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The Missing Link for Reading & Comprehension | Lindamood-Bell

Improving Reading Comprehension

Still Challenged By Reading

When a student is struggling with reading or 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 laboured. 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 recognise 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?

Student using the Seeing Stars program

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 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, 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, 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 with 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.Student Sounding Out Words

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 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 wrap up 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.Student Using Learning Tools


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

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