Teachers’ Corner: What Should I Do if My Students Have Poor Phonological Memory?

What is Phonological Memory?

Weak Phonological Memory leads to frustration in the classroom.Phonological memory is the ability to hold information (numbers, sounds, words) in working or short-term memory for temporary storage. Students must be able to hold information long enough to process it, use it, and then transfer it to long-term memory.

Why Poor Phonological Memory is a Problem

Poor phonological memory can hinder a student’s ability to accomplish most tasks including:

  • mastering early reading skills
  • learning new vocabulary words
  • comprehending new and lengthy material
  • following multi-step directions

For example, when decoding an unfamiliar but lengthy word, a student must figure out each sound and then each syllable. The student must recall these word components in exact sequence, and finally, blend them back together.  The longer the word, the more parts there are to remember. Children often have to rehearse each syllable first until they know it well enough to blend all of the syllables together to complete the entire word.

If a child with poor phonological memory is hearing new words as someone is talking, the speaker may be well into the rest of the message while the child is stuck making sense of the new word.  Or, the child may miss the new word as he or she tries to keep up with the story/message. Either way, vocabulary development is at risk.

How to Help a Child with Poor Phonological Memory

Helping a child with weak phonological memory to be successful in the classroom requires us to be mindful of the following:

  • how much information we deliver at one time
  • what senses we engage when delivering and reinforcing information
  • how often we repeat key ideas

C.A.R.S.:  Remember this mnemonic and your students will be off and running!

CARS -- A Phonological Memory Reminder.Chunk Information into smaller parts for mental storage.  Only introduce one or two concepts at a time and pause strategically when talking.

Allow for Success by teaching, modeling and practicing (and practicing some more!). Practice skills in different contexts to reinforce.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!  Restate key elements or new information in various ways.  Have students repeat back to you.  Use purposeful pausing as you repeat.

Sensory: make lessons multisensory!  Children with poor auditory memories need to SEE, ACT OUT, and FEEL the lesson in order to understand better. Their weakest mode of learning is by sitting and listening.                        


Dyslexia Tutoring May Be Tax Deductible

Dyslexia Tutoring may be Tax DeductibleIf you itemize medical expenses on your income taxes, you may be able to deduct the costs of tutoring at Syllables.
According to IRS Publication 502, “You can include in medical expenses fees you pay on a doctor’s recommendation for a child’s tutoring by a teacher who is specially trained and qualified to work with children who have learning disabilities caused by mental or physical impairments…” (page 13). The cost of transportation to and from Syllables may also be included. Check with your tax advisor to determine your eligibility.
Some healthcare flexible spending accounts also allow you to pay for tutoring with pre-tax dollars. Contact your plan administrator to see if you qualify.

An Opportunity to Make a Profound Impact

Katherine, Claire and I recently returned from a trip to Africa. We can honestly say it was one of the most impactful experiences of our lives and we are looking forward to returning. The kids we spent time with were kind, enthusiastic, fun, helpful, hardworking, and grateful. Their positive outlooks in the face of their life circumstances taught us lessons in gratitude that have forever changed our lives.

Watching the sheer joy the teen boys radiated when learning to play “Monkey in the Middle” with Claire and Katherine made me realize how much we take for granted in our everyday lives. Watch our video to hear about how one boy in particular touched my heart.

Jennifer taught reading to the boys of the Kibera SlumsTaraja Boys Home (just outside of Nairobi, Kenya) is a social outreach program and transitional orphanage for abandoned or orphaned street boys (8-18 years) from the Kibera Slums. Fifty dollars per month sponsors one boy at Taraja, providing education at a boarding school. For only $50 a month a boy will go from a homeless child to a student at a boarding school! Fifty dollars a month provides education, accommodations, food, counseling and loving care. Yes, I know it sounds like a Sarah McLachlan song should be playing in the background, but I do a lot of volunteering/fundraising and I have never seen so little go so far!!! YOU can make a difference in the life of a young man.

Please consider sponsoring a child monthly or making a one-time donation. Theresa, the amazing organizer of this program, will assign a student to you and you may correspond with the child you sponsor. If you have children, this is an amazing opportunity to expand their world view (and practice their writing skills!).  Visit www.how101.org for more information or to make a donation.

We witnessed first-hand the difference one person can make in a child’s life. Thank you for considering my request. If you have any questions let me know.

