The Literacy Nest

Managing Challenging Behaviors in the Orton-Gillingham Lesson: 5 Tips to Decrease Problems

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Managing Challenging Behaviors in the Orton-Gillingham Lesson: 5 Tips to Decrease Problems

Five Tips For Behavior Management

Whether you are working in a mainstream classroom, in small groups or in a one-on-one tutoring situation, you are bound to encounter the occasional behavior issue. When choosing which techniques to best help a particular situation, I find it helpful to start with the ABC’s of behavior. Getting to the root of the problem leads to a happier solution for teacher and student alike.

A: Antecedent – This is a fancy way of saying, “What happened immediately before the misbehavior?” Did a student struggle with a task? Were they feeling embarrassed in front of a peer? Were you about to transition to a new activity? Was something too easy? Looking at what triggered a particular behavior is a key to helping us figure out the reasons behind the behavior.

B: Behavior -- What is the behavior? Try to be really specific in your description.

C: Consequence – This is not a matter of time outs or missed recess, but rather what occurs naturally or through our current reactions as a result of the behavior. This may be leading the behavior to continue or help the behavior to decrease.

For example, a student that is a stronger reader than writer may begin to not follow directions, play with his pencil, fool around with peers and really derail an entire lesson the moment we take out pencil and paper. If I think about the ABC’s, I may gain a little insight into what is going on. The antecedent is beginning the writing and dictation portion of the lesson. The behavior is being off-task and disruptive. The consequence is that I cut that portion of the lesson short due to time. In effect, my response, while logical, reinforces the behavior I don’t want by taking decreasing the pain from the undesirable activity.

As teachers, we can control the antecedents and the consequences, but only the student can make choices about his or her behavior. For students with dyslexia, school and learning have frequently been an unpleasant experience and they may have well established patterns of misbehavior. It is also quite common for children with reading difficulties to also struggle with focus and attention. When you really analyze it, most of their misbehavior is motivated by a desire to either avoid something difficult, or not to feel embarrassed in front of their peers. 

Based on this likelihood, here are 5 tips to avoid losing valuable teaching time to behavior management. And, as an added bonus, these tips are also really effective for students with attention difficulties.

  1. Avoid downtime. Have your materials at the ready and keep all students actively engaged and responding. Instead of taking turns, give each student a specific task to do. Find ways that students can respond simultaneously and even privately. For example: writing answers on a white board shown only to the teacher, pointing, giving a hand signal or moving letter tiles.
  2. Create a safe climate. This is especially important for older struggling readers working in small groups, but even for individual tutoring, it can be difficult for a student to trust that they will not be laughed at or made to feel inferior. Laying down guidelines about kindness, encouragement and giving each other wait time can go a long way toward making students feel safe taking risks. It is also vitally important that making mistakes is viewed as a positive step toward mastery. I try hard to take responsibility for errors that result from poor word choices or lack of clarity and make it clear that the student is not responsible for my mistakes. Rather than telling a student an answer, guide them to the correct answer themselves. Avoid having another student be in a position to correct a peer. 
  3. Include games and fun activities. Making learning engaging and fun goes a long way toward preventing behavior problems. It also provides leverage to get through something that is tricky.  Point out that working hard and staying focused will give you more time for a fun activity. Maybe even consider doing a lesson component out of order to get it out of the way when the student is feeling less tired and more cooperative. Make sure the tasks you are asking the student to do are just right; not too easy and not too difficult. For more information on playing games, read this post.  For game ideas, try these.
  4. Frontload both expectations and emotions. Setting very clear expectations and reviewing those expectations regularly, helps students to keep the desired behavior in the forefront of their mind. It is a scientific fact that emotions will always take precedence in our brains over memory, learning and cognition. The same neurotransmitters that kept cave men safe from predators, causes a child who is feeling unsure and vulnerable to freeze and become unable to access their knowledge and strategies. Even very young children are able to understand this and learn to take calming breaths and let their brains do their job. As teachers, being tuned into our student’s emotional state, taking a few minutes to check in, and giving the child that may need a little boost some extra attention, sets the stage for a successful lesson.
  5. Use a reward system. Although prevention is more effective than most behavior charts, some students really benefit from a visual/tactical reminder. Some examples would be for each student to have 5 tokens to start the lesson. These could be pennies, laminated pictures stuck with Velcro, blocks or even candy. Every time you need to correct or redirect a student, you take away one token. At the end of the lesson, the tokens left can accumulate toward a prize or sticker. This is a particularly good way of providing more support for one or two children without singling them out. 

