Reading Teacher Challenge: Dyslexia

Reading Teacher Challenge: Dyslexia 2022 ALTA Summit Part 2

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Welcome back to the continued discussion as reading specialists responded to my question, “What are your greatest challenges when working with children with dyslexia?”

Reading Teacher Challenge 1: “Dealing with the urgency of the work. I put a lot of pressure on myself to help them as much as I can as quickly as I can because I was this child.”

Suggestions: This one really touched my heart. And you’re right, there is a legitimate time crunch. There’s a small window of time during which a child learns to read, and then for the rest of their life, they read to learn. So often, we don’t detect these kids until that optimal window is already past. But there is also always enough time for the things that matter. When caring educators allow themselves to take a breath, you recognize that what’s most important is showing personal interest, patience, and compassion. Now the student has a safe, nurturing environment, and in that relaxed space, you give the child their fullest opportunity to recover and bloom as readers and learners.

The most direct route to effective remediation is to take the time on the front end to evaluate different approaches, discern the best fit for the child, and adjust as needed based on results.

photo of a woman holding a small hourglass style timer. Helping students learn to read in the short window of time they have is a huge reading teacher challenge.

Reading Teacher Challenge 2: “Accommodations in the classroom without an IEP.”

Suggestions: Request a parent-teacher conference, at which you can discuss the child’s strengths and areas that need more support. Most accommodations fall under the umbrella of presenting information differently, testing differently, and the ways the student practices new skills. At the conference, discuss 2–4 accommodations to implement, and set a follow-up meeting for the next month to evaluate the child’s response. It’s important for the parent to understand that not all students require the same accommodations; rather, this is a partnership in which parents and teachers collaborate and provide input so the child has their best chance of success.

Reading Teacher Challenge 3: “Working with junior high students that have dyslexia, they struggle with doing (completing) their work.”

Suggestions: Often, the greatest barriers to success for students of this age are a lack of understanding of what dyslexia is and unacknowledged trauma. In order to embrace their own dyslexic experience, they need to be educated. What are the different manifestations of dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dysphonia, and dyspraxia? Which aspects affect them? How late were they diagnosed? Without understanding these things, all they will know is that school is hard and they don’t like it.

When parents and teachers help each student understand and accept their own reality, while at the same time acknowledging their trauma with compassion, it builds a foundation for learning. Once the student has accepted their reality, they can be helped to see ways each subject and lesson is an investment in their future, and therefore, worth their time and effort. Praising their efforts as they work through things goes a long way toward validating that they are doing something special and worthwhile.

photo of a teen boy with many open books in front of him looking bored and tired.

Reading Teacher Challenge 4: “Students who reverse letters like b and d consistently.”

Suggestions: Use multisensory materials like trays of salt, sand, or confetti while teaching the alphabet. To engage multiple areas of the brain and aid memory, make sure the child says the letter name and sound while tracing the letter. For example, b says /b/ while tracing the letter—repeat multiple times.

Use visual and oral scripted auditory cues to cue correct letter formation. A common auditory script cue is to form the b as a “bat before a ball.” This will provide a cue that the stick is formed first while writing the letter. The d is cued as a “drumstick.”

Reading Teacher Challenge 5: “I work with older students from 6th grade–12th grade. Most are highly intelligent and have pre-formed coping in place. They can be somewhat resistant to the therapy. And they voice complaints to parents, teachers, friends…and so on.”

Suggestions: Focus on the positives. Older students can be so encouraged when they discover that these pre-formed coping skills are a manifestation of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals and succeed. Even before they fully understood dyslexia or knew of its existence, their creative brain had already generated workarounds for their situation. Help them to see that they are not alone and that science-based learning techniques can offer even more effective, less stressful ways of addressing their dyslexia. It can be hard at first to change how they approach learning, homework, and other tasks, but in the long run, learning what works best from the collective experiences of all dyslexics and the scientists who specialize in studying dyslexia will help them build on what they have already begun. This, in turn, helps them see that they aren’t stuck where they’ve been but instead can continue to grow. A growth mindset combined with self-efficacy is life-changing.

Reading Teacher Challenge 6: “My challenges are with parents, teachers, and administrators. Explaining dyslexia can be a challenge.”

Suggestions: As hard as it is to believe, even in 2022, dyslexia is misunderstood. And that’s by school administrators and educators! A sizeable number of parents are in the dark about dyslexia and all its sibling conditions. Handouts of FAQs about dyslexia can be helpful, and you can refer people to my archive of blogs on all aspects of dyslexia. Additionally, I can recommend several documentaries that really help lay a foundation for understanding dyslexia, including:

  • The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia
  • Inside Dyslexia: Seeing Through a Different Lens
  • Read Me Differently
  • Embracing Dyslexia
  • Being You, A documentary

Reading Teacher Challenge 7: “Getting them to the next step. They say all the sounds then blend the word together. Difficult to get them to the next step to just read the word as a whole.”

Suggestions: Kids who have difficulty blending phonemes (sounds) into words are lacking in phonemic awareness skills. Most kids show up on their first day of school without a foundation of phonemic awareness. Blending sounds also requires the child to hold the individual sounds in their mind as the word is created. This ability to hold sounds or syllables on a child’s “mental desktop” uses a student’s active working memory. Kids with dyslexia often have poor working memory skills.

A fantastic article with activities (and videos!) is found here: https://phonicshero.com/blending/

photo of a young boy pointing at a page of a book.

Reading Teacher Challenge 8: “Getting them to read grade-level material.”

Suggestions: The Yale Dyslexia experts have observed that it takes an average of 100 hours of one-on-one or small-group instruction to help young adults move ahead one grade level in their reading skills. For younger students, it can require even more of a time investment. Translation: it’s a long haul. Therefore, goals must be realistic and concrete. So much of the road to grade-level reading material is the daily practice of reading leveled material, books the student can read with little or no assistance. Parents can support the process by reading a chapter of a really engaging book with a great story with their child every day. By helping the student see that reading is fun and exciting, and that it makes their life better, they are helped to maintain forward momentum.

Reading Teacher Challenge 9: “My greatest challenge when working with children with dyslexia is convincing specific children in accepting progress over perfection.”

Suggestions: Overcoming perfectionism is a process. Stanford professor Carol Dweck documented that perfectionism (a fixed mindset) can be replaced by a growth mindset. How? Praise the child’s efforts, not the outcome. In Professor Dweck’s studies, students with a fixed mindset had no real way to handle learning difficulties, and so they were quick to give up or become defensive—either acting bored, acting out, blaming the teacher, or blaming the material to hide their fear of not looking smart. Students with a growth mindset understand that learning takes practice and realize that even geniuses have to work hard (and long) for their discoveries. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/44330/mindset-by-carol-s-dweck-phd/

And just for fun, share chapters of the book Mistakes That Worked. This book is a great way to reframe the belief that mistakes are bad and to be avoided. Instead, good things can happen when we aren’t afraid to fail at first!

Photo of a chalkboard that has two words written on it: Progress and Perfection. The work perfection has a check mark in front of it and a red heart in place of the letter O. Helping dyslexic children to accept progress over perfection is a big reading teacher challenge.

As you can see, the situations encountered by caring educators are varied and challenging. And here’s the thing: the more we can all share what has worked for ourselves and others, the better the conversations about helping dyslexics will be. And isn’t that what matters?

I’d love for readers to share their own challenging teaching situations they encounter when teaching reading so we can keep this conversation going. Feel free to reply to this blog—I’d love to hear from you!

For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require. The second edition has the same great content as the first edition but now contains a very helpful bibliography and index and an exciting new cover.

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.