Lindamood-BellOn Cloud NineProfessional Development

Sensory-Cognitive Instruction and Response to Intervention — A Paradigm Shift

Sensory-Cognitive Instruction and Response to Intervention — A Paradigm Shift

Congratulations! You have just completed a Seeing Stars®, Visualizing and Verbalizing®, or On Cloud Nine® Math Workshop, or have recently begun using any one of our research-validated programs. Now you're ready to start helping students who have struggled for too long.

Many schools use Lindamood-Bell's programs in their Response to Intervention (RtI) process due to their effectiveness with at-risk learners and students with disabilities. Let's take a look at the secrets to our RtI success!

Our Sensory-Cognitive Instruction Enhances a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

Our instructional model is based on specific development or remediation of the imagery-language connection. This is a paradigm shift from most instructional approaches and interventions, which is precisely why these programs are so effective. They target the underlying skills that are deficient in struggling students. Rather than teaching to a specific learning style, or focusing on compensatory skills or strategies, sensory-cognitive instruction strengthens the foundation needed for fluency in reading and math. By using this method, schools have a profound impact on instruction via their multi-tiered system of supports.

Regardless of what tier of instruction you are focused on, the goal with sensory-cognitive instruction is to develop the learning process in order for students to self-monitor and self-correct. This leads to independence—a goal all educators share!

Tier 1 (Core Instruction)
Sensory-cognitive instruction enhances the core by explicitly teaching the cognitive skills all students require to access the curriculum and meet the standards. This is especially important in higher-risk settings, such as Title 1 schools. By focusing on the process of reading, in addition to what needs to be taught through the standards, classroom teachers are able to prevent reading difficulties for many students while also tapping the full potential of their highest achievers. Generally, the steps of the Seeing Stars, Visualizing and Verbalizing (V/V®), and On Cloud Nine (OCN™) programs are delivered for about 15 minutes per day (per program) in K-2 classrooms, while the strategies are applied throughout the core curriculum. For ELA instruction, as students begin to shift from learning to read to reading to learn, and then move into complex text, Visualizing and Verbalizing strategies are applied to all content-area instruction in 3rd through 12th grades.

Tier 2 (Targeted Intervention)
As is often the case with many RtI models, Tier 2 instruction includes the same intervention for each student, despite a wide variation in their skill sets. Further, Tier 2 may focus on re-teaching the same concepts from the core, but with a supplemental curriculum or resources. Students who do not respond to the core concepts and are falling behind require targeted assistance within the specific skill areas that are preventing them from keeping up. Sensory-cognitive instruction in Seeing Stars, V/V, and OCN, performed 45 to 60 minutes per day, allows teachers to differentiate the instruction based on what students actually need.

Tier 3 (Intensive Intervention)
Tell me if you've heard this before: "Definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Students with significant learning difficulties or disabilities, including dyslexia and autism spectrum disorder, may need two or more hours of daily, highly intensive intervention (yes, two or more hours!). Fortunately, research points to evidence that stimulating the cognitive processes required for language and literacy, with intensity, is functionally and physically changing the brain. The take-home message here: sensory-cognitive instruction, with intensity, can make a difference. Dabbling in various strategies, a little bit at a time, is just doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.


Sensory-cognitive instruction in Tier 3 can be implemented in small groups (typically three to five students) or one–to–one in some cases. In this tier of intensive intervention, some students with more significant disabilities may also require instruction in the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing® (LiPS®) program or the Talkies® program. Again, the point here is that you are specifically and systematically stimulating the part (or parts) of the student's sensory system that is weak, which is preventing them from self-monitoring and self-correcting.

Assessment Drives Instruction.

Ask any teacher or administrator "doing" RtI about the assessments they use and they will most likely give you a tour of their data wall or show you an online demo of their progress monitoring tools. This is all great, but how can sensory-cognitive instruction provide you with even more powerful assessment data that actually drives the teaching and learning process?

Generally, RtI focuses more on progress monitoring tools and summative assessments. Educators, however, must also be skilled at formative assessment, a process that emphasizes assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. Through formative assessment, teachers gather data during lessons and activities, while learning is taking place, and use these data to make instructional decisions in the moment. It doesn't require purchasing additional screeners or progress monitoring tools.

