November 05, 2019

Decoding supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with dyslexia


Originally published on eSchool News

It was my first day with my group of Tier III 2nd-graders, and they were ready to go around the room and introduce themselves. It was going fine until one student said something surprising.

“I’m Jacob, and I can’t read.”

It was odd. I learned later that Jacob was a competitive gymnast and a smart kid, but he chose to identify himself as someone who couldn’t read well. I told him that I specialize in reading and that I’d help him fix that.

Pinpointing the problem

It wasn’t long before I recognized that Jacob had the telltale characteristics of someone who has dyslexia. This 2nd-grader had an impressive vocabulary, but he was having trouble decoding the simplest words. It didn’t make sense. I talked to his mom about it, and she told me that Jacob’s uncle has dyslexia. Because dyslexia is hereditary, Jacob’s parents decided to go to the doctor for a formal assessment. The dyslexia diagnosis came back positive.

Jacob was using so much cognitive space trying to memorize the words on his spelling tests that he wasn’t able to understand the patterns of letter-sound relationships. Talking to him was like talking to a little professor, but he’d lose so much confidence after he’d fail each spelling test. The way I explain dyslexia to my students and their family members is that most children have a file folder in their brain that develops and grows wider as they’re learning how to read. For Jacob, the file wasn’t there. We needed to create the file.

Discovering a solution

A representative from Reading Horizons Discovery® came to our school to present an explicit, phonics-based approach to teaching reading. I knew that it was what I needed to help Jacob and students like him to succeed. I went to my principal that day and told him he needed to buy the program.

I meet with a group of students the district has classified as tier three for 45 minutes four times a week. They have different reasons for being in my class, but they are at the same general level in reading and need to develop the same skillset.

An eye-opening journey

When I introduced the program to my class the next year, I cautioned them. The program would start with topics like the ABCs—subject areas that were younger than my now 3rd-graders. I reassured them that we all have different holes to patch up and this program would help us figure out where they were. By starting out at the beginning, I was able to see which student’s learning gaps came earlier or later. My job was to be the road-patcher and make learning how to read a smooth journey.

It was eye-opening. Some students were having issues with the B and D reversal or misunderstanding vowel sounds. I promised that by the time we finish this program, we would be able to decode any word. Jacob’s goal is to decode “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” of course.

Students with dyslexia tend to think that they just aren’t one of the smart kids in their class, but that’s not the case at all. Once I told Jacob some of the research behind dyslexia, he saw it not as a disability but as what makes him special. He also discovered that he wasn’t alone. Many other people have honed in on their gifts despite having dyslexia. A huge portion of my job is to act as my students’ advocate. It increases their motivation to learn and grow. If Jacob had remained discouraged and dug himself into his holes, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Now, Jacob is in 5th grade, and though he hasn’t tested out of my class yet, he’s so much closer to decoding “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

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