Reading without Understanding

Reading without Understanding

By Kathy Kuhl        “You just read it! Can’t you remember what you read?”

We all have days like that. But the answer is always “no” for some children, teens, and adults. For them, sounding out words from letters on a page is so hard, they have no attention left for holding onto the meaning of those sounds. So they struggle to read fluently and with comprehension.

How can we help them?

Some kids—under seven years of age—just need more time to learn to read. Others need an experienced tutor. But some, like one of mine, need someone with years of specific training in teaching dyslexics. Many fall in between.

This post has some suggestions. If you’d like a fuller explanation, see the chapter on reading in Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner.

Not All Reading Help is Equal

Some of our children and teens just need more practice and a little extra help. I’ll list some favorite materials below.

For those who need more help, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) warns us parents to be wise shoppers:

IDA cautions parents who are looking for instructors, clinicians, schools, and programs to be very thorough in their review of programs and services that claim to treat dyslexia or “cure” dyslexia.  In this era of internet advertising, claims are frequently made about therapies and treatment programs that have little or no scientific merit.

Anyone can say their approach in “multi-sensory” or “Orton-Gillingham-based” or“brain-based.”

[Does the phrase “brain-based learning” bother anyone besides me? What else do they expect us to learn with? Maybe I’ll give a seminar on EBL—Elbow-Based Learning—someday!]

Finding a Good Program

IDA has useful articles on understanding different kinds of reading programs. They have published many helpful Fact Sheets, which are linked in the Resources section at the end of this post. Happily, they even have one recommending homeschooling!

IDA has also created criteria for effective training centers for teachers.  Their link to two lists of accredited educator preparation programs (independent and part of higher education institutions) is in this article. I hope for the day this training is mandatory for elementary teacher certification. 

There are many good programs, but others that merely claim to follow “the science of reading.” But if you’ve got a bright student who has struggled for years to learn to read, or who can sound out words (decode) but doesn’t read fluently or with comprehension, IDA’s information may help you find what you need.

Other Options

Some kids respond well to basic phonics instruction. If your child needs more details, however, teaching reading using an Orton-Gillingham-based approach such as Reading Reflex, Barton Reading, or Alphabetic Phonics at home may do the trick. These approaches teach the parents more about how to teach.

They also teach a lot more detail than your average phonics instruction. For example, how many of us can name the seven different pronunciations of “-ough”? Most of us just picked that up, or memorized words. So we can read tough, trough, bough, dough, bought, through–and if we are real reading geeks, we know that hiccough is another way to spell hiccup. But irregular pronunciations like these are not always obvious.

Looking for More Help?

The potential problem with all these programs–and others that teach parents how to use an Orton-Gillingham (aka Multisensory Structured Language, or MSL) approach–is that we are learning on the job. But your child may need more than a novice instructor. With my son’s difficulties, getting someone with more training and experience helped. If that’s your situation, how do you find the help you need?

You may find a Wilson tutor helps. For a child, teen, or adult with difficulties with comprehension, make sure your Wilson Tutor has their Level II training.

Lexercise (see link below) provides long-distance instruction by a trained instructor over a secure internet connection.

Expert programs around the country certify professionals in Multisensory Structured Language, or MSL, instruction. IMSLEC (the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council) certifies training centers. You can call or write one near you and ask for a list of certified specialists (see link below).

The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (see link below) also accredits training programs and can help you find a qualified instructor.

Academic Therapists

I’ve had the privilege of taking classes at one of the centers approved by IMSLEC, the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center in Rockville, Maryland. ASDEC is an excellent place to get training in teaching reading to dyslexics. They are certified by IMSLEC to train people as “Certified Academic Language Therapists,” or academic therapists. These academic therapists have the equivalent of a masters in teaching reading to dyslexics, and have to complete  100 700* hours practice teaching to be certified.

To find an academic therapist or a training center in the US, visit the IMSLEC website. Under “Membership,” choose “MSL Courses.” There you’ll see an option to search by zip code. If you are looking for an academic therapist, contact the nearest training center. 

(Other excellent training centers are listed at the Orton Academy website, below.)

There are also a few academic therapists already practicing in my area. I know several homeschooling parents who are getting trained. We need more! Once a mother in New York told me that when she realized she had more than one child with dyslexia, she saw it was cheaper to get trained herself than to pay for specialized instruction for both children. 

Your local training center may know therapists in training who are completing their 100 hours practicum. They may have some slots available.

Don’t Be Discouraged

When you are smart but struggle to read, it’s easy to think you are not smart. That’s why I love, because of its rich library of videos about famous dyslexics.

If anyone else came up with the title “Dyslexic Advantage,” I would have been skeptical. But founders and authors Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide are legitimate, respected researchers. They work with the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. (Read that again; there are links between dyslexia and several kinds of creativity!) The Eides also wrote two great books: The Dyslexic Advantage and The Mislabeled Child.

What are your favorite resources to help with reading comprehension? Please share them below.


* Thanks to alert reader Jill B. for this correction.

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  1. Jill Bender says:

    I attended one of your talks at a fellow homeschooler’s home many years ago. It was even before I was a homeschooler. I didn’t know then that I would have 2 struggling learners. I read your most recent post and thank you for sharing resources and ideas with others regarding dyslexia. I am one of those homeschooling moms who has plunged into academic language therapy through ASDEC. If it weren’t for my son, I would never have applied myself in this area. It’s hard work but very fruitful as I work with my children and others. The time spent in classes and the 700 practicum teaching hours consume much of my time, but I have learned a lot and it’s wonderful to see its benefits. Thank you for helping other homeschoolers be aware of their options. I tried several Orton-Gillingham programs with my son to no avail. He needs a diagnostic approach so the program can be tailored to his needs. It’s slow but steady, and we are on our way to an independent reader some day 🙂
    Thank you
    Jill Bender

    1. Jill, thanks for the correction, the encouragement, and the description of your experience getting training to help you help your children. How wonderful that your son’s hard work, and yours, are causing steady progress. I wish I’d known about this training when I was homeschooling.