Beyond Phonics

Differences between good and poor readers and spellers are associated with significant differences in sensitivity to word structure at the morphological level. Insensitivity to morphological aspects of word structure also characterizes adults who spell poorly [Carlisle, Moats].

Explicit instruction in both orthography and morphology is effective for teaching word identification, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and spelling [Abbott, Berninger, Carlisle, Nagy]. English spelling problems that arise at a phonological level can often be solved with instruction in use of morphology [Bourassa, Treiman, Kessler]. While basic knowledge of grapheme-phoneme relationships may be sufficient for students to read and spell one-syllable words, analysis of word structure, made possible by knowledge of morphology, is needed to learn to read and spell multi-syllable words.

Problems that poor readers have with applying morphological rules to identification of unfamiliar words are due primarily to more basic weaknesses in phonological processing. Because morphemes are units of both sound and meaning, deficits in phonological processing contribute to confusion of similar-sounding words and word parts, failure to recognize similarities of structure, and failure to either store or retrieve words with precision [Carlisle].

Virginia Berninger noted that three different codes are involved in spelling — phonology, morphology, and orthography. These three codes activate common and unique brain regions, but the specific activated brain regions associated with each word code may change during the course of a child’s development in learning how to spell. For example, beginning readers create orthographic codes from the relationship of letters and phonology. Morphology plays a greater role in the longer, more complex words in middle school and high school curriculum. Berninger wrote, “Our research is telling us good spellers are taught, not born, as is often assumed. Unfortunately, what happens in most schools is dyslexic children learn how to read and then get dismissed from special education classes even though they still need specialized instruction until they learn to spell.” Spelling is not systematically and explicitly taught in many classrooms in the United States [Berninger, Moats]. Too often, spelling is taught as a visual rote memory activity that resists “reasoned sequenced instruction” [Moats]. Awareness of morphology makes unique contributions to reading comprehension and to spelling [Nagy, Berninger, Moats]. Researchers agree on several recommendations for informed instruction of reading and spelling that include knowledge of morphology:

  • Foster word consciousness by integrating the teaching of word identification, vocabulary and spelling [Berninger, Carlisle, Moats, Nagy].
  • Focus on spelling [orthography]-meaning relationships through exploration and direct teaching of derivational morphological features and processes [Silliman].
  • Use word study to promote curiosity and interest in how spelling represents meaning and to support the development of strategies for solving problems regarding word meanings [Berninger, Moats, Nagy].


Good readers attend to the parts of words, both spoken and written. The meaning of a word is the sum of its parts. 80% of derived words mean what their parts suggest, as long as multiple meanings of the base elements are taken into account [Nagy]. English orthography often delineates the meaningful parts of words, preserving them in spelling even when the pronunciation of the morphemes may vary:

  • define   →  definition
  • wild   →  wilderness


Related words are activated in memory when they have meaningful connections and when they share structural elements at the morpheme level, especially when spelling reveals those connections [Nagy]:

  • relate   →  relative   →  relation   →  relationship   →  interrelate


Morphological awareness helps understanding and memory of differences between homophones:

  • site   →  situation
  • cite   →  citation


People with awareness of morphology can organize their mental dictionaries so that related words are associated and are more readily retrieved. Adults who read accurately and fluently have accumulated wide networks of word families for ready access and cross-referencing in the lexicon [Nagy]. Pattern recognition reduces the load on memory and facilitates retrieval of linguistic information [Berninger, Carlisle, Moats, Nagy]:

  • scribble   →  inscribe   →  subscription   →  scribe   →  describe   →  script


Author: Nancy Cushen White, Ed.D. Prof. Cushen White has been awarded for her significant contributions to the field of literacy education by a number of internationally recognized organizations such as the International Dyslexia Association. She holds various degrees and credentials in the field of literacy education. Besides her work as an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California-San Francisco, Professor Cushen White has been specialising in the area of gifted children with learning differences for several decades.

