By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MOUNT HEALTHY - Mirrors and wooden blocks are unlikely tools for learning to read, but they may signal a beacon of hope for 12 Mount Healthy City School District dyslexic children who are in a race against time.
If this first-of-its-kind program proves successful, it could be used by children in other Tristate schools.
The children, entering third and fourth grades this fall, hold mirrors while watching their mouths, lips and tongues form the sounds that make up words. They then count the sounds on colorful blocks.
The tools are part of the Lindamood-Bell Reading Processes, which supports brain research that shows reading is connected to phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to process the sounds in a spoken word - the ability to pack and unpack the spoken sounds of our language.
"If you can't read by the end of third grade, you're in a world of hurt," said Lynn Jones, Mount Healthy's lead teacher for grades 5 and 6. "By the time you get to fourth grade, your comprehension is compromised if you can't read the written work."
Up to 15 percent of the nation's population has significant difficulty learning to read, according to the National Institute of Health.
Children designated withSpecific Learning Disability - in this case, dyslexia - are spending six weeks in intensive reading remediation, four days a week, two hours a day, concluding Thursday.
Dyslexia is often misunderstood as the tendency to reverse letters, but it's primarily characterized by problems with phonemic awareness.
Hoop, New Burlington and Greener elementary students identified by school personnel as having deficits in phonemic awareness are participating. A child with poor phonemic awareness cannot consistently identify the order, number and identity of sounds in words. The majority of children participating in the program have repeated grades and are reading at a first-grade level.
Six reading specialists from the Langsford Center, a private learning center in Pleasant Ridge, are working with the children and training 10 Mount Healthy teachers in the Lindamood-Bell Processes. It's the first time the center has partnered with a school district to provide services to students, but the center would like to hook up with additional schools.
The program is funded by a $50,000 program grant awarded by the Ohio Department of Education Office for Exceptional Children. Jones and Karen O'Connell, Mount Healthy's district initiatives coordinator, wrote the grant.
"This is a very individualized process. We are actually doing therapy," Jones said. "These children in Mount Healthy more than likely would not be able to ascertain this therapy on their own because it's so expensive."
The cost is $65 an hour.
Jones' 9-year-old daughter took private classes last year through the Langsford Center because of phonemic-awareness deficits.
"This grant was my way of saying poor children should be able to do this (therapy), too," Jones said. "Imagine a child in school given sheet after sheet after sheet that they can't read."
Students were assessed at the beginning of the program and will be tested again this fall when training is completed. Jones intends to track the 12 students for 10 years.
Already, there are signs of progress.
"We had children on the first day, if you gave them a two-sound nonsense word, such as 'op,' they couldn't tell you there were two sounds," Harpring said. "Now, some are reading and spelling three- or four-sound words with ease."
The Mount Healthy teachers will take the strategies into the classroom this fall to continue helping these 12 students and others. Some grant money was set aside for the Langsford Center to return to Mount Healthy in September to ensure the work continues.
Learning to read isn't about using a particular method of instruction, said Trish Harpring, director of the Langsford Center. It's about helping teachers understand how children learn to read.
In 2000, in the largest, most comprehensive evidence-based review ever conducted of research on how children learn reading, an independent panel mandated by Congress concluded that the most effective way to teach children to read is through instruction that includes a combination of methods.
The panel determined that effective reading instruction includes:
Teaching children to break apart and manipulate the sounds in words (phonemic awareness).
Teaching them that these sounds are represented by letters of the alphabet which can then be blended together to form words (phonics).
Having them practice what they've learned by reading aloud with guidance and feedback (guided oral reading).
Applying reading comprehension strategies to guide and improve reading comprehension.
"Kids who have trouble reading use different parts of the brain than those who can read," Harpring said. "It is really about changing the way the brain is processing information."
The Lindamood-Bell program is multisensory. A child will look at himself in the mirror, watching to see where his mouth, lips and tongue are as he forms the sounds to words.
"We help them distinguish sounds in words by thinking about what's happening to their mouth," Harpring said. "We tell kids, 'You take your mouth everywhere, so you're always going to have this tool with you.'''
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