Understood.org Video Chat: Exploring Evaluations with Michael Hart, Ph.D.

My Understood.org video chat recording is available. Great for beginners to learn about psychoeducational evaluations.  I’m very pleased to be included as a subject matter expert with Understood.org.  In this video chat I provide basic information regarding a family’s rights regarding getting a child tested, what the evaluation should look like and the benefits of testing and the difference between a public and private evaluation.  I cover several other very common questions about testing as well.  I hope you find this helpful!

Click Exploring Evaluations with Dr. Michael Hart to listen!

Your Child Restored: The Path From Suffering to Success

Your Child Restored:  The Path from Suffering to Success

By Michael Hart, Ph.D.

Effective Advocacy for Your Child with Learning Issues


Discovering that your child has a learning problem can be very confusing, frustrating and often overwhelming. Many of us, even bright, highly functioning people really struggle with figuring out what to do.  Oftentimes, our first reaction is to reach out to the school for help and support.  For a myriad of reasons, we may find that teachers and their colleagues are ill prepared to provide all the help we need.  In addition to the lack of training and support for the teachers, our education system is often a messy, slow-moving bureaucracy.  In the meantime, our children suffer needlessly…Sometimes for years.

Just last week, while meeting with a group of parents, I was struck again by the pain and agony we feel when we assume that our children’s school officials have the know-how or resources to adequately support our students’ special learning needs only to find out that they don’t.  I’ve been experiencing this pain and agony since I started practicing 25 years ago.  That is TRULY needless suffering and we’ve got to change this.

To be clear, I am a huge advocate for teachers.  The vast majority of educators are seriously committed to their profession and want to do their best.  A lack of proper educational opportunities, inadequate professional development and limited resources frequently stands in the way of their ability to function effectively.

The primary example I use is this:

Facts about Dyslexia and Teacher Preparation Programs

  • Research indicates that approximately 10% to 20% of our students struggle to some degree with dyslexia–a language processing-based difficulty with reading, spelling and writing.http://eida.org/dyslexia-basics
  • And yet, three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers. http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Chapter3_FindingsByStandard (pp. 36-38)
  • Virtually no secondary school preparation programs include curricula about reading and written language instruction in spite of the fact that dyslexia is a life-long issue.

The majority of our students who struggle with learning struggle due to issues with language-based processing weaknesses.  So, first and foremost, how can you expect a teacher or educational team to help your child in this area when they aren’t given the education, training and experience to do so?  The short answer is that they can’t.

We need to change that reality but it’s going to take decades.  So I’ve come to realize that the path from suffering to success is found by changing our assumptions, expanding our focus and taking better care of our heart and soul RIGHT NOW.

Your Child Restored:  The Path From Suffering to Success

 Over the course of 25 years of working with kids and their families, I’ve created and refined a 5-Part Program where parents and guardians have to think much more creatively about their kids who have learning challenges starting at the very beginning of awareness of the problem.

The core belief behind my program can be obvious but also quite provocative and nerve wracking for the child’s caregivers.  I very directly challenge the assumption that the experts lie outside the family.  Parents must go way beyond contacting the school for help and understanding.

In a nutshell, PARENTS OR PRIMARY CAREGIVERS are always going to be the most powerful and effective advocate for THEIR child.  NO ONE…Not your child’s teacher, or guidance counselor, or principal or therapist will be more effective than YOU.  You may not feel that way in the beginning but you can get there.  It’s important to remember that this is a process…a marathon, not a sprint.  But you’ll get there…and so will your child.  This is not to say that there is not a role for educational consultants.  We can be very helpful but in the long run we often come and go over the years.  We are most effective serving as anchors or guides during the critical moments when you need us.  And we are most effective when we guide your self-directed education.  It’s the old “Teach a man to fish and he eats forever” model.

My program, Your Child Restored: From Suffering to Success, is based on five key steps that a parent or caretaker needs to take.  Here is a very brief synopsis of each of those key steps.


Part One:  Fully accept and embrace the role of your child’s advocate

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the prospect of advocating for our child when we think we don’t know a thing about their challenges.  Moreover, aren’t the teachers the experts?  Far too often that is not the case.  When we offer our children up to the educational bureaucracy, months and months or even years can go by before a proper remediation plan is put in place.

It behooves us to emotionally accept that we are not only able to take on the role but can be effective.  And, as I will mention in Part 3, it creates a mindset where you much more rapidly begin to take a look at all of your options both in school and out.  Remember that early intervention is key and that you cannot take the “let’s wait and see” approach.


