September 5, 2014
by Carolyn Sellars

The Fluency – Reading Comprehension Connection

Does improving the reading rate of poor readers improve their reading comprehension? In the International Dyslexia Association’s publication Perspectives on Language – Summer 2014, Kristen D. Beach and Rollanda O’Connor’s article on Developing and Strengthening Reading Fluency and Comprehension of Poor Readers in Elementary School: A Focused Review of Research reinforces what we know to date on the impact of fluency practice.  The article accentuates the need for effective fluency instruction to ensure remarkable gains when working with struggling readers. Here are the highlights:

 Text Difficulty

Select texts in which students can read at least 85% of words accurately to foster meaningful growth.

How Much Time Is Needed for Students to Make Meaningful Gains?

In all cases, several weeks are necessary for poor readers to make notable gains, months in the case of students in the lowest fluency bracket. The results indicated that the length of each intervention session, whether 10 minutes or 20 minutes per session, was unrelated to gains in reading rate for second graders; these students grew by approximately 2 words per week in each condition. Conversely, the fourth graders gained more than twice as many words in rate when they read aloud for 20 minutes per session compared to 10 minutes.

Instructional Approach

The results of the study suggest that poor readers in elementary school benefit equally from repeated reading (reading the same passage several times) and continuous reading interventions (reading a range of texts at an instructional level without required rereading), regardless of student characteristics, as long as they read aloud for no less than 10 minutes (20 minutes for older readers) and receive feedback on their errors. Older students tend to prefer continuous reading practice instead of repeat readings.

Effects of Rate Improvement on Reading Comprehension

As students gain fluency, they are able to contribute more cognitive capacity to thinking about meaning; however, fluency alone may not be enough to improve comprehension. Students reading complex text must also learn what the words mean and must connect ideas across sentences and paragraphs in text to comprehend what they are reading. Therefore, developed fluency is a necessary, but not a sufficient component skill for improving reading comprehension for poor readers in upper elementary school. Students with deficits in decoding and vocabulary require additional intervention in these areas.

May 20, 2014
by Carolyn Sellars

Correcting Handwriting Problems

(Authored by Handwriting Without Tearshandwriting)

Pencil grasp: The optimal pencil grasp is known as the “tripod grasp”. This is when the pencil is supported by the thumb, index and middle finger. The ring and little finger are bent and rest comfortably on the table. You shouldn’t worry about a child’s pencil grasp unless it is affecting their writing or the child is experiencing pain. Ideally it would be nice to teach every child how to hold their pencil correctly from the start, however, some children develop poor habits and you may need to try adaptive grip to help position their fingers. Suggested grips are The Pencil Grip or Stetro Grip. These can be ordered from Therapy Shoppe at 1-800-261-5590 or When modifying the pencil grasp, have the child only use the adaptive grip for a short time each day. This will help the child get use to the feel of a new grasp. Too much awkwardness may make the child resist change.

Child holds pencil straight up in the air: This is also known as the “Washington Monument” pencil grasp. The child may be having a difficult time separating the two sides of their hand. There is a mobile side to the hand (the thumb, index, and middle finger) and the stable side (the ring and pinky finger). You can try to use the Handi-writer device purchased from Therapy Shoppe or you can use two rubber bands looped together with one loop placed around the child’s wrist and one loop around the pencil. The eraser end of the pencil should point towards the child’s shoulder. Continue Reading →

March 15, 2014
by Carolyn Sellars

Books for Reluctant Readers

9780142424247_p0_v3_s260x420As of late, I have been reading several children’s books geared towards students in 5th grade that are either reluctant readers or reading around a year below grade level. I’d like to pass on to you book recommendations that I’ve found that work well for this age group.  One series that definitely belongs in your classroom library, or into the hands of your tween, is Stranded written by Jeff Probst, the Emmy Award winning host of SURVIVOR.

