I skim down the word list, looking for something that fits the challenge level of the student I’m working with. It needs to be complex, which means two consonants before and/or after the vowel sound.
“Here we go,” I say, putting the paper down in front of Sarah and pointing to the word.
Sarah looks at the word, scanning it for vowels. She stabs her finger at the word. “The vowels are… e and a .”
I glance down to be sure we’re still looking at the same word. Greapt . Yep, so now we have to probe a little. “Could those two vowels be working together?”
She squints at the word for a moment before the lightbulb comes on. “Oh! Umm, so the vowel sound is ae .”
“Check your card,” I suggest, nudging the index card closer to her. Each student has one, filled with ways to remember things we can expect letters to do. “What’s our rule? When two vowels go walking…”
“The first one does the talking! The vowel is ee !” She looks up, beaming.
“Great! Now let’s look at the rest of the word.”
Sarah knits her brows as she examines the word. “Greaft.”
I immediately cover the word with my hand to prevent any back-tracking or wild guessing. “When you say ‘greaft,’ what do you feel right after that ee sound?”
Sarah says the word slowly, “G-r-ee-f-t… f .”
“Awesome noticing. Now, tell me what feeling that f is in your mouth.”
Sarah made the sound carefully, planting her upper teeth on her lips and blowing out hard without engaging her voicebox. “It’s a quiet lip cooler.”
“Perfect! Now, how do we spell that quiet lip cooler?”
I remove my hand. “Let’s check our word and see if it’s a lip cooler we see there.”
“Oh, no, it’s a p , a lip-popper!” Sarah exclaims, mimicking the motion of making the p sound.
“So that makes our word…”
“Greapt!” Sarah says, bouncing excitedly in her chair.
“Yep! Excellent thinking! Now, let’s write it out.”
Sarah covers the letters with her left hand and writes on the line next to it, carefully enunciating each sound.
“G-r-ea-p-t.” She uncovers the word and checks her letters. “I got it!”
A seemingly simple error may not be so easy for a student with dyslexia to recognize or correct. That’s because the brain isn’t processing the sound buried in the spoken word. Our staff is trained to lead students to find another way to perceive the sound–by feeling what the mouth does to make the sound. Then thinking about the letters to go with those sounds gets much easier, and eventually, with enough practice, the student’s brain DOES begin to recognize or “process” what it’s hearing. Sarah was able to correct her mistake because she felt a lip-cooler in her word and was able to identify that that sound was linked to a letter not in the word in front of her. After about 100 hours of this guidance from us, we expect Sarah to be self-correcting and no longer need us. Now THAT will be fun!