Part Two:  Educate yourself relentlessly so that you can make informed decisions

One of the wonderful aspects of the digital revolution has obviously been our ability to access information that previously was locked up far and away from lay people.  There are mountains of content out there that you will find helpful in both understanding what you’re dealing with as well as what to do about it.

Initially, it will take time, like all new things, but you will grow your database of knowledge quickly.  It is not rocket science.  Even understanding the underlying neurobiology is do-able.  Just slow down and you will learn the specific terminology.

One key issue will be your awareness of your rights in negotiating for services within the school district.  Know them well.

Over time, your need for certain types of information will change.  The demands of middle school are different than the demands of high school and college.  How your child’s or loved one’s brain is wired will likely not change but how they use their brains to meet the environmental challenges will shift over time.  Information regarding how to manage those transitions is available to you.


Part Three:  Evaluate all of your options for supporting your child–both in your community and within your school district

The cliché that “It takes a village to raise a child” is a cliché because it is true.  In most cases you will find that you will need community and home-based resources above and beyond what the school is offering for remediation and skill building.  This may take the form of perhaps private school placement, extra tutoring, special classes (both to help with the dyslexia and classes that give your child or loved one pleasure), counseling and consulting, etc.

Fortunately, educational technology has become one of the most powerful tools for remediation, training and education.  The software and applications available today are completely transforming how we work with our children.  This is especially so for people with dyslexia.  It is a “specific revolution” within the overall educational technology revolution.


Part Four:  Advocate fiercely along the way.  Be calm, be ready, be fearless and never give up.

By advocating “fiercely,” I do not mean that you should act like a bull in the china shop.  A true warrior is calm, well-prepared and fearless.  “Never give up” of course is the mantra for many struggles in our lives.  In this case, it is a great gift to your loved one.

Dyslexia does not go away.  Henry Winkler, The Fonz from Happy Days, is well known for quoting the following, “You don’t grow out of dyslexia, you just learn to negotiate with it.”  So you have to keep at it and work to avoid giving up.

Again, having electronic access to information and having access to a community of others through digital media and local groups is so critical and at the very least you or your loved one will learn that he or she is not “broken” and you or your loved one are not alone.


Part Five:  Take care of your heart and soul as well as your child’s heart and soul.

I am not sure that I can possibly emphasize Part Five enough.  It’s often the missing ingredient for families who really struggle with learning issues like dyslexia.

For your child or loved one it is so important to help them pursue what they love to do and what they do well.  Six or seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year our children are in a setting that screams failure for them.  They need your guidance and support to heal their heart and soul by doing what they love.

And the same goes for you.  So many parents or caretakers get so focused on the difficulties and challenges that they miss the value of replenishing their spirit.

Really, when all is said and done, what is most important in life?

Choosing and Implementing Dyslexia Intervention Programs In the Classroom

This two hour webinar on WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17 AT 10AM CT is a follow up from our previous webinar entitled Dyslexia Screening in Schools: Supporting Our Teachers By Doing it Right!

In the first webinar, you learned best practices for both evaluation and implementation of an effective dyslexia screening process in your schools.

Now in this webinar we will provide a clear “map” for selecting and implementing intervention programs based on the results of the universal screening process.

Our goal is to offer a framework to make your job easier!

In this webinar you will learn about:

  • The importance of understanding literacy and math skills development for ALL educators
  • A map for assessing which intervention approach is best for your school or district
  • Guiding recommendations for appropriate intensity and duration of interventions at multiple levels
  • Specific examples of intervention approaches
  • Extensive live and pre-selected Q&A with a top educational expert


CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND VIEW AGENDA:  Choosing and Implementing Dyslexia Intervention in the Classroom



The NSA and Dyslexia: A Love Story

The NSA and Dyslexia:  A Love Story


Soon after relocating my learning disabilities (mostly dyslexia) diagnostic practice to Annapolis, Maryland I encountered a bit of a mystery during my family interviews. Fortunately it turned out to be a lovely mystery.

In the mid to late 1990’s I had a thriving practice evaluating and diagnosing a wide range of learning issues for kids and adults.  I had learned early on in my training that collecting as much information as possible from BOTH parents was critical to truly understanding who these young people were as…people…and not just a set of test scores.  So I made it really clear in the intake process that both parents needed to attend the initial interview.

But something strange although ultimately wonderful started happening during my meetings with mom and dad.  It went like this:

Me:  So, what do you do for a living?

Parent:  I work for the government.

Me:  Yeah, yeah, right…So what do you actually do for a living?

Parent:  I work for the government.  

Stone-faced, resolute response.  Period.  


Hmmm, what’s the deal here?.  It took me a few family interviews to figure it out and then the light came on.

