Success Stories

Henry – From Struggling to a Reading Rocket
When I (Bruce Howlett) first met with Henry’s mother, she told me that no one had taken her seven-year old's reading issues seriously. She was told that he’d grow out of it, that boys often take longer to “pick up" reading, or that Henry was just an active, inattentive boy who wasn’t interested in books.

Luckily, Henry’s teachers had grown concerned when his five-year-old brother started to surpass him in reading ability. We gave him a C-TOPP, the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing. It clearly showed that Henry had the auditory (phonological) processing issues that underlie most reading difficulties. When we shared the results with his mother she understood immediately, sharing that her son had ear infections and often mispronounced words when he was young.
Henry had had a lot of phonics and knew his letters and sounds. He could even decode basic words. But his reading was hindered by the frequent need to laboriously sound out words rather than effortlessly pronouncing them on sight. We began working with Henry using phonemic awareness and word mapping activities to smooth his word processing. The active learning and spaced retrieval format kept his attention well-focused. He advanced quickly, mastering phoneme manipulation and substitution activities, and learning how to map complex spelling patterns. Within a few months of twice weekly practice Henry began to “self-propel”, self-teaching himself hundreds of words after only a few exposures in print. After another month of practice, he was reading books meant for older kids and his spelling and writing were much improved.
We have been tracking Henry’s progress for three years and every year he moves further above the low bar of grade level reading. When he turned ten, he took a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) and maxed the test out. Too bad it ends at just the eight-grade level.
Andrew – Life’s Struggles Need Not Prevent You from Enjoying Reading
Andrew has had a hard life, in school and out, from an unstable upbringing to cognitive limitations spanning language, attention and memory. Andrew’s caring mother pulled him from Kindergarten when the school failed to recognize that his behavior problems were only a superficial coverup for emotional and learning difficulties.

We started working with Andrew when he was nine. He had transferred to a private school but read at an early 1st grade level. He had mastered one subject – work avoidance. Slowly Andrew realized that he could be successful with Reading Shift, which is structured so kids can directly discover the reading process. His phonemic and orthographic abilities grew quickly, allowing him to recognize words on sight. As reading clicked for him, Andrew started devouring Star Wars and anomie graphic novels, and Calvin and Hobbes.  He began to write about topics that interested him.
After much discussion, the school district placed him in a middle school classroom with just 12 students and three adults. Andrew became the shining star of the classroom, reading to many of his less-literate peers.
Carter – When Speech, Language and Genes Cause Reading Challenges
Carter is the third generation in his family to struggle with reading. Bruce had worked with Camden’s aunt and uncle when they were in elementary school, as well as his older sister. When Carter’s grandmother contacted us about his inability to read, we were ready for a challenge. She told Bruce that Carter had repeated Kindergarten and qualified for special education services in speech and reading. Now in 2nd grade, he couldn’t even read the lowest level picture book. Bruce talked with Carter’s speech therapist, who told him that Carter’s phonological (speech sound) disorganization was compounded by attention and working memory issues. This compromised everything from speech sound discrimination to discerning word boundaries, compromising his ability to process spoken language.

Sparking the Reading Shift is a dynamic program designed for eight-year-olds, on up. As the research advances or when children respond to new methods the program changes. Carter benefitted from reading activities that paralleled his speech therapy. He needed higher contrast words, naming activities, and simple phoneme discrimination and awareness activities. He was motivated by short, interleaved activities and mixed practice. After 16 lessons reading began to click and he slowly gained confidence with decodable and predictable readers. Carter is close to grade level in reading but requires extra support due to his significant speech and language issues.
Carter’s needs pushed us to improve Reading Shift but also provided a framework for a version for six- and seven-year-old students. If you would like to see how we combine advanced science of reading and learning for younger students just email us at b7howlett at (gmail). Com.

Dan and Logan – When Public Schools Fail to Recognize Reading Difficulties
When Dan began experiencing academic and behavioral issues in kindergarten, he developed a relationship with Logan based on the many days that they sat in the principal’s office after being kicked out of class. Their small rural school believed in strict rules and minimal special education services. The school showed little concern for the fact that neither Dan nor Logan could read.  

