Do you suspect that one of your students may have dyslexia? Here’s what every teacher should know!
As I look back to the students that I taught, I can picture one particular little boy who I’m sure had dyslexia. He was a bright, articulate, and kind first grader.
On one particularly rough day of teaching, he gave me a little blue gem shaped like a heart. “This is for you, because you’re the nicest teacher I’ve ever had.”
I’ll admit that I wasn’t feeling like a very nice teacher that day. This sensitive little guy knew I needed some encouragement!
He was all ears during whole class read alouds and his language comprehension was excellent.
But he struggled to get words off the page.
At the time I was a balanced literacy teacher. I advised his parents to read to him more (which they were already doing), and I gave him more practice with leveled texts.
He was a hard worker, and he had committed parents. But nothing we did made a whole lot of difference.
That little boy is now in his mid-twenties, and I hope he found a teacher who gave him more help than I did.
This is what I wish that I knew about dyslexia.
1. Dyslexia is real, and it’s more common than you might think.
Recently a friend of mine told me that her graduate school professor told her that dyslexia doesn’t exist.
Lest you think this was decades ago, it was 2015. 2015!
Dyslexia is real. People can have mild, moderate, or severe dyslexia.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity says that up to 20% of students have dyslexia. It is the most common learning disorder.
There is much that we can do for students with dyslexia, but there is no cure. Our students will not “grow out of” dyslexia.
2. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disorder.
Old myths die hard. Dyslexia is not about seeing letters or words backward.
It’s most commonly due to a difficulty in phonological processing.
According to Sally Shaywitz (Overcoming Dyslexia), dyslexia is an unexpected reading difficulty for someone who has the intelligence to be a much better reader.
This is the International Dyslexia Association’s official definition:
“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
(If that felt like a mouthful, that’s because it is. Dyslexia is difficult to define, and experts don’t always agree on the definition.)
3. Early screening helps us know which students are at risk for dyslexia
Clues for dyslexia can appear even before a child starts school, so it’s imperative that teachers use a screener to detect red flags.
Screeners do not diagnose dyslexia. But they do tell us which students would benefit from more testing. Get a free dyslexia screener at This Reading Mama.
4. It’s a big mistake to take a “wait and see” approach.
Early identification is crucial so that students can get the help they need. We’ve learned that the brain responds best to intervention when children are young. As we get older, our brains get less “plastic.” We can still help older, dyslexic readers, but the process will be harder than it would have been when they were young.
Many students with dyslexia need one-on-one tutoring so they can move forward. As a teacher, it’s your job to alert parents to this need.
5. Students with dyslexia need a structured literacy approach.
Students with dyslexia can learn to read with the right approach. The good news … ALL students benefit from structured literacy!
Structured literacy uses explicit, systematic teaching to teach the following elements:
Structured literacy is very different from the way I used to teach reading – using predictable, leveled texts and three-cueing. Balanced literacy approaches will not teach dyslexic students to be successful readers.
6. Students with dyslexia need reasonable accommodations.
Here are a few that make sense in a primary classroom.
- Allow more time for test-taking.
- Repeat directions as needed.
- Use daily routines so it’s easier for students to know what is expected.
- Give small, step-by-step instructions.
- Build in daily review.
- Provide books on audio.
Also read: Accommodations for Students with Dyslexia (from the IDA)
7. You can be the teacher that makes all the difference.
When you educate yourself about dyslexia, point parents in the right direction, and change the way you teach so that you reach all learners, you will make an incredible, lasting impact on the child’s life.
Here’s how to learn more!
- Read Conquering Dyslexia, by Jan Hasbrouck. It’s short, easy to read, and practical. You can read it in a weekend!
- Read Dyslexia Advocate, by Kelli Sandman-Hurley to know how to help a child with dyslexia within the public education system.
- Bookmark the International Dyslexia Association’s website. Its printable fact sheets are extremely helpful!
- Read the rest of our blog series, linked below!