Annapolis, Maryland is a bedroom community outside of Washington, DC.  Of course DC is the home to the FBI, Secret Service, CIA and the NSA (among other shadow agencies we don’t even know about)…Guess where all these folks live?  Specifically with the NSA, employees are not allowed to tell anyone where they actually work.  Hence the stonewalling which was really just a reaction to my cluelessness!

But here’s the real story.  I was getting a LOT of referrals for families that did not share where they were employed!  Why was that?

Of course, as we now know, dyslexics and people with other learning issues think differently!  And more importantly, they approach problems in atypical and oftentimes unique ways.  The NSA is all about finding unique solutions to huge, hoary global problems buried in massive volumes of data.  They HIGHLY VALUE dyslexics as employees because they possess special cognitive abilities!  Dyslexics, by and large, see things differently which is enormously valuable to security agencies.

I can’t confirm this but I’ve heard that up to 50% of people who work at the NSA have some sort of wiring issue in their brain…It’s certainly not something that the NSA would publicize but it makes sense.

Here’s where the story gets lovely.

We know that far too many of our dyslexic kids suffer needlessly in school–often for many years–due to a lack of understanding about how they learn and how they need to be taught.  This is not a knock on teachers–they just haven’t been getting the type of university training and professional development they need.

Often my NSA parents had suffered through school as well…but they ultimately had the experience of finding themselves being highly valued for their brains as adults.  They were embraced and highly respected in their careers.

And that experience gave them the wisdom and foresight to know that their children would be okay too…once they got through school.  The world will open up to them too. This knowledge so deeply informed their emotional response and actions when their children started struggling in school that their own experience became a gift to their children.  

My NSA parents were able to consistently deliver the message to their children–both emotionally and rationally–that they were okay.  They weren’t stupid or weak or broken.  It was the environment that was not taking proper care of them–there was nothing wrong with them.  Yes, school was a pain.  Yes, they had to go get tested.  Yes, it was a struggle.  But there was such a deep and clear emotional understanding that “we are going to get through this as a family” and the children would flourish and their strengths would be valued as the world opened up to them later in life.  

To this day, I am enormously influenced by my experience with those moms and dads. I will never forget them. Of course it was tough but it was a beautiful example of how parents can raise their child to thrive even in difficult times.

It was a great gift to me too.

Success Stories…Inspiration For All of Us

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season!

As we enter 2016, it is my hope that we continue to make great strides in taking care of our children’s minds, hearts and souls as they grapple with learning in school.

Seeking inspiration in our lives and in the lives of others is a part of the solution. We need reminders that out of our current struggles can emerge great success. We all benefit from hearing the stories of others who prevailed agains significant odds.

So this week I thought you’d enjoy hearing from some extraordinary souls that I had the great pleasure to interview…

Jovan Haye:

From the inspirational podcast series “From Suffering to Success,” Dr. Michael Hart interviews former NFL football player, Jovan Haye about his initial struggle and ultimate success, in spite of his severe dyslexia. Hear his unique and encouraging story that inspired the defensive lineman’s recent book Bigger Than Me: How a Boy Conquered Dyslexia to play in the NFL.

Listen Now

Sprague Theobald:

In this interview for From Suffering to Success, Dr. Michael Hart talks to Sprague Theobald, a multiple Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker who struggled mightily in school and was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he was 30. Theobald’s story is one of courage, strength and tremendous persistence. He’s a great inspiration for all of us.

Sprague Theobald was awarded his second Emmy for the documentary “The Other Side of The Ice.” In the summer of 2009, a small crew, which included Theobald, his son and two step-children, took a 57′ trawler, Bagan, on a riveting journey north. The expedition traveled from Newport, RI, up through the Arctic’s infamous Northwest Passage and down through the Bering Sea. It concluded in Seattle, WA. By completing the 8,500 miles, five-month trip, Bagan became the first production powerboat in history to find and transit the Passage.

Listen Now

Lisa Otter Rose:

In this interview for From Suffering to Success, Dr. Michael Hart interviews Lisa Rose, the author of middle grade novel You’ve Got Verve, Jamie Ireland!. Rose has written a poignant novel about a dyslexic child that beautifully captures the journey from confusion, anger and shame to a sense of hope about the future.

Rose’s book was born out of her own experience as a mother of three children with learning issues. In this podcast interview, please listen to how this mom became an “enlightened warrior” in her quest to provide the best education for her kids. There are many lessons to be learned for all of us.

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • How the book was born out of Rose’s own experience as a mother of three children with learning issues.
  • How this mom became an “enlightened warrior” in her quest to provide the best education for her kids.

Listen Now

I hope you enjoy!

