Preventing Summer Learning Slide in School-Aged Kids

Excited to have been on Let’s Talk Live earlier this month! Research shows that kids lose about 2.5 months in language arts and up to 3 months in math when they don’t practice their skills over the summer, so it’s important to keep them engaged in order to avoid the slide. You can still have a summer full of relaxation and family trips while weaving in summer learning.



Here’s a quick excerpt from the show:

What are the hot books for kids this summer?

Dragons Love Tacos (preschool, early elementary)

This is a New York Times Best Seller about dragons who love tacos – they eat buckets, and buckets of tacos. The problem is they can’t eat spicy salsa and if they do, boy oh boy, watch out!

Wonder (middle school students)

One of my favorite books of all time, Wonder is a #1 New York Times Best Seller that has captivated over a million readers. It is about a boy who was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to school, but in fifth grade he starts at Beecher Prep and wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid. The story is told from the perspective of the main character but quickly switches to his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend and others. These perspectives converge how young people struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. A great read for older elementary students, middle schoolers for sure, and even high schoolers and adults!

Paper Towns – high school students

Written by John Green, the wildly popular author of The Fault in Our Stars, this book’s movie adaptation is coming out this summer, meaning it will be a huge hit with teens. It explores topics such as growing up, graduating high school, and has a sense of mystery to it.


Now here’s the hard question. How do you get your child to actually read?

There are a few things you can do. The first is to dedicate time after dinner for DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). Put those phones down, TV off, so that everyone is reading their own book. Another idea is to have the whole family read the same book, kind of like a book club. Be sure the book can be read by the youngest child.

And lastly, most kids will want to read before bed. It’s relaxing. If your child is adamant about reading a book that his friends are reading, but it’s just a little too hard for him, get the audible version, too. Research shows that when students listen to a story while they read along with the hard copy (they can’t be staring into space!), they actually improve comprehension and fluency more than if they read alone.


What about writing? How do you get your child to write?

Girls are more likely to keep a diary or write captions in a scrapbook, but boys are often reluctant writers. “Through the Mail” is a method that encourages children to write to their favorite sports team in exchange for autographs. You can find the team addresses on for baseball and NFL for football. The website Cardboard Connection has a step by step approach for how to write a letter for your best chance of getting those autographs back!

Worried that you don’t want to be the summer learning slide enforcer in your home this summer? Give us a ring to learn about how a weekly tutor can set up a the structure to keep your child engaged without stress on your end.


The New Keys to Remembering What You Read

A few years ago, when I blogged, “The Keys to Remembering What You Read,” it quickly became one of our most visited web pages and most read articles. In preparation for my upcoming webinar of the same title, (register here), I revised the original article with new research and some of our tutors’ tried and true tips related to reading comprehension.


How Remembering What You Read is Like Taking a Vacation


Ann image 1I like to think of reading like a vacation.  First, you plan ahead; where will you go?  Which hotel will you choose?  What’s important to do when you get there?  And along the way, you will take lots of photographs.  When you return home, you’ll likely reflect on your trip and flip through all pictures you took.


A good reader takes the same steps.  She plans ahead by reading the synopsis and promotional reviews on the back of the book cover as well as the verbiage on interior book jacket.  She’ll take a look at the chapter titles to get a sense of what she’s about to read.  In a text book, she’ll read the heading for each section; look at the pictures and descriptions below them; and scan the questions at the back of the chapter.  The simple strategy of previewing has been shown to improve comprehension by as much as 66%.


Now comes the actual process of reading the text.  In order to improve long-term memory, a good reader will jot down important notes to remember the critical points.  That way, when she’s done, she can reflect back on the main points by reviewing the margin notes.  These notes are similar to photographs.  They provide a snapshot in time, which jogs memory.



Reading is Not a Spectator Sport



Here’s the thing: reading is an active process, not a spectator sport.  It requires energy and most important of all, concentration.  For many students, focus is not a problem when they are reading about subjects they enjoy. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the course of their studies, students have to plow through a good deal of material they find dense and boring. And this is when taking the time to jot down notes, similar to taking pictures, becomes so useful in enhancing learning.  Note taking works on a number of levels. It heightens attention by forcing students to actively engage with the material they are reading. Just as importantly, it encourages students to put the material into their own words and into some meaningful order. This simple task improves comprehension because the student must summarize the information he’s just read. Reiterating and condensing text is one of the very best ways to understand and remember.



