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Building on the Best, Learning from What Works: Lindamood-Bell

This brief from the American Federation of Teachers examines the strengths and weaknesses of Lindamood-Bell, one of five promising reading intervention programs they evaluated (also see Direct Instruction, Early Steps, Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction, and Reading Recovery in this section).

Why are some schools effective at educating most students, even those from disadvantaged, high poverty areas, while others struggle fruitlessly to fulfill their academic mission? How can schools replicate the successes of their more effective counterparts?

Researchers, working for years to answer these questions, have described the characteristics of successful schools-e.g., high expectations for all students; challenging curricula; clear standards and a coherent, focused academic mission; high-quality professional development aligned to the standards; small class sizes, especially in the early grades; an orderly and disciplined learning environment; a supportive and collegial atmosphere; and an intervention system designed to ensure that struggling students can meet the standards. But, while we now know a great deal about which reforms are effective, comparatively little is known about how to achieve them.

As many schools have found out the hard way, systemic reform is extremely difficult-especially when it must occur simultaneously on many fronts, and is begun without benefit of high-quality curriculum materials, appropriate professional development, or readily available technical assistance. In fact, a number of schools-especially those that are already foundering-have found that lasting improvement is impossible without concrete, step-by-step implementation support.

According to a recent study of efforts to raise academic achievement for at-risk students (Stringfield, et al., 1996), the reform strategies that achieve the greatest academic gains are those chosen and supported by faculty, as well as administrators. Success is also dependent on the existence of a challenging curriculum, and on paying "a great deal of attention to issues of initial and long-term implementation, and to institutionalizing the reforms." This and other studies have also found that schoolwide reforms tend to be more effective than pull-out or patchwork programs, and that externally developed programs-particularly those with support networks from which schools can draw strength and tangible assistance-tend to do better than local designs.

Given these and similar research findings, we developed the criteria below to help identify promising programs for raising student achievement, especially in low-performing schools. You will find descriptions of five reading intervention programs on the following pages. Although each particular program has its own strengths and weaknesses, all show evidence of:

  • High Standards. The program helps all students acquire the skills and/or knowledge they need to successfully perform to high academic standards.
  • Effectiveness. The program has proven to be effective in raising the academic achievement levels of "atrisk" students in low-performing schools, based on independent evaluations.
  • Replicability. The program has been effectively implemented in multiple sites beyond the original pilot school(s).
  • Support Structures. Professional development, materials, and ongoing implementation support are available for the program, either through the program's developer, independent contractors, or dissemination networks established by schools already in the program.

In addition to information about each program's track record on raising student achievement, we have also attempted to gather and report details about main features and estimated costs. We hope that this information will assist members as they begin weighing the available options against student needs, school goals, and available resources. In deciding which programs warrant further investigation, we urge that you consider each program's "fit," as well the data on its efficacy and cost-effectiveness.


Grades Covered K-12 and beyond (adulthood).
Curriculum Materials There are several related programs, with various types of materials. Most supply some combination of teacher manuals, manipulatives, CD ROMs, videos, kits and supplemental materials to help schools design individualized lesson plans.
Instructional Support/Professional Development Introductory courses in the various components under the systemic literacy development model are offered. Districts or individual schools can be trained on how to use the program. Initial training includes an overview lecture, followed by intense teacher training. Levels of training are from basic introductory training through consultant certification.Teachers are expected to implement the program after the initial training.Schools involved can be a part of a network that allows them to pursue certification using the Lindamood-Bell method.
School Reform/Restructuring Assistance Not applicable when used as a remedial program. One school-based version of the program, the Human Learning Model (HLM), can be implemented as a schoolwide reform model including some limited restructuring assistance.
Role of Paraprofessionals Determined at the school level.
Cost of Implementation Teacher training represents the major cost of implementation, estimated at $115 per teacher per day, with estimates for materials at about $350 per teacher. For a schoolwide HML implementation, the estimated cost of training and materials range from between $35,000 and $50,000 a year over the first two years.
Preliminary Results This is an approach with extensive research showing its efficacy in treatingsevere reading disabilities in therapeutic (clinical) settings. More recently, it has also been used as the foundation for a variety of school-based programs.The data on these classroom adaptations, while still preliminary, are very encouraging. For more details, please see the "Results" section, below.

