An Effective Reading Approach

Q. What is an effective approach to reading instruction for students with dyslexia?

A. The approach must be based in Orton-Gillingham principles. You’ll remember that Samuel Orton, nearly 100 years earlier, coined the term dyslexia. Along with Anna Gillingham, an extremely talented educator and psychologist, they developed the OG approach.

Q. What does the OG approach look like?

A. (I will start posting a mini-series to explain each of these in more detail.)

The approach must be (1) logically sequenced in terms of how each concept is introduced, (2) cumulative, and (3) explicit. It is also (4) diagnostic in that the instructor is constantly taking data throughout the lesson and using that information to build the next lesson. Lastly, the lesson should be taught in the (5) multi-sensory approach.

In general (except when not applicable), each lesson must include instruction on phonemic awareness, phonics, syllable instruction, morphology, syntax, and semantics, with a way for the student to practice their reading and spelling with both review and new concepts. Fluency is also an essential part of the equation.

I’ll start explaining all of this in more detail, and along the way, you’ll get to hear my TED talk (I’m half-kidding) on why I believe OG approach makes sense for ALL students, not just those with dyslexia, and why these skills should be taught long past K-2.

Legal Issues

Why isn’t dyslexia more well-understood, given that it is the most common learning disability out there? We’ve known it exists for over 100 years. What gives?

While the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) does not prevent any state from providing services to a dyslexic student under the category of Specific Learning Disability, each state has the right to decide whether they have laws specifically governing the screening, assessment, and treatment of dyslexia, and what those laws look like.

In 1985, the state of Texas was the first to write legislation for students with dyslexia. Connecticut’s own laws did not come around until…wait for it…January 2015!

States vary on other requirements as well. When I was getting my initial teaching certification, there was nothing requiring my school to provide me with any sort of instruction or exposure regarding dyslexia. Thankfully that has now changed, and my hope is that teachers getting their certifications now will have a much better understanding of dyslexia.

Accommodations and Modifications

Accommodations and modifications for students with dyslexia are nearly always required for success.

Students with dyslexia often wind up having an IEP because they require MODIFICATIONS instead of just ACCOMMODATIONS (having a 504 plan).

These are just a few I’ve found to be most helpful with my students. I must put in a caveat here: no list of accommodations, modifications, goals, anything, is meant to be a one-size-fits-all situation. A PPT must thoughtfully consider each accommodation and modification in an IEP. Their purpose is not to give the student an advantage – it is to level the playing field.

  • Accommodations and modifications:
  • Verbal instructions, with visuals, and repetition of instructions as necessary
  • Partial or complete teacher notes provided to the student
  • Extended time as necessary on classwork and homework assignments, including testing
  • Access to text-to-speech technology
  • Access to speech-to-text technology, word-prediction software, and/or a scribe/reduced writing requirements (varies greatly depending on needs)
  • No penalty for spelling and/or handwriting
  • Allowed to type assignments
  • Reading aloud or audio access to directions on assignments, tests, etc.

I’m Not Dumb

Mommy Evolution published a list of books specifically written to help kids with dyslexia feel more comfortable and accepted.

My personal favorite is Patricia Polacco’s “Thank You, Mr. Falker” (#5 on this list).

It’s so important for kids to understand they are not dumb. They are not incapable of learning. They’re not even all that “special” if you realize how many of us have struggled with reading and spelling.

Dyslexia-Friendly Fonts: Yay or Nay?

Q: I’ve heard about those dyslexia-friendly fonts…what’s the deal?

A: As of right now (I say this because there is some debate about the topic), dyslexia is recognized solely as a neurobiological disorder, resulting from a significant deficit in phonological processing.

Q: English, please?

A: Dyslexia isn’t a result of someone’s poor eyesight or inability to distinguish one letter from the next. Phonological processing skills are crucial for anyone learning to read and write, because it is the basis for how we distinguish sounds and meaning. Phonological processing is NOT a visual skill. Students in K-2 who are developing these skills should be able to do things like tell you if words rhyme or not, generate a rhyming word, count out syllables, words in a sentence, or sounds in a word, etc. When students have difficulty telling b from d, for example, it isn’t only because they look similar. It’s because they’re having trouble remembering the different sounds associated with two similar-looking visual representations.

Q: Okay so…

A: So, dyslexia-friendly fonts are fine to use. If something works for you, then use it. There may be other neurological deficits, such as the ability to visually process symbols in a timely manner, that are affecting a student’s ability to read. But it’s technically not “dyslexia’s fault” if a font is tough to read!