Reading is a complex process but people with dyslexia can learn to read well through effective reading instruction. It is best to provide effective intervention when a child is learning to read in school (i.e. K-Grade 3) because it is easier to train the brain at a younger age and the child will avoid years of frustration at school. However, effective reading intervention can be successful at any age.
What is 'structured literacy' instruction?
Research has shown that explicit, systematic instruction in the structure of the English language is most effective for people with dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association has termed this 'structured literacy' instruction. This instruction should be:
- Explicit – concepts are taught using direction instruction.
- Systematic – the elements of the language are taught sequentially with intensive practice and continual feedback.
- Cumulative – lessons build on previous knowledge, moving from simple concepts to more difficult concepts.
- Multisensory – lessons engage the learner in visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile responses.
- Individualized – lessons are tailored to the student’s strengths and weaknesses (e.g. pace, amount of review, understanding of other challenges such as anxiety, ADHD, dysgraphia).
- Metacognitive – students are taught to understand and monitor their own learning.
- Supportive – self-confidence and motivation increases as the student experiences mastery of the content.
'Structured literacy instruction' has evolved from the 'Orton-Gillingham approach' developed by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham in the 1930's and 1940's. Although originally developed for struggling readers, there is evidence that explicit, systematic instruction in the structure of the language is beneficial for all developing readers. In an effort to bring effective reading instruction to all students, the International Dyslexia Association has developed Knowledge and Practice Standards for Reading Teachers and an accreditation program for teacher training institutions.
It is important that structured literacy instruction is provided by professionals with expert knowledge, skills, and abilities. The International Dyslexia Association has recently developed a certification program for structured literacy teachers, dyslexia practitioners and dyslexia therapists. Read more about how to select the right professional to get effective instruction for your child; this also includes a list of service providers in our area (provided by ONBIDA as a service to the public).
What is taught in 'structured literacy'?
Research has shown that many people with dyslexia have poor 'phonemic awareness' which is the ability to separate and manipulate the sounds in a word.
Letter-sound associations are taught in two directions - 'print to speech' and 'speech to print'. Students are taught how to blend the sounds associated with letters to form words. This instruction is traditionally termed 'phonics' but it is embedded in deep interpretation of the structure of the language.
Research has shown that handwriting instruction and practice is helpful in learning to read and write.
Instruction about the 6 syllable types in the English language is useful in pronouncing the correct vowel sound and in reading longer, multisyllable words.
Spelling instruction includes explicit instruction of spelling rules and guidelines and use of morphology in spelling.
Morphology is the study of the smallest meaningful units in a word, including prefixes, base words and suffixes. Studying morphology helps with reading, spelling and determining meaning in unknown words.
Some students have extra difficulty with fluency, reading words quickly enough and with accurate phrasing to retain the meaning, even though they have learned to read accurately. Fluency training including repeated readings and fluency drills can help improve reading rate and prosody, and subsequently comprehension.
Syntax is the set of principles that govern how English words are combined in sentences to convey meaning. Explicit grammar instruction is helpful in improving reading and writing skills.
Semantics is concerned with determining meaning in written text. Explicit semantic instruction can be helpful for both reading complex text and writing skills.
Other supports in school
As well as effective reading instruction, schools can implement academic accommodations and modifications to help students with dyslexia succeed. For example, 'accomodations' can allow a student with dyslexia can be given extra time to complete tasks, help with taking notes, and work assignments that are modified appropriately. Teachers can give recorded tests or allow students with dyslexia to use alternative means of assessment. Students can benefit from listening to books on tape and using text reading and word processing computer programs. "Modifications' refers to the modification of curriculum expectations; this is often unnecessary if a student receives appropriate reading instruction/intervention.
Students may also need help with emotional issues that sometimes arise as a consequence of difficulties in school. Mental health specialists can help students cope with their struggles.
Click here to see other ways to support a child at school.