A linguist and a speech pathologist, Charles and Patricia Lindamood, and their colleague, Nanci Bell, developed the Lindamood-Bell reading intervention method beginning in the late1960s. The approach was designed to compensatef or the fact that some students with reading disabilities have unreliable auditory perceptions by teaching them alternate ways to perceive the various sounds (phonemes) that make up all of the words in the English language.

In addition to the original program, Auditory Discrimination in Depth (ADD), a number of adaptations for struggling regular and special educationstudents are now available. The Lindamood Phonemic Sequencing Program (LiPS) is a highly structured reading and spelling tutoring program for students from kindergarten through adulthood, while the Human Learning Model (HLM) can be implemented as a schoolwide approach. Other related classroom-based programs include the Visualizing and Verbalizing Program, the Seeing Stars Program, the Drawing with Language Program, and the On Cloud Nine Math Program.

Main Features

Individualized approach to teaching Students who are referred to the program are administered aninitial needs assessment, a battery of tests designed to explore the reading skills of the students, their strengths and weaknesses. This battery includes ther esults of any state or district assessments that may have been previously administered. Once students have been assessed, the intervention team designs aneducation plan specific to the needs of each student.The results of the assessment determine the length of time that the student will be involved in the program, the types of lessons to be taught, and the individual skills that will be focused on in each lesson.Although lessons are individualized, there arecertain underlying characteristics, shared with other multisensory, structured reading intervention approaches. Specifically, each lesson is structured, progressive, cumulative, cognitively based and sequential.

Auditory discriminatory in depth

This component of the approach is taught only to those students whose initial assessments identify as in need ofit. ADD teaches students to perceive sounds in isolation and in context and how to produce them. Inworking with students, teachers who implement ADD/LiSP are able to distinguish between sound sthat children are unable to distinguish due to lack of practice and sounds that children are unable to distinguish due to cognitive or physical disabilities or misalignments. Students are taught not only t ohear and make the sounds, but are also taught to pay attention to the movement of their mouths when they attempt to produce the sounds. When the students eventually learn to write the sounds(orthography), they are already able to distinguishthe sounds in isolation and in context. Th eapproach teaches students how to self-correct, teaching them skills that they will eventually use to label sounds (phonemes) that they hear in isolation, in context (embedded in words) and eventually in print.

Grapho-phonemic correspondence

Students are taught that there are 44 distinct sounds that makeup the English language and are shown the relationship between these sounds (phonemes), letters(graphemes) and letter combinations, using structured lessons and controlled word lists. Once they have mastered the building blocks, students are gradually presented with the associations between letters, blends and words, with the relationship between sound and text explored progressively.Students are taught both consistent and inconsistent features of reading, writing and spelling, such as digraphs, and diphthongs, in a controlled, progressive,and structured manner.

Sounds and meaningful words

As the students begin to understand the relationship between graphemes and phonemes, they are also taught torelate these to dictation: the ability to representwhat is perceived aurally and translate it into written letters, words and sentences. The approach stresses the multi-sensory correspondence between spoken and written language and the transmission of meaning. Students are taught this approach in a systematic manner.


Attention to comprehension is another main feature of many Lindamood-Bell programs.Reading comprehension is enhanced b ysequential, cumulative concept development.


Most research on the effectiveness of theLindamood-Bell approach has focused on its use as an individualized instructional or tutorial program, usually in a therapeutic (clinical), non-school, setting.Thus, results on its school-based applications are still preliminary.