Excerpt from School Library Journal: In this exciting survival novel, four kids from a recently blended family are sent sailing to get to know one another better. When a sudden storm front moves in, the boat runs into a rocky shoal and starts taking on water. The children’s uncle, the captain, prepares a life raft with his first mate, but the two of them and the raft disappear before the kids can get on. The ship runs aground on an unknown island. Now stranded in the South Pacific, the children must find a way to contact the coast guard and survive. During their adventure, they learn to cross deadly cliffs, go spelunking, and try to keep from being swept out to sea in raging water.

I just finished the second book of the series and was left with a cliff hanger that has me anxious to read the last book of the series. The student I introduced this series to thoroughly enjoyed them and is now interested in reading about hurricanes and other natural disasters. We plan on checking out Lauren Tarshis’s I Survived Hurricane Katrina and others in this series.

Stranded by Jeff Probst
Interest Level: Grades 6 – 9
Reading Level:
Grade level Equivalent: 4
Lexile Measure®: 690L
DRA: 40
Guided Reading: S

January 14, 2014
by Carolyn Sellars

Want to Motivate Your Child or Students to Read? Try BiblioNasium!

BiblionasiumBiblioNasium is a READING social platform for learners ages six to twelve. Students, teachers, and parents all have their own login on the site. Students need a parent (or legal guardian) give permission to use this site. Teachers and parents can set reading goals and rate and recommend books. BiblioNasium is where you can read reviews about books, write reviews, and rate books, too. Students will treasure finding new books recommended by others. Reluctant readers will become avid readers because it is easy to find topics of interest.

BiblioNasium – Website Tour from Coach Manzee on Vimeo.

November 26, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

If You Suspect Your Child Has a Reading Disability …

So often we take a wait-and-see attitude as we witness our child struggle to master the code of our language. We hear from teachers that all children develop at different speeds, and over time, “your child will mature to develop the needed reading skills.” It is, however, more proactive to start taking steps that will help a child before failure takes hold. If a child’s reading skills are not intact by the time a child reaches third grade, remediation becomes more difficult. In my previous post I Need to Read How Much?!, I discuss how students who struggle to read tend to read substantially less over time than a fluent reader. With each month that passes, your child loses out on the vast experiences that are gained from text.

Continue Reading →

November 10, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars


vocabularyspellingcity-image-1wgep8i-e1345911306936Dear students of The Reading Mentor,

Looking for an easier way to learn your weekly spelling and vocabulary? Try! In order to access the premium version of the online site, please contact me for a userid and password. Do you want to access it using your mobile device? Try out their mobile app!

Happy Spelling!
Mrs. Sellars

  • An award-winning game-based learning tool for vocabulary, spelling, writing and language arts
  • A K-12 educational service used worldwide by schools and families
  • 50,000 words and 60,000 sentences read by a real person
  • Access via mobile app for your tablet and smart phone,or online via computer and interactive whiteboard
  • Correlation to educational standards
  • School and district-level reports

November 9, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

Freed from the Pen!


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[Updated 6/3014]

We are witnessing a dramatic shift in our methods of textual communication. Children are growing up in a digital age where they may actually learn how to master a keyboard a lot sooner than they do handwriting. It is looking like this trend will likely continue.

Here are some exceptional software choices to consider:

spin_prod_661923401Typing Instructor for Kids: Provides the typing lessons and drills that children need to become successful typists, all in an exciting environment. This educational software is more like a computer game, as each lesson and activity brings students closer to achieving the final goal: capturing the castle. A fee-based on-line version is available.


49834_ultrakey_box1UltraKey: This typing software for kids does not provide any typing games, but for what it lacks in this area, it more than makes up in lessons and drills that help children become precision typists. The software challenges students and encourages them to type with exactness and focus.


typing quick and easy Typing Quick & Easy: This typing software for kids has lessons that cater to those just learning how to type, as well as lessons for those with more experience.


For additional ideas on how dyslexic students can use computers to overcome difficulties with writing and spelling, here is a useful fact sheet from BBC.

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October 26, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

Does My Child Have Dyslexia?

The International Dyslexia AssociationIDA_logo-2 is the prime “go-to” when you find yourself asking this question and want to extinguish the mystery around the dyslexia term. The site also offers a quick on-line screener for preschoolers, elementary-age students, and adults. You can also find lots of resources including tutors in your area.

