Dyslexia,  Fluency,  Learning Disabilities,  Phonemic Awareness,  Precision Teaching

The Sorceress

Elizabeth Haughton sent Jean Tucker to me. She told Jean that I could teach her to chart her student’s performance on the Standard Celeration Chart, and Jean came down to Hingham from Exeter, NH and spent a day with me learning to chart. She found it confusing and frustrating at first, but quickly got the hang of it. Jean was and continues to be the most knowledgeable and inquisitive language and reading expert I have ever met, and that meeting was the beginning of an important friendship. 

Jean was happy to learn to chart and went back to her learning center in Exeter and made Precision Teaching a part of her toolset, along with the powerful set of reading and speech development tools she had already mastered. Over the next few years we traded tips and dropped in to see each other’s work – and when she was in Hingham, we visited the Square Café, her favorite restaurant. Later we talked about the Precision Teaching process and she told me that I had ruined her business. Treatments that formerly took a year could be completed in a far shorter time period! Serious reading and speech problems could be solved so quickly that it appeared to be magic. 

We often talked about the methods we used, and we had various points of agreement and disagreement – I learned tremendously throughout! We did a number of training sessions and discussions together. I spent about 40 hours with a group of teachers and therapists learning the Lindamood-Bell LiPS program, which Jean and her staff were all expert in. I studied the book, practiced in class, and tried to make sense of how to deliver the program. A month or so after the training session Jean called to see how I was doing with LiPS. I confessed that I would need another 40 hours or more of 1:1 instruction to get to a place where I could use the program with our students. Jean called her other students and asked if they were using the program. They all confessed they were not – but I was the only one who had let her know immediately that I could not use it. So she wrote a program that I could use, and it has been a remarkable gift to the children we have taught. This program, based in fluent performances, can be taught to teachers, and can teach the same skills that LiPS teaches rapidly and accurately in a short period of time. Most importantly students we teach become lastingly fluent in it and retain the skill after they have left.

But I didn’t realize in that moment the critical importance of fluent phonemic awareness especially discrimination of vowel sound.

That came on the day that Jean demonstrated that she had magical powers. A mom and her daughter were in the waiting area. The girl was a remarkably gifted fifth-grader in most areas, but her reading comprehension was far below that of any of her other skills. Though this girl, Jessica, could easily read aloud to the 12th grade level, she was at the 5th percentile in reading comprehension. The mother and daughter conversed briefly, and then the girl went to work with our tutor. The mother left. Jean turned to me and said, “that girl’s mom is not a native English speaker, and her daughter cannot discriminate English vowel sounds correctly, and consequently her reading comprehension will be severely damaged.”

Since I already knew about this student’s reading comprehension, this statement, so out of the blue, took me by surprise. To my less than precise ear, both mother and daughter were “regular” English speakers. I was just shocked – and knowing that Jean was right made the impact that much greater. Now, almost ten years later, we have helped students at every age who are missing their vowel sounds and consequently have had serious reading comprehension issues. But I never would have understood this issue without Jean showing me in the blink of an eye how severe the damage could be.

Jean has published a book that contains the seemingly magical processes that can transform a person whose reading or reading comprehension is not fully formed. We have been working with Jean and her remarkable work, “Essential Word Knowledge Skills,” for several years as the book grew through successive iterations. Now it is complete, and Jean is sharing it with the world. If you are interested in how speech and language intersect with reading, and how powerfully our basic foundations impact our abilities, this book is a powerful introduction to fluency-based tools to rapidly transform the abilities of learners of all ages – including adult learners. 

But Jean did not rest there. With the help of her team and her sons, she has created a website that incorporates all of the remarkable skills and insights that she has acquired throughout her career. A school in New Hampshire that is using this system has been remarkably successful in helping students become excellent readers, bucking the national trend and demonstrating the power of excellent reading instruction. This website is called the Spell of Language and is located at http://www.thespelloflanguage.com. It is thus possible to bring Jean’s incredible wizarding to your school, where the transformation will profoundly change your school’s effectiveness. 

These tools have a power that is shocking. We see enormous gains in reading comprehension in extremely short order. While almost every student demonstrates these gains quickly and dramatically, the results that are the most powerful evidence have been dramatic gains on standardized test performances. We have had students increase their SSAT scores by more than 40 percentile points largely through instruction of vowel sounds.  

Thank you, Jean Tucker!