There are a number of methods for taking notes while reading. The most basic involves margin notes and “self-talk,” a technique in which the reader questions himself about what he’s reading. You can coach your child to use this strategy by saying, “After you read a page in your novel,  (or a section in your textbook), ask yourself, “What did I just read?” or “What is the main idea here? His answers should be briefly recorded in the page margin. If writing in the textbook is not an option, your child can use Post-it notes.


The next step which is a little different is to write a two to three sentence summary after each subsection in the text book or each chapter in a novel.  Why is this helpful?  It forces the reader to take a lot of information and boil it down to the most important points.  Furthermore, studies have shown that taking a few minutes to summarize the main points right after reading is one of the greatest predictors of retention.



Online vs. Print Reading


We know that comprehension is a skill that can absolutely be taught.  Hundreds of research studies have shown that by helping students to preview material, take notes while reading, and summarize the key points they can dramatically improve their understanding and retention.  My tutors and I have worked with many students to do just that, but in this day and age with most textbooks online, our job is much harder.   That’s because reading from a novel from an e-reader, such as a Kindle, is a very different experience than paper copy reading.

A recent study gave 50 readers a 28 page short story to read.  Half the group read it on a Kindle, and the other half read it in paperback form.  The readers were tested on the impact of digitalization on the reading experience.

The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month and set to be published as a paper, gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on their understanding of the characters, setting, and events.  The readers in both groups performed similarly, but with a big exception in the area of plot development. Anne Mangen, the lead researcher stated, “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, i.e., when they were asked to place or sequence 14 events in the correct order.” The researchers suggest that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.  When you read on paper, you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and a pile of pages shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual … [The differences for Kindle readers] which might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is a kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”

Another paper also published by Anne Mangen and The University of Stavanger analyzed 72 Norwegian high school sophomores’ reading comprehension in print and on a PDF on a computer screen.  Mangen and her team found that when these 10th graders were tested afterwards, the students who read from texts in print scored significantly better.


I’m so distracted online!”


Although there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that comprehension is compromised when reading online, there are many things students can do to negate this effect.  Some textbooks have note-taking tools that allow students to jot down quick summaries or highlight important information as they read.  It’s essential to get into the habit of using these features, but be sure to use highlighting sparingly.  Taking notes is far superior.  Too many students become “highlighter happy,” and use this technique as a comprehension strategy when in fact, there is no research that shows highlighting as you read boosts comprehension.

I’ve worked with many students who simply do not like digital text.  They report that it’s hard for them to concentrate and that they easily drift off or are tempted by a far more interesting app or website while online.  These are the students that benefit from ordering a used printed copy of the book, or, if that’s not an option, printing out the pages they need to read and annotating them the good old fashioned way.

Reading comprehension can be difficult for students of any age, whether they are in first grade or taking multiple AP classes in eleventh grade. Encourage your student to try these strategies or some of the others included in our webinar, “The Key to Remembering What You Read.” But if your student is still feeling stuck or overwhelmed by reading, the best thing you can do is get a professional in place to work with him to understand the content and improve comprehension.

The Best English Tutor in Northern Virginia

Allyson McGillWhen it comes to tutors in the humanities, it doesn’t get much better than Allyson. Which is why we had to choose her for our February Tutor of the Month. Allyson has an extensive background in English and education. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Wheaton College, a Master’s and PhD in English from Indiana University, and a Special Education certification from UVA.

She has over 25 years of teaching and tutoring experience, working with students in primary school to the college level. Allyson has worked with Fairfax County Public Schools, St. Mary’s College, and Georgetown University. With all this experience, Allyson loves working one-on-one with students through Educational Connections. She said, “it’s great and fun to be working with all age groups and grades.” Allyson has been with Educational Connections since September and has received glowing feedback from her parents and students. One mom said, “I am thrilled to have Allyson working with my son. It’s great to have a tutor in place who really cares about my child’s success.”

When she’s not tutoring, Allyson is a voracious reader and a fan of traveling, cooking, and scrapbooking. Allyson also enjoys spending time with her husband and her three children. If you are interested in having a tutor, like Allyson, work with your child on reading, writing, or organization give us a call at 703.934.8282 to get started.

