What is Structured Literacy instruction?Keys to Literacy recently launched our new "Understanding Dyslexia" online course, and one of the major topics in the course is the importance of using a structured literacy approach to teaching reading to students with dyslexia. Structured literacy is a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that research shows is effective for all students and essential for students who have difficulty with reading. This approach addresses all the foundational elements that are critical for reading comprehension. It is characterized by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It includes instruction for multiple levels of language.
Understanding DyslexiaOctober is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so I decided to focus this post on providing information and resources related to teaching reading to students with dyslexia. I first learned about dyslexia at the start of my teaching career in the mid-1970's when I started teaching at the Landmark School in Massachusetts. At that time, Landmark was a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities and dyslexia, serving over 400 students of all ages each year. The first thing I learned is that even though dyslexia poses challenges to students, it can also be seen a gift. I say this because, while it may be difficult for many dyslexics to learn to read and write, the same neurobiological factors that cause dyslexia also cause many dyslexics to be extraordinarily bright and gifted in many other areas.
We Need to Pay Attention to the Science of Reading!
The scientific evidence base on how we learn to read and how to best teach reading has been growing and converging over 40 years. This includes brain imaging studies that show how our brains learn to read and underlying causes of why some students have difficulty learning read.
Sadly, teachers often do not have access to this evidence base. Many teachers report that their preservice education in college did little to prepare them for teaching reading. Many veteran teachers report a lack of quality professional development once hired that could help them improve their reading instruction. And for too long, the reading wars have confused teachers and administrators. These wars started in the 1990's when whole language advocates succeeded in convincing too many schools that learning to read comes naturally without the need for explicit instruction in decoding skills. Even today, there are many reading "experts" that say they promote a "balanced" approach to beginning instruction, but what that actually represents is a little bit of incidental phonics thrown in on top of the same approaches to reading instruction that have not worked for the past 25 years. The latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, were just released—and things aren't looking good for the country's young readers.
Multisensory Teaching by Emily GibbonsThis post was written by Emily Gibbons, a dyslexia instructor. Emily provides suggestions for using multiple senses when teaching foundational reading skills. Multisensory teaching is not just crucial for kids with dyslexia, it is good solid teaching for ALL students. Using a variety of senses helps with memory and retrieval and allows students to support their areas of weakness with their areas of strength. Incorporating multisensory learning tools into your classroom lessons will not replace intervention services, but it will make classroom lessons more accessible to students with learning differences.
Resource: Adaptive Technology for LiteracyI’m devoting this blog post to highlight Bridges, a Canadian company that specializes in adaptive technology. I had the wonderful opportunity several years back to collaborate with some folks at Bridges on a professional development project that combined Keys to Literacy’s expertise around teaching literacy, and Bridges’ expertise around how to use adaptive technology to support literacy teaching and learning. They have recently launched several online professional development courses that I want to recommend.
Executive Skills and Reading ComprehensionThe role of executive functioning in learning has been researched for many decades, and we now know that executive skills play important roles in literacy learning, and especially in successful reading comprehension. I recently finished a book by Kelly Cartwright, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension: A Guide for Educators (2015, Guilford Press) that explores this connection in detail and provides suggestions for supporting students who have weak executive skills.
The Language and Literacy ConnectionI have recently been developing modified versions of Keys to Literacy’s professional development for instructional practices of comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills to focus on how these practices can be used to meet the needs of English Language Learners and students with a reading disability. This work has reminded me that language skills are tightly connected to learning literacy skills, and that weak English language skills are often the reason why many students struggle with reading and writing...
Resource for Parent Advocates of Struggling ReadersI recently learned that a long-time colleague, Lorna Kaufman, has written a book and launched a related project designed to support parents of children who struggle with reading. Lorna and her co-authors Sandra Doran and Leigh Leveen have worked for over 30 years helping struggling readers and providing advice for how their parents can advocate for their children. Based on this experience, they wrote the book Smart Kid, Can’t Read: 5 Steps Any Parent Can Take to Get Help which can be ordered through Amazon. The 200+ pages of the book are organized into sections corresponding to these five recommended steps...