Taking Care of Your Heart and Soul–Holiday Reset

As the holidays approach, I wanted to offer a review of my suggestions regarding how you, as parents, can emotionally prepare for the new year and get ready to help your kids go back to school.

Recently, as always, I’ve been working with a lot of families whose children are in very difficult situations in their schools…Oftentimes there is no right answer and no decision without the risk of downside.

It’s a horrible situation.  And it’s not going to get better until teachers get the kind of educational and professional development support that they sorely need.  We have to be honest that it will take a long time to turn that ship around.

So what do we do?  I find myself “in the ring” with my families a lot these days…And I sometimes catch myself taking on their energy.  Anxious, gut-wrenched, frustrated.  To be clear, I have good boundaries but in the moment I’m with them and I feel it.

In the end, I keep coming back to the most basic question…What can we do to help your child feel safe? What can we do to support our kids’ resilience?  Actually, the key is to take care of ourselves.

Of course, dyslexia is a chronic issue.  It doesn’t go away.  So we have to take good care of ourselves so we can take good care of our kids and keep making the best decisions as possible.  We need to create and maintain a safe and predictable environment as well as we can.

In my series called Your Child Restored:  The Path from Suffering to Success the fifth component is called Take Care of Your Heart and Soul.

In light of all of us headed into the holidays I thought it was timely to review several ways we can take care of our heart and soul.

Here we go:

  • Predict that you’re going to get knocked off balance sometimes.  That’s just life. Acknowledge it and get on back up.
  • Reach out to your support system when you’re feeling jangled.  Is that not the beauty of Decoding Dyslexia?
  • Remember that it’s okay to feel good about your child’s success (and your own) on your own terms!
  • Exercise like a maniac!
  • Make time to play just the way you like to play.  Don’t go by other people’s rules.
  • Take what I call “breath moments.”  I don’t care if it’s for one minute.  Take a deep breath, exhale slowly and tell yourself “It’s all going to be okay.”
  • Catch someone else doing something right.
  • Help yourself by helping others.

 Okay…Here come the Big Three…Ready?

  • Be gentle with yourself.  Have compassion for yourself and it’ll be easier to have compassion for others, including your kids.
  • Let go of shame and guilt.  Don’t give me that look!…It’s doable!  Go see www.brenebrown.com
  • Use humor, humor, humor!  Using humor is a great way let go and reset when you get knocked off balance.

These are lifetime goals, I know.  Just remember that taking care of yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.

I truly hope you have a wonderful holiday.  Peace.


Dyslexia Screening in Schools: Helping Teachers by Doing It Right!

Hey Folks:

It’s less than two weeks away until our webinar on November 20. Please register now as there is limited availability. After you’ve registered you get to send any question about implementing universal screening for dyslexia and we will answer it LIVE during the webinar.

Join me and Tie Hodack, Director of Instructional Programming, Special Populations, Tennessee Department of Education for this very “nuts and bolts” discussion about best practices for the actual implementation of a universal screener for reading problems in schools.  Tie has many years of experience and brings a great deal of wisdom and real-time know-how to this type of implementation.

You will not want to miss out.  Please note that this webinar will be recorded and available to all registrants for viewing anytime, anywhere.  


Click here for REGISTRATION:  http://www.doctormichaelhart.com/dyslexia-screening-in-schools-supporting-our-teachers-by-doing-it-right-optin/

What’s Next After We Teach Phonological Processing Skills? Lynn Givens Interview

What’s Next After We Teach Phonological Processing Skills?  Connect to Comprehension! 

An Interview with Lynn Givens, M.Ed.

Recently I had the honor of interviewing Lynn Givens, M.Ed.  She is currently a Visiting Professor, School of Teacher Education at Florida State University and the creator of the very detailed reading program entitled Connect to Comprehension.

Lynn has been a teacher of struggling readers and a teacher educator for over 35 years. She served as Director of Intervention at the Florida Center for Reading Research where she was involved in providing intervention training and professional development for teachers throughout Florida. Lynn is currently teaching undergraduate reading and English/language arts courses, including a practicum on teaching struggling readers, at FSU’s School of Teacher Education and acting as instructor/facilitator for online teacher endorsement courses in reading.

Ms. Givens also spent eight years at the Schenck School in Atlanta, GA, one of the top institutions for teaching dyslexic students and other struggling readers.

I was lucky to meet Lynn through Marisa Bernard, the Executive Director at the Orton Gillingham Online Academy.  Lynn and Marisa are collaborative partners and Marisa is making Lynn’s Connect to Comprehension product available through her site.