Additional Ideas

Another easy reward system is time based. Set a timer for random intervals. When the timer goes off, if the student or students are doing what they are supposed to, they get a tally. This works both individually or as a group adding marbles to a jar or tallies to a chart for a special treat like a game day or party. Alternatively points or tokens can be given at various predetermined points through the lesson, based on the children’s participation during the previous components.

Timers are also a great tool for teaching focus. Set a timer and give the students a challenge. “See if we can get through this big stack of phonogram cards before the timer goes off”. Another spur of the moment technique is a game of hangman. The teacher will add a body part for every redirection needed. You don’t need to do any talking, but it is surprisingly effective. This is particularly helpful for those students that have a knack for drawing you into their distraction. Best of all, I have seen students begin monitoring and catching themselves before interrupting their work.

For children who struggle in school, their challenging may very well have served as survival skills. These things kept them safe in the regular classroom environment. Carefully planned, individualized OG lessons and a warm rapport with your students can go a long way toward preventing behavior challenges. Staying on the cutting edge of a student’s learning, offering the right level of scaffolding, and building a relationship of mutual trust and respect is ultimately going to be more powerful than any behavior chart or reward system.

Five Tips for Behavior Management

Have you found a system that works well for you and your students? I'd love to hear about it. Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

5 Success Tips for Dyslexia Advocacy

Friday, September 8, 2017
5 Success Tips for Dyslexia Advocacy
I am so thrilled to have Amy share tips for dyslexia advocacy with you today. Thank you so much Amy, from for sharing your expertise! 

If you have a struggling reader, you may be new to the concept of advocating for your child’s educational needs. Below are five things every parent of a student with reading difficulties should do to properly prepare themselves to advocate for their child’s academic, social and emotional needs.

1.      Have Your Child Evaluated! If you have a child who is struggling to read and is not making progress with general education interventions, it is imperative that you have your child evaluated sooner rather than later. Early identification is the key to success! Although the goal is to keep your child in a general education setting as long as possible, children with dyslexia need explicit, multi-sensory instruction that is only offered through special education. In order to be considered for special education, however, the school must first evaluate your child. To get the evaluation process started, you need to simply submit a letter requesting that your child be evaluated for special education. Included in my free guide is a sample evaluation request letter that you are welcome to use to get you started []. The school will then ask for your consent to evaluate your child via prior written notice. Once the evaluation process is complete, the IEP Team will consider the test results to determine eligibility. The evaluation process can take up to 60 school days to complete so it is vitally important to begin the process as soon as the challenges become apparent so you don’t lose valuable time. Please keep in mind, however, that schools cannot diagnose. They can only assess for areas of strength and weakness. In order to get a diagnosis, you would need to consult with a licensed educational psychologist, a neuropsychologist or another qualified medical professional to get a private evaluation. Getting a diagnosis will allow you to get a more complete profile of your child. If there are other considerations that affect the way your child learns, such as executive functioning disorder or ADHD, that will be identified in the private evaluation as well. That way, you can make sure that the IEP addresses all areas of need.

Either way, the evaluation should test all of the following areas:
- Cognitive Ability
- Phonological Processing
- Silent Reading
- Oral Reading
- Single Word Reading
- Rapid Naming
- Vocabulary
- Spelling
- Writing Sample
- Family and School History

2.      Document Everything - I cannot stress this enough! Documentation is essential when you are advocating for your child’s needs. Without documentation, it is difficult to track progress or lack there of, correspondence and important documents. Start off by getting a large binder. Divide it up into several sections and include copies of student work, school/teacher correspondence, progress reports/report cards, test results, IEPs, (if applicable), etc. Keep in mind, however, that documentation does not always have to take the form of paper. If your child is struggling with homework, fluency or decoding, consider videotaping your child reading so you can chronicle their experience at home. Those recordings can then be offered as evidence of your child’s struggles, especially if you find that the experience described by your child’s teachers differs greatly from your own.

