might be slower. A few students with the greatest difficulty may never read at an average speed. But they can make progress and learn to read fast enough for comprehension.
  2. Another bad habit that some readers develop is pausing every time a thought pops into their heads, or pausing to ask questions about the story that will be answered by the end of the sentence! Remind them to “read all the way to the period, then ask” their question. For readers distracted by things other than the story, focus on a peaceful reading environment, picking a really good book, and gradually building up their stamina. At first, taking turns by paragraph or page will help them move through the story quickly enough to hold their interest.

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How to help a slow reader get through this book

Often, slow reading becomes a significant problem for older children. They may have gotten away with listening to teachers’ instruction, reading part of the text, or learning from talking to other students for years. But sooner or later, whether it’s 6th grade, high school, or freshman year of college, slow reading begins to catch up with them. There’s a book report due or a discussion to prepare for. 

The best option for giving a slow reader the gift of time is to provide the audiobook version of a text. These are widely available through local public libraries and from services like Audible. Many classic books are available from LibriVox . Some audiobooks, either commercially produced or read by teachers or other volunteers, are available on YouTube. Some of these uses violate copyright laws, so use your own best judgment when choosing this option.

How to help a slow reader in your life

No matter what stage of learning your slow reader is in, becoming a faster or more fluent reader will take time and practice. Whether it’s finishing their knowledge of sounding out words or practicing to make their reading sound smoother or more animated, slow readers will need lots of practice.

If the reader you are helping is your own child, make a point of keeping reading a fun, positive, family activity. Your child needs to practice consistently and that will be an uphill battle unless they begin to enjoy the process. Short periods of focused practice most days of the week – start with 10 minutes in the evening and work your way up – will benefit your child more than long sessions of drilling. 

For older readers who are already feeling the pressure of trying to keep up in school, offering them audiobooks can take a lot of the pressure off because it frees up their time for the hard working of thinking and writing about what they read. I recommend listening to a chapter first, then rereading to take notes or complete assignments. 

Helping a slow reader can be time consuming and challenging. But watching your child grow through consistent practice will make you both proud!

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 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.

Too Much Homework and Not Enough Time

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Homework comes and goes as a hot topic in the news. Sometimes the focus is on what percent of students stay up late doing homework. Other times it’s on the idea that too much homework can be harmful, that kids aren’t playing outside or spending time with their families. Sometimes it’s about how students are suffering, other times it’s about the burden on parents. I don’t think the data are conclusive on whether homework is, on balance, a good or a bad thing for students. What I do worry about more, though, is the impact of too much homework and not enough time on students who are struggling. 

Child keeps forgetting homework
Boy bent over papers on a table in a dark room

Why too much homework is bad for struggling students

I asked my son’s first grade teacher how long homework should take. Her answer? “Not too long.” It’s usually a math worksheet that’s totally within his capabilities. If I look at it with my teacher eyes, I’d say it’s a 10-minute task for any kid who understood and remembers that day’s math lesson. But there are so many other things that can interfere with that quick 10-minute task. At my house, my child keeps forgetting his homework – like literally forgets it exists between the time he puts it down (on the couch? in the bathroom? by the fridge?) and the time he wanders into the next room. By the time we defeat the many distractions and get him seated, with a pencil, in the general vicinity of a parent, we might already have 30 minutes on the clock! And that was 30 minutes of nagging, negotiating, prompting, reminding, and sometimes whining (although I try not to whine at the children…).

My point is that the teacher is planning homework with the best-case scenario in mind. She’s imagining routines like in her classroom: Everyone takes out their pencil from their desk while she passes out papers. She reads the instructions out loud. Everyone begins quietly scratching away with their pencils.*

* It is painfully clear to me that classrooms rarely actually run this way, but we teachers are often optimistic about what we can get done on that perfect unicorn of a school day!

In real life, struggling students might not remember how to do this work because they didn’t master it in class. They might not be able to read the directions. They might not be able to articulate to their parents what exactly they are supposed to do with an ambiguous worksheet. They might be just plain exhausted from working on the things that are hardest for them all day long. 

How to talk to the school about homework problems

When I assigned homework to my special education students, I always made it clear to the students and their parents at the beginning of the year that I was happy to assign homework if they wanted it, but it was always, always, up to parent discretion. If it was taking an unreasonable amount of time, or if the directions didn’t make sense, we would always defer to the experts in home learning: parents. For my students being assigned homework along with their grade-level peers, I encouraged parents to write a note on the homework or send an email to the teacher with feedback about challenging assignments. Teachers don’t know that homework took hours. They have no idea that buckets of tears were shed over an assignment if it comes in looking perfect (or doesn’t come in at all!).

Child keeps forgetting homework

Here are some things about homework that the teacher needs to know to help your child:

  • “It’s taking X amount of time.” If you are working with and supervising your child, and homework is taking hours, something is wrong. There is some kind of mismatch between the child and the assignment. 
  • “He doesn’t know what the word __ means.” If the directions don’t make sense, or if he doesn’t remember how to do the assigned work, he may need a quick review or more extended support.
  • “She cries every time she has to read.” Maybe she’s tired or sad to be missing out on time with friends, but if the problem is specific to one acdemic area (reading, writing, math), there may be weaker skills in that area. 
  • “I had to type/write it myself to get it done.” Some teachers don’t care who is holding the pencil when those vocabulary sentences get written. Sometimes the focus of homework is the thinking and idea generation. Other times (and the older students get, the more true this is) teachers expect full independence in the area of homework, and may be grading the results. If it’s not possible for your child to do the homework on their own, find out if there’s a way to shorten the writing, or an option for them to type if that would make it go more smoothly. 

Remember, you and the teacher have the same goal: for your child to learn the content and skills for this year’s classes. If your child is struggling with homework more than their peers, you need to ask more questions than the other parents and try to figure out the best path through the challenges.

If your child is having trouble keeping track of homework all together, check out my 7-part free email series, “Academic Planners for Success” for strategies for using a planner to identify and prioritize homework.


My child won’t do his homework

If the child isn’t even attempting the homework, there can be a few things going on. It could be a pure “behavior” situation. But I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Ross Greene that “Children do well if they can.” If your child is refusing to do homework, think about what that behavior is telling you about them and what they need.

If the child refuses to attempt the homework, consider:

  • The timing: Fatigue and hunger make it hard to work.
  • Amount: If they don’t see any light at the end of the homework tunnel, why begin?
  • Directions: Where and how should they start? What does that even look like?
  • And content: Did they understand it in class?

My child keeps forgetting homework

Forgetting homework goes along with the “won’t do his homework” problem in many cases. Leaving everything at school can be an attempt to avoid the unpleasant situation of facing homework at the end of a long day of school. In other cases, though, children forget their homework at school because they are overwhelmed or rushed through routines. 

Here are some troubleshooting steps:

  • Set up a simple homework folder. Label the two sides “Keep at home” and “Return to school.” Homework goes in the “Return to school” side and comes home.
  • Find a planner system that works for your child. It might be paper or digital
  • Use the school’s online resources. For older children, many schools use Canvas, Google Classroom, or another website to post assignments. Find out from your child’s teachers how they notify students of assignments, and create a home routine of checking it with your child.
  • Make a locker or backpack checklist for your child. Laminate it and put it in the homework folder or backpack, or hang it on the inside of their locker. 
  • Have them find a buddy. Brainstorm a reliable friend (or a few) who always have their homework done. This will be the person to ask if they’re not sure what page the homework was on, or if they forget a due date.
  • Make homework part of the daily routine. Ask about it when you see them at the end of the day, and establish a time and a place for getting it done.

Whose homework is it, anyway?

Homework is a sensitive subject for me. It tends to be a one-size-fits-no-one solution to the problem of trying to cram too much teaching into a school day full of obstacles and challenges. “Good” homework can be a helpful way to reinforce skills taught in class. “Bad” homework steals a student’s personal time and causes stress.

Homework is a sensitive subject for me. It tends to be a one-size-fits-no-one solution to the problem of trying to cram too much teaching into a school day full of obstacles and challenges. Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, homework is part of the academic relationship between students and teachers. If you find that your child’s homework is causing you stress and taking as much of your time as it is your child’s, it’s time to talk to the teacher and work on a plan to make homework more effective.

For more about homework, check out these other blog posts:

Too much homework and not enough time
Is homework helping your child or harming them? What to do if the burden of homework is ruining your family’s evenings.

What I’m reading about reading

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The thing about reading researchers is they just write so much. It’s like they expect reading experts to read constantly or something! I have a long and growing list of books to read about reading and writing. From time to time, I plan to share some highlights on the blog.

Information comes in many forms


There are so many books just here in my little office. I have books from courses I took, books that changed my reading life, and books that I know are important that I can’t quite bring myself to pick up. So the ones I’ve chosen here are just a couple that stand out in my mind. If you’re curious about how reading works and how to help the readers in your life, any of these would be a great investment of your time.

  • How We Learn by Stanislas Dehaene is a pretty heavy read about how our brain processes information and how learning to do something like read and write changes the way different parts of the brain are used. It’s not an easy read by any means but it gave me a lot of “aha” moments about why certain kinds of teaching work the way they do.
  • Speech to Print by Louisa Moats. I read this during my Orton-Gillingham training but when the new edition came out, I picked it up right away. 
  • Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf – this is the most readable of my current recommendations. It’s laid out as a series of letters on different aspects of reading. Wolf explores reading as a technology (our brains weren’t designed to read, but our brains have done an incredible job accommodating our new habit of reading and writing language) and what it means to read on a screen instead of on paper. It’s thought-provoking and very readable for the non-expert.


I click links all week long and have a pile of blogs and research to read. But these are sources I look at consistently. 

  • Tim Shanahan – Dr. Shanahan is my go-to source for evidence-based, common-sense, interpretations of reading research and instructional trends. 
  • Fordham Institute’s Flypaper Blog – I often disagree with their conclusions, but I think it’s important to look at education data through another lens and I often learn new things.
  • Margaret Goldberg’s Right to Read blog – I was recently introduced to Margaret Goldberg when she was interviewed on Science of Reading – The Podcast. I haven’t been reading her blog for very long, but every post I’ve read has answered a need I’ve had as a teacher or a reading tutor. This post on questions to ask about the reading instruction at your child’s school is very readable and pure gold!

If you want to chat about some nerdy books about reading and learning, come check out my new Deep Roots Learning Solutions Book Club. We’ll chat on Facebook about our books. Right now, we’re reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Social Media

Text (Write down the words if you cannot easily formulate sentences.)

  • The Literacy Nest – Emily Gibbons is an Orton-Gillingham tutor as well as a prodigious creator of resources for literacy teaching. Everything she posts gives me something to use or something to think about.
  • Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College is a Facebook group that does just what it says: give teachers, parents and other stakeholders a platform to get their questions about reading answered and gather resources to make reading instruction better for students. The group is professional and kind and inspiring! There are lots of posts to wade through but it’s one I always take the time to check.
  • Lindbergh: Leaders in Literacy is a Facebook page run by parents in a school district in Missouri. They advocate for strengthening literacy in their schools by “embracing the science behind reading instruction.” This is a great example of what community advocacy can do for reading and a wonderful resource for parents just digging into the science of reading. 

You have to start somewhere

I have trouble starting a book, or even committing to an article, podcast, or video sometimes. I have limited time for professional development and I know that once I start learning something exciting, I won’t want to stop to feed my kids or tutor my students. I also don’t want to waste time reading the wrong thing – something repetitive, out of date, or not detailed enough. 

So here’s my advice to me, and also to any of you that are interestd in learning about reading. Just. Start. Pick something from this blog post or pick one source like Reading Rockets and start to get your feet wet. One resource always leads to another. And you can come back here for more recommendations next month, too!

Want some reading company? Join us in the Deep Roots Learning Solutions Book Club!

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

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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!

Bad News About Dyslexia

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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.

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!


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!

Online Orton-Gillingham Tutoring FAQ

Often, parents hear of Orton-Gillingham for the first time when their children are diagnosed with dyslexia. When I talk to parents about online Orton-Gillingham tutoring, they often have lots of questions about how OG works and what it will mean for their kids and for their family. Here are some of the questions I get frequently.

How long does online Orton-Gillingham tutoring take?

Like everything else, It depends. Some students have small gaps in their learning that hold them back. For example, some kids have attended schools without solid phonics instruction and they are missing key pieces of information, like knowing when a vowel makes a long sound when it makes a short sound. Those kids can work with a tutor twice a week for 3 or 6 months and see significant gains once they learn the particular skill they need.

Other students, including those with dyslexia, sometimes need one to three years of more intensive intervention, working with a tutor two or three days a week, to catch up to grade level.

Another factor is the age of the student, because the longer a student has struggled, the more time it takes to catch up. On the other hand, older students are sometimes able to learn more quickly because they “sort of know” lots of the things we teach and can also benefit from more deliberate learning strategies. 

How often do we need to meet?

At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we offer Orton-Gillingham tutoring to students between two and four days per week. This is consistent with the recommendations of lots of dyslexia professionals, including The Orton-Gillingham Academy, which is one of the main organizations that oversees and sets standards for OG tutoring.

Can we meet less?

Meeting less than twice a week can make a student’s progress dramatically slower. In fact, meeting just once a week means progress takes more than twice as long because a week is long enough for students to need a lot of review between lessons. 

I won’t say we never meet with students once a week. Sometimes it’s the only option due to schedules or finances, particularly on a short-term basis. But in that case, it’s very important to include regular reading at home using the decodable text we recommend.

Can we have shorter meetings?

It truly does take an hour to teach a full OG lesson, for most students. This includes review, introducing a new concept for reading and for spelling, building phonemic awareness and reading plenty of words, sentences, and stories that support what we’ve practiced. It also includes fluency and comprehension components. 

For some students, especially younger ones or ones with challenges like autism or ADHD, sitting still for a full hour lesson is counterproductive. We always aim to work with families to create a tutoring plan that works for the student.

What technology should we have at home?

We run our online Orton-Gillingham tutoring sessions on Zoom. While just about any device can run Zoom, it’s preferable for the student to join the meeting from a Windows or Apple computer. A Chromebook runs Zoom but with fewer features. It’s important that the device has enough RAM to run Zoom without freezing or crashing. One thing that helps is freshly restarting the computer before a session.

