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The Missing Link for Reading & Comprehension: PD Solutions and Support for Educators

Still Challenged By Reading

When a student is diagnosed with dyslexia, typical teaching methods tend to focus on phonics, sounding out words, or spelling rules. However, many students continue to struggle--even those who have had years of extra help.

Maybe they substitute words when reading a paragraph. For example, they may read ‘production’ instead of ‘perfection.’ Perhaps they sound out a word eventually—but it is slow and laboured. They may take so long to sound a word out that they miss the meaning of the text altogether.

For many students, even those who have received extensive reading support, sight word recognition remains difficult. They may attempt to use phonics strategies for most words—such as reading  /pee/ /oh/ /plee/ for the word ‘people.’ When they finally conquer a word, they might not recognise that same word in the next paragraph. Also, while a student may spell words phonetically, they are unable to remember the visual patterns of words (orthography). They may spell the word “friend” as “f-r-e-n-d.”

What is the missing connection for these students?

An important aspect of reading and spelling is symbol imagery, which underlies both phonological and orthographic processing. Symbol imagery—the ability to visualise the sounds and letters in words—is necessary for sounding out new words and quickly recognising letters and common words. Students who read fluently and are able to self-correct their errors have strong symbol imagery.

Traditional reading remediation programs normally focus on how to sound out words as well as reading and spelling rules. While these activities have value, they do not affect the imagery-language connection, and they do not change how a student is processing language. This is why reading may still be difficult for your dyslexic students, even after years of extra tutoring and accommodations.

The Seeing Stars® program, authored by Lindamood-Bell co-founder Nanci Bell, develops symbol imagery as a basis for orthographic awareness, phonemic awareness, word attack, word recognition, spelling, and contextual reading fluency.

When Comprehension is a Struggle

Students with decoding issues can be easy to spot. They often miscall words, their oral reading is slow and “choppy,” and spelling is tough to master.

Unfortunately, there are many students who have a different, separate learning issue that is often not properly identified and is never addressed. Hidden in plain sight, many students have a learning weakness that prevents them from comprehending the language they read and hear.

These students with have difficulty recalling what they’ve read. They might get some parts or details but may have difficulty remembering a book or story as a whole. Homework and schoolwork relying on their understanding of the text will be difficult, and they may not enjoy reading for pleasure.

Students with weak comprehension can be prone to poor decision making. Thinking through the implications and consequences of their actions may be challenging because they are only processing parts and may not “see” the big picture. Additionally, they may have difficulty with problem-solving methods required in maths and science.

Many students with language comprehension weakness may also have poor writing skills because they lack the imagery for the gestalt (whole). Without the “big picture” idea for their topic, a student will have a hard time coming up with a strong paragraph. The ability to generate the main idea, offer supporting details, make inferences, and end with a conclusion that is cohesive and well organised is challenging for this student.

These students can become overwhelmed after more than one or two directions (“I’ll meet you at the car. Bring your tennis shoes. . .”). Directions from teachers and parents may appear to go in one ear and out the other--without a connection--and they seem unable to focus on what they are told.

 What’s the Cause

Problems with reading comprehension may be due to weak concept imagery—the ability to create an imaged gestalt (whole) from oral and written language. This weakness causes individuals to get only “parts” of information they read or hear, but not the whole, and can often undermine the reading and thinking process.

The Visualizing and Verbalizing® program, also authored by Lindamood-Bell co-founder Nanci Bell, develops concept imagery as a basis for comprehension and higher order thinking. The development of concept imagery improves reading and listening comprehension, memory, oral vocabulary, critical thinking, and writing.


The Seeing Stars and Visualizing and Verbalizing programs are research-validated. For more information, including recent research published in the journal Nature regarding Seeing Stars from the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington (UW), go to www.lindamoodbell.com/research.

Upcoming Teacher Workshops

Coming up this May, educators can learn how to help their students by attending one of our online workshops! After the workshop, keep those skills sharp all year with our Refresh & Refine courses or the Imagery-Language Connection—an exclusive learning community featuring resources and ongoing professional development. To register go to www.lindamoodbell.com/workshop-schedule.

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