Academic Areas

Teaching Overview

A good Educational Therapist pulls materials, tools and techniques from a variety of sources. We do this so we can tailor what we do with an individual student and provide exactly what they need in order to learn.

In many cases, explicit teaching, following a systematic, structured program, coupled with multi-sensory activities, is most effective. Using the right pace of instruction, as well as connecting material to prior knowledge, and covering the right amount of material, is critical. And most important of all, to create the right motivational and emotional environment in which a student feels ready to learn, feels successful, and can fully engage in the process of learning.

To achieve this, I carefully observe the student while s/he is learning…noting what works, what doesn’t work, how much the student can handle before becoming fatigued, what excites them and what bores them, how often they need breaks, and so on. I tell people I have the best job in the world because I have the freedom to do exactly the right thing at the right time. When that happens, learning takes place, and there is no better feeling in the world than seeing a child’s eyes light up when they learn something.

Programs and Materials

Reading: I pull from a variety of reading remediation tools, depending on the exact profile of the student and the severity of the dyslexia. It is best to study decoding, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling together in a unified approach. If the student needs a solid phonics approach, I am trained in and use the gold standard of reading programs, Orton-Gillingham and the Wilson Language System, and its related readers for practice and comprehension. Quite often, phonemic awareness needs reinforcing, and for that I use a variety of tools. For fluency I use the Wilson Reading System and Read Naturally, as well as a variety of activities for fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. I like Lindamood-Bell for visualization if that is needed. At home, I would encourage a robust diet of audiobooks and audio-learning.

For older students I explore assistive technology and classroom accommodations (e.g., regarding testing, quantity of work, use of electronic texts, etc.), to establish a pattern of accommodation well before high school.

Spelling: Spelling is a distinct aspect of language. I would not be surprised if one day it was discovered that spelling uses its own set of neural pathways, adjacent to but sometimes distinct from, other reading pathways in the brain. If reading involves “decoding” (the perception and recognition of written text), spelling is the “encoding” (hearing the sounds and then writing) of that same text. Quite often a student can be a good decoder but a poor encoder. Or, when the student received spelling instruction in school, they were not developmentally ready for that instruction, and became confused about spelling words. Often, the student can show readiness later. In this case, the task becomes finding a way to “undo” the confusion, go back to the very beginning of spelling, and build a clear, understandable system of spelling.

I use the All About Spelling program for a basic structure, and supplement that with activities from Words Their Way, the Rebecca Sitton spelling system, and my own bag of tricks.

Handwriting/Dysgraphia: For a child second grade and younger, I use the Handwriting Without Tears program. For third grade and older, I typically do not work on handwriting unless they are experiencing pain, or the student wants to do so. Instead, I explore assistive technology and classroom accommodations to ease the burden of writing. It is important that the student be allowed to demonstrate mastery in ways other than pencil and paper (for example, using Dragon Speak, Kurzweil, Inspiration, Ginger, and other software, online and classroom technologies).

Writing: Writing is by far our most complex educational activity. There are many skills that come into play when we engage in writing. There is the creative, idea-generating aspect, oral and expressive language skills, processing speed, use of vocabulary, the complex skill of sequencing thoughts in an orderly fashion, understanding and using structure, grammar, editing and spelling, and the actual execution of the writing through handwriting, keyboarding or dictation. Also important to writing remediation is recognizing the level of instruction that has or has not taken place.

Many students are sensitive about and do not enjoy writing. Often the first job of an Educational Therapist is to “undo” the negative associations a student might have with writing, and try to unlock their desire to express themselves through writing. Gradually the Educational Therapist can identify and work on the weaker skills generating the problems with writing, or provide “work-arounds” that bypass the weaker skills. As the writer’s confidence builds, the goal is to increase the complexity of the words and sentences being generated. In the near future I will be adding the program “Step Into Writing” to my arsenal.

Math: I have a special love of math. To borrow a phrase from a colleague, math is “ruthlessly cumulative.” That means that each step of math has to be fully mastered and integrated before moving on to the next step. If the next step sits on top of a foundation with holes, it will eventually crumble. This is the primary cause of confusion with math.

Problems with math can vary as to their source. Often a problem with math can be considered “developmental,” meaning that the student was not developmentally ready to learn the concepts and material being presented, but that in time, should be ready for that material. A full math ‘disability’ implies that there might be more of a neurological inefficiency; math can still be learned, but it may require a few more ‘workaround’ steps or supports.

Either way, the remediation is the same: going all the way back to where the student is absolutely solid in their understanding of concepts and procedures. Starting there, a base is slowly and steadily formed, covering each concept fully, with plenty of review and practice. It takes discipline to not move on until each concept is fully mastered, integrated, and automatic for the student.

Math is another area where I use a variety of tools. Most importantly, I use a good deal of concrete manipulatives (hands-on materials) in building concepts. Often a younger student will not have the underlying “number sense” concepts in place. (An example of number sense would be “cardinality,” knowing that the last number you say tells you how many there are in total.) It is vital not to move on before those concepts are solid. An older student may not be solid in their use of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and it is unwise to work on fractions, decimals and percentages until the four operations are solid. All of these areas are vital to a student being successful in pre-algebra and algebra, as well as in everyday life!

Many students have trouble memorizing the multiplication facts (times tables.) In fact, I did my master’s research and thesis on this exact topic. Most of these students have trouble memorizing the facts because the facts have no “meaning” for them; that is, they have no way of organizing and accessing those facts in their memory. For those students, I use a program called “Memorize in Minutes,” which employs language, stories and mnemonics as aids to remembering the multiplication facts. For a summary article on my research, please click here.

For math (including time and money) remediation, I use a variety of teaching manipulatives and tools. For the curriculum, I use lessons from Teaching Textbooks, Math Mammoth, Lindamood Bell’s “On Cloud Nine,” Rekenrek, and yes, even the Holt-McDougal Mathematics textbook for grades 5-7, as well as many online resources. I also enjoy using games from the Making Math Real program.  I also use the comprehensive Key Math program for both assessment and instruction.