How to Ensure that all Students Have Equal Access to Reading and Writing

Updated: Apr 13

by Shawna Audet

In my work as a reading remediation teacher, I work almost exclusively with dyslexic students. These students have a brain-based learning difference that can make it difficult for them to learn to read and write. Every child, whether they are dyslexic or not, begins learning to read in the same way: by attaching individual sounds (phonemes) to individual symbols (graphemes) and sounding them out one by one. This is a very slow by to read. By the end of grade two, the average student makes the switch to using their lower brain circuit to read. This circuit is much faster. Instead of having to sound out C-A-T sound by sound, the student who uses their lower brain circuit processes the word as one whole thing that instantly recognizes the whole word as “cat.”

The switch to using the lower brain circuit is what I frequently hear people call the “magical” moment when a child discovers the joy of reading. This term does a great job of describing the wonder, joy, and relief that parents feel when their child starts voraciously reading books on their own. There is no magic involved though. It is more accurately called the stage when a child reaches reading fluency. Reading fluency is when a person can read with accuracy, a natural expression and speed. The speed required to reach this state is achieved by having access to the lower brain circuit.

We are getting to the heart of dyslexia when we understand that dyslexic students who suffer from reading failure do so because their brains keep on using their upper brain circuit. They do not make the switch to using the lower brain circuit. In schools where structured literacy teaching methods and proven programs are used in the early grades, we can expect that 5% of the student population will require extra support to overcome reading and writing challenges. In schools where structured literacy teaching methods and proven programs are absent, the number of students who need extra help jumps to 30%. It is shocking to realize the high number of special needs students who are “created” by poor instructional methods. Even more shocking, is the fact that 80% of students who receives special education support services struggle with literacy.

Thanks to the work of Sally Shaywitz and the National Reading Panel, we know exactly what type of extra help that students who are suffering from reading and writing failure need to receive to overcome their reading and writing difficulties. They need a proven, intensive, systematic, progressive reading remediation program. We know that “successful transformation of information into useable knowledge often requires the application of mental strategies and skills for processing” information” (CAST). Proven reading interventions programs apply this idea by teaching concepts explicitly and sequentially. Students are taught how to read by beginning with closed syllable words and controlled text. This method enables the students see the regular patterns of English, which helps them to become accurate readers. Students work at their own pace and lessons are individualized. Onc