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The Big Five Supplemental Resources

Categories: Assistive Technology, Learning Disabilities

By guest blogger Lorna Wooldridge, dyslexia specialist tutor.

Student Writing in ClassroomIn a recent blog I wrote for the Orton-Gillingham Online Academy (OGOA) on “The National Reading Panel and The Big Five”, I explained what exactly “The Big Five” are, and why they are so important for reading. I plan to blog extensively about each one in the next few months, again for the OGOA, and will include resources and ideas that parents, teachers and tutors, can use with their struggling readers. I hope you will check in on those through the OGOA blog page. Today, I’m going to include five online supplementary resources which we have used in our tutoring practice, Wise owl Services, and which our students use at home to address the “Big Five.” 

1. Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

We have been using the HearBuilder program with all our students for almost a year. Since it is only practical for us to work on phonological and phonemic awareness skills for about 10 minutes during a 60-minute session, we have found it a very useful supplement. The Phonological Awareness program is the first of four that we use with our students. This program is available for individuals, tutoring practices, and schools. As an administrator, I can limit the programs available to each student, until they are ready to move into other areas. I can also set the difficulty level, and skip a student onto a higher level if they are finding the work too easy. 

To control the order in which I want the activities to be played, I make sure the parents of each student know what they should be doing to reinforce what I am teaching in our face-to-face sessions. I regularly monitor each student’s progress and keep their parents informed. 

I have found HearBuilder to be both very effective and reasonably priced, offering far more than the phonological and phonemic awareness skills. For evidence that this program is effective for developing phonological and phonemic awareness skills follow this link. 

2. Phonics

I have been part of a trial for two online phonic programs, neither of which we currently offer through our practice, mainly because of the cost of a tutoring practice subscription, though our families found them useful reinforcement exercises. A couple of these families have continued to use one of these two programs. 

Nessy is a very colorful and fun program, but generally only appeals to younger children. It is possible for an administrator to turn off certain elements (islands,) so students can only discover activities and practice the phonics they have been taught in our sessions. Personally, I found it much harder to administer than HearBuilder. 

For educational establishments, Reading Horizons offers a number of online programs for different ages. They also sell a home version, for individuals. As part of the trial, I received free training, and I was extremely impressed by both the training and the program. The difficulty using this program might be that for certain concepts, a tutor may use different methods to those used in this program. Reading Horizons, like other online tools, has a particular way of teaching syllabication, and if their teacher or tutor teaches something different, students may become confused. However, I feel this program does have lots to offer teachers, tutors, and parents, and maybe a possible option where a tutor isn’t available. To be effective in these kinds of situations, a parent needs to take the Reading Horizons training and use the online program in conjunction with the manual and other materials. 

3. Fluency

Student Using Learning Ally There are several fluency programs available on the market, but I actually prefer the audiobook services offered by Learning Ally. They offer human narrated books, and the ability for students to simultaneously follow the text with their eyes helps develop prosody. This process also encourages orthographic mapping of phonemes to letters in words on the page, and sight word recognition is developed as the student is exposed time and again to words they might struggle with if they had to decode the text. As the student isn’t having to work so hard to decode the text, they can focus on comprehension and understanding what they are “ear reading and eye following.” To quote from Learning Ally:

Exposure to human-read audiobooks can significantly enhance a struggling reader's ability to read more fluently and to make deeper contextual meaning to content.May 23rd, 2018.

Plus, students just love being able to access the books!

4. Vocabulary 

In our practice, we have been using InferCabulary for over a year now,  and we have just renewed our subscription. InferCabulary is a web-based, visual vocabulary and reasoning program that uses the Semantic Reasoning Method. Through a verbal mountain climbing challenge, it uses pictorial and audio examples that illustrate the meaning and nuance behind words such as “ascent”, “seldom”, and “cluster”. You can see a demonstration using this link. 

To discover more about the program and their subscription plans, please visit their website. The program is easy to administer, reasonably priced and allows you to track words with which a student is struggling. We incorporate these struggle words into our sessions to teach and reinforce them. InferCabulary includes words from books students are typically expected to read at each grade level, allowing the vocabulary for these to be understood ahead of reading the book. 
The visual/auditory approach also make this a useful program for building vocabulary knowledge in students who are nonverbal, or for whom English is their second language. 

5. Comprehension

Student Comprehending with AudiobooksThis is where I return to two of the programs I previously mentioned: Learning Ally and HearBuilder. Learning Ally develops comprehension by allowing a student to focus on understanding the text and gaining meaning, rather than all their energy going into decoding. It doesn’t directly teach individual comprehension strategies, such as inference skills, but it can certainly be used to develop a student’s background knowledge in a certain subject. HearBuilder’s other programs, which include Following Directions, Sequencing, and Auditory Memory, all help develop a child’s ability to comprehend a text. 

I hope you have found today’s blog helpful. I ’d love to hear from you. You can find my contact info on my website, and check out  Lorna’s Resources while you are there. If you have further suggestions for “Big Five” online supplemental resources, or questions about the ones I have suggested, share your suggestions in the comment box below. 


Lorna WooldridgeThis blog was previously published on the Literacy Nest. Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

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