There are two primary types of dyslexia: visual and auditory.
Since the printed word has an obvious visual component - decoding the letters on the page to read and encoding them to write - students with weak visual skills often struggle with reading and spelling. Students with visual dyslexia will frequently reverse letters in both reading and writing. They will often blend the end of one word with the beginning of another when reading and write with too much space between letters within a word and too little between words. The challenge for students with visual dyslexia is memorizing and discerning the shapes of words and letters. Students with visual dyslexia find memorizing long lists of sight words to be not only frustrating but virtually impossible.
Many students with visual dyslexia are strong auditory or kinesthetic learners. Many of these students quickly remember anything they learn through hearing and/or are highly coordinated and gifted at athletics.
At Pedia Learning Inc our goal is to celebrate these learning differences and aid teachers, parents, and students in learning how to utilize their strengths while strengthening their weaknesses. In the case of visual dyslexia, students need to be explicitly taught the auditory connections to the phonograms by hearing and saying all the sounds made by each phonogram. They also need to develop kinesthetic memory of each phonogram by being taught how to correctly write each phonogram with explicit instructions, then writing the phonograms while repeating the sounds.
Once students have mastered the phonograms, they can begin to use them to sound out words and practice writing them. This multi-sensory approach develops the students’ abilities to read and write simultaneously while respecting their learning styles.
Some students enter school with weak auditory processing skills. These students often struggle to comprehend a story that is read to them, have difficulty following spoken directions of more than a few steps, have sounds missing in their speech, and mix up endings on words. Since the printed word is a visual representation of speech, students with weak auditory processing skills often struggle to learn to read. Many students with autism fall into the category of auditory dyslexia.
Students with auditory dyslexia frequently have strong visual and/or kinesthetic skills. These students learn best when they are explicitly taught that written phonograms correspond to sounds and when they are shown how to write each of the phonograms.
Many students with auditory dyslexia also need to be taught how to correctly pronounce some of the 45 sounds in English. This is best done by showing them the phonogram flashcard, teaching them how to form the sound with their mouth, helping them feel the positions of their tongue, teeth, and lips, and providing them with a mirror to see themselves make the sound. Students should also be taught how to write the sound using explicit directions.
For example: many students with auditory dyslexia are missing the /th/ sound in their speech. Begin by showing them the “th” phonogram. Then explain this sound is made by sticking your tongue out between your teeth and blowing. Show them how the sound is made. Help them to practice making the sound. For these students whenever they see the “th” phonogram it will be a visual clue to a kinesthetic activity. As students learn to read they will become more aware of the “th” sound in words by seeing it and it will then heighten their awareness of it in the speech around them.
Dyslexia simply means difficulty with written words. According to the International Dyslexia Association, up to 20% of the population may be dyslexic. Students with dyslexia struggle to learn to read with the traditional sight word and partial phonics methods used in many reading curriculums today. Students with dyslexia benefit from phonemic awareness, intensive systematic phonics instruction, direct instruction in vocabulary, fluency practice, and reading comprehension practice. Students with dyslexia also benefit from multi-sensory teaching that utilizes all four learning modes: auditory, kinesthetic, visual, and speech.
Reading has a component of muscle memory. The eyes are muscles which must learn to track together in the direction of reading and writing. In the case of English, the direction is from left to right, top to bottom. Children vary in their eye muscle development, and the speed at which they internalize this pattern. This is completely separate from intelligence.
Unfortunately many of our current reading methods and classroom practices undermine developing visual muscle memory.
Many students struggle to learn to read because their eyes do not have the pattern of reading memorized. Their eyes easily stray around the page, especially when pictures or other objects are on the page. Sadly, many of these students are then scolded for their lack of attention, for it appears that they cannot focus on the text. In reality the pages are graphically designed to draw the eyes to the pictures. Good graphic designers use the way that the human eye looks at a page to design a page with a focal point. Small words on the page are not the focal point when the page contains pictures. Many students find their eyes wandering to the images that are the most visually grabbing. Some students do not have the visual muscles to control this.
A simple solution is to allow students to look at the images on the page and then cover them with a piece of blank paper. Students who struggle with visual muscle memory will find great relief in the images being covered.
Students can also use a tracking card to aid them. Many emerging readers struggle with tracking from line to line. A blank index card can be used to cover the lines below the line being read. When the student comes to the end of the line, she moves the card down. For students with the greatest difficulty a card may also cover the text above, leaving only one line of text exposed.
In efforts to be more relational many classrooms now have students push their desks together so that they face one another. In addition, many students study at home at the kitchen table across from siblings. When a student sits across from another student, they are seeing print upside down. For students without strong visual muscle memory this is creating additional confusion.
