It took me a long time to get my brain around this teaching/therapy concept. But once I got it, it made so much sense! This goes beyond the phonics/whole language debate to underlying mental processes. People who have difficulty with language usually have some underlying processing deficits. Although I am not a PhD educator-type person, I will attempt to explain these concepts.
One difficulty is that of phonemic awareness, which is the ability to perceive sounds in words. Such a person might look at the word STREAM and read it as STEAM. They may add or omit sounds and not know they are doing it. The other difficulty is trickier and involves concept imagery. This is the ability of the brain to process the whole of language that is read or heard. In a sense, the brain sees the language. When I read a word which represents a concept, I can picture the concept on the blackboard of my mind. A student with concept imagery weakness doesn't imagine the whole or concepts of the language. So they may be able to read something flawlessly (have good phonemic awareness), but cannot grasp or understand what they have read.
The premise of the Lindamood-Bell programs is that the mind can be taught to perceive sounds and image concepts. As the brain learns to think with sounds and letters, reading and spelling improves, the brain can image language concepts, and reading comprehension and higher order thinking skills can be developed.
It can readily be seen that if a child has this type of imagery weakness, no phonics program, no matter how spiffy, will help them!
The first book I studied was called Visualizing and Verbalizing For Language Comprehension and Thinking. Some introductory material in the book expanded on the idea of imagery, noting that language comprehension was more than recognizing words or vocabulary. Rather true language comprehension embodies the concept of the German gestalt - a complex organized unit or whole that is more than the sim of its parts. The author notes, "In the case of language comprehension disorder, the weakness in creating an imaged gestalt - whole - interferes with the connection to and interpretation of incoming language." (p. 13) By encouraging the student's imagery skills, a sensory link is made between language and thought. The body of this text is devoted to showing you how to work with the student to develop their imagery skills. Sample dialog is included along with some great tutoring on how to ask questions to get the student thinking and communicating. The first series of exercises deal with picture to picture imaging in which the student is led to give a detailed verbal description of a simple picture. Next, the student learns to visualize and verbalize words, sentences, paragraphs, whole pages, chapters and lectures. This powerful process results in improvement in reading comprehension, oral language comprehension and expression written language expression and critical thinking.
Another book is called Seeing Stars: Symbol Imagery for Phonemic Awareness, Sight Words and Spelling.
Again, the premise is that the ability to visualize letters can be stimulated. Why is this important? Reading consists of the complex process of accurate phonetic processing, sight word recognition, contextual clues and oral vocabulary. The child learns phonemic awareness, which is primary to decoding words, and concept imagery, which is crucial to comprehension. But phonemic awareness must not be confused with phonics. Teaching phonics does not ensure phonemic awareness. After a thorough explanation of theory, the books takes the student through a series of exercises in learning to image letters, then syllables, then spelling.
The last item I studied was called On Cloud Nine: Visualizing and Verbalizing for Math. It is not surprising that many of the same visualizing concepts apply to the sensory-cognitive connection for math. This program uses visualizing and verbalizing to develop concrete experiences, imagery and computation. Many students who do this for math have also done visualizing and verbalizing for language. Explicit instructions in the text take the student from imaging numerals, a number line, addition and subtraction fact families, word problems, place value, jumping, carrying and borrowing, multiplication and division, decimals and fractions.
There are individuals around the country who do this type of work with children. To begin to explore these therapy options, check out the above web site. Workshops, training videotapes and CDs are also available for the parent who wishes to learn this method themselves.