The Phonotactics of Dry and Truck

There is a couple patterns I see with dyslexic spellings of initial blends. One of them is the use of <chr> when a word begins as <tr> and the other common one is using <jr> for words with an initial <dr>. Some experts might state that the child has not mastered phonemic awareness and I used to believe this. I would spend endless hours with them to separate the sound before the <r>. I now know that I was missing something valuable related to these English spellings and pronunciations. I realize that these children actually have excellent hearing and excellent discrimination of phones.

In the case of an initial word that begins with the blend <tr>,  we blend it so quickly in connected speech that we often say <truck> as /tʃɹʌk/, although most people “think” that they say /tɹʌk/. Only when we say the word in isolation and really focus on the enunciation the <t> separate from the <r> does it actually sound like /tɹʌk/. The only way to understand the difference is to say a sentence with <truck> in it: The red truck is big. One may not fully agree with me, but when a student writes <truck> as <chruck>, they are able to distinguish the phone [tʃ] before the [ɹ]. Therefore they are translating the phoneme [tʃ] into <ch> as that is what most children are taught to do- translate phonemes into graphemes.

Upon studying word patters of <tr> and <chr>, I will share with you a secret. It’s actually no secret, because anyone can study what I have. All the words that I was able to find that had an initial <chr>, the <ch> grapheme was represented with a /k/ phoneme. Some common examples were <chrome>, <Christmas>, and <chronic>. I was unable to find any English words that started as <chr> that was pronounced [tʃɹ]. Therefore, whether or not it is argued that a child has or has not mastered phonemic awareness, a student can be informed that if they have an initial blend with the phones [tʃɹ] that it will never be spelled <chr>, as <chr> is reserved for /kɹ/.

When I encountered a substitution of <jr> for when the initial spelling was <dr>, I started to wonder if there was a similar constraint. This is another common “misspelling” that I see in dyslexic students. I researched words with an initial <jr> and there just isn’t any English words with an initial <jr>. Zero. One may ask, what about <jr.>? This is an abbreviation and it is still pronounced /ʤuːnjər/ in full. Again this child is reproducing the phones that we actually say in connected speech. Saying a word alone, one may separate the [d] and the [ɹ] when one says <dry>, but in connected speech it will be pronounced more like [ʤɹaɪ ]. Say, “The river is dry.” Most likely it was said [ʤɹaɪ]. Again, whether or not one agrees with the pronunciation, a student can be taught that the spelling will never be <jr> because English just doesn’t use that spelling sequence initially.

The next question is why. Why do we not have words that start are <jr> or [tʃɹ]? The answer relates to a linguistic term phonotactics. Let me break down this word: phon(e) + o + tactic+s. The base <phon(e)> relates to sound produced by something with a mouth and lungs. The base <tactic> relates to arranging. So, <phonotactics> is about how we arrange our mouth/toungue to make phonemes. Why is this important? English (and all languages actually) has phonotactic constraints. There are certain consonant phones that we just don’t put together. When the movie, “Frozen” came out, I remember a long discussion with a student about the character Sven. She swore the character’s name was “Spen”. The reason is that we don’t typically have <sv> letter sequence in English. There is the loan word <svelte> but that’s about it. So this child’s brain interpreted the /sv/ phones into what makes “sense”  and phonotactically possible in English, “thinking” it was “Spen”. It was a processing issue, not a hearing issue for an monolingual English speaker. If English allowed words to be spelled <jr> along with <tr> then we could more easily distinguish these phones. The phones [ʤɹ] is not phonologically distinctive from [tɹ] as there is only one way to spell both of these pronunciations, <tr>. Likewise the phones [tʃɹ] can only be realized in spelling with the graphemes<tr>. Phonotactics explains a lot about not only how we pronounce words, but can also help us to eliminate spelling patterns English doesn’t use. Thus it makes spelling a bit more easy to understand. I hope this explanation can help a student to understand the spelling patterns of <dr> and <tr> a little more easily.

What is the Difference Between Tutoring and Educational Therapy?

Tutoring differs from educational therapy in a number of ways. The three areas in which they differ include training, goal setting and services provided. An educational therapist provides intensive intervention, which goes beyond just homework help. The service provided can include remediation of a basic academic skills such as reading, spelling, and/or math. Educational therapists can provide formal and informal assessments of academic skills. They can also provide case management for learning disabilities with parents, teachers and other involved professionals. A tutor on the other hand does not have the breadth of skills to provide all of these services.

Another difference is that education therapists set forth goals. Although they tend to focus on academics, they can also include executive function skills and encompass the psychological issues surrounding educational struggles. Many times students need help with organization, time management, and dealing with test anxiety, along with remediation of academic skills. Tutors tend to focus on the subject matter in front of them and not address the psychological factors associated with struggling to learn.

Lastly, an education therapist has extensive training about learning disabilities including learning styles, assessments and intervention strategies. Education therapists learn about dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, as well as ADHD. Educational therapists’ training includes a supervised practicum that ensures fidelity of services and intervention. Tutors may or may not have information about assisting in areas beyond their area of expertise.



