Promotion: Should a student be promoted or held back.

Except for very rare situations, I am against the non-promotion of students because such an approach is apt to be unsuccessful. The reason for this is that these students often lack strong foundational skills in the subject(s) they are struggling with. Therefore, being exposed to the same curriculum and basically the same teaching approach tends to do little to develop inadequate skills. For instance, if a Grade 3 student is only reading at the Grade 1 level, repeating the Grade 3 curriculum is unlikely to help him/her obtain the foundational skills that he/she requires.

There are two additional reasons I don’t support holding back. One is that such an action is likely to detrimentally affect a student’s self-confidence. Once this happens, one’s ability to learn is further reduced because in order to learn one must experience success – an outcome which in turn builds confidence. And, it is this powerful combination of progress and faith in one’s ability that fosters further growth. The other reason is that not only does a drop in confidence affect one’s academic ability but it can also affect one’s social and emotional development.

In conclusion, I recommend that struggling students be advanced to the next year and that they be provided with one-on-one or small group instruction so that their needs could be directly addressed. This might appear as an expensive plan but it is actually more cost effective to remediate problems sooner than later.

I am a Special Education Teacher (retired) who is also dyslexic. Being dyslexic is significant because it was through my own struggles that I was able to acquire the insight that opened the door to a wealth of information on this neurological condition. For further details on reading difficulties and how to remediate them, visit .

Darwin Remedial Reading Program – Testimonials

To stimulate confidence in my work, I’m presenting testimonials that substantiate the Program’s results as well as information on my professional background. Before I go any further, I want to mention that not only was I special education teacher (retired) but more significantly, I am dyslexic myself. In other words, it was the insight that I acquired from my own struggles that has allowed me to develop this excitingly effective program.


 – Though a severely dyslexic 12 year old student had been exposed to a variety of remedial approaches over the years, she could not read words such as log, bit and hut when we first met. However, within 15 minutes of her first session she was reading words of this nature independently.

Her resource teacher had sat in on the session and was so impressed that she bought the Program then and there and was using it within a couple of days. This teacher had the opportunity to use the Program for two years before she retired and she later mentioned that during that time not once did she encounter a child who did not benefit from it.

– Though a completely illiterate 49 year old was exposed to a variety of reading approaches over an eleven month period, he still could not read. However, the first time my Program was presented, he read his first words ever. Six months later he was the recipient of a national award – the Peter Gzowski Learner Achievement Award.

The following is an excerpt from a letter the student’s tutor sent me.

“The first tutoring session with your materials was an eye opener for me. Somehow my student suddenly seemed to get it. Digging out the vowel and sounding it enabled him to put together a three-letter word for the first time. The look on his face made the eleven months of Thursday evenings worth it – for him and for me. Thank you so much.

– A few years back I saw a 9 year old from California. She had been tutored with one of the highly popular program and though she was seen for three two hour sessions per week for the better part of the previous school year, her progress was limited. For instance, her reading level was only at the end of Grade One when we first met. I worked with her for just two one hour sessions and during this time her reading level, according to the assessment her Californian tutor carried out, had jumped from the end of Grade 1 to the beginning of Grade 3.

The following is an excerpt from a note her dad sent me. It confirms his daughter’s progress.

“I have watched my daughter go through various reading programs and never have a great deal of success. However, in the two brief sessions she had with Ms. Trower, I saw remarkable progress in her reading abilities – our daughter could read a passage that until then had been indecipherable to her.”

Information on my Professional Background

 The Eastern Townships School Board psychologist enthusiastically supports the Program as she is finding it is reaching students who have been resistant to the various remedial approaches – including the highly popular ones that they had previously been exposed to.

In 2015, I introduced my work to a professor in the Faculty of Education at McGill University, and in return I received an invitation to present at their Distinguished Educator Seminar Series. However, due to financial cutbacks, 11 out of the 19 seminars were cancelled and this included mine.

I recently presented a workshop at Quebec’s Annual Teachers’ Convention. Things went very well. For instance, once the chairs were taken, folks sat themselves on the floor. This level of attendance is telling because as the audience didn’t know me, it wasn’t my reputation that had attracted them but it was their ongoing search for an effective remedial program that did. Furthermore, the workshop’s content was well appreciated. This was expressed through the audience’s evaluations as they primarily consisted of 5/5 while the remaining ones were scored at 4/5.

The following is an extract from a letter I received from the Dean’s of Students, Bishop’s University. It alludes to the fact that in 1992 I persuaded Bishop’s University’s Senate to officially recognized students with learning disabilities and as a result it has since been standard practice for these students to receive special accommodations.

