I am a reading teacher based in the Upper Valley region of Vermont/New Hampshire, but I also offer remote and phone consultations to interested parents. Here is some information about reading problems and my approach to helping children.
How to contact me
I look forward to hearing from you! Please contact me at Erika.firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d be more comfortable talking on the phone, that’s absolutely fine. Just send me a quick email to let me know, and I’ll send you my phone number so we can pick a time to talk.
I offer a sliding fee scale based on family need and scope of our proposed work. I have experience with children recovering from trauma and/or maltreatment. I can offer pro bono services to children currently in foster care or in other extenuating circumstances if cost is a barrier.
Here are a few things you should know about my tutoring practice:
- Reading difficulty is now considered treatable and even preventable with early exposure to evidence-based teaching practices. While early identification/intervention is optimal, it’s never too late to make big gains.
- My teaching is rooted in the current science of reading and a commitment to highly individualized attention. I am certified as a “structured literacy” classroom teacher through the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and the International Dyslexia Association. In addition, I have completed hundreds of hours of trainings, and even more hours of self-study, in programs such as Lindamood Bell, the Wilson Reading System’s Intensive Instruction for the Non-Responsive Reader, Equipped for Reading Success, and SPELL-Links to Reading and Writing, among others.
- I teach with respect for children’s developmental stage and their unique ways of thinking and learning. I’m a former preschool teacher and mother of four. I love children!
- You do not need a referral from a school to start tutoring. Often parents are the first to know that their child needs extra literacy support. Individualized reading instruction can be very helpful because it gives children both targeted practice in specific skill gaps and a much higher “dose” of instruction than is found in a classroom setting. I am happy to communicate/coordinate with your child’s school or diagnostician(s). And you can be confident I won’t waste your time and money if your child doesn’t seem to need tutoring.
Would you like to learn more?
Here is an FAQ about reading difficulty for those who want to go deeper into the world of literacy. I’m always happy to talk about this topic!
What is reading difficulty?*
(*When I refer to reading difficulty, you can assume I mean the interconnected processes of reading and spelling/writing. But I use the conventional shorthand of “reading” because that is familiar to most adults.)
- Reading difficulty is a common but misunderstood problem, affecting about a third of American school children. Becoming literate is one of the most cognitively demanding human tasks in part because our brains did not evolve to read and write.
- Reading is unnatural! We’ve only been a literate species for a few thousand years, but we’ve been speaking and listening for close to a million years. So literacy is a recent human achievement, evolutionarily speaking. As a result, many people do not acquire the literacy skills necessary for adult jobs and life responsibilities.
- “Unexpected reading difficulty” is a helpful way of thinking about the familiar, but more limited, term “dyslexia.” Increasingly, dyslexia is understood to be a preventable condition that may be caused by multiple environmental, genetic, and developmental factors. Historically, dyslexia has been defined on the basis of an underlying neurological condition, a narrow biomedical definition that excluded many clearly struggling readers who had to wait years for a diagnosis (or who might never meet the strict criteria for such a diagnosis but who struggled with typical reading tasks in middle or high school).
Why shouldn’t I just wait to see if my child will outgrow reading difficulty?
- Where possible, it’s best to intervene early. A huge body of research shows that literacy gaps become entrenched by 3rd or 4th grade. That’s the point at which children typically make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Even children with relatively mild reading difficulty can face academic or emotional challenges from a reading deficit, especially when they reach middle school.
- However… Most American schools still rely on a “Wait to Fail” approach to diagnosing and treating reading problems. Risk factors and early signs of reading difficulty are often dismissed with reassurance that they will resolve on their own.
- Unfortunately, scientific evidence suggests otherwise. While it’s true that children develop at their own pace, it’s also true that reading difficulties that could be addressed relatively straightforwardly in the early years (or that could even be prevented entirely) become more challenging to address the longer we delay intervention.
- But… it’s never too late to seek help for reading difficulty, and older students can still make impressive gains.
What is the newer view of reading difficulty?
- The newer view of reading difficulty is inclusive, preventive, and proactive. We know that children with risk factors for reading difficulty can be identified early and, with evidence-based reading instruction and support, can become capable readers and writers. As scientists Hugh Catts and Yaacov Petscher explain in a recent article, A Cumulative Risk and Resilience Model of Dyslexia,
- “(D)yslexia is best viewed as a label for an unexpected reading disability. This view fits well with a preventive approach in which risk for reading disability is identified and addressed prior to children experiencing reading failure.”
Why do schools still have such trouble identifying and treating reading difficulty?
- Many American schools are still steeped in outdated instructional methods and assessments. I know — because I was trained in those methods and spent a number of years making a long, and painful shift myself! Some schools have begun to make progress in shifting their practices, but American schools are still lagging far behind the science of reading. (They are also lagging far behind countries like the United Kingdom, which have changed their instructional approach to reflect newer advances.)