AET article, The Difference Between Educational Therapy and Tutoring

Dyslexia Warning Signs App

APP TESTER NEEDED: Dyslexia Warning Signs

Dyslexia Warning Signs app is a simple app designed for professionals that have no experience or knowledge with dyslexia, but who are professionals that parents come to for help. This app is currently in its testing phase and that is where I need your help. I am looking for parents who would be willing to download this free app on their iPad, take the questionnaire, and give me their feedback on the experience. Feedback should be emailed to I need feedback on look/feel, usability, information provided, and additional features that would be helpful. Thank you again for your help and support.

Download app on your iPad here. It’s free.

Does My Child Have Dyslexia?

Reading a picture book

Reading a picture book

“Does my child have dyslexia?” is a common question for parents who’s children are struggling in reading. Some parents have never heard of dyslexia. Some people have heard of dyslexia, “isn’t that seeing backwards?”  Children with dyslexia often have written difficulties associated with letter reversals, but that does not mean that a child reads backwards. Below is a list of things that can be seen in children struggling with dyslexia, that is beyond writing reversals.

Guesses at a word: Children may see the beginning letter is a b and guess any word that starts with b. In the beginning of their reading journey the guessed word does not make sense to the context – bat, ball, bag, bear when the word is bicycle. As they get more savvy, the guessed word could fit the context – boat, bat mobile, hot air balloon, or any other vehicle that goes. A child who is guessing is not decoding words.

Unable to Rhyme: Early reader books and many picture books are written to rhyme. Stop before the second rhyming word and ask the child to guess what word is next. They have to think of a rhyming word that fits the context. The cat in the ____. Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder where you ____. Up above the sky so high, like a diamond in the _____. Inability to rhyme is very common for children with dyslexia. They can often struggle with the end sounds of a word, which is what rhyming is all about.

Inability to read a word more than once correctly. A dyslexic reader reads inconsistently. When they are beginning, not tired, they do better, but after a couple pages (or paragraphs…or even sentences) they get tired and aren’t able to use their coping strategies as well. A student may be able to read a word on one page (or line) but on the next page (or sentence) they cannot, as if it is a foreign word they have never encountered before. There can be a few reasons for the this. It’s possible that at the first encounter of the word they guessed correctly and the second they guessed incorrectly. Another possibility is that they decoded the word properly the first time, but when needing to decode it a second time they have become tired from decoding all the words in between (and before encountering that first word).

Little words are skipped or stumping. Prepositions don’t contain content, such as for, that, with.  The reader is just skimming to the next important word to give context to what they are reading. Prepositions seem insignificant to them, especially if they are an irregular word that can’t be decoded such as “of.”

Blending strain. A reader may be able to sound each sound out, but not retain in working memory their sounds to blend all the words together. If the reader sounds out a blend, they may not see “pl” blends and sounds out each letter separately. This makes for a more exhaustive reading experience.  Another blending error that is common is to use a sound from the previous word into the current word. So if the phrase is “wild frog,” they might say “wild dog.”

Loving pictures in books. Looking at pictures in a picture book gives clues to the story. It is why picture books exist. Most dyslexic children prefer picture books and as they get older will gravitate to graphic novels and comics. It may also due to the fact that they are typically right brained processors as well. You may find that when you turn a page, they put their hands on the page over the words in order to look at the pictures. This could be unintentional or intentional. One may also find that even though all the words are read by the adult, the child insists on continuing to review the picture prior to turning the page. They are reading the story by picture and most likely be able to tell you the story without ever reading a single words.

There are so many other signs, but I find these to be huge in the initial phase of learning to read.

If you want more information about dyslexia or want your child to be screened for dyslexia, contact Lisa.

English Has Reason: the Structured Word Inquiry Approach

Does - does make sense.

Does – does make sense.

Often times, we say that English has not reason. It doesn’t make any sense. The truth is that English does have roots and does make sense. It takes the study of Structure Word Inquiry to understand our language.

The spoken language existed long before the written language. Language evolves in our words long before written words. When language was chosen to be written, it had to be decided how to be written down. Sometimes the our spoken language and pronunciation shifts which needs to be reflected in our written language.

For example, sign is connected to the word signal. In sign, the g is silent, but in signal, the g is audible. There are thousands of examples in our spoken translated to written language.

The Structured Word Inquiry allows a student to look at the history of a word, see how words are connected. A student can see how words are connected, even if they sound a bit different like- sign and signal.

The Structured Word Inquiry goes beyond syllable identification and decoding. It is perfect for the older student who struggles with words with schwas such as probably. It helps the student see etymology and morphology, which will help the student to understand the spelling despite an elusive schwa.

It can also help younger students, such as seeing the connection between goes/gone and does/gone. A student can see the written connection despite the seemingly odd pronunciation of these words.

Structured word inquiry does not replace the Orton-Gillingham approach, it is an enhancement. It is helpful for high frequency irregular words, as most of these words actually have a logical reason for their seemingly irregular spelling. Because students with dyslexia thrive on logic, they are more likely to remember the word’s spelling because of it’s logic.

If you would like to learn more on structured word inquiry, please contact Lisa at Level Up Dyslexia.

