A Missing Connection for Struggling Readers

When a student struggles with reading, extra help typically focuses on sounding out words and on spelling rules. Unfortunately, after months of hard work and frustration, many students continue to struggle with year-level text.


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


For many individuals, even those who have received extensive reading instruction, recognizing common words 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.


What’s missing for these students?

An important aspect of reading and spelling is symbol imagery, which is the foundation of oral (phonological) and written (orthographic) language processing. Symbol imagery is the ability to create mental representations (imagery) for the sounds and letters (symbols) within the words. This connection of imagery and language is necessary for sounding out new words, as well as quickly recognizing letters and common words.


Students who read fluently, and are able to self-correct their errors, have strong symbol imagery.


Traditional literacy instruction focuses on how to sound out words, as well as reading and spelling rules. While these activities have value, they do not establish the imagery-language foundation. They do not change how a student is processing language. This is why reading may still be difficult for your child.


At Lindamood-Bell, we believe that symbol imagery is the first and most important sensory input for literacy. During instruction, our teachers use language that brings imagery to consciousness for our students. Rather than asking, “How do you spell ‘top’?”, we ask: “What letters do you see for ‘top’? This simple but carefully phrased question directly and explicitly stimulates imagery.


Improved symbol imagery changes how a student reads and spells, regardless of age or a history of struggling with literacy—including those students with a previous diagnosis of dyslexia.


Watch a testimonial from a parent who sheds light on some of the common learning myths and calls our program a “myth-buster.”



If you have concerns about your child’s reading, get in touch with your local learning center to get started: Double Bay (02) 9328 7119 | Chatswood (02) 9410 1006

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