5 Common Accommodations and Modifications for Dyslexic Students

As a parent of a dyslexic student, you have likely considered looking into modifications and accommodations in the classroom for your child. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what is available so that when it comes time for an IEP meeting, it’s a good idea to have a sense of what’s out there!

In this blog post, I will explain five common types of accommodations and how I think they might be useful for your dyslexic child. These accommodations are pretty standard across counties and are all offered in Fairfax County. This article is designed to give you an idea of what might be appropriate, but you must of course work with your child’s teachers, psychologists, tutors, and any other professionals who work with your child to determine what will be best for your child as an individual. There are many other types of modifications and accommodations available to students, and every student is different!

1.)    Extended Time it is:

Extended time can be on a small scale or on a large scale. One way to use this accommodation on a smaller scale is to give students longer periods on timed tests and allow them to finish after school, or to finish classwork as homework. On a larger scale, extended time can mean an additional two weeks to complete assignments for the quarter, or extended due dates on projects and papers.

What it does for dyslexic students:

Students with dyslexia have difficulty with decoding words and reading comprehension, which are obviously two skills that are necessary for most assignments in school. Although they may have received tutoring services such as Wilson Reading and have gotten to the point where they can access the text, severe dyslexics may always be slower readers and writers. Extended time gives dyslexics the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and what they can do rather than how strong of readers they are.

2.)    Pre-Written Notes or Lesson Outlines

What it is:

For this accommodation, students are given either a copy of the PowerPoint that the teacher is using, a written summary of the lecture, or an outline of the important information to be covered in the lesson.

What it does for dyslexic students:

This allows students to focus on the content that they are learning, rather than the process of recording the information. Dyslexics tend to have difficulty with spelling and writing down words accurately (and may also have dysgraphia), which can distract them from what the lesson is actually about. Having this information beforehand allows them to preview what they will be learning, anticipate transitions, and look for the most important information so that they aren’t bogged down with writing less important information.

3.)    Reduced Words Per Page/Large Print

What it is:

For this accommodation, dyslexic students are given the same material as the rest of the class, but have it printed either in a larger font or with more space in between words or lines.

What it does for dyslexic students:

Students who have visually-based dyslexia have difficulty isolating and interpreting letters as well as processing visual information. Having this accommodation reduces the amount of visual clutter on the page and allows students to be less distracted by the words around the word that they are currently reading, thereby allowing them to read more accurately and fluently the first time they encounter the text.

4.)    Audio Recordings/Hearing Instructions Orally

What it is:

Some students may elect to record their entire lectures in class so that they can play them back again once they get home rather than reread their notes. Others may use audiobooks or recordings from the teacher to do their homework and study. Students who don’t need all of the information recorded may just need the directions given orally so that they can focus on correctly completing their assignments.

What it does for dyslexic students:

This technique is especially helpful for helping students learn challenging content. In addition to needing this so that they aren’t spending too much time trying to access the text, many dyslexics are excellent auditory learners. Having recordings enables students to focus solely on comprehending what they are learning without the frustration and distraction of trying to read a text that is above their level.

5.)   Graphic Organizers

What it is:

A graphic organizer is a tool that is used to organize information in a visual, logical manner. It can include charts, tables, diagrams, images, concept maps or webs, and even “foldables.” Most graphic organizers have some pre-completed information but also include areas for the student to fill in and write.

What it does for dyslexic students:

Graphic organizers are already used in most classes as they are an excellent teaching tool, but a dyslexic student may benefit from using them more frequently. They can be used to map out a structure for a student to write a paper, to lay out what information the student should be seeking in a text, or even to color-code types of information. Their highly visual nature is an especially helpful learning tool for students who have difficulty holding words in their mind.

5 Ways to Help Your Dyslexic Student at Home

Trying to complete school work can be a very frustrating and discouraging experience for a student who struggles with dyslexia. Even just trying to read directions and figure out what to do on an assignment can be a huge barrier, never mind having to read complex texts and complete writing tasks. School can quickly start to feel like an obstacle course and can feel very isolating to a child you aren’t at school with your child while they are struggling through textbook reading or feeling flustered by how quickly they are expected to complete assignments, there are certainly many things that you can be doing at home to support your child in the classroom.