I’m particularly excited to share our interview with you because I think Lynn is focusing on closing a very critical gap in our training and teaching of children who struggle with reading.  So often we find ourselves without a map after applying the intensive, multisensory teaching approach (e.g., Orton Gillingham) to addressing the foundational issues with phonological processing.  The question becomes…”What do we do next?”

As Lynn tells her story, she clearly adds to our map of understanding how to properly support our educators’ efforts to teach our children who struggle with reading beyond the initial foundational layers.

I hope you enjoy getting to know Lynn Givens as well as I did.  Please be sure to add your thoughts in the Comments Section below.

Welcome Lynn!  What led you to create the Connect to Comprehension course?

In 2004, as Director of Intervention at the Florida Center for Reading Research, I began work with Dr. Joseph Torgesen on a year-long study of the types of intervention being provided to struggling readers in the state of Florida.  After visiting with many teachers, principals, and administrators in six Florida districts, I reported to Dr. T that most of these educators did not have a clear and effective strategy for helping these students.  Many of the interventions being implemented were just watered-down versions of the core curriculum.  With that information in hand, we began to develop an “intervention kit” to send to districts and then trained district personnel to deliver professional development in the use of the strategies and methods contained in the kit.  Several of the districts asked me if a reading program was available that incorporated the ideas in the kit, and I had to say “no.”  After my work at FCRR was completed, I began to develop such a program, which eventually became Connect to Comprehension (CtoC).

I connected with Marisa Bernard almost two years ago, as we share a common educational background in the field of dyslexia and a common passion for working with readers who struggle.  After she carefully reviewed the CtoC kit, she asked me if I could write a course for teachers, parents, and tutors to help them understand the link between the elements taught in the OG language courses and the teaching of comprehension skills to struggling readers. The development of the course, which was quite intensive, does, I believe provide this information in an easy-to-understand format.

I know it’s a 10 part course but could you give us a brief overview of the key components—what are your major takeaways?

The course is centered around the five components of reading – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension – and how these components are all interrelated and are critical to the reading process.  As participants learn about the components, they also learn about how dyslexic students and other struggling readers may have difficulty in each of these and how the CtoC program specifically addresses each of these needs.  The process of using this scripted, leveled program is also addressed in detail, from the initial assessments to determine specific weaknesses in each component through the planning and teaching of the lessons.

The issue of efficiently assessing students is a hot topic of conversation these days.  What is involved in your initial assessments? 

Yes, assessment is critical for all students but especially for students who are struggling.  In addition to possibly having deficits in foundational skills, they often have skill gaps throughout the phonological and phonetic sequences.  An effective assessment for these students must include measures of their abilities to read isolated words with targeted word patterns, to read these words in connected text, and to demonstrate understanding of what they are reading. 

The CtoC assessment is composed of two measures: the Single Word Assessment and the Passage Assessment.  Students begin with the Single Word Assessment, reading word lists that are leveled, beginning with short vowel words and concluding with multi-syllabic words that correspond to the six syllable types. Each level of the assessment corresponds to a level in the Connect to Comprehension program.  Students then read a decodable passage in the Passage Assessment and answer a series of questions based on the passage.  This second assessment provides measures of fluency (WCPM) as well as information concerning critical comprehension skills (recall, facts/details, making inferences, cause/effect, compare/contrast and author’s purpose.)  With all of this information in hand, the teacher can assemble a reliable profile of the struggling student’s skills in terms of strengths and weaknesses and can then determine at which level of CtoC to begin instruction.

While we are speaking of levels, I’d like to give you a brief explanation of the program’s structure.  There are 6 levels in the program, with explicit phonetic and comprehension instruction at each level.  Level A is composed of short vowel words; Level B incorporates reading words with v-e patterns as well as vowel digraphs.  Level C includes words with initial and final consonant blends and digraphs, and Level D targets r-controlled vowels and diphthongs.  In Level E, morphological elements of prefixes and suffixes are taught and practiced, along with variant vowels.  Level F focuses on multi-syllabic words.  Each of the six levels is supported with 6 High Noon decodable readers that are completely aligned with the skills being taught and practiced.  The most unique part of the program, I think, is that upper-level comprehension skills are taught and practiced throughout each level, beginning with Level A.  Because of this unique aspect, students do not have to learn these comprehension skills AFTER their decoding skills have developed.  Decoding and comprehension are taught simultaneously.

And there are several different types of materials provided when you enroll, yes?

Yes.  Participants receive a complete CtoC kit, including the 6 scripted teacher’s manuals (one for each level of the program) and an assessment/implementation manual.  Also included is a complete set of fluency and sequencing strips, which are used throughout the lessons.  In addition to this kit, participants receive a set of the 36 High Noon decodable readers used for teaching all of the levels of the program.  Finally, participants have unlimited access to the course information, which includes powerpoints, audio discussions, and video examples of many of the program’s elements.  As with all OGOA courses, participants receive new information as it is added to the course for an unlimited time, so that they can review, refresh, and expand their understanding.

