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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. Mostsupply some combination of teacher manuals, manipulatives, CD ROMs,videos, kits and supplemental materials to help schools design individualizedlesson plans.
Instructional Support/Professional Development Introductory courses in the various components under the systemicliteracy development model are offered. Districts or individual schools canbe trained on how to use the program. Initial training includes anoverview lecture, followed by intense teacher training. Levels of trainingare 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 pursuecertification using the Lindamood-Bell method.
School Reform/Restructuring Assistance Not applicable when used as a remedial program. One school-basedversion of the program, the Human Learning Model (HLM), can beimplemented as a schoolwide reform model including some limitedrestructuring assistance.
Role of Paraprofessionals Determined at the school level.
Cost of Implementation Teacher training represents the major cost of implementation, estimatedat $115 per teacher per day, with estimates for materials at about $350per teacher. For a schoolwide HML implementation, the estimated cost oftraining and materials range from between $35,000 and $50,000 a yearover 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, Charlesand Patricia Lindamood, and their colleague,Nanci Bell, developed the Lindamood-Bellreading intervention method beginning in the late1960s. The approach was designed to compensatefor the fact that some students with reading disabilitieshave unreliable auditory perceptions by teachingthem alternate ways to perceive the various sounds(phonemes) that make up all of the words in theEnglish language.

In addition to the original program, AuditoryDiscrimination in Depth (ADD), a number ofadaptations for struggling regular and special educationstudents are now available. The LindamoodPhonemic Sequencing Program (LiPS) is a highlystructured reading and spelling tutoring program forstudents from kindergarten through adulthood,while the Human Learning Model (HLM) can beimplemented as a schoolwide approach. Other relatedclassroom-based programs include theVisualizing and Verbalizing Program, the Seeing Stars Program, the Drawing with LanguageProgram, and the On Cloud Nine Math Program.

Main Features

Individualized approach to teaching Studentswho are referred to the program are administered aninitial needs assessment, a battery of tests designedto explore the reading skills of the students, theirstrengths and weaknesses. This battery includes theresults of any state or district assessments that mayhave been previously administered. Once studentshave been assessed, the intervention team designs aneducation plan specific to the needs of each student.The results of the assessment determine the lengthof time that the student will be involved in the program,the types of lessons to be taught, and theindividual skills that will be focused on in each lesson.Although lessons are individualized, there arecertain underlying characteristics, shared with othermultisensory, structured reading interventionapproaches. Specifically, each lesson is structured,progressive, cumulative, cognitively based andsequential.

Auditory discriminatory in depth

This componentof the approach is taught only to those studentswhose initial assessments identify as in need ofit. ADD teaches students to perceive sounds in isolationand in context and how to produce them. Inworking with students, teachers who implementADD/LiSP are able to distinguish between soundsthat children are unable to distinguish due to lackof practice and sounds that children are unable todistinguish due to cognitive or physical disabilitiesor misalignments. Students are taught not only tohear and make the sounds, but are also taught topay attention to the movement of their mouthswhen they attempt to produce the sounds. Whenthe students eventually learn to write the sounds(orthography), they are already able to distinguishthe sounds in isolation and in context. Theapproach teaches students how to self-correct, teachingthem skills that they will eventually use to labelsounds (phonemes) that they hear-in isolation, incontext (embedded in words) and eventually inprint.

Grapho-phonemic correspondence

Students aretaught that there are 44 distinct sounds that makeup the English language and are shown the relationshipbetween these sounds (phonemes), letters(graphemes) and letter combinations, using structuredlessons and controlled word lists. Once theyhave mastered the building blocks, students aregradually presented with the associations betweenletters, blends and words, with the relationshipbetween sound and text explored progressively.Students are taught both consistent and inconsistentfeatures of reading, writing and spelling, such asdigraphs, and diphthongs, in a controlled, progressive,and structured manner.

Sounds and meaningful words

As the studentsbegin to understand the relationship betweengraphemes and phonemes, they are also taught torelate these to dictation: the ability to representwhat is perceived aurally and translate it into writtenletters, words and sentences. The approachstresses the multi-sensory correspondence betweenspoken and written language and the transmissionof meaning. Students are taught this approach in asystematic manner.


Attention to comprehension isanother main feature of many Lindamood-Bell programs.Reading comprehension is enhanced bysequential, cumulative concept development.


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

Several studies indicate that this approach can beused effectively with dyslexic and severely disabledpoor readers of all ages. The same techniques havealso been modified for use with small groups inclassrooms or even for whole class instruction. Onestudy compared the reading achievement of twogroups of struggling first-grade readers. The experimentalgroup was taught using ADD for fourmonths, then phased back into the regular readingprogram. At the end of first grade, the ADD studentsoutscored control students on multiple readingmeasures. A follow-up study showed that theseachievement gains were sustained through the fifthgrade. Another study found it to be an effectiveremedial program for middle-grade students (withan average age of 10) with poor reading skills. Andrecently, researchers examined the effect that differentinterventions had on reading-disabled first-gradestudents. The students were randomly assigned toone of four programs. At the end of the secondgrade, students in the Lindamood group significantlyoutscored other students on program-alignedmeasures of reading ability.

Case Study

Santa Maria, California One of the earliestindependently documented classroom applicationsof Lindamood-Bell was an experiment in SantaMaria, Calif., a school district with a large populationof children of migrant farm workers who hadpoor English language skills. A first-grade classroomteacher was trained in the method and used it exclusivelyuntil January, when students first receivedreaders. A control class, to be taught by regularmethods, was selected by administrators andassigned to a teacher whose students consistentlyearned the best test results in the district. At the endof first grade, the Lindamood students could readreal words at an average of two years above gradelevel. They were one year above in spelling. Onnonsense word decoding, they were six years abovegrade level, with the lowest-scoring child at thethird-grade level. In follow-up studies, these gainsappear to be sustained. At fifth grade, the scores forreading comprehension, spelling and nonsense worddecoding for the experimental group ranged from63.6 to 81.7 percentile points, while scores for theirpeers ranged from 39.4 to 56.5.


The Lindamood-Bell method was designed as atherapeutic (non-school) intervention for childrenwith severe language processing disabilities (includingdyslexia, cognitive deficits, dysgraphia anddyscalalia). The approach is structured and progressive,and is designed to move at the pace of thechild. Depending on the severity of the problem,one child could progress through the program in afew months, while another could take much morethan a year to master the same set of skills.

As a remedial program, Lindamood-Bell isgrounded in theory, research and practice. The theoryposits that many students with serious readingproblems suffer from auditory processing difficultiesand can be taught compensating strategies toaddress these difficulties. Research has shown thatmany struggling readers need more than a standardreading program. The practical component ofLindamood-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 HumanLearning Model, was designed for classroom andschoolwide 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 oftherapeutic reading interventions that also follow astructured, multisensory approach to teaching reading.Among the best known are those in the Orton-Gillingham (OG) family of programs. The maindifference between the two groups of programs isthat, while OG teaches students to make soundsbefore they write them, Lindamood first teaches studentsto perceive the sounds. Another distinguishingfeature is that a comprehension component is aninherent 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, 416Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.Phone: 800/233-1819. Fax: 805/541-8746.Internet:

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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