By 2nd grade, both boys’ mothers pulled them from the school and placed them in the Montessori school where we work. Dan was angry and resistant to instruction, where Logan was quiet and withdrawn. They both had weak reading, spelling, and writing abilities. Logan started with a teacher schooled in systematic phonics while Dan went through the beta version of Sparking the Reading Shift with Bruce. It became apparent that Dan had a mild learning disability, which was greatly amplified by a oppositional-defiant streak. Logan had a more intense reading disability, scoring poorly on all areas of the C-TOPP. Dan’s lack of confidence and fragile self-esteem meant that, for months, he wouldn’t read in the presence of his peers. He called decodables “baby books” but took to Dr. Seuss, whose books very greatly in reading level. Like many readers who go through the reading shift, Dan made sudden and large jumps in reading ability. One day Dan was reading One Fish, Two Fish. The next day he wouldn’t put The Lorax down. After about two weeks working on multisyllable word mapping, Dan decided to pick up a ‘how things work’ book about the history of computers. His reading problems disappeared as he dove into that book.
After a year learning phonics, Logan was still struggling, so he began using Sparking the Reading Shift. This phonemic and orthographic processing practice helped him apply his phonics knowledge to word identification. Words effortlessly arose from memory embedded in thoughts. While Lucas is not the fastest reader he is enchanted with graphic manga and anime books, growing stronger as a reader without support.
Gabriel – When Learning a Second Language is Easier than Learning to Read English
Gabriel was born to French-speaking parents in Belgium. At six, his parents brought him to the U.S. so that he could be unschooled, allowing him to self-select learning activities outside of a school setting. Gabriel spoke little English, so his parents placed him in school that emphasized imagination and creativity. In this very social environment, Gabriel thrived, becoming fluent in English in under a year. Unfortunately, the school’s philosophy was that reading developed naturally from spoken language, a belief that researchers say puts millions of children at risk.

 Gabriel’s parents became concerned about his limited progress in reading, so they enrolled him in a Montessori school.  His teachers soon realized that this wonderful student had a significant reading problem. They talked to his parents, who consulted a psychologist who specialized in dyslexia. She found that Gabriel was severely dyslexic and recommended placement in The Windward School, a school for dyslexics. This seemed unreasonable to his parents, so they agreed to place him in special education where I (Bruce) began working with him.
Our strong belief is that it doesn’t matter how severe the reading problem, it’s how the student responds to targeted instruction that focuses on the reading shift. Happily, Gabriel responded very quickly. His attention issues abated with the spaced retrieval, active learning format. The phonemic proficiency and multisyllable orthographic mapping lessons fascinated him as they exposed a new layer of language.
Initially, Gabriel was overly cautious around books, wanting to only read the simple Junie B. Jones series. One day he told me that his parents had read him much of the Harry Potter series. Spying one of the series on a bookshelf, he pulled it down and started to read it. At first, his reading was a bit slow, but he knew the vocabulary. After two weeks, Gabriel was reading the book fluently. A few months later Gabriel no longer needed special education support for reading.
Ava – When a Mother-Teacher Does All the Right Things but Her Child Struggles
Ava is a sweet child whose highly educated mother is certified to teach in public and Montessori schools. Her mother needlessly blamed herself for her daughter’s reading difficulties. She read to Ava, stocked a wall of books in her bedroom and bought her phonics software. We explained to Ava’s mother that all her efforts only lightly touched on her daughter’s speech sound (phonological) processing issues which are critical to reading. They unlock the strings of phonemes that contain the pronunciation and meaning of spoken words. Like many struggling eight-year-olds, Ava could decode letters into words but would have to decode the same word multiple times before she could read it on sight. After only a few minutes of reading Ava would get frustrated and exhausted, slamming books shut.
Sparking the Reading Shift self-teaching format, where the teacher reads prompts and the student does the listening, reasoning and responding, gave Ava needed control of the reading process. The program isn’t challenging as its goal is to improve the processing of spoken and written words on a subconscious level. This gave Ava needed confidence.  After a few months Ava was telling her mother that she no longer needed Bruce’s help as she could read any book in her home library. We all happily agreed.  
Nina – Sometimes a Little Advanced Reading and Learning Support is all that is Needed
Nina was a quiet girl who didn’t call attention to herself, so she easily fell through the cracks in school. She had acquired some reading skills but was not reading fluently nor near grade level. She insisted on reading silently or in a low voice to hide her difficulties. By the time she turned ten, Nina was no longer able to hide her struggles. Her parents agreed to an evaluation by the special education team at her school. The results clearly showed that Nina had a significant reading and writing disability.
When Bruce first started working with Nina, she was anxious about the extra help and fearful that her classmates would think that she wasn’t smart. But deep down she wanted to join her friends in THE ‘upper’ reading group. She agreed to work with Bruce for two months, with the goal of joining that reading group. Quickly, the gaps in Gina’s reading processing abilities closed. Her reading took off like the most proficient early readers. Two months later Nina was a welcomed member of that reading group.  (6), 761–781.

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