What May be Missing When Your Reader Struggles?


When a student struggles with reading, extra help typically focuses on sounding out words and 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 laboured. They may take so long to sound out the word that 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 individuals, even those who have received extensive reading instruction, recognising 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 recognise that same word when they encounter it in the next paragraph.


What is the missing connection 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 recognising 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 create the imagery-language connection. 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 simulates imagery.


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


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

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