Harmon Distance: What is it and why should educators know what it is?

Perhaps you have heard of a slant board, or encountered one while stepping inside the OT or special education rooms in your building. Unfortunately, “special” items like a slant board are often reserved for special education classrooms. I am making it my mission to educate general education teachers about simple items that they should have access to for their students.

Let me start by stating that I am not sure who allocated school funding towards plastic counters and non-kinesthetic letter tiles with magnets that fall out on day two, but I would seriously like to speak to them. Why are we more concerned with buying cheap items in mass then making available research-backed items that assist students with needs that are not actually “special” they are just needs. Needs like proper lighting or comfortable seating. How about being able to sit comfortably while reading a book?

Harmon spent three years of compiling an inventory of physical and psychological difficulties of Texas school children.  The children were given thorough pediatric, dental and psychological examinations.  Visual, educational, medical and dietary tests were also conducted.

Dr. Harmon discovered, among many shocking results:

  • 53.3% of the children had visual difficulties
  • 30.2% of the children had postural difficulties
  • 20.9% had chronic fatigue

Harmon concluded that “posture relates not only to spatial judgments, but also to performing visual tasks.”  As Dr. Martin Birnbaum notes in his book Optometric Management of Nearpoint Vision Disorders, “to perform any task, a person must come to balance with gravity and then the particular task at hand…(If they don’t), a person must expend energy to perform the task easily and efficiently.”

In other words, if your body is out of balance with the environment, it will take energy to compensate.  Harmon wondered what would happen if the children’s environment were improved.  How much impact would this have on their vision and overall performance?

“Heredity supplies the materials of which environment makes the man”

This quote by Dr. Harmon, not exactly PC with its gender-reference, makes a clear point.  He writes, “Eyes are not cameras…meaningful vision is learned – learning like every other learning – by doing, by the constructive use of bodily stress.”

How we interact with the environment can lead to significant impacts on our visual system.  For example:

  • When eyes are too close to the printed page, whether from poor posture and/or improper desk height, the greater the eyes must converge.
  • If a child is in an unbalanced posture (see picture 1), there can be a significant difference in the torque, force and compression of the intervertebral disks of the spine.
  • When a child has to view a book on a flat surface, it can exceed his or her visual tolerances.

To solve the problem, Harmon analyzed data from many fields and planned a “coordinated classroom.”   He remodeled classrooms to improve “daylight control, artificial lighting, seating and seating arrangement and room decoration.”

Harmon raised the work-surface to a 20 degree angle, bringing the surface more parallel to the face.  This significantly reduced the compression of the intervertebral discs.    He also controlled the lighting, and turned blackboards green.  (You remember blackboards, don’t you?)

In the fall of 1942, after six months in the remodeled classroom, “only 18.6% of those examined in November showed visual difficulties, as compared with 53.3% tested six months previously.”  There was also a significant reduction of posture problems (reduced by 25%) and chronic fatigue (55%).

Viewing surface:  Ideally, your face should be parallel to either your book or your computer screen.  (See picture 2.)  Follow the Harmon Distance, and use the slant board when reading.

Harmon distance, slant board

Picture courtesy of Visual Edge

Posture:  What is your body doing?  Is the placement of this paper centered or is it off center from the plane of regard?  Your feet should be flat on the ground, and your legs should form a 90 degree angle.  Try not to slouch – remember you’re wasting energy.

Harmon information from (Mischio)

So, still not convinced that these items are essential and not “special”?

Read the entire article here:



Here is how I created a fully adjustable slant board for $7

  • Velcro
  • Packaging tube
  • Wooden canvas from Michaels
  • Clipboard

Reading is in the EYE of the Beholder: Why visual processing is so important to understand when teaching reading.


When we read simple words we activate common meanings as well as less common meanings. A bug can be an insect, a spy device or something you can do to someone that is irritating. Children with rich word knowledge will encounter texts in a much different and more enriched way than children who have not encountered wider boundaries figuratively and literally of words. You bring your background with you into each story you read. Your semantic and grammatical knowledge is used to create inferences and hypotheses. These neurological operations create a beautiful interwoven path to reading and comprehending. If you cannot quickly apply semantic, grammatical and syntactic clues then comprehension becomes laborious, if not impossible. (Wolf)

Reading is not a natural occurrence. Neuronal recycling is used to create pathways in order for us to read. While visual and auditory responses are innate and mapped out by genetics, reading is not. The reading brain exploited older neuronal pathways in order to recognize words. The placid brain had several capacities that formed the pathways we now use to read. Our visual system adapted and changed in order to form new pathways to recognize letters. So, if your visual system is not functioning correctly, than how do you learn to read?

A complete comprehensive exam for every child in early elementary school would be wonderful, but is not currently in the works.

Early intervention in the classroom with direct, explicit instruction is ideal. This is why educators need to be aware of different ways to teach reading, and figure out what works best for their individual students.

See: VPD What?! for signs of visual processing disorders

See: Where do I begin? for testing inside the classroom

See: Dyslexia for signs of dyslexia

See: Reading Groups: What’s in the box? for instruction that is multi-sensory

Remember: A visual processing disorder can look like dyslexia.