Your child will likely need to work with a reading specialist or tutor on a long term basis in order to strengthen and develop reading skills, but here are some strategies that will help school seem more manageable while they are receiving those services:

1. Focusing on Organization

Students with dyslexia tend to need longer amounts of time on assignments, and also may have difficulty quickly switching tasks. Teaching your child to value organization is a great way to counter this issue! Having a neatly organized binder will allow your child to find assignments and class notes without wasting any of that precious time or becoming frustrated when they are already doing something that is difficult for them. Developing lifelong organizational habits will help any student in the long run, but your child may need it more than his or her peers.

2. Creating a Productive Environment

For any child, eliminating distractions is an important part of creating an environment that is conducive to completing homework. For a dyslexic child, it is absolutely crucial, especially if the dyslexia is coupled with ADHD or a sensory processing disorder.

When your child is doing homework, make sure that they are in an area that is free of clutter and distractions. Sounds, movement, other people, and technology can all take your child’s attention away from their work. If you need to, it might be a good idea to take your child to the library or create a designated area in the house for homework.

3. Reading Directions

For children, getting started on assignments can be the hardest part of completing them. This is especially true if they feel like they don’t understand what is expected of them or how to go about something. You can help your child get started on homework and reduce their frustration levels by verifying that they have fully understood the directions.

If your child has a high level of anxiety about homework, you may consider asking their teacher if it is okay for you to actually read the directions aloud and have him or her focus more on completing the assignment. If it is important that your child practice reading the directions independently, you can have your child read them aloud to you and then verify the accuracy. If the directions were read inaccurately, have your child reread them one sentence at a time and then check for understanding so that they are broken down into steps.

4. Providing Breaks

For a dyslexic child, reading is a lot of work. Reading for extended time can cause mental exhaustion, which essentially means that no more learning will occur in that sitting and the rest of their work will be done at a slower pace. Mental exhaustion also increases the chance for errors and misinterpretations, which can be very counterproductive for your child’s grades.

In order to prevent this exhaustion as well as taper any frustration that is building, have your child take breaks in between assignments. The break doesn’t have to be long; it can merely consist of getting up to get a quick snack, taking a moment to play with the dog, or relaxing for a few minutes with eyes closed. Getting into this practice will help your child increase stamina and avoid meltdowns.

5. Using Color

For a child who may take a long time to locate headings, key words, and any other important information, color coding can be a great tool.   Not only will this technique help your child with visual memory, it will also provide quick access to the information that he or she is looking for.

You can also use color at home by highlighting sections of text that are the most important, using colorful binder tabs, post-its, and colored sheet protectors. Some dyslexic students do better with reading when they use translucent reading color strips to highlight the line that they are currently reading.

Any way that you can incorporate multisensory learning will help your dyslexic child, so be creative!

Before using these or any new strategies with your child, it’s always a good idea to consult with his or her teacher, tutor, or reading specialist to make sure that you are supporting what is being done in the classroom.

Remember that the most important thing that you can do help your child in school is to encourage them and celebrate their successes! I hope these strategies help!

Wilson Reading Tutors: What Makes Them Effective?

If you read my blog from last week, or have researched programs used to treat dyslexia, you may be considering Wilson Reading as a solution for your child’s needs.  Wilson Reading is a challenging program, and it is very important to have your child work with a person who is not only well-trained, but dynamic, intuitive, and able to pick up on your child’s feelings and needs.

iStock_000012428708Large blur 50Once you have selected a Wilson Tutor, it is likely that your child will be working with that person for a very long time.  The program is designed for a two-year period and can be longer for students with varying needs, and it requires meetings 2-3 times per week.  Knowing this, you can certainly see why it is so important to have your child carefully matched with the right person!

Although every child responds best to different tutor personalities, there are some core traits that every great Wilson Tutor has.  We look for these traits when we decide to hire Wilson Tutors and also when determining which tutors to train in the program so that we can best serve our students.

Experience Working with Struggling Readers

Although the theory behind the Orton-Gillingham Approach and Wilson Reading Program can be taught, that is only half of the battle in working with a student who is challenged by decoding and reading fluency.  There are certainly individuals who have a natural talent for working with young students and understanding their frustrations, cues, and limits, but for most, this ability comes with experience.

