Toe By Toe FAQ

Toe By Toe FAQ

All your Toe By Toe FAQ answered.

Q: Is Toe By Toe 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.  That is, the precise sound of the consonant.  This is accepted as conventional wisdom.  However at Toe By Toe we recommend a more DISTINCT sound of the letter / blend.  For example, “b” for bat, “c” for cat.  That is, with the unstressed vowel (technically, the ‘schwa’) to end the sound.  If you are unsure, please listen to Page 13 of the ‘Nonsense Words’ Audios .

From decades of experience, we believe 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.  She found 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.  However, 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. However, they are likely to forget it just as easily unless we fix the word in their long term memory.

Q: Is it necessary to finish a page before moving on to the next page? That is, getting 3 consecutive ticks for every skill on that page.

A: You are not restricted to an unfinished page.  A student needs to have a sense of momentum and progress.  In order to encourage that sense of progress, the tutor should cover as many columns AND PAGES as time allows in a Toe By Toe session.  However, a student can only attain one tick per skill per day.

At the start of the next session (ideally next day) the student MUST return to the 1st unfinished column / page.  They must be tested for a tick or a dot for ALL unfinished columns and pages.  Repeat the process until every sound on the page has the obligatory 3 consecutive ticks.  The page can then be signed off as ‘finished’.

A student very quickly learns the importance of that 3rd consecutive tick.  It comes to represent: PROGRESS.

Q: Why doesn't Toe By Toe have 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: We consider that a child should be 7 years old before starting the Toe By Toe. That said, don’t consider 7 years old as the absolute minimum age to start Toe By Toe. As a parent or teacher you will know the child best. You will know when the child is capable of studying Toe By Toe.

If the child is younger than 7 we would suggest that you do the following. ‘Drill’ the short and long vowel sounds and the initial consonant blends until there is little or no hesitation beforehand. This would be adequate preparation for the first part of the book. 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: This differs for every student. The time needed to finish the Toe By Toe is determined by the severity of the student’s reading problem. For example, dyslexic problems range from severe to mild. A student of average disability receiving 30-minute daily sessions may complete Toe By Toe in 5-6 months. However, a severely dyslexic student may take much longer. In this case it is vital that the student is made to feel they are making steady progress toward the ultimate goal: TO READ! Encourage them to believe that 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’ occur every 20 pages or so throughout the first half of the book. These are blank grids where any problem words can be worked on intensively. These words are usually not phonetically consistent and so require a radically different approach. The phonic strategies used to synthesise and ‘build’ words simply will 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 shaded boxes at the bottom. This way they are introduced alongside the phonic skills. This allows us to offer the student coherent pieces of text to read ASAP. Reading real coherent sentences so early in the scheme represents a triumph for the student. It gives them a real sense of progress. Whenever it becomes apparent that a particular word is causing problems, draw a circle around it. Move it forward to the next ‘Multi-Sensory Page’. It is usually a word that doesn’t make phonetic sense. From the ‘Multi-Sensory Page’ can work on the problem word intensively until the students gains the 3 consecutive ticks.

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,take the 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, it would be counterproductive to say the letter sounds singly. Finally, ask them to repeat the ‘air tracing’ procedure with their eyes firmly closed. Do this several times and then ask them to copy the word carefully several times in the appropriate column on the page.

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. There will be a very good chance that they have forgotten it. If that is the case, do not be disheartened. Simply repeat the previous intensive procedure. At the start of the NEXT session – ideally after a gap of 24 hours – go back to the problem word. Test it again and give the obligatory tick or dot. Repeat this procedure at the start of every Toe By Toe session until it is 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 so the utmost perseverance is necessary.

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

A: Toe By Toe is written so non-qualified people can use it. Any literate person can act as a Toe By Toe ‘coach’. Because this is a highly structured method it is important that a coach follows the very detailed instructions to the letter. Follow the simple instructions in the red ‘coaching boxes’ on the facing page of every grid. Many of them are repeated throughout the book.

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

A: We believe 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 can successfully help almost any child to read. Where the scheme ‘fails’ it is often for traced to two causes:

  1. the instructions have not been followed rigorously enough
  2. or more likely, the student’s low self-esteem and/or negative attitude to the task does not allow for success.

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. They may have already convinced themselves that they are simply too ‘thick’ to learn to read. Naturally, the longer they have struggled to read, the more difficult it will be to convince them otherwise. Consequently, the coach’s first objective should be to inspire the student into believing that they can genuinely learn to read.

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 they 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. 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 students should study every day. Reinforcement and over learning are key elements of Toe By Toe. Experiments demonstrate 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 although 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. Alternatively, they work out the sound of the first letter and guess 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 developing Toe By Toe was the year when she tried nonsense words with her ‘test’ group. At the end of the year she found them so far in advance of her control group that it was obvious the nonsense words were a major element in those students’ success. Keda concluded the use of nonsense words pre-empts a student’s tendency to guess.

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

A: The conventional syllable division uses ‘closed’ and ‘open’ syllables. However, during her research Keda discovered this conventional syllable division was 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 simpler division system. So – she devised one! Although it is not applicable in every possible case, it is so easy to use that dyslexic students can 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, then reading is so instinctive 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. It does not specifically address comprehension issues. For help with text comprehension, please see our Stride Ahead manual. Therefore, in common with all phonics-based schemes, Toe By Toe is glibly charged with “teaching students to ‘Bark at Print’.

We refute this charge. Our counter is how do most words enter a person’s vocabulary? Surely, ‘Barking at Print’ is how we all start to read in the first place?

We maintain that by reading words in context it is possible to gain a rough idea regarding meaning. This 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? This doesn’t preclude using a dictionary to check spelling or the meaning of unfamiliar words. Nor does it diminish 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.


Toe By Toe FAQ