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The Missing Link for Reading & Comprehension

Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes

Still Challenged by Reading

by Brilliana Rawlins, Manager of International Endeavors, Lindamood-Bell for Schools

When a student has been diagnosed with dyslexia, extra help typically focuses on phonics or sounding out words, and spelling rules. However, many students, even those who have had years of extra help, continue to struggle.

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

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 recognize that same word when they encounter it 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 visualize the sounds and letters in words—is necessary for sounding out new words and quickly recognizing letters and common words. Students who read fluently, and are able to self-correct their errors, have strong symbol imagery.

Traditional reading remediation programs focus on how to sound out words and reading and spelling rules. While these activities have value, they do not affect the imagery-language connection. 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.

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, therefore, 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 will have difficulty recalling what they’ve read. They might get parts or some 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. 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, they may not “see” the big picture. Additionally, they may have difficulty with problem-solving methods required in math 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 wrap up with a conclusion that is cohesive and well organized 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.

Evidence-based Research on Sensory-Cognitive Instruction

Reading is a cognitive act, consisting of language and imagery.  Instruction must align with a theory of cognition to make a difference for students.  Recent research examining the role of symbol imagery and concept imagery in a process-based instructional method utilizing knowledge from reading, neurology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, and mathematics can be accessed here: 


Brilliana Rawlins, Manager of International Endeavors, Lindamood-Bell for Schools

Brilliana has been working in education for 20 years, with a background in secondary mathematics. Since 2005, Brilliana has been with Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes and has engaged in professional learning in over 40 states and 10 countries, training thousands of educators in the evidence-based programs authored by Lindamood-Bell’s founders. She has facilitated a wide range of initiatives, including special education grants, second language acquisition, and dyslexia law implementation. As the Manager of International Endeavors for Schools, Brilliana collaborates with educators from around the globe on a daily basis. She currently lives in Reno, Nevada.


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