Classrooms should be arranged in a traditional fashion, with students facing the teacher. This is also true in one-on-one tutor settings. Teachers should be directly in front of all the students.
Students should not sit at a 90 degree angle to the board. For many students, translating even 90 degrees creates confusion. Even adults with dyslexia report greater ease of learning when directly facing the teacher.
Teachers should always stand to the left of the board. Students' eyes naturally go to the teacher first and then to the content on the board. This reinforces the muscle development for the direction of reading and writing.
Teachers should do everything in the direction of reading and writing. Cross T’s from left to right, erase the board from left to right. Students' eyes will unconsciously follow these patterns.
Use a board with lines when writing words. The lines aid students in discerning the precise shapes.
Cover pictures in beginning readers for students who struggle with directionality. Many students' eyes will wander to the pictures on the page, rather than focusing on the text. Often this is not an issue of attention, but rather it is a problem with developing visual muscle memory. The pictures are designed to draw the eye. It takes visual effort to keep the eyes from going to the most prominent areas of the page. Direct students to look at the pictures, then cover them with a blank sheet of paper before reading the text.
Follow the words with your finger while reading to young students. Children’s eyes will naturally follow your finger for a short time, providing additional muscle practice.
Students should not sit across from one another. Facing another student can create confusion for children who do not have visual orientation firmly established.
Students should not be asked to do copy work before they can read at a second grade level or higher. Students who do not understand the words they are writing are not gaining language skills from the activity. It is more akin to art and copying patterns. Students with visual confusion will tend to write letters backwards and not establish a good foundation for handwriting.
Students should not be taught “Reading Strategies” as a method to unlock a word. With “Reading Strategies,” when students encounter an unknown word they are instructed to 1) look at the first and last letters of the word, 2) reread the sentence, 3) reread the paragraph, 4) look at any pictures on the page, and 5) if they still do not know, to continue on and try to construe meaning. “Reading Strategies” assume the student is unable to decode the sounds of the word in sequence from left to right. These strategies reinforce poor eye muscle memory by asking the student’s eyes to go back and forth and jump around the page. Students should rather be taught all the information necessary to decode a word by looking at the word itself.
Students should be taught through clear spoken instructions how to form each letter. The teacher should speak about what she is doing, while demonstrating, then ask the student to describe the movements while she makes them. This is essential to aiding students who struggle with reversals.
Teach cursive handwriting first, or for remedial students switch them to cursive handwriting.
Use the expression, “Go in the direction we read and write,” to refer to movement from left to right.
Many parents and teachers feel discouraged when their enthusiasm for the Logic of English is not met with equal enthusiasm by their struggling reader or speller. As the student’s parent or teacher, you see the advantage of teaching spelling rules and phonograms and may feel very excited about teaching. Nevertheless you must respect your student's cynicism. Written English has not made sense to them and the years of struggle have added up. Likely this is not the first time someone has announced that a new curriculum, program, or tutor will help them. Many students have repeatedly been disappointed. They have developed a cynical attitude with good reason.
Rather than confronting their cynical attitude, embrace it as a healthy response from someone who has repeatedly met disappointment. Understand that the pain of failure in basic skills like reading or spelling is not overcome in a day or a week.
Here are a few tips for working with cynical, struggling students:
At a recent in-service a teacher raised her hand and said, "I hate that there is a right way to spell a word. Correcting spelling kills creativity!"
This teacher expressed one of the doubts at the center of the literacy debate: Don't rules limit children’s creativity?
As humans we are all creative, though many times we forget that creativity comes in many forms and is paired with an endless combination of personality traits. Sadly, many people stereotype creativity and limit its scope to someone who creates through writing, drawing, sculpting, music... without prior training and who flows freely with ideas. They often assume that learning techniques or skills will limit the flow of ideas and therefore stifle creativity. Many teachers, like the one mentioned above, believe that students who know there is a "right" way to spell a word will therefore become less creative in their writing and be hindered by the fear of spelling a word incorrectly.
Young students who are pattern thinkers, science buffs, and have mathematic minds often struggle to learn to read. They are frustrated when they are taught that the letter S says /s/ and then immediately discover that "is," "his," "was" and "chairs" are all exceptions. These children diligently apply the rules they are told only to find that English is illogical and inconsistent.
As a reading educator, I believe that a high percentage of our struggling readers are our future mathematicians and scientists. These students need to know the answer to "why". They need to be shown explicit patterns underlying English words.