Another great resource is to get your hands on what is considered the bible of dyslexia, Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. Dr. Shaywitz is one of the world’s leading authorities on dyslexia and goes in depth in her book on how parents and teachers can identify dyslexia earlier and more accurately.

October 26, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

The Legend of the Jersey Devil

CVRjerseydevil_newTo all my New Jersey teacher friends! Check out Trinka Hakes Noble’s new book “The Legend of the Jersey Devil“, right in time for Halloween! You likely know of this author already… now who hasn’t read “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash“?

The story takes place in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey. Since its first apparent sighting in 1735, local lore claims that a “devil-like” creature with a boney head of a horse, the wings of a bat, and the hooves of a goat is bent on taunting local folk and frightening livestock. Illustrator Gerald Kelley brings the tale alive with his wonderfully spooky drawings.

Consider as a read-aloud to get your class into the Halloweeny spirit!

October 26, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

Combating b/d Reversals


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A common problem I come across when I work with young struggling readers is b/d reversals. As I began work with a new student with this challenge, I reflected back to my early teaching years when I was expressing my frustration to an occupational therapist about one student persistently creating his d’s as b’s. She asked how I taught the formation of the two letters. After I showed her, she retorted, “Well that’s your problem. You are not teaching the correct formation of the letters.” Huh? The OT kindly explained that by having students develop separate motor movements for these two letters, they would produce the correct letter in their writing. She went on to tell me that the ‘d’ is correctly made by first forming a ‘c’, and then a down line, whereas the ‘b’ is starts with a top-bottom line stroke.

Since I was about to work on remediating this challenge with a new student, I decided to check out any blogs or websites that discuss this topic. After going through a number of blogs, I found one that really did a phenomenal job of not only explaining how to properly address b/d reversals, but also debunking the many “tips” out there that may do more harm than good:

If you have a student that is having trouble decoding b’s and d’s, check out advice from Rod Everson at OnTrack Reading.

I put together a handout on Correcting b/d Reversals that can be passed on to parents of children with this challenge. I hope you find it useful!

October 14, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

Repeated Readings … Are They Worth It?

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A resounding yes!

As a resource room teacher and tutor, I have always included repeated readings in my instruction. As students walked into the classroom, as a routine, I would settle students down by first having them grab their independent reading book to read silently. I then would call one student at a time to the jellybean table for some one-on-one time, perhaps catching up on their weekend, and doing their one-minute repeated readings. Students LOVE alone time with the teacher and working hard to improve their previous timing with each repeat read. I honestly love it, too. Now as a tutor, my students ask me, “Can we do fluency first?” And then so often, there were those moments when you see dramatic improvement – moments to celebrate. So again, from my experience alone, repeated readings are definitely worth it!

So what exactly is repeated reading? Continue Reading →

October 10, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

Okay, I Read the Definition… So What Does It Mean?

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I think of the many times I looked up a word in a dictionary only to be faced with definitions that are as arcane as the word I’m looking up! In the teaching of vocabulary, students learn best when a word is defined using everyday vernacular rather than dealing with pedantic language. YourDictionary does just that. It’s an online dictionary and thesaurus that presents clear, simple definitions along with example use cases. Also, you can drag a bookmarklet to your toolbar to get immediate access to any highlighted word.

Other sites I use are Merriam Webster’s WordCentral, which is the online version of their student dictionary, and ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus, which is an online dictionary and thesaurus that creates visual interactive word maps branching to related words.

October 9, 2013
by Carolyn Sellars

Reading with a Purpose


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As proficient readers, we intuitively begin thinking as we read the headlines of a newspaper or the back of a paperback novel. Perhaps, we  think about what we know about the topic, and whether we can relate. Or, a question may pop into our heads, and we make a spontaneous prediction of what we think we’ll learn as we read. As second nature as these thinking acts might be for us, this may not be the experience for all people, especially struggling readers. Continue Reading →