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This image is from the book Wiring the Brain for Reading. People ask me how I “know” all of this. I am a general education teach with no “special” skills. I READ! I read like my kids lives depend on it… because they do. I educate myself, because I am in charge of what I know, and what I choose to ignore.

This page brings light to the issue. Children need to be read to EVERY day in order to develop a vocabulary that then spills out into their everyday conversations. It is only after the words become a part of who they are that they can “see” them while reading. If you do anything for your child… read to him/her relentlessly and without reserve. ❤ This then builds a good foundation, so they come to school ready to read despite their disorders or challenges. The brain is placid, and can be changed BUT you cannot change what they have already been exposed to before they reach school. It becomes more challenging when children come with a severe language deficiency AND a disorder that they must overcome.


The picture above:

This is my Childs eye. The one who looks up to me to make good choices, and the one who depends on me everyday to meet his needs. As a teacher, I see many different sets of eyes. Every set is different. They are blue, green, hazel and brown. What most teachers fail to see is that some of them are looking, but they are not “seeing”. They tell them to look harder, try harder and do better thus, killing their passion for knowledge and understanding in a world that chooses to turn their blind eye. I am responsible for these children, and it is my job to educate myself on how to reach them. I read like their lives depend on it… I read and research like I would for my own child. I advocate for the kids in every room who are told they can do more. I challenge myself to provide the life-changing support they so desperately need.

Math THEIR way: A FLIPPED classroom


This lesson on fractions was FUN for my students, because they were able to teach each other! Flipping your classroom is a fun and easy way to solidify understanding and assist students who need more help.

Here is how I do it:

  1. Spend the first day creating your anchor chart and giving direct and explicit instruction on the concept. I define the SMART words they will need in order to be successful. The day before I defined and wrote the definitions of the following on the board: Fraction, Numerator, Denominator, Linear Fractions and Fraction of a Whole. I also did a demonstration and hands-on activity on creating fractions of a whole by making a picture and writing the fraction as a number.
  2. I teach the students how to use manipulatives, and allow them access to these important resources during instruction.
  3. I always have my anchor chart out from the direct instruction.
  4. I create an interactive presentation using near pod for the students to show their understanding and track through. If you do not have this, I suggest using google slides. Google slides is free for educators. Near pod is an amazing resource that has been a game changer for my classroom.
  5. Model what is expected for an all the way correct answer. I made the words numerator, fraction and denominator mandatory words.
  6. Make sure students have a buddy or group to work with… this creates even more opportunities for collaborative learning.
  7. Allow the students to teach each other by explaining their reasoning behind their answers. I call this “claiming your genius answer.”
  8. Have fun! Encourage students and use the time to take notes on who needs more help, and facilitate good conversations and collaboration between your students.


This ends up being a blend of whole-group, small-group and direct instruction that is student-led. ❤

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Mindfulness: What it means and why we need it.



Amy Saltzman, a researcher of mindfulness education, stated that, “One of the primary ironies of modern education is that we ask students to “pay attention” dozens of times a day, yet we never teach them how.” In the MindUP program, students participate daily in deep belly breathing, or “brain breaks,” as we call them, in order to slowly learn how to focus their attention.

Studies of the impact of deep belly breathing have been done on everyone from stressed out medical students, to hardened criminals sitting in maximum security prisons, to kids with ADD and ADHD. The results are generally the same. Not only does it increase focus and attention, it improves pro-social behaviour, enhances daily happiness, and increases levels of calm while decreasing stress and anxiety. From a neurological or physiological perspective, deep belly breathing slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and sharpens the minds ability to focus and learn by slowing down the amygdala and supporting the higher brain function taking place in the frontal lobes.

-The mindful classroom


Instead of telling your kids to focus and pay attention all day, why not teach them how?

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Reading Groups: Explicit Instruction

There are several learners in every classroom. You have the kids who will get it no matter what, the kids who need direct, explicit instruction and the kids who need special personally tailored instruction. So, how do we reach them all? We differentiate not only the level, but the supplies. I posted about my group of kids who are receiving special personally tailored instruction, but what about the rest? Well, I am going to explain and show you what I do for my kids who need direct, explicit instruction in order to learn and retain the information in the MOST effective way.

First, you need to know where your students are in order to place them in the correct word feature group. This group is working on ur, u_e and u

You can get more information on this by visiting my link on Where do I Begin?

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Day 1: The students are introduce to the sort in a very detailed way. The students are shown each header and told what to look for. Is it a sound sort? Is it a pattern sort? Is it both? I place the headers down after we have sorted out what the pattern is and what each header card is.

I hold up a few words and ask the students:

  • What is the onset?
  • What is the rime?
  • What is the medial vowel sound?
  • Can we pull the vowel sound apart from the other sounds?
  • If we blend the on-set and rime together, what word do we have?
  • What pattern do we see/hear in the word?

