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Software to Help Readers Learn When Phonics Instruction Fails

from Laureate Learning Systems
Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, there has been a massive effort to establish phonics-based reading instruction in our nation's schools. However, according to Dr. Reid Lyon, a research psychologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, only 90% to 95% of poor readers can learn to read using phonics-based methods (Lyon, 1998).

Where does that leave the 5-10% of students who don't respond to phonics - those who are still struggling to learn to read after years of trying? Typically, they don't ever become fluent readers and many never even develop survival reading skills.

When phonics-based instruction has failed, these students need a different yet still systematic instructional program. Laureate's remedial reading program, The Sentence Master, is a theory and research-based systematic program for teaching reading to students who have failed to respond to phonics-based instruction or who are at risk of reading failure due to difficulties with oral language and/or impulsive learning styles.

The Sentence Master trains one word a day through a series of computer and written activities. Students complete approximately 40-50 trials on that one word ensuring that it is learned to immediate recognition. Slight variations are introduced into the trials to hold the learner's attention, but the slow-paced highly repetitive nature of the program guarantees total mastery of each word.

The Sentence Master focuses on non-content words (such as "if,""is,","and,"etc.) and word endings (such as "-s,""-ed,"and "-ing"). Although there are only about 150 commonly used "little"words in the English language, they make up over 50% of any page of text and are major determiners of meaning.

For example, a single non-content word is responsible for the different meaning of HE WALKED TO THE DOG and HE WALKED THE DOG. These tiny, easily overlooked words can often dramatically alter the meaning of sentences. Mastery of these words not only gives the learner control over half of any page that he or she will ever encounter, but also significantly improves comprehension.

Once a student has learned a set of 8-10 words, he or she reads an animated story on the computer and then reads the same story on paper. Students are ensured success because they are never presented with a word that has not been fully mastered.

Once a word is learned, it is kept in the program and used repeatedly in increasingly complex material. This serves two key purposes: (1) it meets the students' need for the multiple trials (2) it helps them integrate new material into their already established repertoire.

In order to promote comprehension, each of the four levels of The Sentence Master presents the student with increasingly complex sentence patterns. The sentence patterns selected represent structural forms that are central to understanding any coherent text. As in the teaching of the words, every pattern taught is retained at the higher levels along with the new forms.

*Lyon, G. Reid (1998) Statement to U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Washington, D.C., April 28, 1998

Due to the highly-structured activities and stories, The Sentence Master has been successful with students who have language-learning disabilities, Down Syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and hearing impairments. For more information about The Sentence Master, please contact Laureate Learning Systems, Inc., 110 East Spring Street, Winooski, VT 05404; 1-800-562-6801;

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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