Now that almost every state has passed legislation that classifies dyslexia as its own category of special needs, more districts are working to identify and accommodate students with dyslexia.
For educators seeking a basic understanding of dyslexia, the webcast "Dyslexia: What Every Educator Should Know" is a good start.
With a basic understanding of dyslexia, here is some expert advice from dyslexia expert Donell Pons, M.Ed., MAT, SPED, for districts as they work to tackle these challenges.
1) Identify at-risk students
Using a dyslexia screener can be a helpful tool in identifying which students are at risk for dyslexia in your school or district. Richard Selznick’s book Dyslexia Screening: Essential Concepts for Schools & Parents provides a great guide for implementing a screener.
In addition to using a dyslexia screener, you can also identify struggling students by reviewing the data from your common assessments. In grades K–3 and often beyond, most states require a reading assessment, such as Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), to measure reading readiness and skill.
Even if a teacher is not responsible for administering DIBELS, the data can provide invaluable insights into why a student might be struggling with reading. It’s important that administrators provide professional development to help teachers understand how DIBELS is administered and how to interpret the data. If test results and class assignments show a student is struggling to rapidly and automatically name known letters and letter sounds, or has poor phonemic awareness, they are exhibiting the two primary characteristics of dyslexia.
2) Select an effective reading intervention program
Reading expert David Kilpatrick notes the three elements of reading intervention programs that lead to the best outcomes for students who are diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age:
- The program aggressively addresses and corrects the students’ phonological awareness difficulties and teaches advanced phonological awareness.
- The program provides phonetic decoding instruction and reinforcement.
- The program provides students with plenty of opportunities to transfer decoding skills to connected text.
An effective reading intervention program can be summed up by the term “structured literacy.” This term is used by the International Dyslexia Association to describe reading instruction that explicitly teaches systematic word identification and decoding strategies.
3) Provide teachers with professional development
Having on-site personnel trained in a dyslexia-specific reading remediation methodology is essential for successfully identifying and teaching students with dyslexia. Many states have begun offering dyslexia training materials. Find out what is available through your state board of education, or bring in outside experts.
When planning professional development, you may want to check with the company providing your school’s reading materials. Many companies provide free and paid professional development for better utilizing your current reading curriculum for struggling students, including those with dyslexia.
4) Create a dyslexia support team
If you don’t have a formal team that is working to address the needs of students with dyslexia, find a group of people in your school or community who are interested in this initiative. By building a team, you can have a larger voice in your school or district and a wide variety of viewpoints for developing effective processes and solutions.
5) Advocate for legislative change
If your state doesn’t have legislation regarding dyslexia, administrators can initiate conversations with their state school board. Reading outcomes are a shared interest of your state office of education; sometimes they just need the issue brought to their attention.
6) Utilize online and print resources
There are a variety of free online resources that provide additional information about addressing the needs of students with dyslexia:
- International Dyslexia Association
- Bright Solutions for Dyslexia
- The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
- Reading Horizons Webinars and Dyslexia Articles
There are also many books for educators about dyslexia. Here are a few of the most recommended:
- Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print by Marilyn Jager
- Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz
- Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties by David Kilpatrick
7) Raise awareness among parents and students
Include dyslexia awareness in your parent nights. Consider handing out materials such as a dyslexia handbook from your state office of education during parent-teacher conferences. Most parents are aware and concerned about how well their student is reading. The more aware parents are of the characteristics of dyslexia, the more likely they will be able to recognize dyslexia in their child.
Throughout their school experience, students are educated on a number of social and environmental issues, and as the most common reading disability, dyslexia should be added to those discussions. Many Decoding Dyslexia chapters have student advocates who are trained to give research-driven presentations at schools and events.
The more we raise awareness about dyslexia, the more likely we are to identify students early. The earlier we identify a student as having dyslexia, the more difficulties we can prevent and the higher likelihood of reading success for students dealing with this challenge.
This blog post combines insights for a series of articles written by Reading Horizons Board Member Donell Pons. The articles were originally published in Smartbrief. View the original articles here: