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Are You Familiar With a Scene Like This?
As I prepare for our online tutoring session, I look for a decodable book from RAZ-Plus that will reinforce the CVC pattern my student is working on. I find one that seems appropriate, and click through it to double check. A couple of pages in, I notice words that begin with the letter “b,” and inwardly I groan.
This child’s reading progress is fragile and tentative. Teaching them to begin reading has been like coaxing a scared little animal to come out of hiding. I’m thrilled that I’ve succeeded in convincing them that when they are learning something new, it’s okay to feel confused at first and normal to need practice.
But being confused by “b” and “d” is not new. And they have practiced and practiced and practiced. When I mildly stop them at a “b/d” error and use it as a gentle teaching point, they wilt; they know full well that they’ve been working on this for what feels like half their life.
I’ve come upon the scenario described above more times than I can count, both in my private tutoring and in my public school resource room.
Up until now, I’ve never found a successful strategy or a lesson or a “trick” for teaching struggling readers to recognize the difference between “b” and “d.” I have tried a ton of different visual reminders and plenty of the auditory jingles, too.
A Multi-Sensory Solution to b/d Confusion
I finally hit upon a specific set of multi-sensory strategies to teach b and d that is visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile, plus an effective way to practice online. And it is working! Slowly but surely, my students are beginning to produce the correct sound when they encounter a “b” or a “d” in text. When they write these letters, they are successfully using the muscle memory built through tactile practice and the auditory mnemonic we have practiced simultaneously.
(Equally as important, knowing that they have a strategy to fall back on has built their confidence.)
I created both a color and a blackline version of each of these 8” by 11.5” posters. This allows parents to print out the versions that are most practical for them.
When I tutor, I keep the color versions open on tabs, so I can click over quickly when a child needs to refer to them. I send both versions to parents as a PDF, and I encourage them to help their child enjoy the following activities every day (once for “b” and once for “d”.) When my district returns to in-person instruction, I’ll post them in each of the teaching areas in my classroom.
Multi-Sensory Strategies to Teach “b”
Here is how I teach this strategy for the letter “b.”
Visual/Auditory: Look at the poster while saying “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! ‘b’.”
Kinesthetic/Auditory: Act out the motions while chanting “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! /b/” Have the child reach down to pretend to pick up a bat, then swing arms as if they were hitting a baseball. During online sessions, I actually have the child get up out of their seat and do this while we chant together.
Tactile/Auditory/Visual: Use either the color or blackline version and have the child trace the letter with their finger while saying “First pick up the bat, then hit the ball! /’b’.” Be sure the child follows the arrows for correct letter formation.
Multi-Sensory Strategies to Teach “d”
The activities for teaching the letter “d” are identical.
Visual/Auditory: Look at the poster while saying “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! ‘d’.”
Kinesthetic/Auditory: Act out the motions while chanting “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! /d/” Have the child reach out to pretend to grab a doorknob and then pull their arm back to pretend to open a door. During online sessions, I actually have the child get up out of their seat and do this while we chant together.
Tactile/Auditory/Visual: Use either the color or blackline version and have the child trace the letter with their finger while saying “First grab the doorknob, then open the door! ‘d’.” Be sure the child follows the arrows for correct letter formation.
Prompt Kids to Apply the Strategies
Here are some ways I use these strategies to support young readers.
I include the steps above as a warm-up or an activity break during the tutoring session.
Sometimes, when I see a “b” or a “d” coming up on a page, I point it out to the child ahead of time. I use the chant and the spotlight annotation feature on Zoom to draw their attention to the letter.
When a child comes to a “b” or a “d” and hesitates, I wait a second to see if they’ll figure it out on their own. If they don’t, I prompt them by saying “First pick up the bat…” or “First grab the doorknob…” or even just “bat, ‘b’” or “doorknob, ‘d’.”
When a child comes to a “b” or a “d” and says the wrong sound, I stop them and use one of the prompts above. I might say “wait here” while I point to the word with the spotlight. Then I’ll say “Bat, ‘b.’ Try this word again.”
Try it Out With Your Young Reader
Download the printables today, and introduce your young reader to this multi-sensory strategy for clearing up b/d confusion.
If you’d like high-quality worksheets to provide your child with extra writing practice to clear up a b/d confusion, check out this fabulous bundle by This Reading Mama.
Boom Learning Cards
One positive thing that has come out of Distance Learning is that I have discovered Boom Cards. These highly engaging, gamified digital task cards provide fun opportunities for kids to practice almost any skill imaginable. I love using them in my private tutoring and during Distance Learning with my students. I couldn’t resist creating a Boom Card deck providing practice differentiating between the letters “b” and “d!” Click here for a preview.
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As a bonus, you’ll also receive immediate, life-time access to two additional modules of the “How to Raise a Reader” series – “The Letters and Sounds Edition” and “The Read Aloud” Edition.
With these three courses at your fingertips, you’ll have the knowledge you need to feel confident about doing everything possible to set your child up for success in learning to read.
If you have a struggling reader, you may have asked yourself this worrisome question – “Does My Child Have Dyslexia?” Dyslexia is an inherited neurological condition that makes it difficult to read, write and spell, despite having average intelligence overall.
It takes a licensed educational psychologist or a neurologist to formally diagnose dyslexia. However, and fortunately, parents and teachers can certainly be on the lookout for valuable warning signs of dyslexia in children. If your child demonstrates three or more of the following behaviors, consider more thoroughly researching dyslexia and what can be done to treat it.
The following information regarding dyslexia warning signs is excerpted from Bright Solutions, a fantastic dyslexia resource for families and teachers.
Signs of Dyslexia in Preschoolers
mixing up the sounds and syllables in long words
chronic ear infections
constant confusion of left versus right
late establishing a dominant hand
difficulty learning to tie shoes
trouble memorizing their address, phone number, or the alphabet
can’t create words that rhyme
a close relative with dyslexia
Dyslexia Warning Signs in Elementary School
dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting that is difficult to read)
letter or number reversals continuing past the end of first grade
extreme difficulty learning cursive
slow, choppy, inaccurate reading
guesses based on shape or context
guesses based on shape or context
skips or misreads prepositions (at, to, of)
can’t sound out unknown words
very poor spelling
often can’t remember sight words (they, were, does) or homonyms (their, they’re and there)
difficulty telling time with a clock with hands
trouble with math
difficulty memorizing multiplication tables
trouble memorizing a sequence of steps
confusion about directionality
when speaking, has difficulty finding the correct word
extremely messy bedroom, backpack and desk
dreads going to school
Dyslexia Warning Signs in High School
Consider all of the above symptoms plus:
extremely poor written expression
large discrepancy between verbal skills and written compositions
unable to master a foreign language
difficulty reading printed music
poor grades in many classes
may drop out of high school
Signs of Dyslexia in Adults
Education history similar to above, plus:
may have to read a page two or three times to understand it
very poor speller
difficulty putting thoughts onto paper
dreads writing memos or letters
still has difficulty with right versus left
often gets lost, even in a familiar city
sometimes confuses b and d, especially when tired or sick
If your child shows three or more of the warning signs above, consider digging in and doing some research. Fortunately, plenty of information about dyslexia and how to treat it is readily available.
To learn more about dyslexia in general, visit these links:
If your child has a dyslexia diagnosis, or even if you just strongly suspect dyslexia, there is plenty of information available to help you decide on next steps. Decades of scientific research have given us clear, concrete information about how to teach a dyslexic child to read.
Kids with dyslexia must be taught to read with the right method, at the right level of frequency and intensity. There are methods and approaches that research has proven to be effective, and fortunately they are easy to find. Research tells us that dyslexic readers need the right instruction for at least two hours per week in order to make strong gains.
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How to Effectively Teach a Child With Dyslexia to Read
In addition to being provided at least twice per week, reading instruction for children with dyslexia must be:
Individualized – An effective reading method can be adjusted to meet individual needs. This means that even after you choose a program, the instructor will need to modify as your child progresses. Learners may master some concepts quickly and need more review on other concepts. Dyslexic readers need a program that can be readily adjusted, and an instructor who is skilled at individualizing instruction.
Multi-sensory – Reading instruction for kids with dyslexia must include as many of the senses as possible: seeing, hearing, feeling (touching), and movement (kinesthetic). The most powerful learning happens when more than one sense is used at the same time.
Direct and Explicit – Everything must be presented directly, deliberately, and clearly. Children with dyslexia should never expected to infer or deduce in order to learn how to read. Each piece of information or idea must be taught, practiced and discussed.