I love that you include a discussion of written expression at the end…Talk to us about the philosophical underpinnings of that decision?

We have known for a long time about the critical connection between reading and writing.  My mentor at the Schenck School for dyslexic students in Atlanta, the late David Schenck, always told me, “Be sure to have children write about what they are reading, and always have them read back to you what they have written.”  I have followed this advice for the last 25 years, and it is incorporated into the CtoC program at every step.    More recently, the “Writing to Read” report published by the Carnegie Corporation in 2010, gave us a strong research basis for this connection.  One of the findings of the report, a meta-analysis of many research studies, was that comprehension was most improved when students were asked to write about what they were reading, through answering questions, writing summaries, and making personal connections through written statements.

At another level, we also know that dyslexic students benefit from a multisensory approach to all components of reading.  Therefore, the phonetic instruction and practice in the program consistently tie together reading and writing.

What is the ideal level of expertise needed for this course?  When should a tutor or teacher enroll in this course?

Since the course begins with the basics, a discussion of the five components of reading, it provides a foundation of understanding for anyone who is interested in working with struggling readers, whether as a parent, a teacher, or a tutor.  Although the course can stand alone, it is recommended that participants enroll in the Orton Gillingham Online Academy’s (OGOA’s) Basic Language Course and, if possible the Advanced Language Course before taking this course.  This will give a complete and well-developed understanding of all the elements involved in teaching dyslexic students and other struggling readers. The Academy now offers a “bundled” course option, which allows participants to purchase all three courses at a reduced rate.  I am really excited about this new opportunity, as I am convinced that it will give anyone who works with struggling readers the complete “tool kit” to help these students succeed

How does your program address the different types of dyslexia?  E.g., Students with poor phonological skills v. those with weak rapid automatic naming or those Double Deficit kids with both?

As noted by Maryanne Wolf, one of the leading experts in the research supporting the double deficit theory, “dyslexia does not always involve a failure to decode words.  Rather, it involves a failure to read fluently with comprehension.” (http://ase.tufts.edu/crlr/documents/2009MBE-NeuroscienceClassroom.pdf)  According to Dr. Wolf and her colleagues, practice in automatic decoding should not be an end in itself, but should lead to fluent reading.  This automaticity ensures that students are not using so much of their cognitive efforts to decode that little cognitive energy is left to understand what they are reading.  Another important aspect in an integrated approach that addresses this issue is that fluency instruction and practice should not begin after reading skills are already acquired, but that “efforts to address fluency need to begin at the start of the reading acquisition process.”  (http://ase.tufts.edu/crlr/documents/2009MBE-NeuroscienceClassroom.pdf)

So, how does the CtoC program address the needs outlined above?  Automaticity is emphasized on a daily basis through the use of the leveled skill decks.  Students practice reading these leveled decks, using the phonetic patterns that they are learning/have learned, and are encouraged to read these words as quickly as possible.  The opportunity for such games as “minute dash”, where students read and then graph the number of these patterned words read correctly in a minute, is used throughout the program.

Fluency is, as Wolf and colleagues suggest, emphasized from the very beginning of the program.  Students work on reading the fluency phrases provided, beginning in Level A, after receiving instruction and explicit modeling from the teacher.  Questions are asked that require the use of the fluency phrases to answer, thus connecting the elements of phonology, fluency, and comprehension.  In addition, students are frequently encouraged to reread sections of the text to stress elements such as dialog reading and emphasis on important words in a sentence.

How are you tying in semantics, syntax and morphology in your literacy instruction?  

These linguistic elements are all addressed through instruction and consistent opportunities for student practice.  Word meanings are taught through use of a vocabulary deck, which is reviewed on a daily basis and which forms the basis for multi-sensory activities and games.  This deck is also used for written expression activities, which help to incorporate syntax and sentence structure.  Sentence frames are used throughout the program so that students who have difficulty with syntax can be guided and thus become more accomplished in this area.  Words with multiple meanings are explored at each level of the program, using graphic organizers as visual tools.  In addition, elements of figurative language are also taught and practiced, again incorporating written and oral language as students learn about idioms, similes, etc.  Morphological elements of prefixes and suffixes are introduced in the upper levels of the program.  Meanings of these affixes are taught and practiced, using both oral and written activities.  In addition, spelling rules for adding the affixes (e dropping rule, doubling rule, rule for y) are introduced/reviewed.