California Dyslexia Bill 1369

Dyslexia InfoOn February 27, 2015, Assemblymember Jim Frazier submitted AB1369. This bill, referred to as the CA Dyslexia bill identifies 4 specific areas of change.

The first area of AB1369 addresses the need for early identification of dyslexia. Dyslexia has a rate of 1 in 5, yet most dyslexic children are never identified. This bill would mandate screening for dyslexia for all children annually from kindergarten through 3rd grade. Research shows that early identification allows for early intervention. When a child is given an intervention younger the timeline for that intervention is much shorter. The goal of this section is to close the gap, so struggling readers are found.

A secondary section looks at the need for a specific effective intervention to be utilized. The intervention needs to be evidence-based, not just research based. It needs to be structured, systematic and explicit. It is a generic way of referencing the Orton-Gillingham approach which has over 30 years of research. The problem is that schools do “interventions” whether through RTI or special education, but they are not the right intervention that target dyslexia.

Section three of AB1369 addresses the need for training. In service training is needed for general education teachers so that can know what to look for- risk factors, and specific reading and spelling issues within the classroom. Special education teachers, and any teacher providing reading intervention, need to be specifically trained on how to implement the research based reading intervention. It is very specific, but can be done. Lastly is the need for psychologists to be trained in the identification of children with dyslexia.

The last section may seem the simplest is defining and using the word dyslexia. Dyslexia is neurological in nature where a weak phonologic process exists. There is difficulty between the sounds and the symbols. It effects reading comprehension and fluency. The definition within this bill is a whole paragraph long. The wording is important because parents have been told that dyslexia doesn’t exist or is not real. Dyslexia exists within the federal IDEA. It is not used in our school systems. It will allow administrators to utilize the word dyslexia with a specific definition.

We hope that you will support this bill and ask your CA legislators to support this bill. You can sign the petition here. It would be even more helpful to write a letter to your legislators.

When -ed Puts a Kink in Your Spelling

The three sounds of -ed

The three sounds of -ed

When adding the suffix -ed to make a past tense, you might assume it always makes an /id/ sound, but in reality there are three sounds of -ed. It can say /id/ as in wanted. It can also make the /t/ sound as in looked. The third sound is /d/ as in called. When we converse we don’t think about the different sounds we make when talking in past tense, but we need to when we convert it to writing.

It may seem arbitrary when we say -ed one way or another but there is actually a very systematic way we say each of these sounds. The /id/ comes out when the end of a word is /t/ or /d/. I call them the Ted words, because they are either t or d.

The /t/ sound comes from the sounds /s/, /k/, /p/, /f/, /sh/, /ch/, /x/, unvoiced /th/. These are sounds that are called “unvoiced”.  These sounds are said in our mouth and not in our throat. With words that end with these sounds, we naturally say the /t/ sound when making something past tense with -ed. I teach my kids this sentence to help them remember the unvoiced sounds. Skip has the fishchex. Remember that these are sounds are not letters. So, if you have a soft c that says /s/, or if you have the unusual gh with the /f/ sound, you would say the /t/ sound – fenced, laughed.

The /d/ sound comes from the voiced sounds, essentially all the other sounds not listed above. Instead of listing off 11 sounds, I usually just teach the first two and by default all the others will be /d/ sound.

The importance of teaching the 3 sounds of -ed, is mainly for spelling. Spelling -ed is not the complicated piece, it is distinguishing it from words that end in: -pt, -ct, -ft, -st, -nd, -rd, -ld. It is only these 7 endings in which older students seem to get confused. You will see words spelled: malld, reflecked. When a student is spelling in this manner, this is the concept that has eluded them.

It’s important for them to understand the concept of “passed tense”, but what throws a wrench in things with words like swept. Although there are only a few past tense exceptions, those spelling patterns can be taught as well. I find that this concept plagues the older student often as words get longer. They like the fact that it is only 7 endings to watch out for. Giving older students hope for spelling is so important. With exposure to the explicit rules and review they can master this concept!

An older child with dyslexia using Orton-Gillingham approach

It is possible to use the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach with an older student with dyslexia. An older student has the advantage of more schooling and exposure to reading and spelling rules. The problems is that some of them have stuck and some of them have not. The OG method allows for the systematic review of the phonological process to see areas of need.

I love to help older students because it is like being a detective in a real world mystery (where no death has occurred). The OG method give me a secret treasure map of where to find the treasures needed at every turn of reading and spelling. The students come with some negative experiences related to reading and writing. I have always felt that half of my job is keeping them positive, while the other half is teaching the actual skills they need. We work together to gain mastery over the weak area. The students are always amazed at some of the things that they never learned in elementary, middle school or even high school. Sometimes it is something they have never learned, and sometimes it is looking at it from a new perspective.

If you would like me to work with your older student, contact me.

Dyslexia tutoring

There are several kinds of dyslexia tutoring. The two most common tutoring is Orton-Gillingham tutoring and Linda-Mood Bell. They are effective tutoring from the research. They can be very time consuming and very expensive. It’s important that your tutor is trained.

Orton-Gillingham approach includes several curriculums including Barton and Wilson. It is sequential, multi-sensory, explicit, and individualized.