Teaching reading is such an incredible privilege. As an avid reader from an early age, my favorite books have become like friends to me. A large portion of my fondest childhood memories are of the great books I read. So when I had my own children, I filled my house with books and eagerly anticipated sharing my joy of reading with them.
Somehow, even though our first born was bright and articulate, reading did not come easily for him. We tried changing reading programs (more than once!), taking a break, moving ahead with the next lesson even though he hadn’t mastered the previous one, thinking he might eventually catch on. Finally, we hired an educational psychologist to perform a full battery of psycho-educational tests to help us figure out what was going on with him. That is when we first learned about dyslexia.
What is Dyslexia?
Researchers estimate that as many as 20% of the population have dyslexia. It is characterized by:
- slow, inaccurate reading
- terrible spelling
- difficulty with penmanship
- difficulty expressing self
- inattentiveness, distractibility
- child dreads going to school
Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding of what causes these difficulties in learning to read despite the fact that there is a growing body of scientifically-based research on what dyslexia is and how to effectively teach dyslexics to read, write and spell. Unsuspecting parents, like in our family, go through everything from frustration to fear, and far too often, helplessness, in their quest to help their child.
Teaching Methods That Work
Dyslexic learners can all learn to read. It takes time, diligence and the right methods. While some children will learn to read fairly easily with any method, dyslexic learners need to be systematically and explicitly taught and retaught every aspect of reading. It simply does not come naturally and needs to be taught, every step of the way. The International Dyslexia Association publishes a booklet about the best instruction methods for children with dyslexia. These methods are based on the latest research as well as the consensus of thousands of educational therapists over 50 years. We’ll look at what the experts say about what to teach and how to teach and then look at some programs that can be used at home that follow these guidelines.
What to Teach
Phonemic Awareness: How to listen to a single word or syllable and break it into its individual sounds. Students should be able to change sounds, remove sounds and compare sounds all in their head. Research has shown that an early deficit in this area is a sure sign of reading problems in the future.
Sounds-Symbol Association: The knowledge of the various sounds in our language and their corresponding letter or combination of letters that represent those sounds. This includes blending sounds together into words and segmenting or taking whole words apart into individual sounds.
Syllabication Instruction: Instruction of the six basic syllable types and how these formations affect the composite letters’ sounds.
Morphology: The study of base words, roots, prefixes and suffixes.
Semantics: Instruction in reading comprehension strategies.
How to Teach
Most anything you will read about effective reading instruction now a days will talk about research-based instruction methods or the Orton-Gillingham method. The basic multi-sensory structured language technique known as the Orton-Gillingham approach was developed in the 1930s and 1940s. During the 1920s a neurologist named Samuel Orton began an intensive study of a group of people whom he called ‘word blind’. After studying what they could and couldn’t do, he took an interest in learning whether or not these children could learn to read. For many years he worked with Anna Gillingham and a team of others and eventually came up with an approach to teaching reading that taught the structure of sound-symbol relationships and used all of the senses to reinforce these associations. Since then, the Orton-Gillingham approach has been adapted and modified by institutions, agencies and private educational therapists.
Here are the individual facets of an effective reading program:
- Simultaneous & Multi-Sensory: Research has shown that dyslexics using all of their senses as they learn (visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic) are better able to store and retrieve information. Using as many of the senses as possible at once (simultaneously) is best.
- Systematic and Cumulative: Multi-sensory language instruction requires that the organization of material follows the logical order of the language. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic elements and progress methodically to more difficult concepts. Material must be taught systematically to strengthen memory. Introduce a rule, practice until is is mastered, and do lots of review.
- Direct instruction: Dyslexic learners do not naturally pick up the rules of written language. Every rule must be taught directly and practiced until mastered.
- Diagnostic Teaching: Teaching must be individualized and the student’s needs and progress must be constantly reassessed.
- Synthetic and Analytic Instruction: Multi-sensory, structured language programs should include both synthetic and analytic instruction. Synthetic instruction presents the parts of the language and then teaches how the parts work together to form a whole. Analytic instruction presents the whole and teaches how this can be broken down into its component parts.
Research-based Reading Programs to use From Home
These methods may sound confusing but there are specific reading programs that are designed for teaching a dyslexic student to read at home. Some of the most effective, and therefore popular, programs for at home reading instruction are:
- Reading Horizons
- All About Reading
- Barton Reading and Spelling Method
If you know someone that you think may be dyslexic, know that they can learn to read, spell and write successfully. The unique learning style of the dyslexic mind means that the approach for teaching will necessarily be different than other kids, but it can be done!
For more information on dyslexia, including signs of dyslexia in different ages, myths and facts about dyslexia, testing options, navigating the public school, homeschooling the dyslexic child, when and how to hire an educational therapist, and information on the older dyslexic in high school and college, plus teaching tips for schoolroom teachers, you may be interested in my new ebook, Dyslexia 101.
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Marianne Sunderland is a homeschooling mother of eight lively children ages 2 to 21, including adventurous and homeschooled sailors, Zac and Abby Sunderland, known for their world-record setting around the world sailing campaigns. Marianne is passionate about encouraging families to discover and nurture their children’s God-given gifts and talents, in and outside of the classroom. She also encourages women to joyfully love and serve their families. Marianne’s blog, Abundant Life, provides weekly articles on faith, family and homeschooling that will bless and encourage you!
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