How Phonological Awareness Can Transform Struggling Learners Into Successful Readers With Dr. C. Melanie Schuele (The Exceptional Educator, Ep. 5)

Teach Phonological Awareness Like The Experts With Dr. C. Melanie Schuele (BayTreeBlog. com)

Are you looking for teaching methods that will transform struggling learners into successful readers and spellers?

Dr. C. Melanie Schuele
Dr. C. Melanie Schuele

I am delighted to feature Dr. C. Melanie Schuele on the Exceptional Educator podcast. She’s a speech-language pathologist, researcher, and associate professor at Vanderbilt University. Today, she shares with us how to supercharge student reading and spelling skills with explicit phonological awareness instruction.

Melanie shows you how to extract the most out of every moment of your phonological awareness instruction. She provides step-by-step directions on how to scaffold instruction. With the right modeling, prompting, and guiding, you can effectively meet the needs of children with different ability levels.

We also talk about the value of mistakes. They give us insights into how a child is processing phonological information. By thinking about why a child makes a mistake, we can respond in a way that guides the child towards greater accuracy, and more importantly, enduring mastery.

In one of my favorite parts of the interview, Melanie shares stories about how the Intensive Phonological Awareness Program was created. One of the reasons I wanted to feature Melanie on the podcast is that she recently co-authored the Intensive Phonological Awareness Program. I’ve been using this program since it came out last summer, and I can’t recommend it enough. Because it walks the reader through every step of providing phonological awareness intervention, it can be used by educators, parents, and even para-professionals.

Listen to this episode, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or stream the episode below:

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The Hidden Reason Why Some Kids Can’t Follow Your Directions

Unlocking Multi-Step Directions with Dr. Leilani Sáez (

Preface by Anne-Marie

I’m delighted to introduce you to Dr. Leilani Sáez. An educational researcher and former classroom teacher, Dr. Sáez knows how tough it can be to reach kids with working memory weaknesses.

Leilani Sáez - headshot

Leilani Sáez is an educational psychologist currently working as a research associate at Behavioral Research & Teaching (BRT), a research center at the University of Oregon. Her research focuses on the early identification of learning difficulties, and the development and use of assessments designed to guide instruction and learning. In particular, she is interested in clarifying how working memory processing impacts learning. Dr. Sáez has 20 years of experience in school settings, including as a teacher of students with learning disabilities, as a university learning specialist, and a preK-12 researcher. She presents her work at national conferences and writes research articles and book chapters about reading, working memory, learning disabilities, and measurement.

You’re in for a treat today as she demystifies one of the most common challenges educators and parents face – helping kids to follow multi-step directions.

My favorite part? Her powerful and practical three-step toolkit for supporting children.

Please enjoy!



Enter Leilani

Have you ever wondered why your student or child doesn’t follow directions well?

Although it may seem as if everyone should be able to follow directions, many children and adults with learning difficulties silently struggle to follow more than one step.

Have you ever seen a blank stare or frozen hesitation from a student after delivering a set of directions? As a parent or teacher, you may have questioned whether you were being understood. But perhaps you didn’t give much thought to the mental complexity involved in your request.

Multi-step directions are cognitively demanding, and their successful completion requires the use of a particular process called working memory. Of course there are other prerequisites (like motivation), but that’s another blog post entirely. In this article, we’ll focus on the role of working memory because it is crucial for completing day-to-day tasks and frequently goes unnoticed. Let me explain.

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The Zen of Behavior Management with Dr. Alexis Filippini (The Exceptional Educator, Ep. 4)

The Zen of Behavior Management with Dr. Alexis Filippini (The Exceptional Educator, Ep. 4)

Imagine a teacher just a few days into the school year, when BAM! Trouble.

Kids blurt out constantly. They don’t stay in their seats. No one follows directions. This once enthusiastic educator walks into work feeling more discouraged and unsupported every day. Her students’ engagement and motivation take a nose dive.

Sound familiar?

Classroom management problems can be more than a headache. For tens of thousands of teachers, these everyday frustrations erode the desire to teach. Disruptive behavior from just a few students can negatively affect learning for an entire class.

Dr. Alexis Filippini

Today Dr. Alexis Filippini shares her expertise on how to turn around everyday classroom challenges. She shares research-based approaches that support effective teaching, boost student achievement, and create a positive school climate.

Dr. Filippini distills decades of research into easily actionable strategies. Her recommendations are effective in the classroom, small group, or one-on-one setting. She shares the art and science of how to create a calm, organized learning environment.

Listen to this episode, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or stream the episode below:

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9 Books Kids Actually Want to Read

9 Books Kids Actually Want to Read (

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to find great books for children. But if you’re the parent or teacher of a child who struggles to read, a book might not seem like much of a gift.

For reluctant readers, cracking open new books is like running the gauntlet. Will they be able to read it? Will it make sense? Will they feel embarrassed if they can’t finish the book?

If you’d like to give a child a book, and you need something enticing, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.