The best Wilson tutors are individuals who have worked with struggling readers in the past and truly understand the many layers of obstacles that these students are facing.  This is not just about the mechanical and cognitive aspects of reading, but also understanding the emotional, social, and academic challenges that these students face on a daily basis.

An experienced tutor will be able to work with the whole student as opposed to just focusing on teaching what letters make what sounds.  He or she will have the ability to identify when a student is becoming frustrated and what internal thoughts that student might be having.  The experienced tutor will also recognize when a student is trying to divert the session in order to avoid working on something. Wilson tutors serve not just as teachers, but also as mentors, coaches, and sources of inspiration.

Organizational and Time Management Skills

The Wilson Tutoring Program has a highly involved curriculum that requires both tutors and students to keep track of several moving parts.  It’s important for tutors to be able to keep track of what each of their students has mastered as well as when they may need additional materials to help a student who needs more practice than others.  The tutor also needs to take daily notes on student progress and keep track of several different versions of materials that are individualized for each of their students.

The tutor also needs to be able to teach these organizational skills to their students since the students will be keeping track of what sounds and words they have mastered and many different worksheets and notebooks.

Lastly, the tutor must have strong time management skills because pacing in Wilson lessons is one of the most important components.  The pace shifts quickly from activity to activity, and keeping a pace that matches the needs of the student is key to maintaining long term engagement.  It is crucial for tutors to complete every section in the Wilson Lesson Plan during their session in order for the student to work on every aspect of decoding, encoding, and fluency.

Wilson reading systemBuilding Phonemic Awareness

One of the most common reasons dyslexic students have difficulty with decoding and spelling is their lack of phonemic awareness, or ability to accurately hear individual sounds within words and sentences.

For some of us, this ability comes very easily.  People with good phonemic awareness might be great at learning to pronounce new words or learn new languages, and may have a good musical ear as well.  For others, discriminating sounds is very abstract and difficult and must be taught directly.

Tutors who are best for working with decoding and encoding are individuals with a strong sense of phonemic awareness.  They must be able to not only break down the words themselves, but to quickly and accurately identify when their student is or isn’t pronouncing something correctly.  This is especially important in the quick drills section of the Wilson Lesson Plan, which is used to build automaticity.  In this case, stopping the student after every sound would defeat the purpose of the exercise.

Understanding of the English Language

If you have ever read to a child who is just learning to read, you may have heard a question like, “why does the word ‘knife’ have a ‘k’ in it?”, or “Why don’t ‘rough,’ and ‘through’ rhyme even though they end with the same letters?” or, “Why do ‘c’ and ‘k’ sometimes make the same sound?”

English is a language that evolved mainly from French and German and also has been influenced by many other languages throughout the years.  To this day, English continues to borrow new words from other languages.  English is an irregular language, but it also has some patterns that can be learned.

A good Wilson tutor will help a student recognize some of these patterns instead of just saying “because that’s the way it is.”  Having a strong understanding of the English language as well as some background knowledge on how it became the way it is can really help, especially in the more advanced levels of Wilson tutoring.

Making the Wilson Tutor Match

If you decide to have your child work with a Wilson tutor, we would be happy to work with you to determine who the best match will be.  Our tutors will certainly have the background required, but we also want to make sure that we get a good fit in terms of interests and personality.  This tutor will have a strong presence in your child’s life, and so it is important to get the right fit!

Games for Reading: Our Tutors Love This One

chris and jan readventuresOn Saturday in Vienna, VA we had a fantastic professional development workshop for our reading tutors.  We employ many teachers who help students with reading disorders, such as dyslexia.  Our guest attendee was Jackie Paris, inventor of Funny Mix, one of the best reading games on the market.

Here’s a blog written by Jackie:

I was invited to present the FUNNY MIX reading game at a workshop sponsored by Educational Connections tutoring company on April 5, 2014.  Ann Dolin, the owner of Educational Connections, was delighted to learn of the FUNNY MIX reading game!  She immediately recognized the card game as an innovative and fun way to practice phonemic awareness and phonics and wanted to share it with her reading tutors.  I was honored to be a part of an Educational Connections’ workshop as their tutors provide each child with an effective path to reading success.

reading roundtable workshopThe tutors were very intrigued as I demonstrated how the 14 Super Hero characters’ names were real one-syllable words but could transform into funny nonsense words as the characters were mixed together!  According to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, “The ability to read nonsense words is the best measure of phonologic decoding skill in children.”  I like to describe nonsense words as important in learning to decode multi-syllable words.  For example, the nonsense word “jun” is part of the larger word, “jungle.”

