Giving Struggling Readers the Opportunity to Succeed: The Lindamood-Bell Method
Learning how to read is more than learning the sounds that letters represent, combining those sounds to create words, and then stringing those words together to create ideas. Reading is a process that engages every part of the brain, combining the sensory and the cognitive on multiple levels. For some people though, and among all age levels, the connections that allow one to automatically process text may not work perfectly. Reading can be a constant struggle, if not an impossible task, preventing these otherwise intelligent people from becoming educated in other areas, and from fully enjoying life.
Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes is an enormously successful tutoring program that for 25 years now has led the field in developing solutions to these reading difficulties, achieving consistently strong outcomes for even the most challenged of students, whether they be young children, adults studying for their GED, or anyone in between. Created in 1986 by speech therapist Patricia Lindamood and reading specialist Nanci Bell, the Lindamood-Bell organization has expanded from its origins in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to 47 different learning sites around the world, including sites in London and Sydney. This year, Lindamood-Bell celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Educators have long debated which method works best for improving reading comprehension. Some have stressed using phonics to sound out and introduce new words; others emphasize the importance of contextual clues in reading. Rather than focus on just one method of reading, Lindamood-Bell’s curriculum draws on all of these methods so that these skills can work in unison to strengthen comprehension. In a preliminary diagnostic test, students are evaluated in all of these areas. Instructors then tailor their one-on-one instruction to each student based on their individual strengths and weaknesses.
In order to bolster the connections between mere words and comprehension, Jennifer Egan, center director of the New York and Bronxville/Westchester sites, said that she hopes to help students “make movies in their minds,” thereby stimulating both the sensory and the cognitive parts of the brain while reading.
“Only by connecting the sensory to the cognitive can there be a difference in learning,” Egan said. “The goal is to build the associations between words and imagery until they become automatic.”
Lindamood-Bell’s results have been impressive. “On average, after about 100 hours of Lindamood-Bell instruction, students have increased their reading levels by one to two full grade levels,” Egan said. These gains are confirmed by neurological studies conducted at the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University Medical Center and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. They have shown a measurable increase in gray matter volume for students with dyslexia who have undergone cognitive and sensory training — much like the kind of training that Lindamood-Bell provides.
This kind of first-class instruction does not come cheap. Each program, which runs four hours a day for six weeks, costs approximately $2,340 per week — about $112 per hour, Egan said. However, it is hard to argue with success. How else could Lindamood-Bell attract students from places such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the Phillipines, places where there is no such kind of special instruction, to attend their programs? This summer, approximately 100 students will take classes at Lindamood-Bell’s Manhattan location alone.
Simply from the atmosphere of the Manhattan center, it is easy to see that students appreciate the program. Students sit one-on-one with their instructors in rapt attention. In spite of the intensive work required of them, they seem enthusiastic rather than discouraged. Break time is boisterous and fun, with children running around the room, playing hot potato and blowing bubbles from wands. This July 4th, Lindamood-Bell even hosted a celebration for their students — along with classes for the day.
“The New York City population is very much underserved,” Egan said. Right now, she has her eye on establishing another site for New York City, either downtown, on the Upper West Side, or in Brooklyn.
“But our first goal is to get through the summer,” she laughed, as several children ran past her. Difficult as the job may be, Egan isn’t complaining. Providing help to students who most need it, while also running a thriving business — what’s not to like? #