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Spelling Connections to Meaning Connection

Lock Pawlick

At the 2018 IDA Conference, Nancy Cushen White ’s presentation entitled, “Phonology + Phonics + Morphology + Etymology = Orthography: Words with Spelling Connections Have Meaning Connections” focused on teaching all the components of words. In her presentation, Ms. White encouraged her audience to support all learners by incorporating knowledge of the origins of words along with phonics, phonology, and morphology for effective reading and spelling instruction.

This comprehensive teaching provides students with the reasons for why words are spelled the way they are, regardless of the phonological shifts that naturally take place when morphemes are added. After all, the pronunciation of morphemes varies from word to word:

  • /heal/ and /unhealthy/

  • /define/ and /definition/

  • /sign/ and /signal/

Ms. White recommends using the website for information about a word’s origin and other related information. Ms. White also included examples of  visual graphics, such as word sums and matrices [], in her presentation to display the connections between morphemes. She suggests that educators use these visuals to provide direct instruction in how spelling connects to meaning.

Examples of both visual aids:

re + sign = resign; as + sign = assign; sign + al = signal; sign + ate/ + ure = signature

Matrix used with permission from Pete Bowers

Matrix used with permission from Pete Bowers

For more information regarding these tools, Ms. White strongly suggested In my own research, I found that Matt Berman ( and Pete Bowers, author of  Teaching How the Written Word Works and were more than willing to assist me with delving deeper into this subject. A special thank you to both for their assistance.

Tips and Tidbits for Teachers: A Brief Potpourri of Suggestions

Lock Pawlick

--Our Dyslexia Society of Connecticut Board of Directors has knowledge and talented members (some of whom are parents of awesome children with special needs). If you need help in an area of teaching and are not sure what the best resource is, contact us!

--For teachers struggling to address issues in written language, Cynthia Johnson’s articles about the amazing series, Writing Skills: Diana Hanbury King, may be helpful. The series itself will definitely help. We who teach and we who parent know how challenging written language is— actually, for all of us. Available at: Resources/Downloads/research-papers/series/WS_research.pdf?ext=.pdf

--Here is another useful article about a topic we struggle with: What Is Syntax? (Retrieved on 12/28/2018)

--Students of ALL ages may need phonemic awareness activities! One excellent source is Equipped for Reading Success, available at:

--Older students catching up on phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary seem to do better when sequential, multisensory strategies are integrated with decodable and leveled text. With short term memory issues, these students are able to make connections more easily when they immediately apply what they are learning to actual text.


Book Review: Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, Dr. David Kilpatrick

Lock Pawlick

Teacher Resources for Phonological Awareness

The International Dyslexia Association’s definition for Dyslexia, adopted in 2002, states dyslexia is “characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction”.   Since the National Reading Panel report (2000) was released more primary classroom teachers and literacy specialists have included phonemic awareness instruction as a necessary component of their reading instruction.  However, Dr. David Kilpatrick’s book entitled Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties (2016) educates his readers that phonemic awareness instruction which typically concludes at the end of first grade with establishing students’ phoneme blending and segmenting skills is not sufficient, but must extend to include the most advanced levels of phoneme manipulation (phoneme substitution, phoneme deletion, and reversing phonemes) particularly for low achieving readers.  Kilpatrick states research seems to suggest that phonological manipulation tasks are the best measures of phonological awareness skills needed for reading because they are the best predictors of word-level reading proficiency (p. 155) and consequently, phonological manipulation training was found to be far more beneficial in correcting reading difficulties than segmentation or blending training (p. 165).

Dr. Kilpatrick states typically achieving readers continue to acquire advanced levels of phonemic awareness independently through third grade, while low achieving readers often never master these advanced levels without explicit instruction.  Furthermore, Dr. Kilpatrick states in order for advanced phonemic awareness to support word-level reading, students must establish these advanced levels of phonemic awareness to the point of automaticity.  Students who respond accurately, but not automatically, to higher level phonemic awareness tasks may actually be relying upon mentally spelling the word prior to responding. 

In chapter six, Dr. Kilpatrick presents the reader with valuable information to consider when assessing and interpreting phonological awareness skills.  Universal screeners, that include segmentation tasks, are not sensitive enough to identify many of the students with poor phonological awareness.(p. 161)  In fact, segmentation tasks are often not included beyond first grade in most universal screeners. Dr. Kilpatrick further discusses two major phonological awareness standardized batteries, including the CTOPP-2 and the PAT-2, both of which are untimed measures.  Dr. Kilpatrick has developed the Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST), a criterion referenced test, and suggests this assessment be administered after the CTOPP-2, PAT-2, or other phonological awareness subtests from achievement batteries (p. 168).  The information gleaned from standardized assessments can be supplemented with the PAST which provides a timing element.   This test assesses students’ correct scores, as well as automatic scores, associated with manipulation tasks at each of the hierarchical levels of phonological awareness from the syllable level, onset-rime level, the basic phoneme level to the advanced phoneme level.  There are five forms of this assessment allowing for progress monitoring.  The PAST is free and available online along with its administration protocol.

Once a student’s level of automaticity is determined by the PAST, resources to teach these advanced levels of phonemic awareness skills with automaticity are available to support educators in a very user-friendly resource entitled Equipped for Reading Success: A Comprehensive, Step-by-Step Program for Developing Phonemic Awareness and Fluent Word Recognition (Kilpatrick, 2016).  This resource provides the reader with additional background information about the importance of phonemic awareness skills, as well as, one minute activities to support the incremental, and hierarchical, stages necessary to establish advanced phonemic awareness skills.  Students enjoy these quick drills and feel successful as they progress through the levels. 

For additional information an hour long, on-demand webinar, entitled Recent Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading Problems: Implications for Assessment and Effective Intervention, is available under the Resources tab at

As a literacy specialist, I highly recommend Dr. Kilpatrick’s book, the PAST and his companion resource.  Together these professional resources make a very compelling argument to change reading instruction and intervention practices to include targeted advanced phonological awareness instruction; including phoneme substitution, deletion and manipulation skills necessary to provide a solid foundation for successful word-level reading.