Several studies indicate that this approach can beused effectively with dyslexic and severely disabled poor readers of all ages. The same techniques have also been modified for use with small groups in classrooms or even for whole class instruction. One study compared the reading achievement of two groups of struggling first-grade readers. The experimental group was taught using ADD for fou rmonths, then phased back into the regular reading program. At the end of first grade, the ADD students outscored control students on multiple readin gmeasures. A follow-up study showed that these achievement gains were sustained through the fifth grade. Another study found it to be an effective remedial program for middle-grade students (with an average age of 10) with poor reading skills. Andrecently, researchers examined the effect that different interventions had on reading-disabled first-grade students. The students were randomly assigned to one of four programs. At the end of the second grade, students in the Lindamood group significantly outscored other students on program-aligned measures of reading ability.

Case Study

Santa Maria, California One of the earliest independently documented classroom applications of Lindamood-Bell was an experiment in SantaMaria, Calif., a school district with a large populationof children of migrant farm workers who had poor English language skills. A first-grade classroom teacher was trained in the method and used it exclusively until January, when students first received readers. A control class, to be taught by regular methods, was selected by administrators andassigned to a teacher whose students consistently earned the best test results in the district. At the end of first grade, the Lindamood students could read real words at an average of two years above grade level. They were one year above in spelling. On nonsense word decoding, they were six years above grade level, with the lowest-scoring child at the third-grade level. In follow-up studies, these gains appear to be sustained. At fifth grade, the scores for reading comprehension, spelling and nonsense word decoding for the experimental group ranged from 63.6 to 81.7 percentile points, while scores for their peers ranged from 39.4 to 56.5.


The Lindamood-Bell method was designed as a therapeutic (non-school) intervention for children with severe language processing disabilities (includingd yslexia, cognitive deficits, dysgraphia and dyscalalia). The approach is structured and progressive, and is designed to move at the pace of the child. Depending on the severity of the problem, one child could progress through the program in a few months, while another could take much more than a year to master the same set of skills.

As a remedial program, Lindamood-Bell is grounded in theory, research and practice. The theory posits that many students with serious reading problems suffer from auditory processing difficulties and can be taught compensating strategies t oaddress these difficulties. Research has shown thatmany struggling readers need more than a standard reading program. The practical component of Lindamood-Bell is that theory and research havebeen translated into a comprehensive program thatcan be used to train tutors and teachers, as well asto design curriculum for use with students.

In addition to its clinical and remedial applications, the approach has also been adapted for generalclassroom use with regular-education students.The latest adaptation of the program, the Human Learning Model, was designed for classroom and schoolwide use, and also for use as an early-intervention (rather than as a remedial) program. Whilethere is still limited research on the approach's classroom (rather than clinical or remedial) effectiveness, initial indications are very encouraging.

The approach is related to a larger family of therapeutic reading interventions that also follow a structured, multisensory approach to teaching reading. Among the best known are those in the Orton-Gillingham (OG) family of programs. The main difference between the two groups of programs is that, while OG teaches students to make sounds before they write them, Lindamood first teaches students to perceive the sounds. Another distinguishing feature is that a comprehension component is an inherent part of most Lindamood programs.

Selected resources

Bell, N. (1991a). "Gestalt Imagery: A critical factor in language comprehension." Annals of Dyslexia, 41.

Bell, N. (1991b). Visualizing and Verbalizing forLanguage Comprehension and Thinking. PasoRobles, Calif.: Academy of Reading. (Originalwork published in 1986.)

Lindamood, C.H. & Lindamood, P.C. (1975).Auditory Discrimination in Depth. Austin,Tex.:PRO-ED. (Original work published in 1969.)

Torgeson, J.K., Wagner, R.K., Rashotte, C.A.,Alexander, A.W. & Conway, T. (1997). "Preventive and remedial interventions for children with severe reading disabilities." LearningDisabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal (8).

For more information

Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, 416 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Phone: 800/233-1819. Fax: 805/541-8746.

Additional Reading

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

American Educator, (1998) Vol. 22, Nos. 1&2: Spring/Summer.

