Imagine if you will, a pipeline spanning the field of education from reception/kindergarten, right through year twelve. This pipeline is long and broad, and all students are freshly siphoned into the pipeline at the onset of their academic career. Certainly there are a few branches for those who are gifted or those with a propensity for math, science, or one particular subject, but ultimately, the pipeline successfully ends in the same place for all students and they enter the adult world educated and erudite. Well, in theory anyway. But what happens to those students who deviate from this pipeline? What about the ones who enter the world predisposed to slide down a divergent path and are flushed from the system, either in the middle or at the end, without the requisite skills we expect from everyone else? Why is it that one fact remains constant in education: students with learning differences stray from the path early in their education, and most find it exceptionally difficult to return.
Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes® is a recognised leader in the remediation of learning difficulties ranging from Dyslexia to Hyperlexia, as well as Autism Spectrum Disorders. Students at Lindamood-Bell centres and school projects receive intensive sensory-cognitive treatment in either a one-to-one, or group environment. The therapy is designed to stimulate, then stabilise the processing systems in the brain that underlie solid reading and language comprehension and expression, so that they may find their way back to the pipeline.
One of the major obstacles to a successful education is the inability to read and spell fluently. There exists reams of research on the topic of dyslexia, and experts are now generally in agreement that the most useful methods of reading instruction are those that stimulate the brain to automatically recognise the number, the order, and the identity of sounds within words. This is known as Phonemic Awareness, and is the foundational skill that allows a child to understand, and then consciously implement phonics. However, new data indicates that this is only part of the picture.
Research conducted by Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes® points to another, perhaps more important piece of the puzzle. The brain must not only auditorily perceive, but also visually represent, sounds, letters, and words. This is known as Symbol Imagery (SI) and it appears to be a major factor in the creation of both independent reading fluency, as well as orthographic spelling. The Seeing Stars® programme by Nanci Bell directly stimulates the underlying processes of both phonemic awareness and symbol imagery.
Students are first gauged on their ability to visually represent consonant and vowel sounds. Although we certainly do need to auditorily perceive the sound for the letter ‘B’ we do not track words on the page with “grunts and groans.” Rather, our symbol imagery takes that sound information and turns it into a visual representation in our mind. We must be able to picture the letter “B’ in order to be able to consistently recognise and use it on the page. Similarly, this process extends to the development of a sight-word vocabulary, and also the base for proper orthographic spelling. Words must be pictured and deposited into a visualised “index” so we are not forced to decode or guess at every step.
Ultimately, the goal is to build the student’s auditory and visual processing systems to the level of independence so that they may show strong fluency on the page. Once these underlying sensory-cognitive functions are stimulated, the child experiences success at every level, and re-enters the pipeline with renewed confidence and vigor. Of course, there are countless numbers of well documented cases of the student that can read well, sometimes far above their age level, but does not understand the language on the page. They will also typically exhibit difficulties in comprehending and using spoken language. This can be a devastating problem, as it affects not only the tasks they are being asked to accomplish in school, but also situations in their general life.
These are the students who may be labeled Attention-Deficit, Hyperlexic, or perhaps may even be on the Autistic spectrum. Yet, their true underlying weakness is based on an inability to properly dual-code language. Allan Paivio, author of the Dual Coding Theory (DCT) and a cognitive psychologist, stated, “Cognition is proportional to the extent that mental representations (imagery) and language are integrated.” Research from the 1970s and into the 1990s has validated Dr. Paivio’s work as a viable model of human cognition and its practical, as well as theoretical, application to the comprehension of language (Bell, 1991). Dr. Paivio believes that in order to think and understand, humans must be able to simultaneously generate imagery and corresponding language to describe that imagery. Nanci Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing® programme (V/V), has been described by Dr. Paivio as “Dual Coding Theory in practise.” The goal of V/V is to develop the sensory-cognitive function of concept imagery—the brain’s ability to form an imaged gestalt from language—in order to improve and stabilise reading and language comprehension, as well as verbal and written expression.
Other difficulties directly affected by the development of concise concept imagery include such higher order thinking skills as main idea, conclusion, inference, prediction, and evaluation. These critical thinking skills are applied to following directions and problem solving tasks, as well as general language comprehension and expression. The student can then perform cognitive tasks previously unable to be performed in relation to language and literacy development, as they are now able to visualise and comprehend the gestalt (the whole) of language, rather than the parts. Students who stray from the pipeline should never be viewed as lost causes. Their difficulties can, and should be remediated. The paradigm of reading instruction (see inset) is a simple concept to understand, but unfortunately, it is not applied often enough. Student success in reading and language comprehension is reliant upon the complete integration of the entire sensory-cognitive processing system, not just one piece. Those parts that are not functioning properly can be directly stimulated to the level of independence.