People with dyslexia, may come to a reading intervention session having experienced so much failure and defeat that they are extremely discouraged and beaten down. They often feel that they aren’t capable of completing the tasks asked of them because they have experienced so much difficulty in the past. By carefully scaffolding your instruction and allowing your students to learn of independence in small doses along the way, you can promote a feeling of success and empowerment.
Striving for independence is beneficial in a number of ways. By keeping your eye on promoting independence, it encourages the gradual release of responsibility which is a developmentally appropriate way of teaching. Building independence shows children they can have a sense of ownership and control over their work. This is meaningful for kids!
Another benefit of building independence is to decrease reliance on you as the teacher or tutor and that feeling of learned helplessness. Your goal is to give them the tools so that they can use their learned skills and strategies even when they are working independently in the classroom or with a teacher that is not knowledgeable about Orton-Gillingham lesson plans.
Building independence happens both through your mindset and teaching.
It also can occur in ways that are easy to implement.
1. Setting up a paper
Show your students how to set up their paper for dictation, rather than numbering it for them. Not only is it empowering, but it is efficient when students know exactly what to do. For older students, this may be a simple matter of modeling or providing instructions and feedback. For younger students, or students with dysgraphia, this may be a gradual release of responsibility where you initially provide students with boxes or lines to help them learn appropriate spacing and boundaries, and gradually give more of the responsibility over to them.
2. Writing the date
Teach students how to write out the full date so they learn the names of the months, not just the numbers. Again, this is a process that varies by age. For a younger student, having the date written on a sentence strip or small white board for easy copying is helpful, while an older child may be able to copy the date from a predictable location. This has the advantage note only of helping students learn to spell these challenging words, but to recognize and read them as well.
3. Cursive Handwriting
Model and show students how to read and write in cursive. Slowly increase the expectations for more written work in cursive. Perhaps, initially, ask them only to write their name in cursive after teaching all the letters and the specific connections for their name. Eventually, they can complete their entire dictation work in cursive.
4. Provide Reference Tools.
One key to building independence is to teach students how to use a reference tool and provide them with access to this tool. This may be a reference notebook or a flip chart. This is very valuable in teaching them to utilize their learning outside of tutoring where they may not have an adult that can prompt them. In the Spelling Concepts and Strategies Binder, my students fill in the TOC as shown below. As we add pages to it, they can fill it in with the page numbers. Whenever they need to cross reference or double check the meaning of a concept, they know RIGHT where to go. You may keep an Orton-Gillingham binder with sections for word lists and passages as I have for years, but have an additional reference binder at their fingertips frees up space not only on your walls, but in the other binder.
5. Card Drills
Along the same lines, providing access to the phonogram drill cards or morpheme cards allows students to check the key words or meanings themselves. Initially, this may look like leaving the new phoneme card out during the entire lesson. As time goes on, you can encourage students to flip through the deck to find the card that will help them.
When it comes times for students to use COPS, use this as a time to observe. This is their checking strategy and something we want them to be using outside of tutoring as well. There should be minimal prompting. When a student rereads their writing and fixes any omissions, fixes capitals and punctuation and lets you know that they are unsure about a particular word, they are making good use of this strategy.
7. Teachable Moments
Take advantage of teachable moments. Turn small cleaning tasks into learning opportunities. Putting magnetic letters back into the correct spaces in a case reinforces letter identification and alphabetical order. Categorizing or passing cards back to a teacher or tutor after a game based on a particular sound or strategy can further reinforce learning and promote independence. “Hand me all the word cards that say /ā/, and be sure to read them out loud.”
Points To Remember
If you’ve ever waited for a preschooler to put on their shoes or for someone new to tying to tie their sneakers, it comes as no surprise that one of the challenges to having a child do something themselves is that it often takes longer than if you were to do it for them. Just like students need opportunities to build fluency and automaticity with reading and writing, they also need a chance to practice skills like writing the date, using a reference notebook or chart, and utilizing the COPS strategy.
Our patience is key. Students need the gift of time to do these things themselves without feeling undue pressure. It can be an intricate dance to keep them focused and on task without hurrying them or interfering with their processing. As tutors, we are always aware of the ticking clock as we try to pace the lesson and cover lots of ground, but that time pressure needn’t be passed on to the student, particularly not when they are taking on additional responsibility.
When we are training your students to do something independently, it is important that we begin by modeling the desired behavior. As students take on more responsibility, it is important to provide generous praise and specific corrective feedback. Be prepared to break multistep directions down into more manageable parts, or take a break from training this skill if students are overwhelmed by the steps.
It is valuable to remember that many of our students struggle with working memory. So, the gradual release of responsibility may move more slowly with students with dyslexia than it would with a student without working memory challenges.
It can be easier and faster to do too much for our students, but our goal is long term independence. It is valuable for you to keep this in mind as we consider if we are doing things for our students that they could be doing themselves. The benefits of building independence are not only leaving the child with better skills for functioning independently and better self-esteem and self-confidence, but also ultimately more efficient lessons that allow for deeper exploration of complex concepts.
I hope these tips have given you some food for thought as you plan the logistics of your Orton-Gillingham lesson plans.
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