The instruction in these elements becomes meaningful, as it is tied to the decodable texts that students are reading.  For example, idioms are discussed and practiced when they appear in the text.  In this way, students can connect the concepts and strategies that they are learning immediately to what they are reading.

Does the course require a student teaching practicum or observations of application?  If so, how do you test a person’s knowledge in an online setting?

For course completion, participants are required to develop and submit a series of exercises involving assessment of a struggling reader, planning a CtoC lesson based on the assessment results, etc.  The final submission is a videoed lesson with a self-reflection rubric that I use for scoring the video and providing specific feedback.  I have had extensive experience in developing and facilitating these types of online courses, and these types of submissions work well to ensure that each participant has a solid understanding of the course’s concepts, strategies, and materials.

What kind of certification are you able to provide?

A Certificate of Completion is provided by the O-G Online Academy upon completion of all of the course requirements.

Lynn Givens, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your Connect to Comprehension course!  Clearly you’re helping us make great strides in answering the key question of “What’s next?” when a struggling reader needs to move beyond the foundational phonological awareness skills and go deeper into fluency and comprehension.

Dear Readers:  I strongly urge you to take a look at Lynn’s Connect to Comprehension program and consider adding it to your tool kit.

To learn more about Connect to Comprehension, please visit Marisa Bernard’s Orton Gillingham Online Academy site. Click here:  http://www.ortongillinghamonlinetutor.com/orton-gillingham-training-ecourses-and-webinars/connect-to-comprehension-course/

Note:  No compensation was received for supporting this product. Michael Hart)

The Power of Speech to Text: A True Story

What beautiful irony that Sean is now getting daily requests to “write” something for someone after spending the first few decades of his life getting hammered for NOT reading and writing.

Meet Sean Douglas, the founder and owner of The CodPast, a “fresh, contemporary resource for students and adults with dyslexia.”  

Here’s a brief version of his story:

Had no support for his dyslexia throughout his life including his university years
From 12 years old until at least 18 years old he never read a book
Lost employment because they thought he was “dumb”
Figured out his diagnosis on his own
Supportive mom helped him find his strengths and passions outside of the world of school

Age in the mid-30’s
Founding director of his own television and video production company
Founder and chief executive of The CodPast podcast site
Former cameraman, director, producer at a global bank

…and he also…

…”Writes” quite a bit…

What?!  How?  By using technology to circumnavigate the weaknesses in his brain that make it hard for him to write in the traditional way.  By using his considerable intellectual strengths and verbal abilities to educate and communicate with others without the bottleneck of actually writing or typing.  By using digital tools like speech to text.  

Sean started The CodPast because when he went searching for useful, interesting information about dyslexia all he basically found were the traditional, “text-heavy” sites that haven’t caught up to the digital media revolution.  (Oh, man, I need more videos and podcasts!)  His audience is international and growing quickly and he’s created a great mix of videos, podcasts and blog posts that are interesting and relevant to our dyslexic folks.  

What beautiful irony that Sean is now getting daily requests to “write” something for someone after spending the first few decades of his life getting hammered for NOT reading and writing.

Sean is a shining example of what we frequently espouse:  Never give up.  For dyslexics, the technology revolution is much more powerful, much more specific.  This is not to say that there isn’t a learning curve when using speech to text.  Everyone has to learn how to “dictate” punctuation, sentences, paragraphs, etc.  But with a little perseverance and creativity, using speech to text tools creates that bridge that allows bright dyslexics to communicate in the written form consistent with their intellectual capability…often for the first time in their life.  In Sean’s case, he endured decades of perceived failure, misunderstanding and needless suffering.  

Here’s another key point.  In a recent interview, Sean explained that one of the key factors that fed his resilience was his mother’s insistence that he find places to shine other than school.  Swimming, judo, scouts…Whatever it was…Sean’s mom made sure that he experienced competence and success elsewhere in life outside school.  She made sure that Sean was not defined by his dyslexia.

As with all of our inspirational stories, please keep Sean Douglas in your mind as you navigate the waters of helping a loved one grow up with dyslexia…or as you navigate the waters for yourself.  Know it can be done.  

Remember that tools like speech to text can literally change a life.  Get started.

Thanks to Sean Douglas for allowing me to tell a small part of his story.  Please be sure to visit http://www.thecodpast.org/ and sign up for his informative newsletter.  

Executive Function (EF): Dr. Lynn Meltzer’s SMARTS Program Now Online!

Hello! And Welcome!

