Nov 182011

I’ve shared some about the difficulties my middle son (9years old) has had with reading, among other things. Because of his difficulties, I’ve done a fair amount of research on dyslexia. Since he displays many of the classic signs of dyslexia, I’ve been trying to implement strategies used in teaching reading to dyslexics. One important method is repeated reading of a passage. This repeated reading increases the reader’s fluency, allowing for greater reading comprehension and better vocal expression. Repeated reading is one of the strategies that I had not yet tried, but I had planned to in the future.

About Read Live–

When members of the Homeschool Crew were given the opportunity to review Read Live, an on-line reading program developed by Read Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. (I may have even begged.) The Read Naturally strategy consists of 3 main elements: Teacher Modeling, Repeated Reading, and Progress Monitoring. Read Naturally is a proven company that is celebrating 20 years of business this year. Read Live is a more recent, on-line version of their proven program and can be used with struggling students of all ages; from first grade through adult. The on-line version allows the student to listen to the passage being read and practice reading the passage without constant teacher interaction. The program is designed for classroom use, and I can see how it would be a tremendous help in providing differentiated instruction to students with varying needs.

As a homeschooler, I’m already differentiating instruction for all my students. But it is very difficult at times to attend to the needs of all my children. I’m often being pulled, quite literally, in 5 directions. So an on-line program helps me by providing instruction that doesn’t have to come directly from me.

I placed my son in the Sequenced Series which focuses on fluency development, vocabulary, and comprehension. There is also a Phonics Series which also improves fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension in addition to working on decoding, but I felt that he is getting plenty of practice with phonics and chose to focus on the other aspects of reading right now.

Upon logging in, the student sees a screen like this one.

After selecting the story, he first is given key words to learn.

Then the student reads the passage, and the program records the reading speed. This is the Cold Timing Step.

The student must listen to the story being read and read along for a minimum of 3 times. After that, the student reads the story again while being timed. Each time he reads it, he marks how far he read in the allotted time by clicking on the last word read. When the pre-determined reading rate goal is reached, the student is allowed to continue. Then there is a brief quiz to check for comprehension, as well as a section to retell the story. Finally, the teacher is required to view the student’s work and makes the decision to pass the student allowing him to choose another story, or continue working on the current story.

What we think–

As I mentioned, this program is designed for classroom use. Setting up the account was a bit cumbersome for one student. I am the school administrator. I also had to make myself the teacher with another user id and password and then assign my student to my class.  Read Naturally did provide thorough instructions to guide me through the process as well as additional help and video tutorials on-line. I was still confused for a while, but after the initial set-up I haven’t had any more difficulties.

Using the program itself is simple. My son was able to figure out what he was supposed to do with little input from me. We didn’t experience any technical difficulties with the program either.

The story selections consist of various science and history topics. My son has completed stories about the sun and polar bears. The history/biography selections are rather politically correct: Elizabeth Blackwell, Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carver, and Susan B. Anthony are the only ones available on my son’s level. I guess that’s to be expected in a program designed for use in the public schools.

The voice reading the stories may be annoying to some. It bothered my older son, but that was solved by using headphones so he didn’t have to hear it. (I should note that just about everything bothers my older son.)

I didn’t like that the quiz required at least one answer to be typed in by the student, nor did I like the retelling portion of the program for my son. I do see the value at more advanced levels. But I discovered that these can be skipped by just typing a word or two in the space and moving on. The teacher gets to decide whether or not to pass my student. So I can choose to skip the retelling, or have him orally narrate to me while I type.

My son does not like doing the lessons. However, I do not choose curriculum based solely on what my children like. I love seeing his reading speed increase as he practices the stories! I am also seeing improvement in his reading outside the program, both fluency and comprehension. It’s impossible to say how much of the credit for his reading improvement is due to Read Live. It could be a total coincidence, but I doubt it.

Will I continue with Read Live? Probably not now because of the expense. But the program has helped me to see the benefit of repeated reading. If I am unable to implement repeated reading in another manner, I would definitely consider this option.

You can read more reviews of Read Live at the Homeschool Crew blog. Read Naturally Live also offers a 60 day free trial. A 12-month subscription for one child is $149.

PhotobucketDisclosure: As a member of the Homeschool Crew,  I received a trial of Read Live in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Jun 072011

Last weekend I went to the NC Home Educators conference. While I was there, I purchased a resource that I have had my eye on for quite a while. It’s the Brain Integration Therapy Manual by Dianne Craft.

Brain ModelI listened to Dianne Craft at the Schoolhouse EXPO last fall. She talked about the 4 learning gates: Visual Processing, Visual/Motor (writing), Auditory Processing, and Attention/Focusing/Behavior. Each of these gates can be blocked, making it much harder for a child to learn. As she described the signs of each of these blocked learning gates, I sat with my mouth hanging open and almost in tears. In describing those who had these gates blocked, she was describing my 9 year old son.

But I didn’t purchase the Brain Integration Therapy book then. There were several reasons. Though the book is inexpensive compared to therapy, $58 is not what I consider inexpensive. Especially when the whole concept seemed a bit, well, odd. But I bookmarked Dianne Craft’s site and I didn’t forget about Brain Integration Therapy.

My son definitely made some progress this year. He is reading better, but I can see that his eyes are all over the page and he can’t remember sight words. He loses his place frequently. His writing has also improved, but he still struggles with making his letters the correct sizes and spacing them correctly on the page. We’ve been doing dictation this year. Once again, there has been improvement with practice but he still struggles to remember a short sentence long enough to write it down.

My husband has seen enough of these problems that he was willing to let me try the therapy. The therapy consists of 6 daily exercises and one weekly therapy session. We started last week learning the exercises. We’ve been adding in a new exercise every day. We will learn the last new exercise tomorrow and we will do our first brain training session on Friday.

