The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges for children and families, particularly those who suffer from learning disabilities. One group, in particular, children with dyslexia, has struggled with the changes to schooling and the learning loss that has occurred through school closures, remote learning, and changes to instruction. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by children with dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a common disorder, occurring in about 10% of school-age children. It causes difficulties with reading and decoding, particularly with identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Children with dyslexia struggle with reading and writing despite having normal vision, intelligence, and spoken language ability.
Changes in schooling that have occurred due to the pandemic have resulted in less instructional time, particularly in reading, and fewer special education services being offered to families. However, on a more positive note, not all of the changes were negative for dyslexic students, and there are a number of well-tested teaching strategies which can mitigate learning loss and improve reading skills, reading scores, and reading motivation.
What is Pandemic-Related Learning Loss?
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, school children in the United States and around the world have fallen behind in reading and math skills. New research shows that after the 2020-2021 school year, elementary level students (grades K-5) have fallen behind as much as five months in math and four months in reading. This significant level of learning loss has greater impacts on students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and students with learning disabilities.
Special education students, along with their parents and teachers, have faced uniquely complicated challenges during the pandemic. According to Leandra Elion, a lecturer in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, “Generally speaking, in special education, one of the strategies that work the best is a structured routine—and that’s gone.”
Dyslexic Students and the Benefits of Remote Instruction
Research also demonstrates that remote schooling may have been beneficial in at least one way to some students with dyslexia. The use of technology in learning can benefit and assist dyslexic students by supporting reading through the use of multimedia instruction. For example, many teachers read to students while displaying the words on the screen, allowing students to follow along more closely than if the teacher was reading a book in the classroom while the students were listening.
Another benefit to the remote learning that took place during the 2020-2021 school year was that schools and teachers worked to ensure that all accommodations are in place and that your student has all the access to information and reading, writing, spelling, and math supports they may need. Finally, with remote learning in the form of live classes or recorded classes on Zoom, Google Meet, and similar platforms, it may be much easier to see what your student has trouble with or where she or he gets lost.
Teaching and Engagement Strategies to Mitigate Learning Loss
The good news is that a wide variety of teaching and engagement strategies can make up for learning loss and improve student reading skills, test scores, and motivation. These strategies will be outlined in detail in the next section. They include anticipating gaps in learning and tracking progress and mastery over time, using a variety of assessment techniques to generate a unique learning profile for each student.
The importance of building collaborative and supportive relationships with parents to provide them with activities that they can do at home to support children with school assignments. Design in-class assignments and homework that are structured for dyslexic students to master the concepts and skills taught. Differentiation, modification, and intervention support are crucial to the success of students who need more support to access the core curriculum.
Strategies to Reduce the Impact of Learning Loss
Dyslexia is a language processing disorder that affects phonological and phonemic awareness, spelling, and word recognition. These teaching strategies focus on ways teachers can improve reading skills and begin to reverse the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. Two key practices that teachers, educators, and parents can use when teaching reading to dyslexic students are multisensory teaching and phonics instruction.
Multisensory Teaching Strategies
The benefit of these two approaches is that they provide multiple sensory inputs for dyslexic students. When information comes into the brain through multiple channels, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking, that information is better processed and retained by the brain. This section will explore the strategies of multisensory teaching, phonics instruction, and differentiation in instruction and assessment for dyslexic students, followed by a list of reading activities that benefit dyslexic students and an in-depth lesson plan for reading that can be modified and implemented for grades 1-3.
Multisensory teaching simply teaches concepts and skills through multiple sensory inputs, such as seeing, hearing, speaking, reading, and writing or kinesthetic activities. For example, reading might include having students see the word and how it’s spelled, say the word out loud, and practice writing the word. This strategy can consist of having students write words using tactile actions that are appealing to young children, such as writing in sand, using food or colorful shapes to spell out words, and using movement to act out the meaning of words.
Phonological Awareness and Phonics Instruction
Another way to improve reading skills in dyslexic students is to focus on phonics instruction, a way of teaching reading which focuses on the relationship between letters or word parts and the sounds they make. Looking at how letters are linked to sounds is not only an extension of multisensory teaching but also a strategy to help young readers decode unfamiliar words.
Phonics allows young readers to develop their reading comprehension and decode unfamiliar words as they read. With practice, this action becomes so automatic that they can easily understand the overall meaning of words while they are reading. Prioritizing phonics instruction for struggling readers is essential, and research indicates that early interventions targeting these skills show the greatest promise in improving these children’s reading.
Fluency and Comprehension Instruction
Once students have achieved or regained reading fluency, teachers can increase reading motivation by taking a more comprehensive approach to reading and assessment, focusing on having students read and analyze stories for story structure, plot, setting, character, and theme. This approach allows teachers to increase reading instruction, improve reading fluency and comprehension, and assess reading and comprehension skills while still engaging students in stories and storytelling, rather than continuously subjecting them to skill drills and testing.
Formative Assessments and Sample Lesson Plans
In addition to the standardized tests that are part of almost every school and district, research supports and encourages the use of holistic formative assessments. Holistic assessment refers to the process of using multiple sources to continually gather information on a child’s development. Formative assessment is simply an ongoing, informal assessment, such as what occurs while talking to a child, facilitating class discussion, and through the use of reading response journals, which are detailed in the lesson plan at the end of this article.
We have created sample lesson plans to support the content in this article for you to use as a guide to implement evidence-based strategies and mitigate learning loss for dyslexic students.
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Dyslexic Advantage Team (2021). Covid Schooling: Should we be worried? https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/covid-schooling-should-we-be-worried-2
Joanesse, Marc (2021). Meeting the challenge of dyslexia in the pandemic and beyond. https://rsc-src.ca/en/voices/meeting-challenge-dyslexia-in-pandemic-and-beyond
Long, Cindy (2021). What Covid-19 Taught Us about Special. Education https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/what-covid-19-taught-us-about-special-education
National Council for Special Education (2021). Dyslexia and Reading Instruction. https://www.sess.ie/dyslexia-section/dyslexia-and-reading-instruction
Nelson, Angela (2020). How Covid-19 Has Affected Special Education Students. https://now.tufts.edu/articles/how-covid-19-has-affected-special-education-students
Selmyr, Gustav (2021). The Pandemic Makes Dyslexia a Greater Challenge. But We Know How to Solve It. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2021-09-28-the-pandemic-makes-dyslexia-a-greater-challenge-but-we-know-how-to-solve-it