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Lindamood-Bell Offers Strategies & Hope for Children Who Struggle with Literacy

By Emily Sherwood, Ph.D.

The story reads like a feel-good movie script: In 1998, the high poverty and heavily minority school district of Pueblo, Colorado began providing intensive remedial reading instruction to its 4,300 children. By 2005, the district’s scores on the state achievement test for third graders skyrocketed from rock bottom to the second highest in the state. The reason? The district had partnered with Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, a for-profit organization that teaches children how to read, spell, comprehend and express language in 43 learning centers throughout the United States and London.

Situated in an Upper East Side townhouse, the serene and stately exterior of New York City’s Lindamood-Bell office belies the buzz of activity taking place on its third floor. Within cubicles for students who are learning to work amidst the ambient noise of their peers, or private rooms for those who aren’t yet ready for distraction, specially trained teachers are working one-on-one with children on a variety of targeted reading strategies. An adolescent boy struggles to read a paragraph about the desert, stumbling over the word ‘limestone,’ but does better a second time around; an 18 year old girl attempts to use vocabulary to describe simplistic pictures, such as a flamingo or a woman walking a dog.

The literacy strategies used to help these students—many who come with symptoms of dyslexia, auditory/sensory processing disorders, ADD/ADHD, and autism—are all based on solid research which is constantly being updated at the research and development facility in San Luis Obispo, California, the site of the original Lindamood-Bell center (founded in 1986). “Everything at Lindamood-Bell is based on the dual coding theory,” explains Clinical Director and Regional Manager Liz Craynon. “Cognition is proportional to the extent to which we integrate letters within a word and pictures of the word…If I say ‘cat’ we can picture the letters ‘c-a-t’ or we can picture a little gray thing that meows. Sometimes a child’s skills are a little stronger on the decoding side versus comprehension, and sometimes they’re a little stronger on the comprehension side versus decoding…And sometimes they’re a little bit of both.” For every learning goal, there’s a specifically tailored remedial program. For example, for learners who need decoding skills, the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program, known as LiPS, “talks about feeling sounds in our mouth,” explains Craynon. “Each sound in the English language is assigned a simplified linguistic label. A ‘t’ is a ‘tongue tapper’ and an ‘s’ is a ‘smile sound’…We try to ask students to say what the letter feels like,” a strategy that helps them get past their initial obstacle, their inability to break words down. So for learners who cannot differentiate the disparate sounds embedded within a word, they can feel their lips, tongue, and mouth forming shapes. “We stimulate the sensory system to help make sense of the printed word,” sums up Craynon.

Positive reinforcement is a key component of the Lindamood-Bell learning strategy. Younger children get to pick rewards out of a prize box when they achieve positive results; older children may redeem star cards for coveted gift certificates.

It’s no easy task to teach literacy, especially to an at-risk kid who may not have benefited from early intervention, and Lindamood-Bell requires a fairly intense time commitment. Students typically commit to four hour blocks of instruction per day, five days a week (oftentimes schools will allow them to miss part of the school day, and many choose to attend during the summer); the good news is, the average length of time needed to achieve success is a surprising six to eight weeks. The price tag is not cheap—the rate is $105 an hour—but about half their clients are publicly reimbursed by the Department of Education if they can demonstrate that the program is essential for the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Craynon herself spends a lot of time on the phone assisting families obtain public reimbursement for their services as part of their impartial hearings process.

With demonstrable success in closing the achievement gap, Lindamood-Bell is still seeking to cast its net more widely to help more children reach their learning potential. “That might mean expanding into the school system [currently most instruction is done on-site at the Lindamood-Bell office], and that also may mean opening other centers,” adds Craynon. They’re looking at opening a downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn office, and maybe one in Westchester County. Even Australia and Asia are within their sights; each center would be aligned with an American school as part of a global outreach effort. There’s even thought of a philanthropic endeavor, a mission that might help poor African children attain literacy. “We have big goals,” sums up Craynon simply as she greets waiting parents at the end of a long day. “We started one little reading center in San Luis Obispo twenty years ago and now it’s a multimillion dollar organization….Nanci Bell always says ‘We can do this. We can do anything!’” Not a bad motto for a company whose logo, Pegasus, is a reminder of the human ability to sprout wings and realize one’s dreams.#



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