Adams, M.J., Foorman, B.R., Lundberg, I. & Beeler, T. (1998). "The elusive phoneme."

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Hamilton, R.I. & Kucan, L. (1998). "Getting at the meaning"

Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K.E. (1998) "What reading does for the mind."

Greene, J.F. (1998). "Another chance."

Moats, L.C. (1998). "Teaching decoding."

Torgesen, J.K. (1998) "Catch them before they fall."

American Educator, (1995) Vol. 19, No. 2: Summer.

Adams, M.J. & Bruck, M. (1995). "Resolving the 'Great Debate'."

Beck, I.L. & Juel, C. (1995). "The role of decoding in learning to read."

McPike, E. (1995). "Learning to read: Schooling's first mission."

Moats, L.C. (1994). "The missing foundation in teacher education."

Blachman, B.A. (1997). Foundations of Reading Acquisition and Dyslexia: Implications for Early Intervention. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Chall, J.S. (1983). Stages of Reading Development. New York: McGraw Hill.

Gough, P. B. & Hillinger, M. L. (1980). "Learning to read: An unnatural act." Bulletin of the Orton Society,30.

Herman, R. and Stringfield, S. (1997). Ten Promising Programs for Educating All Children: Evidence ofImpact. Arlington, Va.: Educational Research Service.

Learning First Alliance (1998). Every Child Reading: An Action Plan. Washington, D.C.: LFA.

Learning to Read, Reading to Learn (1997). Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Teachers.

National Research Council (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, D.C.:National Academy Press.

Raising Student Achievement: A Resource Guide for Improving Low-Performing Schools (1997). Washington,D.C.: American Federation of Teachers.

Shaywitz, S.E. (Nov. 1996). "Dyslexia." Scientific American.

Slavin, R.E. & Fashola, O.S. (1998). Show Me the Evidence! Proven and Promising Programs for America'sSchools. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

Slavin, R.E., Karweit, N.L. & Wasik, B.A. [Eds.] (1994). Preventing Early School Failure: Research, Policyand Practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Stanovich, K.E. (1994). "Romance and reality." The Reading Teacher, 47.



Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

1. Lindamood, P.D. (1985, December). "Cognitively developed phonemic awareness as a base for literacy." Paper presented atthe National Reading Conference, San Diego, Calif.

2. Torgeson, J.K., Wagner, R.K., Rashotte, C.A., Alexander,A.W. & Conway, T. (1997). "Preventive and remedial interventions for children with severe reading disabilities."Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal (8).

3. Torgeson, J.K. (in press). "Instructional interventions for children with reading disabilities." In G. Shapiro, D. Accardi,& I. Caputi (Eds.) Dyslexia: Conceptualization, Diagnosis andTreatment. Parkton, Md.: York Press.

4. McGuinness, D. (1997). Why Our Children Can't Read, andWhat We Can Do About It. New York, N.Y.: Touchstone.

American Federation of Teachers. (1999). Building on the Best, Learning from What Works: Five Promising Remedial Reading Intervention Programs. Washington, DC: Author.


Had a horrible experience. I was told my child would be grade level at the end of an intense 6 week course. Every week I was told she was on schedule to meet that goal. At the end she wasn't even close to the goal. In fact, her school she regressed. So not only did it not help her, it in fact hurt her. Still waiting to hear from them.

Although experiences of failure to progress like Chicago's are rare, it can be a viable option to consider a third party provider for flexibility, in-home convenience, and to develop a relationship with the one instructor who administers the program to your child. A desirable provider will not only encourage parents to sit in on a few sessions, but will provide tips for generalizing the program outside of sessions.

This method of teaching clearly does not work for every child. Be cautious of committing, there are no guaranteed results of improvement!

Very few interventions get studied by research institutions. Georgetown University and the great MIT have studied the efficacy of these programs and found positive results. I have personally witnessed scores of students make multiple years growth with these programs. No, I do not work for LBLP. But, I can attest to the power of these programs. Teacher, Denver Public Schools

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