 This letter will acknowledge that Mrs. M. Trower has been a consultant to Bishop’s University on learning disabled students for a period of two years. This work involved advising members of the Counselling Service, the Dean of Students and the Committee of Associate Deans on proper policies and procedures for dealing with learning disabilities. Mrs. Trower has also provided on-going counselling to a number of individual Bishop’s students.

 I must tell you that Mrs. Trower’s work has been outstanding. She has provided the University with a wealth of information. She has been very effective in sensitizing the University community to this neglected area and her professionalism is noteworthy.

 Please feel free to contact this office if you require any further information.

 The following is an excerpt from a letter received from a member of the Learning Associates of Montreal – an organization which is highly respected. For instance, one of its former associates was a consultant on the Canadian production of Sesame Street.

 Minna is a gifted individual who has an excellent understanding of learning disabilities from both the teacher’s viewpoint, and as she herself experienced learning difficulties, she sees it from the learner’s perspective as well.

Minna has already made valuable contributions to the field of learning disabilities and I expect her to continue to do so. I have no hesitation in recommending her.

For more information on the Program, visit .


Reading Comprehension – Essential Forerunner Skills

Comprehension –  Forerunner Skills:  Punctuation, Fluency & Expression

These skills need to be intentionally taught to weak readers – the incidental approach doesn’t meet their needs.

Punctuation: Inform the student that a coma signifies a short pause and a period a longer one and that in both cases the voice is slightly lowered; the length of a question mark’s pause is the same as that of a period while the voice is slightly raised.

The following techniques develop all three forerunner skills.

Modelling: The tutor reads a short sentence or part of a longer one and then has the student re-read it. Continuing with the text, the procedure is repeated 1-2 times more. This is followed by solo reading by the student. If needed, carry out this exercise 2-3 times during a session.

There is no cause for concern if the student appears to be reciting the text from memory as mimicking will still develop the required skills.

Joint Reading: Here the tutor reads a couple of sentences along with the student. The tutor could either inform the student that s/he will be doing this or s/he could jump in whenever the need to do so arises.

Students appreciate these approaches as the built-in assistance promotes success. In addition, the environment produced by these techniques tend to be stress-free – another factor which encourages learning.

A word of caution: Techniques such as attempting to improve fluency by reading against the clock has a testing element to it. Therefore, it’s recommended that it only be used if it does not cause the student to become apprehensive.

Side Note: Please note that if the efficacy of an approach has been questioned by professionals but is working well for your student/child (there is progress without undue stress), by all means use it.

Re Pre-School Children: Warning Signs of Impending Reading Difficulties

Warning Signs

The child has:

  • difficulty verbally communicating his needs, wants, … ; 
  • a limited vocabulary;
  • difficulty articulating sounds.

Should your child’s seemingly limited language development cause concern, don’t hesitate to discuss this matter with your child’s physician and/or a speech and language specialist.




Remedial Reading – Syllabication

Remedial Reading  – Syllabication

Syllabication is the process of dividing a word into its parts. This process makes it easier to read challenging multi-syllable words.

A syllable is a word or part of a word that has a vowel that can be heard. For instance:

  • pet has one vowel and therefore is a one syllable word;
  • boat has two vowels but as only the ‘o’ is sounded, it is a one syllable word;
  • contain has three vowels but as only the ‘o’ and ‘a’ are sounded, it is a two syllable word – con/tain.

Syllabication tends to be the bane of weak readers be they 8 or 80.

As there are many exceptions to the syllabication patterns, the objective is to teach the concept that words that can be divided into parts rather than stressing particular patterns.

For exercises that allow students to grasp the concept of syllabication, you can refer to the Darwin the Dragon Reading Program or prepare your own.

Syllabication should be introduced when the student starts to encounter multisyllable words.

Side Note: As the Program also accommodates adults, it has two sets of teaching instructions as well as two titles – the one mentioned above and the Vowel First Method.

Remedial Reading: Parental Participation – Help or Hindrance

  • Parental tutoring should only be carried out if the sessions rarely result in unduly stress and frustration for either the child or parent. The reasoning here is that negative emotions not only inhibit learning but, more significantly, they can also affect the child/parent relationship.

    Therefore, if parental tutoring isn’t going well an alternative approach should be considered. For instance, parents could:

    • hire a tutor – see blog entry 10 for tips on choosing a tutor;
    • look into having a trained school volunteer assist their child;
    • use the services of a reputable learning centre;
    • consider linking up with parents whose child also has a learning problem and tutor each other’s children.

Parents as tutors


Incidentally, a child’s limited progress doesn’t rest on his shoulders but on the shoulders of the teaching system. A system where far too many teachers graduate from university without sufficient knowledge on how to assist students with persistent learning problems and where the some teachers aren’t keeping up with their professional development..

The next posting will address tips on choosing a tutor.