FAQs

Q: Is this an activity book for students to work with by themselves?

A: No. Toe By Toe requires that each student has a reading coach for every exercise; it teaches students to read and tutors to teach.

Q: What letter sounds does Toe by Toe recommend?

A: Proponents of synthetic phonics insist upon ‘pure’ sounds. i.e. the precise sound of the consonant and this is accepted as conventional wisdom. However at TBT – we recommend a more DISTINCT sound of the letter / blend – “b” for bat, “c” for cat, … i.e. with the unstressed vowel – technically, the ‘schwa’ – to end the sound. (If unsure, please listen to the sounds on Page 13 at https://toebytoeusa.com/nonsense-word-answers/) From decades of experience, we believe that it is more natural – and far easier – for struggling readers to discriminate between the various sounds if the schwa is used. Keda realised very early on in her research that struggling readers need to make a clear distinction between sounds and it is NOT a problem for them to transfer these more distinct sounds to words later. It is also much easier (more natural, perhaps?) for non-trained staff or parents to demonstrate the sound in this way. For example, the precise sound of the letter ‘L’ causes much confusion for student and tutor alike. Having said that, if tutors prefer to follow the conventional wisdom that’s OK – Toe by Toe will still work its magic…

Q: Why do students need to have three consecutive ticks before a word can be considered learned?

A: Students with reading difficulties will establish a word in their short term memory but they are likely to forget it just as easily unless we bond the word in their long term memory.

Q: Is it necessary to finish a page (i.e. getting 3 consecutive ticks for every skill on that page) before moving on to the next page?

A: You are not restricted to an unfinished page. In order to ensure that the student gains a sense of momentum and progress ASAP, the tutor covers as many columns AND PAGES as time allows in that particular TBT session. A student can only attain one tick per skill per day. However, at the start of the next session (ideally next day but it does not matter if the weekend or a few days’ illness intervene) the student must be taken back to the 1st unfinished column / page to be tested for a tick or a dot and the process is repeated until every sound on the page has the obligatory 3 consecutive ticks.  The page can then be signed off as ‘finished’.  The student very quickly learns the importance of getting that 3rd consecutive tick because of what it comes to represent: PROGRESS.

Q: Why doesn't the manual contain a list of contents?

A: Toe By Toe is a finely structured programme. A list of contents might tempt some coaches to begin coaching part way through the text. We must ensure that the programme is followed as it is presented. The system is diagnostic and weaknesses will be highlighted as the student works through the book.

Q: How old do students need to be before commencing Toe By Toe?

A: Usually we say that a child should be 7 years old before starting the scheme. If a child is younger than 7 (you will know the child best so whenever you consider that the time is ripe…) we would suggest that you ‘drill’ the short and long vowel sounds and the initial consonant blends to the point where there is little or no hesitation beforehand. This would be adequate preparation for the first part of the book since it would ensure that they got off to the ‘flying start’ which can be so important for confidence and motivation.

Q: How long does it take to complete Toe By Toe?

A: The length of time necessary to finish the scheme depends very much on the severity of the student’s reading problem. With a student of average disability (dyslexic problems range from severe to mild) receiving 30-minute, daily sessions, the average time to complete the manual would be 5 – 6 months. However, a severely dyslexic student may take much longer and – in such a case – it is vital that the student is made to feel they are making steady progress toward the ultimate goal and that what is, for them, a mysteriously difficult skill is well within their compass.

Q: What are the ‘Multi-Sensory’ Pages for?

A: The Toe By Toe scheme begins by providing the student with the fundamentals of phonics. The ‘Multi-Sensory Pages’ – occurring every 20 pages or so throughout the first half of the book – are simply blank grids where any problem words can be worked on intensively. These words are usually not phonetically consistent and thus require a radically different approach as the phonic strategies used to synthesise (i.e. build) words will simply not work in such cases. We introduce these words (we call them ‘link’ words) at strategic points in the manual. You will note that – in the early part of the book – many columns of real words have these link words in the shaded boxes at the bottom. In this way they are introduced alongside the phonic skills and this allows us to offer the student coherent pieces of text to read ASAP. Reading real, coherent sentences so early in the scheme will represent a triumph for the student and provide a real sense of progress. Whenever it becomes apparent that a particular word (it will usually be one that doesn’t make phonetic sense) is causing problems then we draw a circle around it and move it forward to the next ‘Multi-Sensory Page’ to be worked on intensively.

Q: How do we work on the non-phonetic Link words (‘sight words’)?

A: Effectively, with words like this, it is our task to link sight with sound. It is widely recognised that the best way to memorise these non-phonic words is to use a multi-sensory approach. For example, if we take a very common ‘problem word’: how. Ask your students to trace the shape of the word on the desk with a finger whilst repeating the sound: “how”. Then ask them to trace it as accurately as possible in the air – whilst repeating the sound of the whole word (please note that it would be counterproductive to say the letter sounds singly…). Finally, ask them to repeat the ‘air tracing’ procedure with their eyes firmly closed. Please do this several times and then ask them to copy the word carefully several times in the appropriate column on the page. Again, they should say the sound of the whole word each time they do so. After a couple of minutes of intensive work on this single word, we leave it and return to the page we were working on. However, at the end of the session, go back to the multi-sensory page, point at the word again and see if they know the sound. Of course, there will be a very good chance that they will have forgotten. If that is the case, please do not be disheartened. We simply repeat the previous intensive procedure. However, at the start of the NEXT session – ideally after a gap of 24 hours – you go back to it, test again and give the obligatory tick or dot. Repeat at the start of every Toe By Toe session until – eventually – it has been recognised on 3 consecutive sessions. Only THEN can we consider it to have been ‘learned’. These words have to be taught in a systematic way and the utmost perseverance may be called for…

Q: Who is qualified to act as a Toe By Toe coach?