Reading and Writing Relationships: An Overview

Prerequisites for Language Learning

Spoken language mastery is essential for reading and writing.  Some of the most influential cognitive abilities that provide a foundation for speaking, reading and writing are: attention, verbal working memory, executive functioning and processing speed. These cognitive abilities are closely related and share common functions.  For example, students need to pay sustained attention to speech sounds as well as recognize and manipulate speech sounds in words.  Learners demonstrate this ability in reading while decoding words whereas in writing, this ability is revealed through spelling.  Another example is verbal working memory.  This cognitive skill is limited to the amount of material working memory can hold and in the length of time the manipulation of language can be expressed. When students are reading text, they often hold a completed sentence in working memory and then reread the preceding sentence to enhance their understanding.  During writing while composing phrases, sentences and paragraphs, writers are using verbal working memory.  A third cognitive ability is executive functioning whereby students need to plan, self-monitor and alter plans during language tasks.  For instance, both readers and writers need to self-monitor for visually similar words (of/off) and homonyms (sail/sale). Last but not least is processing speed, the rate at which learners are able to retrieve information and execute plans.  Proficient readers and writers are able to rapidly name several elements of a given category while students with slower processing speed may be accurate in their responses, but their production is almost always very slow.  In order for students to develop fluent reading or written expression, they need structured teaching as well as enough practice using their reading and writing skills.


Reading and writing are not identical skills but do share the cognitive abilities mentioned previously.  Before actual reading begins and as an aid to comprehension, two pre-reading exercises can help to support the reader’s ability to focus attention on the reading material.  One such exercise is to recall background knowledge, internalized from life experience about a topic, and then match that knowledge to the text.  Another is to identify new and unfamiliar words from the assigned text and learn their meanings from the words and phrases around them.  Once this is completed, the actual reading begins.  A competent reader engages in the following:

  • activates phonological awareness skills (how letters and sounds correspond)
  • recognizes how the sounds blend together to form words
  • decodes the words printed on the page
  • realizes word recognition
  • attaches meaning to those words
  • reads with fluency
  • comprehends what has just been read


A main component of fluent reading is word recognition, the ability to recognize written words correctly and automatically. This ability helps to ensure writing words correctly as students learn to represent letter forms in memory as well as the strategies for their automatic retrieval from memory.  Students who read effortlessly over time enjoy successful wide-reading experiences.  As a result, they are at an advantage for being exposed to learning more words and growing their vocabulary.  This word exposure not only enhances their reading comprehension but also creates better spellers.  In addition, children who develop good understanding of what they read may display a greater interest in writing.  They become aware of the word relationships in a variety of sentence patterns and how authors structure text along with the rules that govern it.




Writing is the act of scribing words and sentences on paper.  Therefore, it is necessary to have facts and experiences to share.  Prior to writing both at the sentence and paragraph levels, the writer needs to consider the topic and summon background knowledge and ideas in support of that topic.  Following that, students should exhibit a clear understanding of sentence structure as well as the rules for correct grammar.  Additionally, it is important for writers to construct a plan that structures and organizes their paragraph-level writing.  Such a plan ensures that each sentence links logically with the preceding sentence to produce a smooth flow or cohesion.  Writing, which incorporates word recognition and reading comprehension, places the greatest demand on verbal working memory and relies on the skills that follow:


  • mechanics: handwriting
  • phonology: speech sounds that make up words (e.g., bit = “b”+“i”+“t”)
  • semantics: word meanings and concepts
  • morphology: meaningful parts of words (roots, affixes, and inflections such as -ed verb endings that indicate past action)
  • syntax: rules for the order of words in sentences (simple to complex) and grammar rules
  • discourse: narrative structure versus expository structure


Even more than reading, writing depends on the mastery of the most basic skills such as spelling and hand- writing. Through direct and explicit instruction, teachers need to systematically teach a hierarchy of formal spelling rules that transition from short and long vowel patterns to irregular word spelling. Without this instruction, writers who struggle with spelling may lose track of their thoughts as they try to spell a specific word used in context or process sound-symbol relationships (phonology and morphology).  In addition, it is important and necessary for students to receive handwriting instruction. The development of legible handwriting enhances spelling, aids writing fluency and frees mental energy for higher order cognitive skills, especially at the multi-sentence or paragraph level.


