As you’ve heard me mention many times before, dyslexia affects 1 in 5 children. As a reading tutor, you are going to come across this more than once. I am excited to share with you how Jennifer Lynn Hoffman of WYN Dyslexia Specialists prepares for her students. She also shares her story and tells us a little about the training she received. The training has been key for Jennifer to be able to fill her tutoring business to capacity, have a wait list, and be able to leave her day job behind. Enjoy-Adrianne
Exactly a year ago, I began my tutoring business. I was a substitute teacher, and I needed summer income. I had to do something, and teaching was what I did best. Little did I know that I would be a dyslexia specialist today.
I started with 4 children who were being threatened with retention by their respective school districts due to deficiencies in reading and math, but reading was the bigger issue. One boy puzzled me. He was 5 and in kindergarten. He was inquisitive, mechanically inclined, loved Lego and drawing, yet he couldn’t remember the names of his letters or letter sounds. What was the missing piece?
I started my quest to solve this mystery. I researched. I read countless articles, and lost many hours of sleep trying to figure out how to help this smart boy. I kept coming across websites for dyslexia. He had so many of the warning signs. So, after a discussion with his mom, we decided to proceed as if that was what he was struggling with.
Training to be a Dyslexia Specialist
That was the pebble that started the ball rolling for me to become a dyslexia specialist. I was a trained teacher, but I had NO training in dyslexia. I decided in July to commit to tutoring my students with the Barton Reading & Spelling System. Training was made very easy as it is all done via DVD’s or online videos for each level.
The Barton Reading & Spelling System is a Orton-Gillingham influenced, researched, and independently tested program created my Susan Barton. Mrs. Barton was trained in several different Orton-Gillingham programs. When she created her system, she combined the best practices of each system into one.
Every student who begins with the Barton System must be screened, so I know that a student is ready to begin the program. To date, I’ve taken two students through levels 1-3, and they are currently working in level 4. Two more of my students are in Level 3 currently. One student is in level 2, and another is in level 1. A creative tutor can take a “boxed” program, and make it individualized for each student.
Sometimes a child doesn’t pass the Barton Student Screening. If that happens, I start them in the Lindamood-Bell LiPS program. I took a 3-day training for that program last fall. It has proven to be very beneficial for the students who come to me that need more work on phonemic awareness.
Training doesn’t end there. This summer I will be taking Susan Barton’s 6-day Dyslexia Screeners Summer Seminar. Since teacher training programs don’t teach their students about dyslexia, all training that a dyslexia specialist receives is often self-paid and self-sought.
Other training options exist through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, Wilson Language Training, and other places. I looked at the time I had to devote to training and the programs that offered training. I also looked at the ease of use of each program. After weighing my options, I decide to use the Barton Reading & Spelling System.
Assessing and Lesson Planning
When a new student comes to me, I assess them all with the Let’s Go Learn DORA. This is a reading assessment for grades K-12. It does not diagnose or screen for dyslexia, but it does give me a beginning benchmark for my students. I’m also very interested in their score on the spelling subtest as poor spelling is a classic warning sign of dyslexia.
Lesson planning with Barton is very easy as I have a progress chart that is included with each level. Some levels have a few lessons with a few procedures, but the higher levels have many lessons with several procedures. I keep moving through the procedures as my students master the material. Usually this happens in one lesson. However, sometimes they need a repeat lesson on the same material.
As the tutor/teacher, I’m responsible for mastery. That means I keep the student where they are until they master with 95-100% accuracy the material in the procedure/lesson. One of my dear students struggles terribly with auditory processing and phonemic awareness. He’s been working on LiPS and Barton Level 1 since October. We are staying where we are until we achieve mastery. Some days it’s a two steps forward and one step back experience.
Spelling tests, fluency exercises, and games can be added to the Barton System to create a more individualized experience. All my students love games. I make sure I set aside about 10 minutes at the end of every session for games. I find that my elementary students definitely need this to end the session on a positive note. What I ask them to do during the tutoring session is often difficult. I don’t want them to feel like all tutoring is a big struggle.
Patience and passion are the key prerequisites for working with dyslexic children. Many of my students also have dysgraphia which is an issue with the actual act of writing. I am a huge fan of
Handwriting Without Tears. I include work on handwriting in each tutoring session. Some also have ADHD, dyspraxia, CAPD, and other co-existing conditions.
I keep a plastic, three-pronged folder for each student. I use lesson planning sheets to help me keep track of what will be reviewed, introduced, and notes on the session. This is very useful for my students who are in the Lindamood-Bell LiPS program as there is no progress chart to follow.
Each child also has a composition notebook. This is where they keep all their written work. If a student is in the LiPS program, they will have pages for the brother pairs, cousins, etc. Many of my students also keep a sounds page. The sounds page is where I write down the sound they need to work on, and they draw a picture to remind them of what the sound is. For example, for the sound /sh/ they might draw a ship or a shoe. We review these sound pages first each session.
Using the Barton system and being experienced in the LiPS program means that I actually spend very little time creating lesson plans. The plans are all there. My job becomes using the material to meet the needs of the child. This is where understanding if the child needs to slow down, back up, or change directions becomes important.
Working with dyslexic children is not a short-term experience. Many of the children will be with their tutor for 2-3 years. In that time, the tutor learns the needs of the child and how to meet them. Teaching this special group of students is a joy and not a job. I’ve become so busy in the last year that I no longer substitute teach. Tutoring is my career.
Bio: Jennifer Lynn Hoffman is a certified teacher who lives in Buffalo, NY with her three teenaged daughters who haven’t flown the nest yet, her husband, and their two cats. Jennifer if the founder and director of WNY Dyslexia Specialists, LLC where students reach for the star! WNY Dyslexia Specialists, LLC offers success for struggling readers. http://www.wnydyslexiaspecialists.com/