Extended Insights
Extended Insights

Jan 5, 2011, 12:42

by Claude Bisson, M Ed and Martha Jones

Claude Bisson, M Ed
Director of Business Development
Boulder Creek Academy
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

October 28, 2010

The Boulder Creek Academy reading Lab is run by Martha Jones. Her interest in the reading process was prompted early in life as she watched one of her highly intelligent brothers struggle to learn to read and spell and witnessed the indelible scars that struggle left; as far back as she can remember, she yearned to understand the underlying reason for reading difficulties. Her search for answers began with earning an MA in Special Education, and then she broadened her knowledge by earning clear credentials as a Reading Specialist, Resource Specialist, Learning and Severely Handicapped and General Subject's teacher. Her search for an explanation of reading difficulties culminated with her training at the Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes Center in San Luis Obispo, California. She is deeply grateful for the influence and training provided by Pat and Phyllis Lindamood, which provided her with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement the LiPS (Lindamood Phonemic Segmentation) process for improving reading and spelling accuracy and to Nancy Bell for her research and work in writing the Visualizing/Verbalizing program for improving comprehension skills. Martha brings over thirty years of experience to Boulder Creek Academy.

When you walk into her lab, you are greeted with soft classical music at a tempo of 50 to 60 beats per minute, which is a research-based recording, designed to enhance increased focus, intellectual endurance, and concentration. Referred students enjoy a hot cup of herbal tea, and then proceed through a battery of tests to explore the students' phonemic awareness, word attack, reading, spelling, spelling of sounds in pseudo words, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary skills. Strengths and weaknesses are identified and students who qualify for remedial support are scheduled to work with Martha twice a week.

In her search for answers, Martha learned that the most critical underlying problem for reading and spelling disorders is incompletely developed auditory conceptual function or, more simply put, lack of phonemic awareness.

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word and awareness of phonemes is the ability to identify the number, identity, and sequence of sounds in words. This is a skill you are either born with or you are not; it is just a human difference, much like color blindness. While only 4% of the population are color blind, 30% of the population lacks the ability to distinguish sounds within words from a moderate to a severe degree. This problem appears randomly in the population and is not dependent on race, socio-economic status, gender, or intelligence.

Students who cannot perceive the individual sounds in words cannot benefit from phonics instruction. They cannot judge whether what they say matches what they see, which is the reason they omit sounds saying "steam" for "stream", or reverse sounds saying "gril" for "girl", or substitute sounds saying "litter" for "letter", or add sounds saying "equiptment" for "equipment".

When the LAC Test indicates inadequate sensory input about the number, identity, and sequence of sounds within words, Martha leads the student through the LiPS process, teaching the student to perceive sounds through input from a different modality, the oral-tactile modality. The student is taught that each letter of the alphabet not only has its own specific sound, but it also has its own specific mouth movement. The mouth movements are labeled to reflect the way the mouth moves when the sound is produced; for example, the sounds /p/ and /b/ are labeled Lip Poppers because the lips come together, and then pop open. Once this sensory input registers, the student becomes aware of the mouth movement and can then perceive those particular sounds in words. Once the mouth movement is perceived, is known, then conceptualization is possible; the concept that each letter has its own specific mouth movement allows letters to be perceived, labeled, discussed, stored, retrieved, and practiced. For example, when given a pseudo word like /spisp/ the student can demonstrate his/her ability to keep track of the sounds by laying out five blocks using three colors to indicate that five distinct mouth movements were felt but only three sounds were perceived (i.e. the student would lay out a pattern of colored blocks like the following to represent /spisp/: red, green, blue, red, green).

Martha refers to LiPS as a pre- phonics program; it levels the playing field for students who, like her brother, do not receive enough feedback from the aural part of the brain to hear the individual sounds in words. Training the oral-tactile modality creates a new learning pathway in the brain, which allows the student to perceive sounds in words and finally reap the benefits of phonics training. This can dramatically accelerate reading and spelling accuracy.

When test results indicate both reading and comprehension as a problem, Martha will complete the LiPS process first, to ensure that inaccurate decoding is not the basis for poor comprehension, and then proceed with Nancy Bell's Visualizing/Verbalizing Program if comprehension training is indicated.

The lab also addresses poor spelling skills through the Stetson Spelling Program. The Stetson Spelling Test is a screening test that will identify the level for initial instruction based on spelling ability. It is a non-graded spelling program that contains the 3,000 words most frequently used in writing. These words represent 97% of the total words used in writing, so it makes sense to focus on the words most commonly written by students.

Marc Clarke is the Remedial-Tutorial lab assistant who provides tutorial support for students as needed. He has been trained in the Read Naturally Program, a program for improving oral reading fluency, as well as the Stetson Spelling Program.

Boulder Creek Academy is a coeducational therapeutic boarding school, situated on 180 acres at the base of the Cabinet Mountains in Northern Idaho. The 12 to 24 month program offers year-round admissions for young people with distinct learning, behavioral, and emotional challenges from 13 to 18 years of age, who may struggle in a traditional academic setting or face challenges from residential or acute settings.

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