After years of teaching struggling readers, I’ve discovered a handful of books that any child can enjoy. There’s not just one way to read these books. Children can open the book anywhere and just enjoy the photographs. They can jump around to easier sections.

Best of all, these books are so compelling that the child will want to read a sentence or two. But there’s no pressure. There’s no expectation that they’ll start at page one and finish the entire book.

I’ve collected my favorite books that kids pick up by themselves. These books don’t need an introduction. Just leave them in a room, and children will want to investigate.

The most discriminating of readers – children with dyslexia – have field-tested these books for me. Trust me, if one of my students can’t put down a book, it’s gotta be good!

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The Science of Spelling with Pete Bowers, PhD (The Exceptional Educator, Ep. 3)

The Science of Spelling with Pete Bowers, PhD (The Exceptional Educator, Ep. 3) (

Have you ever heard a teacher say, “Just sound out the word,” to a struggling young speller?

Or maybe you’ve said those words to a student yourself?

This simple strategy frequently backfires, especially for kids with dyslexia. Why do students end up spelling words like “jumpt,” or “advenchur”?

In this episode, Dr. Pete Bowers reveals why “sounding it out” isn’t enough. He demonstrates how sound-symbol correspondence is a key principle in literacy instruction, but often we miss crucial components of our writing system: orthography and morphology. What’s more, research shows that this type of instruction is most powerful for struggling learners.

Using Pete’s methods, teachers can revolutionize spelling instruction into a dynamic opportunity to foster logical thinking, vocabulary development, and deepen literacy skills.

Pete Bowers
Dr. Pete Bowers

Pete Bowers is the founder of the WordWorks Literacy Center in Ontario, Canada. In his career, he’s worked as an elementary classroom teacher, researcher, writer, and worldwide presenter. He’s a sought-after speaker in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending a conference Pete presented here in California, and it transformed my understanding of spelling and inspired my teaching. I know you guys are gonna love this one!

Listen to this episode, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or stream the episode below:

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25 Must-Have Tools for Learning Specialists, Educational Therapists, and Literacy Tutors

Must Have Teaching Tools For Kids With Learning Disabilities (

Have you ever been over the moon to receive a new teaching book you ordered, only for it to fall flat?

Have you ever wondered what great books and tools your colleagues are using?

Today, I’d like to invite you to a virtual visit of my office. Let me show you my favorite books, games, tools, and software programs. I’ve highlighted several of my favorite materials below, but feel free to hop over to our resources page for a complete list of teaching goodies.

I’d love to hear your suggestions too! What are some of your favorite teaching resources? Please chime in by sharing a book, program, or material you love in the comments section.

Teaching Kids to Read

1. Locating and Correcting Reading Difficulties

by Ward Cockrum and James L. Shanker

If you’ve just started working with a struggling reader and you’re not sure where to begin, this is an essential tool in your literacy toolbox. You can use a variety of informal assessments to pinpoint a student’s area of difficulty. The book also includes activities to build up those skills. I especially like to use this book to measure progress in phonics, multisyllable decoding, and sight word acquisition. (

2. Seeing Stars Letter Cards

I use these cards to teach kids sound-symbol correspondence (i.e. learning the sounds that letters make). They’re sturdy enough for daily use. (

3. Seeing Stars Decoding Workbooks

Once kids have cracked the alphabetic code, they need tons of practice decoding. These workbooks are divided into six levels based on word length. I find workbooks #2 and #3 most useful. The first workbook includes CV/VC words with just two sounds, the second workbook includes CVC words with three sounds, and the third workbooks include CVCC/CCVC words with consonant blends. I like to use these words as a jumping off point for phonemic and orthographic awareness activities. (

4. Quick Reads

Once kids are decoding accurately, they need to apply their skills. The Quick Reads program includes short passages that can be used for repeated reading and other activities that build reading fluency. I like that the articles are grouped by topic so that students get many exposures to topic-specific vocabulary. (

5. Unlocking Literacy: Effective Decoding and Spelling Instruction

by Marcia K. Henry

New to teaching reading? Not sure how to best help a struggling reader? This is THE book for you. Henry shows how children learn to read and how to best teach literacy. She focuses on morphology (the meaning system) and orthography (the writing system), which are two vital, but overlooked, layers of language. The 100-page appendix of prefixes, suffixes, and bases is worth the price of the book alone. This is an invaluable resource, especially for teachers of children in the intermediate grades. (


by Vicky Vachon, Mary Gleason, and Anita Archer

Anyone who’s offering you a silver bullet for solving reading problems is probably selling snake oil. However, this inexpensive, accessible program is probably the closest thing to a decoding cure-all. Here’s why. Each lesson includes explicit, structured practice with:

  1. a vowel pattern
  2. decoding a single syllable words with that vowel pattern, and
  3. a multisyllable decoding strategy.

Students are taught to identify common prefixes and suffixes, so they can successfully read multisyllable words. I’ve seen kids’ reading ability grow by leaps and bounds. The intermediate version is for children in grades 4-5. The standard version is appropriate for middle school students, high school students, and adults. (

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