Updated: Mar 29, 2022
By Shawna Audet
In Overcoming Dyslexia, Sally Shaywitz provides us with a roadmap for teaching literacy. Her advice applies to teaching both dyslexic and non-dyslexic students since learning to read is based on the same principles for all people. The main difference between teaching these two groups is that, for dyslexic students, the instruction “must be relentless and amplified in every way possible so that it penetrates and takes hold” (Shaywitz, 256).
When primary school teachers use effective literacy teaching practices and proven programs, we can expect that 5% of the students will need extra support. When effective teaching practices or proven programs are missing from the classrooms of early literacy teachers, then this number jumps to 30%. Since (statistically speaking) 20% of the students in any class are dyslexic, this means that being dyslexic does not automatically mean that a student will require an I.E.P. or even extra support. It also underscores the importance of having teachers use effective practices and programs for teaching literacy in the regular primary classroom. So, what are the qualities of effective programs and teaching practices? The answer changes, depending on where the student in on the road to reading.
The first town on the “road to the code" is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness forms the base of the reading pyramid. Phonemic awareness is an understanding that words are composed of different sounds. There are about 44 sounds in the English language. Some teaching strategies that are proven to help develop phonemic awareness are rhyming, alliteration, segmentation, and blending. One proven program to teach phonemic awareness is Jollyphonics. A deficit in phonemic awareness is at the heart of the problem for dyslexic students who experience struggles when learning to read. They must resolve confusions that exist at this level before they can move on to decoding.
Decoding is the next town on the road to the code. It is the second level of the reading pyramid. Once a student is skilled at recognizing the individual sounds of English (phonemic awareness), it is time to teach the student how to attach sounds (phonemes) to symbols (graphemes). When these two things are mastered, the student has broken the code. “He has mastered the alphabetic principle. He is ready to read. He has a reading strategy. The strategy is called decoding” (Shaywitz). Once there is a strong sound/symbol understanding, the students can begin to build simple CVC closed syllable words such as “cat” and “nod.” Using only closed syllables when starting to decode words is important because the vowel sounds will all be short vowel sounds, which will create decoding confidence in new readers. This approach to teaching students to decode words using words with predictable sound/symbol relationship is called phonics. Structured literacy instruction is effective for teaching students who need reading remediation, but it is also useful for teaching all student in the regular classroom setting to decode. The structured literacy teaching method uses phonics, mulitisentory teaching techniques (Orton-Gillingham method). For reading remediation interventions, teaching must be intensive, systematic, and follow a proven program. The Dyslexia Training Institute's program is the one that I use.
Jolly Technologies. (2020). Jolly Phonics at Home. Retrieved March 6, 2022, from https://www.jollyphonicsathome.com/
Shaywitz, S. E. (2004). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: A.A. Knopf.