A: Toe By Toe is written to allow non-qualified people to use the scheme. i.e. any literate person can act as a Toe By Toe ‘coach’. However, this is a highly structured method and it is important that they follow the very detailed instructions to the letter. These simple instructions are in the red ‘coaching boxes’ on the facing page of every grid and many of them are repeated throughout the book.

Q: Will Toe By Toe work with every struggling reader?

A: It is our contention that the proportion of students who cannot learn to read using Toe By Toe is minuscule. As long as the instructions are followed to the letter, Toe By Toe will successfully provide almost every child with the ability to read. Where the scheme has ‘failed’ in this objective, it is because the instructions have not been followed rigorously enough or – more likely – the student’s low self-esteem and/or negative attitude to the task in hand have not allowed the scheme to succeed. Without a student’s active co-operation in any activity, it is difficult to make real progress. It is often the case that a struggling reader will have developed low self-esteem and may have already convinced themselves that they are simply too ‘thick’ to learn to read. Naturally, the longer they have been struggling, the more difficult it will be to convince them otherwise. Consequently, the coach’s first objective should be to make the student believe that they can – in fact – do this thing.

Q: Why are there so few graphics and pictures in the book?

A: Some critics of Toe By Toe complain about the lack of colour, graphics and pretty pictures in the manual. However, what these critics fail to appreciate is that dyslexic children do not need pretty pictures. What these students crave is to succeed in what is – for them – a mysteriously difficult skill. Toe By Toe provides a sense of progress and momentum from day one and it is this that keeps them motivated and ‘on task’.

Q: How long should a Toe By Toe session last for?

A: We recommend 20-30 minutes for a Toe By Toe session. However, as anyone who has worked with severely dyslexic students will know, even 20 minutes may be much too long. The key element for optimum results is frequency. Even 10-minute sessions done on a daily basis will yield tremendous results.

Q: How frequently should we do Toe By Toe?

A: If at all possible, Toe By Toe should be done every day. Reinforcement and over learning are key elements of the scheme and experiments have demonstrated that a gap of 24 hours is the perfect length of time to maximise this effect. The mental struggle to bring back a sound or the image of a word – just at the point where it may be beginning to fade – is essential for what we are trying to achieve. However, if Toe By Toe lessons occur less frequently, good progress will still be made even though it will take longer to complete the manual.

Q: Why are nonsense words so important to the Toe By Toe method?

A: Guessing is one of the first coping strategies that many struggling readers turn to. Literacy tutors often find students decoding the first syllable of a word and then guessing the rest or even working out the sound of the first letter and guessing the rest! As far as Toe By Toe is concerned, guessing is exactly what we do not want. On the contrary, we want students knuckling down to the task of decoding. One of Keda’s major breakthroughs in the long process of development of Toe By Toe was the year when she tried nonsense words with her ‘guinea pig’ group and – at the end of the year – found them so far in advance of her control group that it was obvious they were a major element in those students’ success. It seems that the use of nonsense words pre-empts the tendency to guess.

Q: Why does Toe By Toe use an unconventional syllable division?

A: During her research Keda discovered that the conventional syllable division (using ‘closed’ and ‘open’ syllables) was proving to be a major stumbling block for her students. As a result she developed her own, simplified way for students to ‘attack’ longer words. It would be far better, in her opinion, to use a division which – though not applicable in every possible case – was so easy to use that dyslexic students could easily understand and apply it. She found that students adapted easily enough to any exceptions through usage. We should also bear in mind that the only students who actually need a syllable division are struggling readers. If you are not struggling with reading, the task of reading is so trivial that longer words do not require any kind of attack strategy…

Q: Toe By Toe and Comprehension - 'Barking at Print'...?

A: Toe By Toe is basically a ‘decoding’ manual so it does not specifically address comprehension issues (for help with comprehension please see our Stride Ahead manual). Therefore – in common with all phonics-based schemes – it lays itself open to the (rather glib…?) accusation that it only teaches ‘Barking at Print’. However, we counter this by asking how MOST words enter a person’s vocabulary? Surely, ‘Barking at Print’ is how we all start to read in the first place…?

We would maintain that by reading words in context it is possible to gain a rough idea regarding meaning which will be reinforced when the words are met again. How else does a child pick up oral vocabulary other than by hearing words in the context of speech? Of course, this doesn’t preclude use of a dictionary for checking spelling or for the meanings of unfamiliar words nor the role of a teacher to extend knowledge of words and phrases more rapidly than just waiting for them to come up in conversation or in a book.