Great Apps for Struggling Readers/WritersI ran across an interesting piece by Jamie Martin at the Forbes online site titled “Apple vs. Google: The Real Winners are Students with Dyslexia.” Martin makes the point that the competition between Apple and Google has resulted in great benefits for people who struggle with reading and writing skills. Both companies, in order to keep the competitive edge as they rolled out new devices (e.g., Apple’s Apple Watch and updated versions of iPhone and iPad; Google’s updates to Android and Chromeboook) have made a significant number of features, tools, and software applications available on their products related to assistive technology (AT)....
Teaching ELLS with Learning DisabilitiesIt is hard to know why some English language learners struggle with literacy skills. Is it just due to their lack of English skills? Or might there also be a learning disability? As a recent post at the blog EdCentral points out, studies show that there is both an over- and under-representation of language learners in special education programs likely due to teachers’ misunderstanding of student needs and poorly designed language assessments...
Reading and White Matter in the BrainI recently read an intriguing article in the New Yorker, “How Children Learn to Read” by Maria Konnikova, that summarizes the finding of studies conducted by Famiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Hoeft and her colleagues have been conducting longitudinal studies looking at the basic neuroscience of reading development. They have found that the one thing that consistently predicted how well a child would learn to read was the growth of white matter in one specific area of the brain – the left temporoparietal region. The amount of white matter that a child arrived with in kindergarten didn’t make a difference, but the change in volume between kindergarten and third grade did....
Writing DisabilitiesThe Reading Rockets website has long been a resource I recommend to educators and parents for any topic related to literacy instruction. For this blog post, I’m featuring several Reading Rockets resources related to writing disabilities.
Writing Disabilities: An Overview by Charles MacArthur offers an excellent summary of why some kids struggle with writing (especially those with learning disabilities), and how some instructional practices can help. MacArthur was part of the panel that wrote “Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers”, an Educator’s Practice Guide published by Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education....
Dyslexia Handbook for FamiliesThe International Dyslexia Association (IDA) recently published a booklet for parents of students with dyslexia titled: IDA Dyslexia Handbook: What Every Family Should Know .
The booklet covers these topics:
- Definition and characteristics of dyslexia
- Assessments for dyslexia
- Identifying effective teaching approaches
- Managing the education of a student with dyslexia
- Transitioning into college
- Recommended resources...
Main Idea and Note Taking Tips for ParentsIn August, The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) published in Dyslexia Connection: A Parent Newsletter an article I wrote for parents titled "Helping Your Child with Main Idea and Note Taking Skills".
The article includes suggestions for how parents can help their children develop categorizing and main idea skills. It also presents an overview of the two-column note format that students can use when they are reading for homework...
CCSS and Students with Reading DisabilitiesA new fact sheet is available from the International Dyslexia Association titled “Common Core State Standards and Students with Disabilities”. Click here to download.
As the standards are implemented in states across the country, parents and teachers have expressed concern regarding the education and literacy skills of students with reading disabilities. Literacy trainers at Keys to Literacy are often asked questions such as:
- What impact will these standards have on students with dyslexia or other disabilities if they cannot read or write at the expected grade level?
- Do the new state assessments allow for accommodations?........
Web Resources from Reading Matters to MaineI had the pleasure of working with Wendy Gaal, a reading specialist, tutor and founder of Reading Matters to Maine. Reading Matters to Maine is a group of Maine educators, parents and academics who understand the growing problem of children not learning to read. They advocate and provide resources for an improved knowledge base for current and future teachers of reading.
Wendy has created a fantastic website full of articles, videos, and other great resources for teaching struggling readers (the picture of the girl pouting on the first page is priceless). Check out the great work Wendy and the rest of the advisors at Reading Matters to Maine are doing.....
Reading and the Brain
Recently I ran across two articles related to studying the reading brain:
- Learning to Read Does Not End in Fourth Grade by Abby Abrams, Time Magazine
- The Emerging Field of Educational Neuroscience in The Examiner (e-newsletter from the International Dyslexia Association - IDA)
Advances in this area are made every day, but unfortunately very little of what these researchers learn gets in the hands of educators in the field. So I decided to devote this post to providing links to resources about this fascinating topic of reading and the brain.....