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.

Teaching Video Two

This video depicts the rapid progress a child made during the summer prior to grade 3. Within 8 sessions he advanced from a book which started with two words on a page to a book which had up to 18 lines on a page.

The rapid progress displayed in the videos as well as in the Examples of Effectiveness represent the norm for the Darwin Reading Program rather than the exception.

This series of postings has now come to an end. Hopefully, it has demonstrated that a student who starts off with reading difficulties is by no means destined to struggle indefinitely or develop a lasting dislike for reading. With appropriate remediation and the active involvement of teachers, parents and, if needed, tutors, a turnabout can be achieved and an interest in reading established.

Comments and questions are most welcome.

A final note to parents and tutors

Tutoring can be a most exciting undertaking. To experience its joys, take the time to prepare yourself well as this will allow you to proceed with a comfortable degree of confidence and enthusiasm.

Enjoy the journey!

Minna Trower

Since a fair number of youngsters and adults experience literacy problems, consider sharing these postings with family and friends as you never know who might appreciate discovering a work that truly enhances lives. For more information on the Program, please visit the other sections of the site.

Holistic Approach – Part 3 of 3

Benefits of Having Your Child Linked with a Mentor

This entails the pairing of a youngster/teen with an adult via a mentoring organization such as the Big Brothers and Big Sisters. The prime goal of these organizations is to help the young develop their potential. Towards this end, the mentees are exposed to a variety of activities which are not only fun but also tend to expand their horizons; they receive assistance with school work; and also benefit from the one-on-one relationship with an adult who has their best interest at heart – factors which all contribute to the building of self-esteem and confidence. If assistance is needed in finding a mentor, contact your child’s school or a social worker.

Establishing a Balance between Homework and Leisure

Balancing time between school work and leisure can be tricky. Consequently, parents, you should prioritize needs according to your prime objective – the development of a happy and peaceful child.

The prime objective is a happy and peacful child

The next posting will present a teaching video depicting an essentially illiterate 7 year old start on the path to reading within 10 minutes of her first session.

Holistic Approach – Part 2 of 3

The importance of Friendships and Physical Activities

Helping your Child Cultivate Friendships

As it is truly important that your child has friends, encourage him to invite playmates home. Start by inviting one at a time and then increase the numbers if so desired. To ensure a positive experience, be prepared to offer playtime suggestions in case a lull in activity occurs.

Encouraging a Reluctant Child to Participate in Physical Activities

If your child appears to lack ability in sports, encourage him to participate in physical activities. To help him get off on the right foot, it might be wise to first provide him with private coaching. For instance, if a nine year old is open to giving softball a try, his chances of enjoying this activity will significantly increase if he first acquires some throwing, catching and batting skills. Incidentally, coaching need not be a great expense, if any at all, as parents, relatives, friends, or teenagers could do this job quite nicely.

If the first 2-3 sessions of a new activity don’t spark your child’s interest, find one of greater appeal. Should assistance be needed in choosing an activity or, for that matter, teaching a sport related skill, meet with your child’s physical education teacher.

The next posting will address the benefits of having your child linked with a mentor as well as the importance of finding a balance between homework and leisure.

Holistic Approach – Part 1 of 3

Promoting Social & Emotional Development

Holistic Approach - Promoting Social and Emotional Development

As a persistent lack of progress tends to chip away at a student’s self-esteem and confidence, remediation should be based on a holistic approach. This approach is not only concerned with academics but also with social, emotional and physical development.

To promote social and emotional growth, parents should encourage their child to participate in various hobbies and activities. This is important as such involvement would allow him to experience pleasure, a sense of belonging and the opportunity to develop new skills – a factor which is important, for a wider skill base increases one’s opportunities for social interaction.

Activities that are apt to promote social and emotional well-being are Scouting/Guiding; individual sports such as Karate; team sports such as soccer; classes in art, drama, dance, instrumental music, singing, cooking, carpentry, photography, etc… Please keep in mind that the importance of developing interests cannot be overstated!

If finances are a concern, bear in mind that some organizations have been known to discretely forego fees and provide equipment. However, qualifying for these benefits may require the intervention of a school representative or a social worker.

The next posting will present suggestions on how to help your child cultivate friendships as well as tips on how to encourage a reluctant child to participate in physical activities.

Study Skills Outline

Verify that your child is aware of the topic being studied. One would think that this would be an obvious undertaking but it is frequently not the case.

Ensure that your child is attentive to headings and sub-headings.

Have your child identify the main point of a paragraph and ask him to present the information in his own words. Provide as many prompts as necessary so that he does not become frustrated.

To help your child with memorization tasks, acquaint him with the memory aid of mnemonics. For example, the mnemonic HOMES is used to remind a student of the Great Lakes: The H is for Huron, O for Ontario, M for Michigan, E for Erie and S for Superior. Creating mnemonics with your child can be a fun challenge.

Mnemonics can be a helpful learning aid

The next three postings will address the advantages of a holistic approach. The first will focus on promoting your child’s social and emotional development.

Study Skills

Why and How to Prevent Cramming

Once an elementary school child is studying subjects with substantial content such as geography, history and/or science, he should be encouraged to bring his books home the same day the new work is presented. This way he can review the material, get assistance if needed and work on acquiring a solid grasp of the new information. This approach will prevent cramming – a behaviour which not only tends to be stressful but is also likely to result in limited long term learning.

If study habits are instilled early, grade three or four for example, a student will gradually acquire the skills that will stand him in good stead throughout his school years.

The next posting will present a study skills outline.