3.      Adopt a Cooperative vs. Combative Mindset – Most parents feel that they need to go into Team meetings with fire in their eyes. But, you have to remember that the other members of the Team are people too and they will respond just like people do, when confronted. That is not to say that you shouldn’t be firm, informed and ready to defend your child and your child’s needs, but there is definitely a right and a wrong way to approach it within a Team meeting. If you think that you will have difficulty keeping your composure in the meeting, consider hiring an advocate. Their job is to be your voice and to allow you to maintain a good relationship with the Team. Your advocate can also help you understand what is going on during the meeting and can explain to you what your options are. Whatever you do, do not go to a meeting alone, especially if you are new at this. IEP meetings can be upsetting and overwhelming. It is always helpful to have someone with you to help you feel less alone in the fight for your child.

4.      Focus on Needs and Goals – As my mentor, Kelli Sandman-Hurley always says, “needs drive goals and goals drive services”. Every need should be addressed with a goal and every goal should be associated with a service.
Each goal should be specific, measureable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.), so there is a particular target in mind at the end of the IEP period. If you feel that the goal is not aggressive enough, you can either partially reject that portion of the IEP, and/or you can request regular progress monitoring so you can determine if an IEP amendment is warranted.

5.      Review, Reflect and Strategize! On a fairly regular basis, review and reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t so you can make the appropriate adjustments. When you go into an IEP meeting, put some thought into what it is that you are trying to achieve ahead of time. Make a plan and develop a strategy for getting your child to where he or she needs to be. If your child is not making effective progress with the interventions offered by his or her school, you may need to determine whether the education is appropriate for your child’s needs. There may even come a time when you need to consider moving your child to a private school to get access to better services. This is known as “unilateral placement”.

The key to successful advocacy is education, preparation, organization and strategy. Becoming aware of the terms being discussed, the interventions/services available to your child and the progress achieved will allow you to feel more in control of your child’s academic future and his or her success plan. First and foremost, remember that you are your child’s best advocate and you know your child better than anyone. Becoming an informed advocate will go a long way to securing your child’s future success.

Helping families with dyslexia

About The Guest Blogger:
Amy Ruocco is the mother of two, a dyslexia advocate and a fierce warrior for dyslexic children. Through her website, she educates parents about the importance of early identification of dyslexia and teaches them how to advocate for appropriate interventions. To get access to her free guide, please visit

Visualizing Spelling Choices: Strategies For Spelling Success

Thursday, August 31, 2017

It's been a busy summer in the world of Orton-Gillingham this summer! I am always seeking new books, materials and lesson ideas for using the Orton-Gillingham approach, and today I am back to share some wonderful teaching tips for teaching spelling strategies.

I apologize for the summer hiatus from blogging, but things are picking back up for sure! If you receive my weekly emails, you probably have a pretty good idea about what I've been up to and what I have planned. So without further delay, Sarah from Magic Moments Tutoring is going to share some absolutely FABULOUS and PRACTICAL tips that you can implement in your Orton-Gillingham lessons or other reading interventions right away. Please feel free to comment or ask questions at the end of the post. Thank you, Sarah for writing such a valuable post for both me and my readers! :) 

Visualizing Spelling Choices

Sometimes it seems that the more an O.G. student learns, the harder spelling becomes! When a student only knows a few syllable types, their options for spelling a certain sound are pretty limited and can be figured out on the basis of what type of syllable they hear. It isn’t too long however, before the spelling choices start stacking up and helpful spelling generalizations are only half the story. Students that are proficient at spelling words like tack and take and play may run into problems when writing maid, rein and prey.

