There are students with dyslexia in nearly every classroom. About 20 percent of the United States’ population is affected by dyslexia. This means that in your classroom one out of every five students has a language-based learning disability.
Dyslexia is a highly prevalent disability.
So when dyslexia comes to the classroom, what can a teacher do to help?
Knowledge is power! So the first step in teaching students with dyslexia is to have an understanding of dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a brain-based learning disability that affects a student's ability to learn to read accurately and fluently. Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading that is neurobiological in origin. The difficulty is “unexpected” in relation to the student’s other cognitive abilities. It is also “unexpected” when a student has received effective Tier One classroom instruction. The difficulty is neurobiological in that it is hereditary. A student is more likely to have dyslexia if one of their parents, siblings, or another family member has it. And the difficulty generally lies in the student’s inability in detecting individual sounds of spoken language and mapping those sounds to letters in print. This is called phonological processing, and it impacts a student’s ability to speak, read, spell and, often, learn a second language.
Despite these hurdles, the majority of students who receive intervention can learn to read proficiently, and this goes for students with dyslexia too.
Reading experts have asserted that 95 percent of students have the cognitive capacity to learn to read, but not every student will learn to read under the same conditions. An estimated 30 percent of students will learn to read regardless of how they were taught, while 50 percent of students will need high-quality Tier One instruction in foundational skills and 15 percent of students will require additional time and support to meet their reading potential - meaning intervention!
Interventions for students with dyslexia are more effective if they are more explicit than the general education instruction. The goal is to provide extra time on learning for struggling readers. Intervention should offer reduced instructional grouping size. Intervention instruction should be multi-sensory, comprehensive, and individualized instruction based on assessment data.
A key indicator of dyslexia is difficulty in decoding words. Research has shown that the part of the brain responsible for storing and activating corresponding letter sequences in printed words was not as active in the brains of students with dyslexia. However, after direct instruction in phonemic awareness skills, the brain activity in students with dyslexia can be normalized (Simos et al., 2002). Therefore, intervention instruction that is direct, systematic, and targets phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence is most beneficial for students with dyslexia. Orthographic mapping is an excellent multi-sensory strategy to teach letter sounds and their corresponding printed letter symbols.
Once teachers have knowledge of dyslexia, they can operationalize it through direct and systematic intervention instruction. But while we are instructing our students to achieve reading success, we need to simultaneously support them in accessing the Tier One curriculum. This means removing those hurdles to the curriculum that impair our students with dyslexia from independently accessing it. This can be done through supportive accommodations. Supportive accommodations are a way to help students learn the same material or take the same test in a different way.
Give students with dyslexia the power to read grade level reading materials through access to audiobooks or recorded materials. Students with dyslexia often have a vast vocabulary, but are unable to decode these same words in text. Auditory texts bridge this gap and allow students with dyslexia to read the same materials as the rest of the class. When all students are able to access the content materials, all students can actively participate in classroom discussions and related tasks and activities.
Check out a few of these FREE audiobook resources:
-your local library
-Bookshare is the largest online library of accessible reading materials, created for people with disabilities such as dyslexia.
-Storynory offers free audiobooks for younger students.
-ReadWorks and NewsELA provides shorter texts and passages that are content-based.
Assistive technology, computers, and text-to-speech and speech-to-text apps, extensions, and software provide further compensation to students with dyslexia. Such technology can support handwriting, spelling, and fluency, often noted as lagging skill areas for students with dyslexia.
Accommodations eliminate obstacles to the curriculum that dyslexia creates for students. When we can eliminate those lagging skill areas, students are able to show what they know and achieve! For example, if a student’s fine motor challenges are impacting their written expression, speech-to-text programs can eliminate this challenge and enable them to write about a topic, without being impacted by lagging skills in handwriting.
The accommodation of extra time supports students with dyslexia, both socially, emotionally, and academically. Extra time alleviates the stress factor for students, enabling them to demonstrate their ability alongside their peers. A stress-free assessment gives students with dyslexia an opportunity to focus on the content.
The extra time accommodation compensates for the dysfluency of students with dyslexia. Brain-imaging research has confirmed the critical need for an extra time accommodation for students with dyslexia. This was shown to be particularly critical as students progressed toward high school and upward.
Dyslexia represents a disparity between a student’s reading and intellectual abilities. By having an understanding of dyslexia, providing effective intervention, and implementing supportive accommodations, teachers can fight this disparity to assure fairness and equity in their classroom.
Dyslexia is a lifelong disability, but with the appropriate support, students’ reading skills can improve.
Kilpatrick, D.A. (2015). Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties.
Shaywitz SE, Morris R, Shaywitz BA. The education of dyslexic children from childhood to young adulthood. Annu Rev Psychol. 2008;59:451-75. Doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093633. PMID: 18154503.
Simos PG, Fletcher JM, Bergman E, Breier JI, Foorman BR, Castillo EM, Davis RN, Fitzgerald M, Papanicolaou AC. Dyslexia-specific brain activation profile becomes normal following successful remedial training. Neurology. 2002 Apr 23;58(8):1203-13. doi: 10.1212/wnl.58.8.1203. PMID: 11971088.