The FUNNY MIX game was so well received that the tutors couldn’t wait to play the game with their students!  One tutor relayed to me that she was so happy she was tutoring a young girl later that day so that she could play the game with her!

What makes the FUNNY MIX card game so unique is that the game consists of 14 Super Heroes whose names contain every letter of the alphabet.  Zip, Web, Yum, Box, and Hat are the short vowel characters.  Dive, Pete, Cube, Joke and Game are the long vowel characters. Queen, Leaf, Rain and Soap are additional long vowel characters.

Using transparent plastic cards that contain the super heroes’ capes and masks, the child’s job is to stack these 3 cards onto the base card in order to give the character a cape and mask, thus activating their powers! The children get to practice saying the sounds in the names (phonemic awareness) as well as learning the letters (phonics) that make each sound!

I developed the game to ensure that all children would experience success playing it.  Children who can’t identify letters yet, can simply match the pictures together.  Furthermore, there are numbers at the top that children can match together too!  The goal is to learn the super heroes’ names, which children have a natural capacity to do.   Once, children learn the names, they can practice saying the sounds in the names and learning the letters!

The FUNNY MIX reading game also has some cool designs to help children remember the different letter sounds.  All of the silent letters are under water because you can’t talk under water.  The short vowels are colored green matching the green super heroes.  The long vowels are all blue and match the blue super heroes.

Thank you, Ann Dolin, for the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful tutoring workshop!  Here’s to helping ALL children learn to read!

To learn more about the FUNNY MIX reading game, please visit the website and the Readventures Facebook page.

What is Wilson Reading?

If your child or anyone you know has been diagnosed with any form of dyslexia, then you may have heard of the Wilson Reading Program.  Wilson reading is our most requested tutoring for students with dyslexia or difficulty with decoding and fluency, and we have many clients referred to us with the recommendation that they look into Wilson Reading for their child.

However, many parents who call have only a vague idea of what Wilson Reading is.  Not knowing anything about the program can make it difficult to determine if it will be the best fit for your child.  The more I learn about Wilson Reading, the more I realize how complex and detailed it is, which is what makes it so effective for students who need it.

For other students, the Wilson program might be a more intensive intervention than what is necessary, and there may be a better option for them.  In these cases, we have many tutors who have been trained in several reading programs and who can provide a more customized curriculum that will appropriately meet your child’s needs.

I’ve provided an overview of the Wilson Reading Program for you to read so that you can get an idea of whether or not it would be the best option for your child.  I hope that this provides some clarity!

The Orton-Gillingham Approach

Wilson Reading is a program that falls under the “Orton-Gillingham Umbrella.”  The Orton-Gillingham Approach was first created in the 1930’s to treat dyslexia in adults.  It was originally created by a neuropsychiatrist (Orton) and a psychologist and educator (Gillingham) based off research that they had done over the years.

The theory behind the Orton-Gillingham approach is that dyslexia needs to be treated through study of the English language.  The lessons are multi-sensory, structured, sequential, and cumulative.  However, they also require flexibility for each individual learner.  That is to say, each student will take a different amount of time to complete various levels and may need more repetition than others.  In this approach, it is more important to fully master each level than to move quickly.

Wilson Reading is one program that was created using the Orton-Gillingham approach as a foundation.  There are many programs that fall under the Orton-Gillingham umbrella, but Wilson is one of the most popular and well-respected versions.  Its popularity can be attributed to the constant change of pace, the well-develop materials, and the ability of the instructor to vary the pace depending on the student’s needs.

Every Wilson Reading System lesson has 10 different steps.  The first six steps are for developing decoding skills (reading), steps 7 and 8 are for encoding (spelling), and steps 9 and 10 are for fluency.