So far I’m pleased. My son is basically cooperating. I’m not going to lie and say he loves it, but he’s tolerating it. One thing I have noticed is that these simple exercises are difficult for him. He has a very hard time keeping his eyes on his thumb as we move it in the pattern described in the manual. Hopefully that means that this training is going to be helpful for him!

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Jun 082010

I began to suspect that my younger son (8 years old) is dyslexic last fall. I don’t remember exactly how and why I began to be suspicious. Certainly the fact that he was still struggling to blend simple words together at 7-1/2 was disconcerting. I think it was when I was reviewing materials from AVKO and All About Spelling that I read the common symptoms of dyslexia and realized that he had many of them.

I started doing research, especially looking for homeschoolers who were teaching dyslexic children. Molly at Counter-cultural School has put together a fantastic article on Resources for the Dyslexic Child. Two of the books she recommends for parents are The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald Davis and Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. I read The Gift of Dyslexia first, and though interesting, I didn’t find much that was a practical help with me and my son at this point, because most of the book focused on retraining an older child.

Overcoming Dyslexia contains helpful information for me to use now. The book begins with The Nature of Reading and Dyslexia. It continues with Diagnosing Dyslexia and Helping Your Child Become a Reader and concludes with a section on Overcoming Dyslexia: Turning Struggling Readers into Proficient Readers. There was a thorough explanation of the differences in the brain function of a dyslexic person versus a “normal” reader. To summarize those differences, a dyslexic uses less efficient neural pathways for decoding words. I learned that systematic phonics instruction is the only effective way to teach dyslexic children to read (no surprise there), and that additional training in fluent reading is imperative.

One large oversight on the part of the author was her failure to mention homeschooling as a viable schooling option. I do not know whether she failed to mention the possibility because she is opposed to homeschooling, or if it is something that she has not even considered. I did find it an obvious option that was omitted in her chapter about choosing a school for your dyslexic child. In that chapter she mentioned the many shortcomings of both public and private schools and pushed her preferred option of special schools for children with reading disabilities. Since those schools are somewhat rare and tend to be located only in large metropolitan areas, I think that homeschooling is a much better option than enrolling your child in a substandard public or private school. Where can a child get more individual attention than at home? Where better to tailor the child’s curriculum to allow for different ways of learning?

Shaywitz also stated that “reading instruction should be left to the experts.” But what is a person to do who has no access to those “experts”? It was almost amusing to read how she said that children needed someone to be their champion and then detailed all of the extra practice a parent can be doing with her child, and yet she didn’t see the obvious possibility of a parent actually teaching their own child to read.

Obviously most homeschooling parents do not have advanced degrees in reading instruction, but when faced with a problem teaching our child, we look for solutions. We search for the cause of the problem and seek how to teach that child. We do research on what curriculum works, we continually evaluate our child’s progress, and we care more than anyone else about our child’s difficulties. That is the reason that I read Overcoming Dyslexia. After reading it, I am definitely more equipped to teach my son. And even if he doesn’t actually have dyslexia, the teaching methods described are applicable for teaching anyone to read.

Stepping off my soapbox now… This is the 20th book I’ve completed in the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. That puts me 3 books behind for the year. Fiction, here I come! Oh, and for the record, my links to Christian Book Distributors are affiliate links.

Nov 162009


AVKO is a non-profit, 501(C)3 membership organization that focuses on the development and production of materials and especially techniques to teach reading and spelling, handwriting (manuscript and cursive), and keyboarding. AVKO is dedicated to the teaching everyone how to read and spell, regardless of their mild to moderate learning disabilities, dyslexia, poverty, or opportunity.


As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschoool Crew, I received a membership to the AVKO Foundation in order to review its benefits. I had not heard of AVKO before seeing them listed on the Crew vendor list, but I had heard of one of their products: Sequential Spelling.

I’ve spent some time exploring the website and downloading much of the material that is included with the membership. From a purely financial standpoint, the membership is a good value. The value of the free downloads available to members far exceeds the cost of the membership. The question then is whether you need the material.

If you have children who have no difficulties with reading and are super spellers, then you probably wouldn’t be very interested in what AVKO has to offer. If, on the other hand, you have a child that is struggling to learn how to read, especially if you suspect dyslexia, then AVKO is an excellent resource.

A few years ago I would have had absolutely NO interest in this material. My oldest son learned to read at 4 years old. He reads well above his 6th grade level, and spells almost intuitively.

My older daughter, though not as easy to teach to read as my son, does read well. She was about 6 when blending sounds finally clicked, and she hasn’t had problems with reading since. Her spelling however, is an entirely different story. I’ve been looking for help with teaching her spelling. The problem is that I spell like my oldest does. I just know how to spell words. That of course, makes it difficult to teach someone else.

My younger son has had quite a struggle! He is 7-1/2 and we’re finally making progress. I think. Sometimes I think we’re getting nowhere because there are things he can read, and then the next day (or the next sentence) it’s like he hasn’t ever seen the word in his life! So, it is with him in mind that I will be looking further at the material from AVKO.

Here are the eBooks that are available for free with a membership to AVKO.

The Reading Teacher’s List of over 5,500 Spelling Words
The Patterns of English Spelling Volumes 1-10
To Teach a Dyslexic
The Teaching of Reading and Spelling
The Teaching of Reading and Spelling from Square One

In addition to the eBooks, there are mp3 recordings of seminars as well as some other resources, like dictation sentences and supplemental worksheets. Another benefit of membership is a 25% discount on all printed materials. (Like Sequential Spelling).

A year-long membership is only $25. I recommend that you explore the AVKO website and see if there are resources there that would help you teach reading and spelling to your children.

Disclosure: This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own.