According to more than 25 years of research by the National Institutes of Health and Studies at Yale University, Dyslexia affects one in five people1. The American Academy of Pediatrics2 states that dyslexia is the most common learning disability, accounting for 80% of all learning disabilities. Dyslexia is a specific, lifelong learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. Although dyslexia is common and affects many students, it is not always diagnosed at an early age, leaving students falling through the cracks and behind in reading.
Signs of Dyslexia in Students from Kindergarten to High School
There are indicators that teachers can look out for in different ages of students to identify if a student may have dyslexia. Preschool students showing signs of dyslexia may have difficulty pronouncing words (for instance saying ‘busgetti’ for spaghetti). Other signs are having poor auditory memory for nursery rhymes and chants. Those with dyslexia may also have trouble learning numbers, days of the week, colors, shapes, and how to spell or write their name. Kindergarten to third grade students’ signs slightly differ from preschool students. Kindergarten through 3rd grade students might rely on context to recognize words, or fail to understand that words come apart (for example, snowman can be pulled apart into snow and man); and later on, the word man can be broken into phonemes, and might have difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation).
There are many signs of dyslexia in fourth grade to high school students that may go unnoticed by teachers. Some of these students avoid reading out loud, others might have a history of reading and spelling difficulties, and others may resort to less-complicated words, which are easier to spell. Some dyslexic students avoid reading for pleasure or appear like they are uninterested in reading. Caught early, there are many interventions that can help these students to read.
Early Intervention Is Key
Early identification and intervention are key to helping students learn to read. About 74% of students who are poor readers in third grade remain so, absent intense intervention. A national study3 from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation found that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers.
Dyslexia can affect more than just academic standing in students, it can also affect students’ sociability and emotions. Without the tools to express themselves, dyslexic students may suffer from low self-esteem. To prevent this, it is vital that teachers are aware of signs of dyslexia, so they can recommend an evaluation and get an official diagnosis so those students can have access to the proper accommodations and resources.
Current Support for Diagnosed Dyslexic Students
There are several current support options in place for students with dyslexia. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when a child over three years old is diagnosed with dyslexia, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be created. The benefits of an IEP are that there will be individualized, specific instruction for the student who is behind in academic areas and it will provide a combination of instruction to assist in catching the child up to their grade level.
Traditional methods for teaching students how to read are not applicable to students with dyslexia. Of the reading programs that have proven to help students with dyslexia learn how to read, one of the most powerful is Orton-Gillingham4 (OG).
In the 1920s, Dr. Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham created a method, Orton-Gillingham, which was among the first teaching approaches designed to help struggling readers by explicitly teaching the connections between letters and sounds.
Today, we know this same method as Structured Literacy, and it can benefit all learners, both general education and remedial. Structured Literacy (SL) is a term that was created by the International Dyslexia Association5 in 2016 to help unify the names of the researched approaches to reading, including OG, phonics-based reading instruction, systematic reading instruction, and synthetic phonics. These SL programs emphasize the structure of language across all components including phonology, orthography, syntax, morphology, semantics, and discourse.
Applying OG and the Science of Reading
Students benefit from explicit, systematic, and sequential techniques that are the hallmark of effective literacy education in the modern classroom. Aligned with the latest research in the Science of Reading, the cumulative, multi-sensory program engages students by utilizing hearing, touch, speaking, and sight to capture students’ attention and make the proper connections with their brains. The Institute of Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE) was the first company to take OG and expand it to help not just students with dyslexia but into general education and the entire classroom. IMSE’s Structured Literacy professional development and classroom programs have helped over 175,000 educators master the art of teaching all children how to read.
IMSE’s approach to SL is based on the Science of Reading and incorporates the best of OG and all five pillars of literacy. While OG has long been associated with dyslexia, IMSE has pioneered “Orton-Gillingham for everyone,” widening its reading strategies into general education. Orton-Gillingham was among the first teaching approaches designed to help struggling readers by explicitly teaching the connections between letters and sounds, and is a research-based, scientific approach to reading and writing instruction.
The Science of Reading6 is the result of a wide span of research designs, experimental methods, participants, and statistical analyses. It includes the contributions of experts from relevant disciplines, such as education, special education, literacy, psychology, and neurology, among others. This conclusive, empirically supported research provides the information needed to gain a deeper understanding of how people learn to read, what skills are involved, how these skills work together, and which parts of the brain are responsible for reading development. From this research comes an evidence-based best practice approach for teaching foundational literacy skills.
Meeting the Needs of All Students
Students learn at different rates and at different levels, so it is necessary to differentiate instruction or tasks to accommodate different learning styles and needs. To provide effective differentiation, educators must know each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Differentiation can be done with all students, not just students with disabilities.
According to Diane Heacox, author of Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How to Reach and Teach All Learners, Grades 3-12, “Differentiating instruction means changing the pace, level, or kind of instruction you provide in response to individual learners’ needs, styles, or interests.”
When differentiating instruction, educators should first find out what students know about a topic and what they need to learn. After this is established, a variety of activities should be provided.
These activities should support learners’ strengths, while encouraging growth in areas of weakness. According to Heacox, factors to consider when differentiating instruction include student readiness, socioeconomic status, learning pace, gender, and cultural/ethnic influences.
OG is a highly structured approach that breaks reading and spelling down into smaller skills involving letters and sounds, and then building on these skills over time. It was the first approach to use explicit, direct, sequential, systematic, multi-sensory instruction to teach reading, which is not only effective for all students but essential for teaching students with dyslexia. With this approach, students are able to learn how to read no matter their background or abilities.
Jeanne Jeup is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education. Since its founding in 1996, IMSE has trained more than 175,000 reading teachers. As a former first-grade teacher, Jeup realized she lacked an adequate strategy for teaching her students to read.
After working with children, researching early childhood reading development, and using a method based on Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham’s work, Jeanne enables teachers to deliver reading instruction to emergent readers. Ms. Jeup is the proud recipient of the 2018 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Michigan and Northwest Ohio Region.