Improving Reading Skills Through Neuro-development
Probably the most popular application for Neuro-development is the development of attention and focus skills. The next popular application would be for reading ability. Many children have problems with reading. Too many of them will end up dropping out of high school. Our nation's prisons are overpopulated with adults who cannot read. Reading plays a large role in the quality of life at this era of time. Learning to read is a very important skill that is taught in school, but not all intelligent students have the ability to learn to read. There are many neuro-developmental programs to improve reading ability (e.g., Structure of Intellect (SOI), Pace Tutoring or Rx Learning, Scientific Learning's Fast Forword and Reading Assistant, DORE). Many are very different from each other but they all involve an attempt to change the structure of the brain and/or develop neuro-pathways so that children can overcome their reading difficulties. These programs are designed to give these intelligent students the ability that they need to learn to read.
School is a much different place today than it was when I went to school in the 1960's. Today some children are reporting to Kindergarten with the ability and knowlegdge to read. Parents can purchase or have free programs (e.g., Starfall, ABCmouse.com) that teach children to read before they enter school! Some parents know how to teach their children to read without any programs. Most schools now require children to read prior to entering the first grade. When I was in school, Kindergarten was not required, and I did not attend. For most children, that would be a huge mistake in today's world.
There are many reasons why some children do not learn to read while other children in the same classroom at a similar level of intelligence learn to read well. Some of these reasons include developmental vision problems, inability to grasp phonics, inability to decode words, and an inability to comprehend or understand what they read. Some children have poor processing abilities that slows down their reading and makes their reading very inefficient. Some children put so much energy into reading that they do not enjoy it because of the labor involved. A good reader does not have to put much energy into reading and find it enjoyable.
There are many reasons why some children do not learn to read while other children in the same classroom at a similar level of intelligence learn to read well. Some of these reasons include vision problems, inability to grasp phonics, inability to decode words, and an inability to comprehend or understand what they read. Some children have poor processing abilities that slows down their reading and makes their reading very inefficient. Some children put so much energy into reading that they do not enjoy it because of the labor involved. A good reader does not have to put so much energy into reading and find it enjoyable.
The definition of a reading disorder is a significant split between IQ and Achievement as measured by an standardized testing. This is a very poor model to diagnoses learning disorders because young children with a learning disorder have to wait until they are in the second or third or fourth grade before their learning disorder becomes diagnosable so it delays intervention. The model also does not account for the children that received chronic poor instruction as a reason for a learning disorder. For example, a child may have had multiple illnesses and was unable to learn because the child missed many days of school or kept moving from school to school which would make learning difficult.
A better model is to assess the child's ability to learn and intervene soon after the child falls behind the peers in the classroom. Many children will be able to prevent having a learning disorder if a remedial program is used early.
It is important to make a distinction in the use of the word intervention. The traditional intervention in a school setting is to re-teach the student when they did not learn the information the first time. This seldom is effective. Most children who cannot read have had much more reading instruction than their counterparts who can read well. Most of the time, it is not a matter of instruction. Most of the time the issue is the child's inability to learn. The question to be asked when a child fails to learn is why did the child fail to learn the material when the rest of the class was able to learn. The answer to that question (e.g., poor developmental vision, poor phonic skills) will direct the type of intervention needed. It will be more efficient that re-teaching the child the material again and again. A better way is to change the structure of the student's brain so that they can have the ability to later learn how to read. This type of intervention is called remediation or neuro-development. It is not reteaching the child how to read.
The purpose of this article is to help parents and teachers to recognize problems related to reading and provide guidance on how to correct the problem early so that the child can be successful in school. Remedial interventions using neuro-development can be as short as 30 days and as long as two years, but all interventions have the main goal of getting a child with disabilities to function within the normal range. This will allow the child to graduate from high school with their peers. It will make them less likely to enter the justice system. The goal of remediation is to prevent and/or eliminate the reading problem or disability.
Developmental Vision Problems
It has been estimated that in a class of 30 students, 4 of them will have severe developmental vision problems that will effect their ability to read. Some children are relatively easy to spot, while others are more difficult. Some red flags of development vision problems include: children who tilt their head when they try to read and write so that they are viewing the written material with one eye, children who put their head too close or too far from the paper, children who have very poor drawing abilities and writing abilities (this also could be poor development of fine motor skills), children using their finger to read, children reading much better with a colored plastic sheet over the reading material, and children who take an extra long time copying from the board. These children may have perfect 20/20 vision but still have significant problems with near point vision.
The assessment and intervention of developmental vision problems can be found elsewhere on this website. It is important to note that developmental vision is essential and the basic foundation to good effective reading. The importance of it cannot be understated. It is important that a development vision problem be addressed before addressing deficits in reading.
The next step after learning the ABCs in reading is being able to identify letters. Before a child can recognize words, they usually have to recognize letters. This can be confusing to some children who get confused with a b and a d and a p. To them these are the same letter. They are the same letter but their position or orientation in space make them different letters. This is a difficult concept for some to grasp. But once it is grasped, students will be able to recognize differences in words that may look similar: (e.g., bat, pat, date, plate).
It is easy to detect a child's inability to detect letters by asking them to name a random set of letters. Most struggling readers will know some of the letters of the alphabet, especially the capital letters, but they will not know all of the letters, especially the small letters. This needs to be remediated.
Remediation for letter confusion
There is a difference between children not knowing a letter of the alphabet and getting confused between similar shaped letters (e.g., b, d). To learn letters, what may be helpful is to have the child copy many times the ones she does not know and call out the name every time she writes it down. Mastery is achieved when the child can correctly identify all the letters of the alphabet (large and small) and all of the numbers from 0 to 9. Mastery is achieved when the child can do this no matter what the order of the numbers and letters. After much practice and the child is still unable to idetify letters and numbers, we suggest working on memory and then trying this intervention again.