- Schools have been slow to appreciate the problem because, according to researchers, about two thirds of children will be able to learn to read with almost any instructional method, good or bad. (Many children even managed somehow to learn to read with “whole language” instruction — with virtually no formal phonics – in the 1990s.) So, research tells us, two thirds of our students are doing pretty well regardless of how they are taught, which can lead teachers to conclude that they are teaching with effective methods that reflect best practice – when in reality they don’t. It doesn’t make sense to base our instructional methods on the experience of children who will learn to read with any form of instruction! But many intelligent and caring teachers are still using outdated teaching theories and methods, which can make advocating for your child quite challenging.
- Schools may miss reading difficulty in young children for yet another reason: In the early years, there isn’t typically a huge difference between the reading performance of a struggling reader compared to an “on track” reader – for the simple reason that no one is yet fully proficient at reading at age five or six. So young kids can often muddle along in the early elementary years until the gap widens by 3rd or 4th grade and usually becomes a significant challenge in middle school or high school. Even so-called “compensators,” who squeak by with average or slightly below-average reading ability that’s offset by compensatory skills, may perform well below academic expectations and become quite demoralized as a result.
What does poor reading instruction look like?
- Typical reading instruction tends to encourage struggling readers to over-rely on pictures and context to decipher words they haven’t been taught explicitly to decode. This is a mistake because, according to reading scientists, it is weak readers, who rely more heavily on guesswork and context than strong readers do because weaker readers have not yet robust strong letter-sound associations that are cemented in their longterm memory, ready to be instantly recalled. This type of instruction actually reinforces children’s weaknesses.
- Most schools also still use beginner texts featuring predictable and repetitive sentence structures which allow struggling readers to simply memorize and regurgitate the words without necessarily being able to decode them accurately or recall them fluently based on their knowledge of how sounds and letters work together. Beginner texts should never to be confused with rich children’s literature, which all children need to be exposed to in read-alouds. But beginner instructional texts need to be decodable, not haphazard or guessable.
- Sub-optimal reading instruction also neglects the phonological (sound) basis of literacy. (I’ll explain this in more detail in a moment)
What does effective literacy instruction look like?
- Effective reading and spelling instruction reflects a dynamic interplay of knowledge across several domains: phonological (sound), orthographic (spelling patterns), morphological (word structure, e.g. prefixes and suffixes), semantic (meaning).
- Evidence based reading instruction is not linear (as in traditional reading programs) but connects all the components of reading instruction simultaneously so that children can commit thousands of words and word parts in long term memory for instant recall when needed. This process of forging letter-sound connections in the brain that affix the specific spellings, meanings and sounds of words into our long-term memory — which is called orthographic mapping – is required for fluent, automatic reading and accurate comprehension.
- Good reading instruction also leverages children’s natural strengths in oral language (speaking and listening):
- This is known as a speech-to-print (aka “encoding”) orientation, and it gives equal or greater weight to the process of encoding words as it does to decoding words. Here’s a simplified explanation of the difference between the two: encoding, which we do when we write a word, involves starting first with the sequence of sounds that we hear in our head and then mapping those sounds to actual letters. Decoding is the reverse. With decoding, which we do when we read a word, we start with the printed letters first and then map those letters to sounds.
- Both encoding and decoding are very important , but encoding has been badly neglected in traditional literacy instruction, often treated as an add-on that is taught haphazardly, and after children have already learned to decode. This is inefficient because encoding and decoding are mutually reinforcing. In fact, there is some recent evidence that encoding can help children learn to decode more than decoding can help children learn to encode. Which is a fancy way of explaining why good readers can be poor spellers, but poor readers are virtually never good spellers.
- Don’t forget: we did not evolve a “literate brain” in the same way that we have a mathematical brain. Humans have been speaking for somewhere between 300,000 and a million years whereas we’ve only been reading and writing for a few thousand years! It makes sense, therefore, to leverage what our brains do well naturally (oral language) by orienting new readers to speech sounds they already know first and then teaching them how to attach those sounds to a variety of allowable letters. Here is a terrific short video which explains the value of speech-to-print instruction.
What are some risk factors for reading difficulty?
- Some children have no known risk factors for reading problems.
These are a few of the known risk factors:
- Family history of reading difficulty,
- History of delayed talking
- Developmental trauma
- Significant problems with self-regulation and executive function
- Limited oral language environment in the home
- English Language Learner background
- Early life stressors, such as foster care/adoption, poverty, etc.
What signs of reading difficulty should I look for?