While we can teach students that certain spellings are used at the beginning or middle of words and others at the end, there are still plenty of tricky choices such as whether to use a-e or ai, oa or o-e? Long e has a dizzying number of possibilities. Spelling that is phonetically correct, but not orthographically correct is still a problem for students in the classroom.

I find that it is helpful to introduce students to the frequency of different spelling patterns. The oe spelling is uncommon and should not be a student’s go-to answer for spelling the long o sound. Using a simple visual graph of frequency of use is a great first step. This graph can easily be made interactive and hands-on by using Velcro, or you can build this with the student, adding spellings as they are introduced.

As new phonograms and spelling generalizations are introduced, I find it is helpful to incorporate specific lessons focusing on spelling choices. After helping students to make wise choices using their knowledge of spelling generalizations and frequency, it seems to be most helpful to develop a repertoire of high use words that they know will fit a specific spelling pattern. Of course, this happens through many exposures to reading and writing these words, but we can also use the student’s imagination, visualization skills and artistic abilities to help.

How to Create Picture Stories for Spelling Choices

1.      Generate a list of common words using a specific spelling pattern in advance.
2.      Read through the list with your student, clarifying words that may have homophones or multiple meanings.
3.      Invite your student to add additional words to the list.
4.      Challenge your student to create a picture story using only words on the list and as many of them as possible. They can add words, but only if they follow the correct spelling pattern. This can be as simple as a quick sketch or an elaborate and colorful poster. Encourage them to be silly and creative to make it more fun.
5.      Have your student share their picture story.      
6.      If you see opportunities for including more words, offer suggestions.
7.      Record the words contained in the story somewhere on the drawing.
8.      Revisit this picture often over the course of several lessons as your student becomes more comfortable and is able to visualize their picture and describe it using the target words without it in front of them. 
9.      Display or keep in a student’s personal folder for reference.

The great thing about this activity is that the students love it! They will frequently ask when we can do it again after completing one spelling choice picture story. It is multisensory using the kinesthetic drawing activity, auditory for telling the story and visual for looking at the picture and visualizing it later on. It is also easy to adapt to small group or whole class instruction either by working in teams to complete posters or creating individual pictures from a brainstormed shared word list. 

This activity is easily adapted to fit your individual schedule by making it as simple as a time limited sketch (2 minutes for thinking and 3 for sketching seems to work well) or as elaborate as a take home family project. It is easily adapted to different ages by incorporating more complex vocabulary. Finally, it allows many students with dyslexia to utilize some of their creative strengths.

Spelling Strategies with The Orton-Gillingham Approach

How to Get Your Dyslexic Child Engaged and Excited About Summer Reading

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Getting your dyslexia child to want to read this summer can sometimes be a challenge. I have students whose moms reveal their kids will simply not pick up a book on their own. They will however, if mom or dad initiates it, and provides a bit of support like reading together, reading aloud or listening on audio. I know these moms are eager to have their children get over the hump and WANT them read just for the sake of pleasure, without coaxing them. It's hard.  I totally get that, especially if YOU yourself were an avid reader as a child and still are.  There are some things we can do to catch a spark and light the flame, though!

Today, Alison, mom of a dyslexia child is sharing tips to get your kids engaged and excited about summer reading. If you have anything to add to her ideas, please let us know in the comments. Thank you!

