Fitting Davis Tools into an IEP

A parent asks:

My son has an IEP for dyslexia.  We purchased the Davis Orientation and Symbol Mastery Home Kit, and we would like to ask the school to support us.  I am working on IEP goals and objectives for his learning.  Do you have any goals and objectives for your program that I can have? 

Also, how can I answer the school’s questions about research? They will not implement anything that is not research-based.

My answer:

For an IEP, it is important to focus on your own child’s specifics needs and goals. Think of the ways that the Davis tools are tied to academic skills that your child struggles with. Use generalized language rather than specific, name-brand references. 

boy writing

For example, most of the words on the Davis trigger word list are also on the Dolch list of common sight words.  Rather than asking the school to reference the Davis kit or specific Davis techniques in the IEP, you could ask for a goal tied to learning “common, high-frequency sight words”. You might also try to include that the words will be learned “using hands-on, multi-sensory techniques, such as clay modeling.”  (But even if they don’t agree to the clay – a sight word goal will fit right into the work your son can do with you at home with the Symbol Mastery).

Try to make it easy for the school, by using language and terminology they are familiar with, such as “sight words,” instead of “trigger words,” and think about sub-skills you are working on that are specifically tied to your son’s needs.  For example, if your son also mixes up similar letters such as b and d, you can add a goal tied to learning to distinguish specific letters.

The Davis sweep-sweep-spell reading exercise would fit well with a goal of “building reading fluency through guided practice.” The Davis picture-at-punctuation reading exercise can be described as “using visualization strategies to improve reading comprehension.” 

Another example might be to describe the Davis mental tools (alignment/orientation counseling, dial setting, and release) as “practicing techniques to improve self-regulation skills.”  Even if teachers are skeptical of Davis, they usually are receptive to any ideas that will help with in-class behavior.

Using this sort of generalized terminology will also give you the ability to tap into a large body of generally-accepted research that is outside of, or beyond, Davis.  For example, in the research section on our main website you can find a list of research on the topic of visual imagery and reading comprehension.    (Of course, there are also many published studies of Davis techniques as well — but you probably will find it more helpful if you can refer to ideas and concepts that the school staff is already familiar with, and which can find support through widely respected sources.)    

Even though you will be using general language to encompass specific techniques, you will want to incorporate specific goals into the IEP tied to reading skills or subskills. This could be tied to a specific number of sight words you hope that your child can master, or specific goals tied to reading fluency and comprehension at an improved level.

If there is something that you don’t want the school to do (for example, if your son has struggled with phonics-based instruction and the school seems to be pushing for more of the same), then you might find some of the references in the article “When Phonics Doesn’t Work” to be helpful. Again, keep your son’s specific needs and past experiences in mind.

Keep in mind that no matter what the IEP says, you will need the support and understanding of the teachers who are working with your child. If you are hoping that your son can receive direct support with the Davis Symbol Mastery and other tools during the school day, try to meet with the resource teacher before the IEP meeting to get a sense of whether the teacher is receptive and how the Davis techniques might fit within the lesson plans and daily routine. If the teachers are not comfortable implementing specific Davis techniques, it would be counterproductive to try to force that through an IEP. For Davis methods to work, it is important that the person working with your child be positive and encouraging — that simply is not something that can be forced.

If the teachers are resistant, you could focus instead on what the teachers can do that is compatible with the work you are doing on your own with the home kit, or simply to ensure that the IEP goals are structured in a way that do not conflict with your efforts at home. The IEP can be used to spell out accommodations as well. For example, you might ask for a reduced spelling list and waiver of some homework assignments, such as writing out spelling words and sentences, to allow you to opt for using the clay modeling process instead.

Useful Resources:

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan (or Program). In the US, federal law requires that schools implement such plans for children who qualify for special education services. For more information on how dyslexic children may qualify for such services, see

The photo on this page comes from the website at