Onset and Rime are technical terms used to describe phonological units of a spoken syllable. A syllable can normally be divided into two parts: the onset, which consists of the initial consonant or consonant blend, and the rime which consists of the vowel and any final consonants.

Day 2: I go back over the headers and ask the students to tell me what each one is showing. Pattern/sound etc… Then, we sort the words together.

In the above sort the students would be sorting one way to spell long a in the middle of a word a_e , how to spell ur in the middle of a word and how to spell the short a sound in the middle of a word.

I still ask them:

  • What is the onset?
  • What is the rime?
  • What is the medial vowel sound?
  • Can we pull the vowel sound apart from the other sounds?
  • If we blend the on-set and rime together, what word do we have?
  • What pattern do we see/hear in the word?

These questions get the students to associate the pattern with the way the word is decoded. Grapheme/phoneme connections are extremely important when reading.

Sound–letter correspondences are the relationships between sounds (or phonemes) and letters (or graphemes). This starting point highlights the connections between the sounds in words and the letters that are used to represent those sounds.

Day 3: The students sort with a partner asking each other:

  • Why did you place that word there?
  • What is the onset?
  • What is the rime?
  • What pattern does it follow?
  • What is the word?


Day 4: The students will sort on their own as I watch and listen in on their thought process. Students are required to do this as a whisper-out-loud.

Day 5: Students write words they do not already know that follow the same patterns. I watch for readiness to move on or for the kids to show me that they need more instruction or time. I also give dictated sentences that incorporate past skills to check for retention of those skills.



We move on to phoneme push-it’s

  1. I give a picture on a card as an anchor for the word.
  2. The students will place “pushers” down for each phoneme.
  3. Digraphs get one pusher for both sounds, since the sounds cannot be pulled apart.
  4. The students push each sound for the word.
  5. I ask the students to change a letter and push then blend the sounds together to figure out what the new word is.
  6. We do this with three pictures, and manipulate the beginning, middle and ending sounds.
  • “If the word is turn and you say it without the /t/ what is the new word?”
  • “If the word is turn and you switch the /n/ for a /th/ what is the new word?”
  • “If the word is turn and you change the /t/  to a /b/ what is the new word?”
  • “If the word is turn and you replace the /ur/ for a /o/ what is the new word?”

Last, we rotate through activities to help solidify understanding of phonemes, graphemes  and morphemes.

Here are a few:


This is an example of Hear the Rime Write the Rime. You can do this several ways. Here are the two ways I do it:

  1. I will show the word and we will go over the onset and rime. The students then produce as many new words as they can on a dry erase board with the same rime.
  2. I will say the word and the students will write a word on a dry erase board with the same rime.

I also like to talk about what patterns they see in each word and why certain letters show up in the spelling of the word.

Teacher: “What pattern do you see in cute?”

Students: “A way to spell (long u) in the middle of a word.”

Teacher: “How did you know?”

Student: “I see a u in the middle, and an e at the end.”

Teacher: “Is there another way you can spell that sound in the middle of a word?”

Students: “No pattern we know yet.”

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Chunk, chunk, blend cards. These will follow your current pattern. These are in a small bag for each student to have a set of. I pass out the cards and the students begin to read them in a whisper voice quickly. They can either chunk then blend or blend right away. I have my own bag of cards to show the students. I show a student a card and watch for them to quickly identify the pattern and say the word correctly. If the student says “c-ub, cub” instead of “c-ube, cube” I know that they are not yet understanding the pattern. This is a sign they need more time on this concept.


Students are given books at their current DRA level. Each student should be given a book on their instructional level, and you notes you take DAILY should guide you in coaching each individual child.

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I work on the following while they read:

  • Current skill from whole-group: This week we  were working on summarizing a text. This is what students were given for accountability in group.

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Each student was given five sticky notes to place where they found the information. After we read and searched for the parts of our summaries, we discussed our findings. Students had to use information in the text to back up their answers. The sticky notes were placed where they found the information and acted as a guide for quick reference. After group, each student created a summary statement from their notes.

  • Decoding skill: Current skills from word study.
  • Comprehension skill: Finding the meaning of an unknown word in context.


I also carry out one running record a day to ensure the students are in their just right instructional books

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Technology & the Brain

Ever wonder how technology could be impacting your students/children/self?

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“Our increasing reliance on the Internet and the ease of access to the vast resource available online is affecting our thought processes for problem solving, recall and learning. In a new article published in the journal Memory, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign have found that ‘cognitive offloading’, or the tendency to rely on things like the Internet as an aide-mémoire, increases after each use. We might think that memory is something that happens in the head but increasingly it is becoming something that happens with the help of agents outside the head.”

  • I will be posting some powerful ways to increase working memory later in the day ❤





MultiSensory Math: How do you teach patterns? Reggio inspired!

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Find out more about Reggio-Emilia here!

The Environment
The space within the school or the environment is considered the third teacher. Teachers intentionally organize, support and plan for various spaces for children. The daily schedules are planned to ensure that there is a balance between individual, small and large group activities, child directed and teacher initiated activity and inside as well as outside experiences.