How to Get Your Dyslexic Child Engaged and Excited About Summer Reading
As a child, I looked forward to the endless days of summer when I could get lost in whatever book I was reading.  We didn’t take fancy and elaborate vacations, so I quenched my wanderlust by jumping into books.
Unfortunately, my dyslexic child does not see reading in the summer the same way. For her, reading is work.  Summer is synonymous with “no work.”  And therein lies the challenge—how do you get your dyslexic child engaged and excited about summer reading.
Pulling from my experience as a language arts teacher and my own love for literature, I have come up with a few key strategies you can use to get your child reading during the summer months.  I even have included some free printables so that you can just “plug and play” these strategies.
We all know how important reading practice is for a dyslexic child.  My daughter gets forty-five minutes of intervention from a trained Dyslexia specialist each school day.  And the one thing her teacher has instilled in her about the summer is to read, read, read.
My daughter, not unlike most people, loves a good story.  She is highly imaginative and creative.  She often times makes up her own dialogue for at home puppet shows. Comedy routines are her (and our) favorites.  She will spend hours setting up her bedroom to look like a classroom and enjoy acting out a day at school with her younger siblings.
With her challenges in reading, just lifting the words up off of the paper and decoding the text is a feat in of itself.  Dyslexia does not allow her the privilege of easily perusing the text allowing her imagination the freedom to run away into the depths of a fantastical world.
No, for her, comprehension is a struggle because—let’s be honest—when it takes you a few minutes to read through a sentence—by the time you have finished decoding the text, you have most likely forgotten the beginning of the sentence.
I know fluency will come with time.   She has made such great progress since she was diagnosed 8 months ago.  I don’t want her to regress or get “rusty” with her reading.  So I have decided to find ways to keep her engaged in reading through the summer months.
Here are some ideas and strategies that you should use to show your child that the pleasure and reward from reading outweighs the effort put in by a landslide.

***The first and most important thing to consider are your child's interests.***

Think about their interests.  What makes your child tick?  What can they talk on and on about without you asking?  Are they technical, mechanical, like to understand how the human body works? Or, are they fascinated with history?  Do they love imaginary play and creating projects?  It is vital to match their interests to their reading material.

Here are suggestions for books in a few different categories of interest. Each category may have a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Some categories overlap.

Book Lists: (Affiliate Links)

Science Fiction
History Non-fiction and Fiction,
Fantasy fiction,
Supernatural Fiction
Realistic Fiction
Science Non-Fiction

Summer Strategies for Getting Kids Engaged and Excited About Reading:

1. Two For One Deal!

For every 10 minutes they read aloud you will read 20 minutes aloud of whatever book they want. A little bit of effort for them, and double the return.  Depending on the reading level of your child, you may read a totally different book to them that they would enjoy but is out of their reach just yet.  You can still get EZ Reader books in all subjects.  It is important for them to read on their level and be read to on a higher level.


2. Audio Books:

Listening to a book while following along in the text gives them a more laid back experience with reading. They will strengthen their reading skills and begin to enjoy reading.  The key point is to have them follow along with the text as it is read aloud. There are several website/services to make this easy for you and your child.


Amazon’s version of an audible Kindle. Get two books for free with your free trial—Otherwise $14.95/month

Learning Ally:

More than 50,000 audio books geared toward blind, dyslexic, and other kinds of users. Membership is $99 for the year.  Fortunately, my child’s school district purchases this membership for all students identified with dyslexia.  Her dyslexia specialist set up her account and gave us the login information.


Similar to Learning Ally, it is free to any student who can provide proof of dyslexia.  I was actually allowed to sign up for a free account for my daughter by giving them our Learning Ally information to verify.

-Your Local Library:

A great free way to get audio versions of books.


3. Have You Seen It?

Find a movie or video series that you know they would love that is based on a book or book series.  Read the book together then let them watch the movie.  Have a discussion with them after she views the movie highlighting the differences and/or similarities between the two. I have created a free printable discussion worksheet for you and your child.

Check it out here! (Book vs. Movie Discussion Questions Activity)

List of books turned into movies:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Harry Potter
Captain Underpants
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass


4. Remember this?

Create a memory book or scrapbook of the different books they read during the summer.  Allow them to unleash their creativity and make these memory books using any materials they wish.
Traditional Paper scrapbooks or digital scrapbooks like these
If you would like a free printable scrapbook template to get you started, I have created one for you.

CLICK HERE  to Get Your Free Scrapbook Template! (Printable pages to create your own "Summer Reading Memory Book!")