In closing, the underlying cognitive abilities, attention, verbal working memory, executive functioning and processing speed are critical in their support of learning to read and write and need to be considered as linguistic skills are taught. Although it appears plausible that the features of reading and writing are the same, it is evident that they are not totally equal.  What is most important to remember is that the automatization of reading and writing skills is essential.  Students benefit most when instruction is direct and explicit, and sufficient review and practice are provided.

Author: Terrill Jennings  She has taught and directed language arts programs for children with dyslexia for more than forty years. She has authored two books on writing with her colleague Dr. Charles Haynes and is an accomplished presenter who has given workshops nationally and internationally.

Cost-Effective Literacy Solution for Inclusive Schools


Inspired by the recently announced ‘Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework’, Lexicon Reading Center is proud to offer a comprehensive in-school Literacy Solution, which aims at achieving the following main objectives:


  1. Working with schools to identify students with literacy gaps and needs.
  2. Review the identified students IEPs and/or help in developing new targets.
  3. Identifying curriculum differentiation needs for the identified students.
  4. Provide evidence based literacy intervention for students with reading and writing difficulties. A hybrid model of integrated online and offline components for literacy intervention.
  5. Training school teachers and LSAs to play a dynamic role in implementing a successful literacy intervention approach for their students.
  6. Working with schools to build a structured progress monitoring and evaluation system.
  7. Preparation for the next DSIB inspection cycle:
    – Help completing the SEND School Evaluation Form (SEF).
    – Help auditing the school SEN Register.
    – Help developing the School Improvement Plan (SIP).
    – Inspection process orientation and practice.

Program Cost

Number of Students per School Full Academic Year Program Fee per Students.


 How the Program Works

  • We will identify the literacy needs of each child in the program.
  • We will then train your staff to deliver the training and re-train as needed.
  • We provide training to assist you in the inspection process.
  • And we will assist in the documentation required by the next DSIB school inspection.

For Enquiry and/or Registration, please contact us at

Small Group Intervention, an Affordable Approach

Registration Open

ENROLL NOW to the September 2018 Term and receive an initial assessment at no charge.
Contact us at or 04-4547003 / 050-7954428

We’re confident that our Small Group Intervention Model will help greatly the learning process of the students, as the following picture demonstrates: we’ve have enclosed two descriptions, written at different stages of the Small Group Intervention by one of the participants. These descriptions are an invaluable proof of the great progress of our student.

What is the Small Group Intervention Model?

The current one-on-one intervention model has proven its effectiveness with the progress our students with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia have had in their literacy and numeracy level.

However, we want to open up the center to more families by introducing an additional intervention model: The Small Group Intervention. This model has proven effective for many centers around the world, including our Summer School Program described later in this blog post.

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FREE Screening: Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia

On October 21st, 2017, Lexicon Reading Center will offer a free screening for Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia.

We believe that all students deserve to have the right opportunities and tools to achieve all their developmental milestones. If you, as a parent, notice that your child is underachieving in their academic goals, this might be a golden opportunity to obtain an expert’s assessment about the presence of Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia in your child.

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Autism is a developmental disability characterized by deficits in social skills and communication, as well as the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors. Its manifestations vary with each individual, making it critical for personalized assessments and treatments.

At our center, the goal is to provide the highest quality professionals, assessments and interventions in an accessible and customized way, fulfilling the needs of each child and family.

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What is Multisensory Teaching Techniques?

“If a child is not learning in the way you teach, change your teaching strategy and teach the child in the way he learns!”

Multisensory techniques are frequently used for children with learning differences. Studies from the National Institute of Child Health and Human development (United States of America) have shown that for children with difficulties in learning to read, a multisensory teaching method is the most effective teaching method.

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Learning Disability or Learning Difference: What are the Issues?

“…and let me make it clear to the ones of you who belong to the “why?” generation, that you are in my class to learn and not to question, and if you are too stubborn to understand that, you don’t belong here!” I still can vividly see the tall bearded man standing in front of our classroom in the ancient Gymnasium (Secondary School) thundering these words at us. He was our Literature teacher, Professor Stickelberger (not his real name).

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