1. Sound drills using color-coded cards;

2. Reviewing decoding concepts using cards;

3. Whole-word reading using flashcards;

4. Reading word lists and charting accuracy;

5. Reading sentences in controlled text;

6. Quick Sound Drill in reverse using magnet boards or color-coded cards;

7. Teaching and reviewing concepts for spelling;

8. Dictation work;

9. Reading passages from controlled text;

10. Listening comprehension activities.

Who Needs Wilson Reading?

For students who are having great difficulty decoding words, are behind their peers, or are making little progress on developing their decoding skills because of their frustration level, Wilson can be a great option. Wilson tutors typically meet with their students 2-3 times per week, and the program can last for two years.  It is very comprehensive and thorough, and ensures that students have mastered every aspect of decoding by its end point.  It requires a lot of commitment on the family’s part due to the fact that its success relies on consistent sessions.

However, there are many cases when Wilson would be effective for a child, but it isn’t the best fit.  Although your child may need some support in developing better decoding and fluency skills, Wilson may not be the best fit.    It may be that your child needs work with phonics and decoding, but that they would benefit from meeting with a tutor once per week and also working on reading comprehension, or just focusing on a specific aspect of decoding.

Your children’s teachers and doctors as well as our staff can help you determine if Wilson is going to be the best option.

How Can I Get a Wilson Tutor?

In order for someone to be an effective Wilson tutor, it’s important that they complete an intensive training and also regularly use the program.  The lessons are fast-paced and have a lot of steps, and the decoding and encoding techniques require the ability to quickly and accurate break language down into individual sounds.

For this reason, Wilson tutors can be hard to come by.  However, we do have a core group of great Wilson tutors on staff.  If you think you may be interested, it is good to call as far ahead of when want to get started as possible, and also to provide a lot of flexibility in your schedule.

Remembering What You Read

In a world where technology has taken over the interests of our youth, brain-stimulating activities such as reading have been put on the backburner. Students may argue that they read all the time – when they are texting or surfing the web. However, this is not the same as traditional reading, which incites thought-provoking questions and instills creativity.

Many students may say that their interest in reading has declined, because they do not read well or cannot remember what they read. Schools try to provide reading comprehension activities that relate to what students are interested in, but teachers say that this often does not matter, because many of their students are years behind grade level when it comes to reading proficiency. Although the rise of technology can be partially to blame, there are some strategies students can use in order to improve their reading skills, which can also re-spark their interest in reading.

Here are 5 tips students can use to help them comprehend and remember what they read:

1.       Read with a purpose

This sounds simple enough; students believe their purpose for reading is to either answer questions administered by the teacher, or to get an ‘A’ in a class. These can be considered end goals for a reading assignment, but the purpose pertains to the meaning behind the reading and how the purpose is being fulfilled through the actual reading. In other words, students should ask themselves, “Why am I reading this? What should I be learning from this?” This will help students remember what they are reading if they continuously check for how the purpose is being fulfilled throughout the text, and allow them to focus on the relevant parts.

 2.       Skim the text

Teachers often reprimand students for skimming their reading assignments, however if used correctly, skimming does often have its benefits. It helps prime the memory, orient thinking, and create an overall sense and understanding for the material. Skimming should not be used in place of fully reading text, but rather prior to fully reading, in order for students to get a better idea of what is about to come. It also puts emphasis on headings, pictures, graphs, tables, and any other key items that will help students realize what their purpose is of reading.

3.       Highlight sensibly

Highlighting a few keys words as you read the text can help provide mental pictures and reminders as you go along. Just remember, it is not necessary to highlight full sentences or focus too much on what must be highlighted – this can often be counterproductive. When students become preoccupied with marking up a book, they do not pay full attention to what they are reading, and often must go back to re-read the text. After highlighting a few key words, it is important for students to create a self-quiz or outline to make sure the material is being memorized. This will help support memory foundation and create an aid for studying in the future.

4.       Read in pictures

As strange as it sounds, pictures can capture the essence of a hundred words, and are much easier to remember than words. It can be helpful to make mental images of headings and sub-heads of a story, so that students can form a reference when they go back to review material. When reviewing something such as script for a play, students should try to study the meaning of the script in depth, which will automatically produce mental images and memory. Associating words with the real meaning and context creates engagement for the reader, and allows them to become interested and connected to the material. This will greatly help students remember what they have read, if they have a genuine interest.

