Toe by Toe
The name Toe by Toe
was chosen to signify that a student makes progress by the
tiniest steps - one toe at a time. However, even though the
steps taken are small, the student can clearly measure his or
her progress right from the first page. The student's
confidence and self-esteem are boosted as a result.
Over 25 years of fieldwork
went into the development of the system and it is this
research which makes the method so easy to use. You don't
have to be trained in any field of Education to tutor with
Toe by Toe. In fact, the manual often works better
with non-professionals using it as they do not come to the
task with any pre-conceived notions and thus simply follow the
very detailed instructions to the letter.
The unique syllable division
employed by Toe by Toe is very easy to use
though it is not the syllable division generally used for the
teaching of reading. Once the sound of a phoneme has been
taught using the 'polynons' (nonsense words), these rules can
then be applied to any multi-syllabic word and students find
a whole new world of reading opening before their eyes.
No matter what the nature of
the student's literacy problem, they can be taught to
read using Toe by Toe. The severity of their
problem may only be reflected in the length of time needed to
get through the book. Indeed, if the system is used with a
'non-dyslexic' child (i.e. one without learning
difficulties) the rapid improvement in reading age is truly
Toe by Toe F.A.Q.s
How old do
students need to be before commencing Toe by Toe?
How long does it
take to complete Toe by Toe?
What are the multi-sensory pages for?
How do we work on the non-phonetic words
Who is qualified
to act as a Toe by Toe
Will Toe by Toe work with every
Why are there so few graphics and pictures in
How long should a Toe by Toe session
How frequently should we do Toe by Toe?
nonsense words so important to the Toe by Toe method?
does Toe by Toe use an unconventional syllable
Toe by Toe and Comprehension - 'Barking at
How old do students need to be before commencing
Toe by Toe?
Usually we say that a child should be 7 years old before
starting the scheme. If a child is younger than 7, (you
will know the child best so whenever you consider that the
time is ripe...) we would suggest that you 'drill' the short
and long vowel sounds and the initial consonant blends to
the point where there is little or no hesitation
beforehand. This would be adequate preparation for the
first part of the book since it would ensure that they got
off to the ‘flying start’ which can be so important for
confidence and motivation.
How long does it take to complete
Toe by Toe?
The length of time necessary to finish the scheme depends
very much on the severity of the students’ reading problem.
With a student of average disability (dyslexic problems
range from severe to mild) receiving 30-minute, daily
sessions, the average time to complete the manual would be 5
- 6 months. However, a severely dyslexic student may take
much longer and – in such a case – it is vital that the
student is made to feel they are making steady progress
toward the ultimate goal and that what is, for them, a
mysteriously difficult skill is well within their compass.
What are the ‘Multi-Sensory’ Pages
The Toe by Toe scheme begins by providing the
student with the fundamentals of phonics. The
'Multi-Sensory Pages' – occurring every 20 pages or so
throughout the first half of the book - are simply blank
grids where any problem words can be worked on intensively. These words
are usually not phonetically consistent and thus require
a radically different approach as the phonic strategies used
to synthesise (i.e. build) words will simply not work in
such cases. We introduce these words (we call them 'link'
words) at strategic points in the manual. You will note
that note that - in the early part of the book - many
columns of real words have these link words in the shaded
boxes at the bottom. In this way they are introduced
alongside the phonic skills and this allows us to offer the
student coherent pieces of text to read ASAP. Reading real,
coherent sentences so early in the scheme will represent a
triumph for the student and provide a real sense of
progress. Whenever it becomes apparent that a particular
word (it will usually be one that doesn't make phonetic
sense) is causing problems then we draw a circle around it
and move it forward to the next 'Multi-Sensory Page’ to be
worked on intensively.
How do we work on the
non-phonetic words (‘sight words’)?
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, if we take a 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 that it would be
counterproductive to say the letter sounds singly...).
Finally, ask them to repeat the 'air tracing' procedure with
their eyes firmly closed. Please do this several times and then
ask them to copy the word carefully several times in the
appropriate column on the page. Again, 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. Of course, there will be a very good chance
that they will have forgotten. If that is the case, please
do not be disheartened. We simply repeat the previous
intensive procedure. However, at the start of the NEXT
session - ideally after a gap of 24 hours - you go back to
it, test again and give the obligatory tick or dot.
Repeat at the start of every TBT session until
- eventually – it has been 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 the utmost perseverance may be called for...
is qualified to act as a
Toe by Toe tutor?
Toe by Toe is written to allow non-qualified people to use the
scheme. i.e. Any literate person can act as a Toe by
Toe ‘coach’. However this is a highly structured
method and it is important that they follow the very
detailed instructions to the letter. These simple
instructions are in the red ‘coaching boxes’ on the facing
page of every grid and many of them are repeated throughout
Will Toe by Toe work with
every struggling reader?
It is our
contention that the proportion of students who cannot learn
to read using Toe by Toe is miniscule –
perhaps 1-2% of the population. As long as the instructions
are followed to the letter, Toe by Toe will
successfully provide almost every child with the ability to
read. Where the scheme has ‘failed’ in this objective, it
is because the instructions have not been followed
rigorously enough or – more likely – the student’s low
self-esteem and/or negative attitude to the task in hand
have not allowed the scheme to succeed. 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 and may have
already convinced themselves that they are simply too
‘thick’ to learn to read. Naturally, the longer they have
been struggling, the more difficult it will be to convince
them otherwise. As a consequence, the coach’s first
objective should be to make the student believe that they
can – in fact - do this thing.
Why are there so few graphics and
pictures in the book?
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 these
students 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
and it is this that keeps them motivated and ‘on task’.
How long should a Toe by Toe
session last for?
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.
How frequently should we do Toe
If at all
possible, Toe by Toe should be done every
day. Reinforcement and overlearning are key elements of the
scheme and experiments have demonstrated 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
10. Why are nonsense words so important to the
Toe by Toe method?
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 or even working out the sound of the first letter and
guessing 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 the long
process of development of Toe by Toe was the
year when she tried nonsense words with her ‘guinea pig’
group and – at the end of the year – found them so far in
advance of her control group that it was obvious they were a
major element in those students’ success. It seems that the
use of nonsense words pre-empts the tendency to guess.
11.Why does Toe by Toe
use an unconventional syllable division?
her research, Keda discovered that the conventional syllable
division (using 'closed' and 'open' syllables) was proving
to be 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 division which - though not applicable in
every possible case - was so easy to use that dyslexic
students could 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,
the task of reading is so trivial that longer words do not
require any kind of attack strategy…
Toe by Toe
and Comprehension - 'Barking at Print'...?
Toe by Toe
is basically a 'decoding' manual so it does not
specifically address comprehension issues. Therefore -
in common with all phonics-based schemes - it lays
itself open to the (rather glib...?) accusation that it
only teaches 'Barking at Print'. However, we counter this by asking how MOST words enter a person's
vocabulary? Surely, 'Barking at Print' is how we
all start to read in the first place...?
We would maintain that
by reading words in context it is
possible to gain a rough idea regarding meaning
which will be reinforced when the word is met again.
How else does a child pick up oral vocabulary
than by hearing words in the context of speech? Of
course, this doesn't preclude use of dictionary for
checking spelling or for the meanings of unfamiliar
words nor 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 website