Letter Tracking by Ann Arbor Publishers was developed by developmental optometrists to help children speed up their ability to identify letters and improve their tracking abilities. The overall goal is to help children become faster in their reading ability.
Reversing Reversals: Fun Activities that Build Sequencing, Visual Discrimination and Tracking Ability by Dr. Erica Warren is a book specifically designed to help children who get confused by letters.
One of our favorite methods to address letter confusion is described in the activity Letters of Clay . The child's confusing letters are made with modeling clay and the child positions the letter correctly against an Alphabet line to learn that it is the correct position in 3-D space that makes a letter the correct letter. It is a great remediation tool.
Some children have adequate developmental vision and the ability to correctly identify letters, but are still unable to sound out words. There are two main ways to decode words. The most common method is through phonics. Hooked on Phonics is a great tool to help children develop a good command of phonics. It is a especially good summertime intervention for slow reading kindergarten students to get them ready for first grade. The association method is a common method to teach children to read through phonic awareness.
Another method to teach children to read is through whole word. This method involves learning and memorizing or recognizing words from sight. Phonics are not really involved. Combining pictures with words is a good method that helps learning in the whole word method. Sometimes memory work will need to be conducted before the whole word method will be effective. This method is an alternative method of teaching for children who were unable to learn though phonics.
It is better to teach children the whole word method if the child has a good memory but cannot grasp the use of phonics. A picture dictionary is a great tool to teach reading in this method. Some words have clear pictures associated with them ( e.g., tree, house, boat); while other words have no pictures to go with them (e.g., the, and, was). Ron Davis suggested children make their own pictures for these words through the use of modeling clay. Once the child has a mental image for the word, it is easier for them to learn through the whole word method of reading instruction.
Structure of Intellect (SOI) suggests that some children are good figural learners but poor semantic (word) learners. They have a remedial program called LOCAN that allows children with figural learning skills to develop skills in semantic learning. Participants use figures to communicate and will have a sentence in figures. Once they understand the concepts of syntax and sentence structure, the figures are replaced with words. LOCAN acts as a bridge to help figural learners read with words.
DORE will take the same child that SOI and Ron Davis are working with and do nothing but vision and balance exercises and within a year, the child is able to learn by phonics and to be able to complete their reading school assignments. They attempt to get the child at grade level in reading within two years (the first year is intervention and the second year is no intervention).
Pace Tutoring or Rx Learning coaches use rigorous exercises that allow children to learn phonics. Their exercises usually improve processing speed and they attempt to solve most learning issues within 90 days. Scientific Learning's Fast Forword uses similar techniques to help children decode words.
Assessment. It is relatively easy to assess a child who has problems decoding words. Give them a paragraph they have never seen before, with words that are within their grade level and ask them to read the paragraph out loud. They will have difficulty doing it. Some of these children cannot even decode the word when they see it a second time, after you have told them what the word was. It is truly amazing to see. It is proof that re-teaching is such a waste of time for these otherwise intelligent children. When doing this assessment, watch how the eyes move and the body posture to rule out developmental vision problems. Again, we recommend resolving the developmental vision problems before trying to resolve word attack (decode words) deficits. If a child is able to sound out the words in a clear and concise manner with good rate and flow of diction, then their reading problem does not include word attack deficiencies. It is likely that their developmental vision skills are adequate as well.
We recommend the above mentioned resources for solving word attack problems (e.g., DORE, SOI LOCAN, Pace Tutoring or Rx Learning, Scientific Learning's Fast Forword). If these services are unavailable in your area there are a few exercises that attempt to address word attack skills. They include Vowel Recognition and practice, and Syllable Reading. We highly recommend combining word attack exercises with balance exercises. In our opinion, DORE and other researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of using balance exercises when remediating reading problems.
Some children have good word attack skills but lack the ability to understand what they read. This is usually a reading comprehension problem. SOI has great remedial exercises for comprehension problems. They break down comprehension into multiple developmental units.
Assessment for reading comprehension problems is straight forward. Almost every achievement test has a measure of reading comprehension. The results are often given compared to peers in their grade or compared to peers their same age. A screen for comprehension can be given by asking a child to read a paragraph they have never seen before and then asking them to tell you what they have read. Having them read out loud insures that it is not a developmental vision problem or a word attack problem. If they can tell it back with 80% accuracy then their reading comprehension is likely to be in the normal range especially if the reading material was at age level. If they were only able to give you 50 % or lower and they were not distracted, then it is likely that they have some sort of reading comprehension problem.
We really like our Paragraph Reading Exercise to overcome reading comprehension problems. It is very straight forward and significant improvements are generally observed within 30 days. If this technique shows no or little improvement within 30 days, you may need to break down the comprehension into further neurodevelopmental units (e.g., SOI, phonic ability, visual convergence) and remediate these units before a more global intervention such as paragraph reading will be effective. Do not attempt paragraph reading with individuals with poor word attack skills or developmental vision problems. Those need to be remediated first.
In conclusion, the ability to read can be broken into several progressive categories: adequate vision, adequate leter identification, adequate word attack skills and adequate comprehension. Each category comes with a set of developmental units that can be subject to remediation through neuro-development. We did not identify all the possible developmental units that comprise the ability to read. What was offered was a description of each of the categories and some examples of developmental exercises within the category. The ideal approach to remediation is to contact the above mentioned resources and enroll your child in their services. We invite potential participants to compare and contrast the various mentioned programs and other neuro-developmental programs not mentioned and choose the one you feel will be most helpful to your child. If this is not possible, many children can significantly improve their ability to read by employing the exercises described in this article. We feel that following these streight forward instructions will be more productive than reteaching the child how to read again and again.
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