Dyslexic kids are often just exposed to the books that are on their reading level.  And unfortunately, those easy reader level books are often not the most intriguing.  So, if a child believes that this (not so exciting early reader books) is the most interesting books get, then they walk away disenchanted with reading.
As parents of dyslexic children, we always strive to provide our children with the most support possible to encourage a lifetime love of learning.  You know your child best, so take the opportunity to find books your child will fall in love with and they will be well on their way to treasure summer reading.  And for that matter, reading year-round.
Summer reading ideas for children with dyslexia

“The only award I’ll ever get is perfect attendance, and I even messed that up.” Why Recognition Really DOES Matter

Saturday, June 3, 2017

You might have noticed or read a few stories in the news about offensive awards given out to students with learning challenges lately. A trophy was actually handed out in an assembly to a middle schooler with ADHD that was labeled, "Least likely to pay attention." The teachers responsible for curating the so-called "award" were let go from their teaching positions. 

If you are a parent or even a parent of a child with a learning difference or any disability, you know how deeply this hurts. Receiving a trophy that highlights the very thing you struggle with has long-lasting effects. When I saw this article, it made me think of the children I work with during my Orton-Gillingham lessons. 

Recently, one of my students was laughed at by his fellow students when he was asked to read in front of the class by a substitute teacher. Inside, my gut lurched and my heart broke when his mom told me. To be honest, I saw red for a minute, because I know where this child was when I first started working with him and how far he has come.

We simply need to work on kindness, folks. It needs to be taught to our children. It needs to be spread among adults. And listen. I'm not just talking about in person. This goes especially for social media, too. (I'm talking to you, keyboard warriors.) And this is why I have the pleasure of sharing a powerful blog post about spreading kindness with you today. There are so many educators who truly are models of kindness and compassion. Even when the news might try to highlight the things teachers are doing wrong, stories like this one shine through.

A Message of Kindness And Hope

Jules Johnson is the parent of two amazing, talented, kind children who have learning differences. She co-founded Decoding Dyslexia-TN in 2013 and blogs on Diary of a DeelexiaMomJules works tirelessly to help spread dyslexia awareness and to advocate for families. I think you are going to love her post today, It provides a message to hope to families. When it feels like you just don't deserve to receive any kind of recognition, think of this story. We are all worthy of it.

As any parent of a child who struggles will tell you, academic awards day is usually less than fun. In fact, I know of many parents who skip the day entirely. A few weeks ago, my oldest child who is severely dyslexic said:
“Mom, the only award I’ll ever get is perfect attendance. And I even messed that up.”
Talk about a mama heart breaking into one-thousand pieces. By the way, he “messed up” perfect attendance because he had strep throat.
Still, I had hope. This year, for us, is a special year. It’s his last year of elementary school. Maybe they give them all some sort of award?

I didn’t realize until later – but I had internally talked myself into thinking he would get a “surprise” award and it would be this amazing moment.   
The day arrived. As I piled into the gym with the other moms and dads, I made sure to get a good seat “just in case.” There were two awards that I thought he might have a shot at getting – the most improved or the art award.

As both of those awards were called, I held my breath …
And other names were called.
I was crushed. CRUSHED. I couldn’t see his face as his back was to me, but I wondered how he felt. I started to silently cry – tears were rolling down my cheeks as I was quietly sitting there in the hard gym chairs with other parents cheering and clapping all around me.
After the awards, we all head to their classrooms for lunch. Since I knew he’d be crushed, my plan was to check him out and go for ice cream. But as I round the corner, this young man was … smiling.
Not just smiling – BEAMING. What?!?
“Mom! LOOK! Look what Ms Collier did! Last week, she asked us to write words describing one another, and LOOK WHAT SHE DID!”
I picked up this paper he is holding and I saw words written around his name. Artistic, brave, kind

“Did you see this one, Mom? Look! Someone wrote SMART! And it wasn’t a teacher who wrote that either. It was KID! A kid thinks I’m SMART!”
Wow. I don’t even …my words were gone. I hugged him as different kinds of tears formed in my eyes. Tears of joy. Tears of relief. Tears of ….his classmates see who he is too.
Thank you, Ms Collier. Thank you. 

*If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy this one about summer learning!
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