A strong internet connection is also extremely important. 

Beyond that, it’s a matter of what makes the student most comfortable and productive. Many students prefer a mouse to the touchpad on the computer. Students who are younger and focusing on letter formation can also benefit from a touchscreen device, even if it’s an old phone or tablet used in addition to the main computer.

Headphones are helpful for reducing distractions and making sure the audio is clear. 

Can we do online tutoring on a Chromebook?

Tutoring on a Chromebook is not impossible, but it’s not ideal. Zoom does not enable Chromebook users to annotate on the screen or take control of the host’s mouse. This limits the ways we can ask a student to mark up what they are reading or play games. 

However, if a Chromebook is the device you have available, Google products (Docs and Jamboard, mainly) give students more options.

How old should my child be for online Orton-Gillingham tutoring?

I used to say, “no younger than third grade.” For a lot of students, an in-person connection is very important to their learning. However, in 2020, I started working with some younger students and now I say, “It depends.” Students younger than third grade often need a parent sitting nearby to help with technology – open links, troubleshoot the computer – and manage materials. 

Can you help with homework during tutoring?

For Orton-Gillingham tutoring students, our answer is usually no. Orton-Gillingham is a diagnostic, systematic, sequential, multi-sensory approach to reading instruction. It is counterproductive to work on school assignments that don’t fall within the range of skills we’re teaching. 

For example, if a child is working on learning the short vowel sounds in one-syllable words (cup, bond, crimp), it’s not productive for us to study spelling words that follow a bunch of other spelling patterns. Without knowing the patterns that are found in the spelling words, the student has to rely on just their memory to spell them right, and they don’t stick. So although you won’t see an immediate benefit of OG tutoring on spelling tests if your child is significantly below grade level, you can trust that we are building a strong foundation that, with time, will help them to develop those skills.

For students seeking support with reading comprehension and writing, we do work with school assignments when it aligns with what we are working on. 

Do you assign homework?

No, we don’t assign homework for our online Orton-Gillingham tutoring students. What we do is send the text the student read during the lesson so you can practice it at home during the week. We’re also happy to recommend text, many available for free online, for independent or family reading.                                  

What should we do at home to practice?

For practice in between Orton-Gillingham tutoring sessions, it’s important that students read text that lines up with what they’ve been practicing in class. We can recommend appropriate texts, many of which are available for free online.

Reading with or to your child is also a great way to support their growing vocabulary and share stories with them that they aren’t ready to read on their own.

The Florida Center for Reading Research also has many free, printable, games and activities that are great tools for practicing early reading skills.

Can you help my child read faster?

Yes, but it takes time. Programs that are specifically for reading fluency usually focus on repeated readings of the same text. Those can help some students, but often low reading fluency occurs when readers aren’t automatic with sounding out the words. And if they aren’t sounding out words automatically, that usually means that there are some phonics skills they haven’t mastered. Often, older students with weak reading and spelling skills are also missing some phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness is the ability to break apart spoken words into their sounds, or to blend together individual spoken sounds. Most kids develop those skills in the early grades, but sometimes readers struggle because they have missed some of these skills. 

Building reading fluency effectively means going back and filling gaps in the underlying skills. At the beginning, this can seem slower, but once we build those fluency skills on a firm foundation, students can read anything with confidence!

Can you help my child spell better?

Yes! The same skills (letter-sound relationships, syllables, and prefixes and suffixes) that help students read better help them spell better, too. And our online Orton-Gillingham tutoring includes practice in both reading and spelling.

What’s my child’s reading level?

Well, it’s complicated. I wish I could give you a letter or a number that universally represents what your child can read and understand. That would be so much easier! But unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The main leveling systems used in schools for children and their books are Guided Reading Levels (letters A-Z) and the DRA system (numbers from 2 up to 70). When teachers assign these, they take into account reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension. For a lot of readers, this is a good approximation of what they can read. 

For readers who are struggling to decode words, these assessments are nearly meaningless. They tend to be predictable, patterned texts. At the early stages, they are things like “I see the bear. I see the elephant. I see the crocodile.” So really, they’re measuring how well students use the pictures to predict what the page says. Lots of my struggling students hit a wall in second grade (or maybe third) because until they’ve learned all six syllable types and the majority of vowel team sounds, they will frequently be stumped by words in texts at this level. Until they have gotten pretty far in the Orton-Gillingham sequence, it’s very difficult to sync up what they know with a “reading level.” So instead, I recommend decodable texts.

Still have questions?

If you’re still wondering if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is what your child needs, contact us to find out more. We are always happy to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation trial lesson to see if tutoring with Deep Roots Learning Solutions is the right fit for your child!