Today I’m going to write about something that’s sort of pushed itself to the forefront of my mind lately–but I’ve been really mulling over this issue for quite some time.  As many of you know, developing and mastering executive functioning skills is really a major challenge for many of our dyslexic kids and adults.  And just as importantly, it is also a challenge for our parents and educators to provide the necessary support for our dyslexic friends to improve their executive functioning.

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to connect with Dr. Lynn Meltzer and her team at the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD) and her corollary services organization The Institute for Learning and Development (ILD). (https://smarts-ef.org/about/us/)   Dr. Meltzer has long been known to be an international leader in the EF field and she has been at the forefront of the efforts to create programs and curriculum to support our teachers’ efforts to strengthen students’ EF skills.  

For the past several years, Dr. Meltzer and her colleagues have been evolving their SMARTS Executive Function program from its beginnings as a mentoring program to an in-house teacher training program to now most recently a fully online program!  

The SMARTS Online Executive Function Program is a huge step forward…and thank goodness it’s finally available anywhere and anytime.  

Let’s talk a bit about what the program entails and then I’m going to provide some of my own views about how to think about this amazing tool.  

What is SMARTS?

SMARTS is a very intensive and thorough program that provides core help with EF skills that usually just aren’t taught in school.  Developing EF skills is a struggle for many kids but when you add the issue of dyslexia, the challenge is often seemingly overwhelming.  Too many of our kids just don’t know where to start and the likelihood of them shutting down is intensified.

Let’s take a look at what the SMARTS acronym stands for.  

(Note:  The following images are screenshots from the SMARTS website.)



The key word to describe the SMARTS program is…thorough!  There are six units with multiple lessons in each unit (Unit 4 is actually broken up into 2 parts) and the program includes Instructional Overview Videos that are key in terms of providing a foundation for teaching the curriculum.

To review the curriculum outline in detail, open a new tab in your browser and take a look here… https://smarts-ef.org/curriculum/executive-function-curriculum/

Also, keep in mind that this program is designed for a 9-month timeframe and covers the top five key executive function processes–

  • goal setting
  • thinking flexibly
  • organizing and prioritizing
  • accessing working memory
  • self-checking.

Here is a key point…which will serve as a jumping off point for my own commentary.  Dr. Meltzer and her team are quite clear that this curriculum is in-depth and should not be viewed as a quick fix. There isn’t a quick fix…but this program works.  And the reasons it works is because the educators come to realize that we teach each of these skills in three steps:

  • Each EF strategy must first be modeled by the teacher
  • THEN the students practice the skills with fun activities
  • THEN AND ONLY THEN the students begin to incorporate their EF skills in their actual schoolwork

“Building a Container”

Implicit in the above comments about teachers taking the step by step process (I do it, we do it, you do it) is a very important concept that often is not discussed.  And that is, a key component to our dyslexic students’ success is the awareness that we, as adults, must think explicitly about how we organize ourselves around our kids.  Very often we expect the students to organize around us instead of thinking about how to organize around our kids…especially those who struggle with EF or some other learning difference.

Here’s an example that happens commonly.  Most schools have a culture of demanding that the student’s organize around a specific curriculum, a certain educator mindset, a certain set of rules, etc.  If the child unable to do so, very frequently there is no cultural mechanism in place that prompts the question…”If the child is failing in school, how might we as adults organize more effectively around them, understand them, and provide the support they need to succeed.”  Instead, the child fails and suffers the consequences.  

So “building a container” refers to our process as teachers, administrators, school team members,  etc. to create a support system or “container” around our students who need extra help.  It refers to an explicit awareness that we have a responsibility to create a plan and make them feel valued, safe and successful.  

As mentioned earlier, executive functioning skills are not, by and large, included in most school curricula.  Yet, a substantial proportion of our students, by virtue of how their brain is wired, present with very significant challenges in the EF area.  This is clearly an area where we, as adults and educators, must provide the “container” for our kids.  We’ve got to close the gap.

Therein lies the beauty of Dr. Meltzer’s SMARTS EF program.  She and her team leveraged technology so that evidence-based strategies for developing the key skills in this area are available anytime, anywhere.  

Exploring the use of this program is not unlike your initial experience with intensive, multisensory approaches to dyslexia.  Honestly, it can look daunting at first blush.  However, keep this in mind…It is a triathlon, not a sprint.  This  is a program that provides intensive support in developing EF skills over a significant number of months.  One step at a time.  One step at a time.  

Dr. Meltzer and her team have created an incredible program and I urge you to consider how you might integrate it into your existing curricula.  

(Note:  I am not receiving any compensation for this post–Michael Hart)


About SMARTS Executive Function Online Curriculum


About the ResearchILD and ILD


Book:  Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom–Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D. Editor


Book:  Executive Function in Education–Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D. Editor