Systematic – Systems or procedures for learning must be taught and used consistently to learn new material. Kids become so familiar with these procedures that they become automatic, leaving more brainpower available for learning the information being presented. Within each lesson the procedures are followed in the same format, creating a framework that allows the deepest learning to take place.
Sequential and Cumulative – The organization of material to be taught must be logical and sequential. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic concepts and progress to more difficult concepts. Learning should be cumulative, meaning that each step is based on concepts that have been previously mastered.
Synthetic and Analytic – Synthetic (part to whole) means taking the individual parts of reading (phonics) and showing how they are put together (reading words). Analytic (whole to part) means looking at words and breaking them into individual sounds. Good readers must be able to think in both ways.
Taken together, these elements are referred to as Structured Literacy or the Orton Gillingham approach. These are not specific programs or curriculum. Think of Structured Literacy or the Orton Gillingham approach as names for the collection of components that must be included in any instruction for a child with dyslexia.
How to Find the Help Your Dyslexic Child Needs
Now that you know the type of instruction that your child with dyslexia needs, how do you find it?
Thankfully, many public school systems have begun to implement English Language Arts programs based on the Orton Gillingham approach. Talk to your child’s teacher or principal to make sure that the elements of Structured Literacy are being used to teach your child. In many districts, this is already the case. You may be able to arrange for your child to participate in “intervention” Structured Literacy lessons that are more targeted and intense.
For a child with dyslexia, whole group or even small group instruction in Structured Literacy might not be enough. Even if your dyslexic child has a well-trained, highly skilled teacher who is using a program based on the Orton Gillingham approach, your child may need additional support.
If intervention support hasn’t helped significantly, you may want to talk to the teacher or principal about evaluating your child for special education services. In the best of circumstances, this could result in your child receiving exactly the Structured Literacy instruction they need. It can also be tricky, because public school educators are constrained by federal criteria for special education eligibility that often doesn’t “catch” dyslexia. And if your child is eligible, you may disagree with the school about what services are appropriate.
Kids with dyslexia can benefit enormously from the right one-on-one instruction, either from a parent or a private tutor.
Parent-Friendly Reading Programs for Children With Dyslexia
There are several Orton Gillingham-influenced programs available that have been designed specifically for parents or private tutors to teach children with dyslexia how to read. Although I settled on using the Barton Reading & Spelling System in my private tutoring practice, there are other options available.
In researching each of the products below, I truly felt that the authors or publishers of the programs are deeply committed to helping struggling readers. There are differences in each product, but I believe that no matter which one you choose, you’ll be providing your child with a research-based program that works. These are widely known as the best “at-home” reading programs for struggling readers.
Let’s talk about the Barton Reading & Spelling System first. It was designed for parents and tutors to be able to use, almost “right out of the box.” Each level comes with training videos, and the manuals are carefully scripted. The company offers unlimited support to anyone who purchases the Barton Reading & Spelling System. The founder, Susan Barton, has created tons of valuable instructional videos available on the Barton website, her Brighter Solutions website, or YouTube.
All About Learning Press is a company that publishes two Structured Literacy products. All About Reading and All About Spelling are both based on the Orton Gillingham approach. These programs are scripted for parents and tutors to use, and the company describes them as “open and go.” All About Learning Press offers plenty of support through its website and blog, along with an offer to contact them by email or phone if you have any questions.
Logic of English is a comprehensive, completely scripted program that aims to make the Orton Gillingham approach available to anyone. The Essentials materials cover reading, spelling, writing and grammar. There is also a separate program that teaches handwriting in a multi-sensory way. The materials are easy to use and include optional activities categorized by learning style to allow parents or tutors to provide individualized instruction.
Reading Horizons offers instruction through online software, instructor-guided written materials, or a blended program using both. Plenty of training is provided through the website and blog.
The Pride Reading Program is also meant to get parents and tutors up and running quickly with their student. The manuals are scripted, and training videos provide clear instruction on each part of the lesson structure.
If you have a child with dyslexia, or a struggling reader who needs to catch up, you may choose one of these programs to teach your child yourself, or you may want to hire a tutor. Either way, you’ll know that you are providing the right instruction for your child with dyslexia.
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