As school administrators, there are times when teachers come to us for support about a student who may be struggling to learn to read. I remember observing a classroom and during the reflective feedback debrief meeting, the teacher shared that she had concerns about several students who were struggling to learn to read. She continued to share that one student had difficulty reading and understanding test questions, and even after allowing him to retake the same assessments multiple times, the results were pretty much the same.
At first, she thought he was just lazy or a slow learner, but the student had begun to exhibit frustration, depression, and embarrassment because it was extremely hard for him to read. Unfortunately, this was a 5th-grade student with dyslexia and had his disability been identified earlier and reasonable accommodations with access to an evidence-based structured approach to literacy instruction, he wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks.
What are the signs of dyslexia?
The problems displayed by individuals with dyslexia involve difficulties in acquiring and using written language. It is a myth that individuals with dyslexia “read backwards,” although spelling can look quite jumbled at times because students have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and forming memories for words. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.
School-aged children with this learning disability may also struggle with:
- Copying written language.
- Expressing themselves in spoken language.
- Noticing differences and similarities in letters and words.
- Remembering sequences, such as the days of the week.
- Sounding out unfamiliar words.
The impact that dyslexia has is different for each student and depends on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of instruction or remediation.
Dyslexia-Friendly Schools and Inclusion
All students should have access to instructional materials that address their unique needs. Students spend considerable time in classrooms interacting with curriculum resources and materials. This means that material accommodations must be differentiated and accessible. Some examples of material accommodations are as follows:
Reading Guides – provide students with access to a structured road map with targeted questions that help them understand the main idea, vocabulary, and specific facts to ensure they are mastering the content read.
Present Work In Smaller Chunks – students should have access to materials that are broken down into small assignments instead of providing students with learning disabilities with several workbook pages or class assignments to complete without an accommodation. Students should have an opportunity to complete two paragraphs or a workbook page divided into sections so that they are thriving instead of the entire assignment at one time, which leads to frustration and students becoming discouraged.
Practice Activities for Mastery – most students need opportunities to practice newly learned content and skills; however, students with learning disabilities need additional practice activities to master the core foundational skills of reading. Teachers must provide students with evidence-based interventions, such as corrective teaching materials that reinforce and provide multiple opportunities to practice concepts and skills through different modalities.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Although specific learning disabilities cannot be cured, they can be treated with explicit, systematic, and direct instruction that is research-proven and evidence-based specialized instructional strategies. With the right instructional support and accommodations, students can focus on their strengths, adapt to their disabilities, and succeed in and out of school. However, this can only happen when schools are equipped to identify barriers to student achievement and provide early intervention services to ensure that all students are successful.