A year ago our family began walking down the dyslexia road with our youngest daughter. As I shared recently, our little girl has made enormous strides in her ability to learn since that time. Especially in the last few months. I have shared this picture before, but because it is one of my favorites, I am doing it again. It is a letter to the tooth fairy requesting cash.
When we discovered that our daughter has dyslexia, we educated ourselves. We learned statistics, best practices, and what community resources were available to us. We utilized a local dyslexia tutoring service for auditory therapy and then began tutoring with Barton at home on our own.
Now that we have three levels of Barton Reading and Spelling under our belts, it seems appropriate to share our experience with the program. We like Barton. We intend to continue tutoring through all ten levels. That being said, it is not a miracle in and of itself. At least not for our family. Because, like all things in life, nothing is ever a completely perfect fit.
I started out thinking I would present five pros and five cons to the program here today. Then I wrote the first half of my list and realized I need two posts to cover everything. So, welcome to part one. In the next couple of weeks, I will finish the list.
Today I share half of my list, alternating between pros and cons.
1. PRO: THE PROGRAM IS TRUE TO THE ORTON-GILLINGHAM APPROACH
A great deal of research has been conducted on dyslexia and how to teach students with it to successfully read. Dyslexia is not a condition that can be cured. Those who have the learning disability vary widely on a spectrum of severity.
There is one research-based approach that has been proven successful at helping those who struggle, and it is Orton-Gillingham. Barton’s program meets all five of the OG criteria: it is language-based, multisensory, cognitive, flexible, & structured, sequential, and cumulative. A program that is missing any of these components will not be as successful as those that utilize OG.
Barton is quite possibly the best OG program out there. Auditory, tactile, and visual components are utilized. Everything builds systematically. Natural review is integrated. Tutoring is designed to be one-on-one, allowing for maximum student-focused learning.
2. CON: SOME OF THE MATERIALS NEED AN UPDATE
While I am sure that producing new training videos would be expensive, time consuming, and seemingly redundant, it might be a good idea anyway. All of the training materials we have watched thus far are DVDs converted from their original VHS format. The digital conversion itself is pretty good quality, but on several occasions I have been instructed to “stop the tape” or “rewind if necessary.” It is a small gripe, but a gripe all the same.
In addition to the videos being a bit outdated, the teaching materials are as well. I had to explain to my twenty-first century child what it meant to switch off the TV without a remote. I frequently define words like lad, dwell, and swill. Maybe that would not be a problem for an older student, but my child does not use those words on a regular basis. And while expanding her vocabulary is not a bad thing, it does distract from teaching when we continually interrupt reading in order to define words.
3. PRO: THE PROGRAM CAN EASILY BE TAUGHT BY JUST ABOUT ANYONE
Susan Barton provides an audio-based quiz on her website for anyone interested in tutoring her program to others. If you pass it, you can tutor. That means that parents, grandparents, and professional educators can teach even the most severely dyslexic students to read.
For our family, that was a huge plus. We have an excellent dyslexia tutoring center in our community, but they are far from free. Their estimate of charges to teach Barton to our daughter was several thousand dollars more than what we paid for Todd’s car. And Todd does not drive a clunker. We just could not afford that.
So our dyslexia center showed us how to connect with Barton on our own and offered any additional training help we might need. We acquired our necessary materials and dove right in. Three levels later, I am really glad we decided to do this ourselves.
4. CON: YOUNGER LEARNERS MAY MOVE AT A SLOWER PACE THAN THE PROGRAM INDICATES
Barton is marketed toward learners kindergarten through adult. Our daughter was blessed to receive her diagnosis early (age six), so we got a head start over many of her dyslexic peers. The program does work for younger learners, but they need a little more “jazz” than what Susan Barton provides. Young elementary students do not have the attention span of older learners. They get frustrated more quickly when a concept is difficult. And they learn with their whole bodies. Sitting still for a long time is hard.
There are card and board games that you can purchase through outside vendors, but they come at an additional cost. Barton has computer games on their website that reinforce taught concepts, but we have to avoid those because screens are a major distraction in our house.
Our daughter really struggled to learn rhyming, so I made my own flashcards for us to review. It took almost two months of daily practice before anything clicked. Reading fluency was a real challenge for us. We had to take a break between levels two and three for about six weeks and practice supplemental fluency sheets that are available on Barton’s website. Contractions were really hard. So I made a Contraction Monster game to help the concept stick.
When we finished level three earlier this fall, I purchased a set of twelve “readers” from Barton. We have been going through those exclusively instead of regular tutoring time for the last several weeks. I want to make sure the concepts we learned already are really, honestly mastered before we move on to level four.
I am okay with the slower than anticipated progress, but it would have been really frustrating if we had been at the tutoring center.
5. PRO: THERE ARE WAYS TO MAKE THE PROGRAM MORE AFFORDABLE
Barton is expensive. Really expensive. Doing your own tutoring is a huge cost savings, though. Plus, you have a much better idea how your child is progressing as they learn.
Since anyone that passes the online test can tutor, a parent educator could keep the materials and start their own tutoring service. I suspect that demand is high and tutoring fees would be rather lucrative. Since I am homeschooling three children already, I will not be pursuing this path. But for others, it might be a real option.
Barton also has one approved used curriculum buyer/seller. The information is located on Barton’s website. I have used this person to both buy and sell. She is friendly, quick to ship and/or pay, and knowledgeable. I wish the payback on selling used curriculum to her was better, but she has a monopoly on the market and has to make a buck, too. I get it.
Barton does not recommend purchasing curriculum off eBay, Craigslist, or at garage sales. If you truly know what you are looking for, maybe you could chance it, but I am not sure it is worth the risk. Investing a few hundred dollars into a box of used curriculum, only to find out it is missing some vital components, would be extremely frustrating. And with the exception of the little alphabet tiles used as part of the multisensory teaching component, Barton does not piecemeal out curriculum components. It really is an all-or-nothing buying situation.
If I look into the future, I know that this pretty expensive program really, honestly pays for itself in spades. My child is learning to read. Honest to goodness read. A year ago, she did not know her alphabet. Reading is essential to her finishing high school and earning her diploma. And guess what that diploma means? My daughter has a future. A future that includes confidence, a great education, and gainful employment as an adult. I do not care how much it costs if I know that it works.
Does Barton work for kids that struggle with other disabilities and disorders? Do you have to spend a million hours every day working through tutoring drudgery? I will answer these questions and a couple more next time.