This check list of possible signs of reading difficulty comes from the University of Michigan, Dyslexia Help website (with my own additions/clarifications):
- Delayed talking
- Difficulty remembering any letters in own name
- Excessive baby talk
- Difficulty remembering the sounds or names of letters
- Difficulty learning nursery rhymes or noticing rhyming words
- Difficulty remembering and following directions
Kindergarten and first grade
- Struggles to segment words into individual sounds (eg breaking “dogs” into d-o-g-s)
- Relies heavily on picture cues or guesswork to read a sentence (e.g. says the word “chicken” instead of reading “hen”)
- Forgets how to read a word that was encountered one or two sentences previously
- Struggles to read and spell basic sight words such as “they,” “too,” “was” etc.
- Has difficulty with sequencing the sounds correctly in a word, for example saying “pasgetti” instead of “spaghetti.”
- Has difficulty adding, deleting, or substituting a sound in a word. For example, might not be able to turn the word “snap” into “nap” or would struggle, when asked, to turn the word bed into bend, or slip into sip.
- Avoids reading or complains that reading is hard
Grades 2-3 and beyond
- Difficulty pronouncing or reading multi-syllable words. E.g. might say “multiplication” for the word “meditation” (might guess based only on the beginning or end of the word, or the length of the word)
- Omits morphological/grammatical endings in reading and/or writing (-s, -ed, -ing, etc.)
- Has difficulty telling a story in sequential order
- Has difficulty remembering dates, phone numbers, names
- May be able to “decode” laboriously but slow to read connected text fluently
- Makes wild guesses and stabs at words without effective word-attack strategies
- Can’t read own writing (because spelling is very poor and/or handwriting is messy)
- Struggles to remember how to spell words or to learn new spelling rules
- Exhibits many pauses or hesitations when talking (even when receptive vocabulary is quite strong)
- Uses many filler words such as “stuff” or “things” instead of the proper name of objects when talking (i.e., word-finding difficulties) even when oral comprehension and vocabulary are strong
- Needs extra time to formulate sentences
- May have struggles with math operations such as learning multiplication tables or using money or telling time
- Avoids reading
Would my child benefit from tutoring?
- Tutoring is helpful because it provides targeted instruction and multiple exposures to concepts. Both are necessary for children who struggle to read. 1:1 tutoring also fosters a warm, positive relationship between child and teacher so that the struggling reader can take risks and develop confidence.
- Often children experience deep shame about their difficulty with reading (even as early as Kindergarten) and feel a sense of relief and enhanced motivation when they can learn outside a classroom setting.
- 1:1 tutoring targets reading instruction to a very granular level. For example, a child who is struggling to read simple books with vowel-consonant-vowel patterns might only need targeted practice distinguishing the pairs of vowel sounds that are formed in adjacent positions in the mouth. Such a child might confuse the short /a/ in cat with short /o/ in cot because both are vowel sounds formed low and open in the mouth. Or the child might confuse the short /i/ in pig with short /e/ in peg because they are both made with a “smiley” position quite high in the mouth). In this case, we would work on a variety of uniquely tailored activities and not waste precious time reading a generic “early reader” that has multiple vowel sounds and confusing spelling patterns interspersed.
- Individualized instruction provides much more exposure to key concepts than in a classroom setting.
- Children with reading difficulty require between 20 and 100 exposures to a given word before it can be stored in long term memory. A non-struggling reader requires only one to four exposures to a word in order to commit it to long-term storage!
- This “exposure gap” explains why so many dyslexic children can decode a word correctly, albeit a little laboriously, in one instance, only to be completely flummoxed by the exact same word they encounter one or two sentences later! The instruction in schools is just not sufficient to provide this level of word-level exposure, especially if school texts are not decodable and don’t follow a careful scope and sequence.
Do I need to wait for a school referral to start tutoring?
- The short answer is: no. It’s always helpful to have a good referral from a trusted teacher or clinician, but sometimes parents know that a short course of tutoring (over the summer, for example) could make a difference to their child and don’t want to wait for school or outside evaluation.
- Parents are often the first to suspect that their child needs help, especially if they have older siblings in the home or they struggled themselves to learn to read.
- I am happy to tutor children who are referred by their parents (though I am not a clinical diagnostician) and I can also coordinate my work with classroom teachers and specialists.
- You can be confident I will not waste your time and money tutoring a child who doesn’t need tutoring.
What kind of support do you offer for parents?
- I also work directly with parents or other primary caregivers to help them provide literacy support at home. Some families prefer to tutor their children themselves, which can be a cost-effective and rewarding alternative to, or adjunct to, traditional tutoring.
- I can provide materials and suggested activities, as well as regular coaching/check-ins.
Do you work with teachers?
- Yes! I love working with teachers. I have a lot of experience coaching and working side by side with teachers who are looking to adopt new teaching practices. Please contact me for more information.