Understanding how the sensory-cognitive skills of phonemic awareness, symbol imagery, and concept imagery develop an individual's decoding and comprehension skills is critical in the formative assessment practice. By working through the steps of our programs and using Socratic questioning techniques, teachers are able to gain a better understanding of how individual students are processing language.

For "decoding" students—those whose primary intervention focus is in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency—teachers are able to assess, in the moment, which component of reading is displaying weakness. They monitor the progression and integration of skills needed for global reading, starting at the foundation of reading, which includes phonemic awareness, morpheme/grapheme association, word attack, word recognition, and contextual fluency.

Formative Assessment Tips for Seeing Stars and LiPS:

  • Note student's response time.
  • Note challenging consonant and vowel sounds.
  • Identify phonetic vs. orthographic spelling.
  • Identify the position of decoding errors.
  • Note the complexity of syllables.

For "comprehension" students—those whose primary intervention focus is in the area of language comprehension and vocabulary—teachers are able to question for understanding by asking how students imaged, or pictured, the story (or the lecture, or the directions, etc.). Instead of asking students to memorize and recite definitions, which may not lead to conceptual understanding, teachers should ask, "What do you picture for evaporation?" Asking detailed imagery questions provides immediate feedback as to whether the students "got it" or not. Teachers can adjust the lesson, in the moment, to further develop the imagery-language connection for understanding, recall, and critical thinking.

Formative Assessment Tips for Visualizing and Verbalizing:

  • Note student's response time.
  • Note responses for concrete vs. abstract content.
  • Record number of structure words verbalized without prompts.
  • Record number and type of prompts you provide. Remember, ask yourself "who's doing most of the talking?"
  • Record accuracy of picture summary—sequence and main images?

For students in math intervention, conceptual understanding and math "fluency" are often weak skills. Indeed, students who participate in the On Cloud Nine program often start with Visualizing and Verbalizing to build the foundation of concept imagery, which is necessary to develop their math skills. Through formative assessment, teachers ask students for key images from a word problem, or if the student can estimate the answer (indicating that the student can visualize a number line).

Formative Assessment Tips for On Cloud Nine Math:

  • Note student's response time.
  • Note automaticity/speed in math family facts and self-corrections.
  • Is student estimating after checking the sign and computing and comparing the answer?
  • Can student "jump" up and down on the imaged number line or do they need the concrete number line?
  • Does the student apply imagery to story problems?

Case Study—RtI in Action

Anderson Elementary School in Bristol, TN was one example of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This school is located in a high-risk neighborhood within the Bristol city limits. Challenges include high rates of unemployment, poverty status, and crime, and an aging population. Previous school interventions included various strategies but lacked focus, cohesiveness, and a sound instructional methodology.


By way of a Focus Schools grant, which is provided to schools with the largest achievement gaps between student subgroups, Anderson implemented a multi-tiered system of supports to address reading, comprehension, and math. In their RtI process, Anderson met their challenge head on.

All teachers and support staff received professional development from Lindamood-Bell in Seeing Stars, Visualizing and Verbalizing, and On Cloud Nine Math. Through the leadership of their principal, Andrew Brown, and their reading specialist, Jenny Stophel, the school focused on enhancing their core ELA instruction in Tier 1 while meeting the reading and math needs of their at-risk population and students with disabilities.

By focusing on developing the imagery-language connection for reading and math, students began to respond to instruction in ways they previously hadn't. Many students, for the first time, felt they now had the tools needed for success. They focused on learning how to learn, not just what to learn, and the school is seeing results. According to Principal Brown, "The Lindamood-Bell programs made a real difference in our instruction, especially in our RtI groups. Our achievement gap closure target for last year was 35%, and our actual gap ended up being only 17%!" While not finished yet, their choice to implement a new pedagogy and a new way of doing business has shown they can make significant progress with their struggling students. Way to go, Anderson!

For many school systems across the country, our sensory-cognitive programs and formative assessment process are a perfect match for their RtI approach. Utilizing the programs through a multi-tiered system of support has empowered teachers and administrators to meet the needs of ALL students, while helping struggling readers and students with disabilities learn to their potential.

Tom Mendoza is the Associate Director of Lindamood-Bell For Schools.