5.       Put it all together

Students should remember that using all of these tips together will yield that best results when it comes to comprehending and remembering what they’ve read. Start off by understanding the purpose behind the reading; what is it that you are trying to learn? Try skimming the text for clues of the purpose. This will also help students familiarize themselves with the material and set the tone for what they are about to fully read. While reading, they should highlight key words that pertain to the material, while trying not to over-highlight unnecessary information. Always visualize and create mental images for what is being read; students will realize that pictures create much stronger memories than words alone.

How to Use Graphic Organizers for Reading Comprehension

For many children, reading comprehension is a challenge.  They haven’t learned to visualize the text yet, they are facing vocabulary words that may distract them from the meaning of what they are reading, and they may feel overwhelmed by the amount of words on the page.  It may feel like they are doing a lot of things all at once, which is why they need a way to organize their thoughts.

You may have spoken with your child’s teacher and heard the term “graphic organizer.”  A graphic organizer is essentially just a tool, usually on a worksheet or in digital form, that provides ways to arrange and keep track of information in a way that communicates through pictures, diagrams, charts, or other visuals instead of just text or spoken language.  There are many types of common graphic organizers, among the most popular strategies like mind maps, Venn Diagrams, and KWL charts.

Graphic organizers are the teacher’s best friend.  They are quick and simple to make, they provide good visuals for students who need multisensory input, and they prescribe a structure for students to take notes.  Graphic organizers require students to stop and think about what is important while they are reading, and it also gives them something tangible to complete.  Many types of graphic organizers can be easily converted into writing assignments after they have been completed. They have uses for students of all ages.

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Graphic organizers can easily be implemented at home, as well.  Here are some examples that I think would be a good fit:

KWL chartKWL Charts

A KWL chart is best used for reading non-fiction, which is the type of reading that students tend to have the most challenge with in terms of comprehension.  It has three columns with blanks underneath, titled as “K,” “W,” and “L” at the top.  K stands for “Know” as in, “What I already Know,” W stands for “Want to Know,” or “Wonder,” and L stands for “Learn,” as in “What I Learned.”

The student fills out the first two section as a pre-reading activity but can add to the W column as new questions arise throughout the reading.  This encourages interaction with the text, making predictions, and making connections.  This can be done in full sentences or in bullet points depending on what would benefit the individual student the most.

The L section is for after reading.  This allows the reader to stop and reflect, process the information they just read, and decide what was most important.

concept map

Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is great for critical thinking and making connections.  For younger children, you can start with a template that has several empty circles with lines connecting them. Older children can just use a large piece of blank paper and draw their own bubbles.

Concept mapping basically involves recording an important term, event, or detail in the reading into one circle, and then connecting it to another related term event, or detail in another circle.  The student should always be thinking about how the terms are connected, and can write a brief description of how they relate on the connecting line.

Again, this method always forces the student to think about, process, and interact with information as it is being read.  Interaction with the text is key for reading comprehension.

Inspiration and Kidspiration are two great software programs that can be used for concept mapping.

sequence chains

Reading Comprehension Sequence Chains

These graphic organizers are great for keeping track of the order in which things happened in the story.  The organizer is basically a series of boxes or circles connected by arrows going from left to right, implying a sequence.  In each box, the child would either write or draw important events in the order that they occurred in the reading.  Again, this causes the reader to stop, process, and think about what is important.

Older students can create comic strips to represent what they read.  This is especially good if you have an artistic child who is always doodling in their notebooks.

Another way to use Sequence Chains to promote critical thinking in older students is to alter the G.O. a bit to represent cause and effect instead of a sequence of events.

Anchor Charts

There are many variations of anchor charts.   An anchor chart is basically a blank worksheet with specific questions that the student should be answering as they go along.  This works well for students who may have difficulty with abstract thinking or identifying important details.

A common anchor chart for storytelling is the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How,” chart that we probably have all encountered at some point in our schooling.  Again, this is great for students who have difficulty identifying the important pieces of information in their reading. Another one I like is “Say, Mean, Matter.”  With this chart, students first have to write down a quote or piece of information that they read about under “Say,” interpret what they read under “Mean,” and then think critically, make connections to other things that they have read, and synthesize the information under “Matter.”

Pinterest is a great place to find other examples of anchor charts that can help your child understand what they’re reading and appeal to their individual way of learning, or you can get creative and come up with your own!

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