Kind regards,
Jennifer Hasser
Executive Director
Syllables Learning Center, Kendore Learning


Working Memory Checklist

Working Memory ChecklistDoes your child have a working memory problem?  Use this checklist provided by Cogmed Working Memory Training to see if you have reason for concern.

  • Your child has difficulties remembering long instructions or a chain of instructions (e.g. following directions or a recipe).
  • Your child has a hard time staying focused on (school) work if he/she isn’t extremely motivated.
  • Your child has a hard time with problems that require holding information in mind, such as math word problems or mental arithmetic.
  • Your child makes more mistakes than his/her peer group when trying to complete a task in a hurry.
  • Your child often seems to be on the go or hyperactive.
  • Your child has difficulty organizing tasks (e.g. planning the order in which tasks should be done, and knowing how long each will take to complete).
  • Your child has difficulty taking in information in longer sentences, and needs to read it several times to remember and understand content.
  • Your child is very particular – so much so that everything takes a long time.
  • Your child has problems staying with the thread of a conversation or story (both listening and speaking).
  • Your child is often daydreaming in situations when they are expected to listen.
  • Your child has trouble organizing the daily details, such as starting and completing tasks, and arriving to places on time prepared.
  • Your child is easily distracted.
  • Your child is uncertain about time (e.g. has a poor understanding of how long an hour is) or has difficulties being on time.
  • Your child often fidgets and becomes restless or bored in situations that require focus and concentration.

Source:  Cogmed Working Memory Training.

Learn how Syllables Reading Center can help improve your child’s working memory.

The Single Most Effective Test Taking Strategy

While teaching test-taking strategies to students for years, we’ve learned (and research supports our findings) that the number one test-taking strategy, hands down, is…drumroll please:

 learning a test-taking strategy

 That’s right – studies show that simply having mental access to a strategy can boost test scores. The reason for this is quite simple: students who enter a test feeling equipped with a tool to help them are more relaxed and confident. This self confidence translates directly into better test scores.

We love test-taking strategies at Syllables, and we teach lots of effective techniques to our students every day (how to make the best guess on a multiple choice question, how to prioritize testing time, etc.). But we also know that part of the testing solution is the confidence that these strategies provide our students.

Give your Child the “Home Team Advantage”

One of the best things you can do to help your child test better is to encourage them to say something positive to themselves before they begin a test. Encourage their affirmation to be fun. For instance:

“I am going to get an A on this test, and I’m the best looking kid in the seventh grade.”  

 Why is this important? The first part of this affirmation initiates positive thinking, and the second part brings on a chuckle (even if just internally). Laughter floods the brain with positive chemicals, eliminating anxiety and helping a student access their long-term memory.

Does this sound crazy to you? Well, think about the concept of a home team advantage. It’s a commonly-accepted fact that a sports team surrounded by cheering and adoring fans has a distinct advantage over its opponent. Teach your child to think positively before a test and you are giving them their own cheering section — a virtual home team advantage.

Students who complete Syllables Reading Center’s Test-Taking Curriculum develop skills that translate into higher test scores and confidence that dramatically reduces test-taking anxiety. Contact Us for more information or to enroll your child in one-on-one test strategy sessions.

The Scoop on Brain Training

Cogmed Working Memory Training Retrains the BrainIs it possible to “train” and improve your brain?  The exciting answer is YES!  At Syllables Reading Center, our curriculum and therapists not only teach students to be better readers, they actually change the existing pathways of students’ brains.  The result is a boost in working memory and improved learning ability for a lifetime.

In the past, scientists believed that brain pathways were fixed. However, extensive research over the last twenty years has debunked this myth; we now know that the brain continues to change and adjust over time. This ability to change is called brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity.

How do we “train” the brain of a struggling reader? 

Re-patterning the brain requires the type of multisensory, systematic instruction we implement at Syllables repeated over time.  Professor Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity determined that the brain can be rewired to read using the phonological processing centers used by successful readers.

Cogmed Working Memory Training

Another tool we provide is Cogmed Working Memory Training, a computer-based solution for learning and attention problems caused by poor working memory.  The Cogmed training method consists of 25 online sessions lead by a Cogmed Qualified Coach.  It is a rigorous program with proven results improving attention and capacity for learning. Contact us to see if Cogmed Working Memory Training is right for you.