The other week Jay Matthews of the Washington Post took issue with the hit TV show, “Glee.” He has a strong distaste for its lack of emphasis on actual classroom learning and the fact that students are never shown studying, or worrying about studying for that matter. Well, "Glee" may not show students studying and worrying about school, but it does teach something that is critical for students to be able to succeed in school. The same concept that is crucial in helping students with dyslexia learn to read.
Recently ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) presented a webinar titled: “How to Promote a Learning-Receptive Emotional State.” It discussed the same concept that "Glee" teaches us about how to help students succeed, especially struggling students. The webinar emphasized that in order for students to succeed academically they need to be in an emotional state that allows them to learn. If students are distracted because other students (or even teachers in the case of Sue Sylvester) are bullying or making fun of them, it is going to be difficult for them to focus and learn the things they need to learn. Students will have a much easier time focusing in school if they feel safe and accepted.
One group of students this concept greatly helps is students with dyslexia. Although we hate to imagine it, there are students that are mocked for their difficulty with reading. And even if they aren’t being bullied by other students, they often bully themselves. They know that they are struggling. They know that other students aren’t having the same difficulty they are having. It is easy for them to be hard on themselves and doubt their own self worth. Repeatedly we have heard struggling readers say that their biggest fear in life is being asked to read aloud. And why is that a fear? They are afraid they will be judged. As long as they feel this way, the stress that comes with reading will detriment their ability to improve their reading skills.
In Reading Horizons recent webinar, Dyslexia: From Symptoms to Solutions, Dyslexia Specialist Shantell Berrett repeatedly emphasized that the most important thing to teach any student that is coping with dyslexia is that there is nothing wrong with them, they simply learn differently. She repeatedly said that is the most important thing to let dyslexic students know. Until they understand this, their negative emotions will keep them from success.
I work part time in a psychiatrist office and the order that we always work to remediate problems is: first physical, second emotional, and then mental. This is because it is difficult for someone to focus on improving their mental functioning as long as they are having an emotional or physical issue. Thus, in order to help dyslexic students, we need to first help them overcome any emotions that are detrimental to their success.
So, although "Glee" does not emphasize academics, it highlights the problem that often prevents students from thriving academically: emotional insecurities. In order for you to be able to help your dyslexic students learn to read, you must first help them overcome their emotional insecurities.
FYI: Once dyslexic students have overcome the emotional issues that may come with their reading difficulties, they will have the most success learning to read through explicit and systematic phonics instruction.