English speakers as a whole do not understand their own language. We are quick to dismiss it as a language of exceptions and a conglomeration of many languages. The widespread myths have resulted in low reading levels nationwide (and in the U.K., Canada, and Australia). Parents, even well-educated parents, do not know answers to the most basic questions about English. For example why is there a silent final E in "have"? and why does the C in trace say /s/?
One of the tragedies is that we then label some our brightest minds "LD". We break their hearts and discourage them, when simply teaching them the logic of English would set them free.
I did not learn the logic underlying English spelling in grammar school, in high school, in college, or my graduate school reading methods classes. Rather, I learned the logic of English when my sons began to struggle with reading. Watching them, I could see their brilliance. They are logical, clear thinkers and have strong scientific minds. Yet they could not read at all after first grade. In my search to help them I discovered that reading centers around our country are keepers of the knowledge that is the key to revolutionizing education in English speaking countries - how to teach reading and spelling in a logical way using all learning modes.
Many of these reading centers have 98-99% success rates and dream of their knowledge being put to use in classrooms beginning in K, 1, and 2 grades. They want to be put out of business.
It is time to change how we teach reading so that all students learn!
Boys are lagging behind girls in literacy.
Here are a few great articles on the importance of phonics and in particular the way that boys benefit. This fits exactly with what I have been saying. Not only do boys benefit from synthetic phonics training but all children test better.
This one demonstrates, through some studies in Scotland, the way that all children benefit from systematic phonics.
In The World Needs All Kinds of Minds, Temple Grandin shows the images of her brain and how her visual cortex is more highly used than in the control groups. She then demonstrates how this strength is what facilitates her work as an animal researcher and scientist. She believes that most tech geeks, scientists, and engineers fall on the Autism spectrum. Her point is well taken that there are a variety of minds and that as a society we benefit from this variety.
As I have worked with students that would be labeled with a variety of learning disabilities, I continue to wonder if it is not that there is something wrong with the child, but something wrong with the idea of standardization. We seem to value being at or above the mean in everything. But if we stop and think, this is not possible.
Seeing the images of Dr. Grandin's brain has made me wonder if the problem is not disability, which implies something negative, but rather under appreciated abilities.
I have worked with dyslexic students who are highly gifted auditory learners. Though these students struggle with the visual, they are highly talented auditorily and poised to make our world a better place by becoming acousticians, musicians, audio engineers, etc.
I have also worked with children who are considered hyperactive. These kids often think kinesthetically. There is nothing wrong with them other than they are our dancers, gymnast, athletes, aerobics instructors, personal trainers, and more. These children are meant to move. They think when they are moving.
Just as Dr. Grandin is a gifted visual learner who brings a strength of observation to our world, so other types of learners bring strengths and gifts to our world.
We need all sorts of learners and maybe it is time to begin to think, not in terms of disabilities and how a person does not fit the standard, but rather in terms of unique giftedness. Certainly there is a new term to be coined here, one that is positive that celebrates strengths rather than weaknesses.
As a teacher, the greatest gift I have been given is students who do not think like me. The students who are most different from me have taught me the most. They have stretched me to look from new perspectives, to see the world from new angles and by doing so have taught me more than any of my “formal” education.
In today’s culture, we often think of students who do not think or learn in a manner which is measurable on a standardized test as learning disabled. Today, I had the honor of attending a lecture by Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin has been nominated one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has changed how cattle are treated and is a prominent animal researcher. She also has autism. She challenged us to consider how we need different types of minds and how some of the very aspects of her “disability” are part of her gift that have enabled her to be a positive force in making the world a better place.
I would never have written Uncovering the Logic of English without having taught students who have struggled to learn to read and spell. It is by teaching them that I have learned more about spelling, reading, speech, and teaching than I would ever have learned without them.
My students have taught me that patterns are important. They have provided me with an excitement about finding the patterns which describe English and help me to spell words. These students have taught me to consider how reading intersects with speaking, writing, and kinesthetic experience. My auditory students made me aware of voiced and unvoiced sounds, for I had never paid attention. My visual students have taught me the value of color for memory. My kinesthetic students have taught me that speaking has kinesthetic components and that we can discuss where the tongue is placed and how the visual cue is not only a cue of a sound but an action of tongue and lips. My visual learners have shown diagrams of their mouths as they try to describe sounds that they were struggling to hear. My logical literal students have pointed out the weaknesses and fallacies in my explanations.
When all these learners come together, the world is a better place and we all learn in more depth and with greater insight.
I love hearing from people who have read Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America's Literacy Crisis. This weekend, a 70 year old man approached me. He explained he had a successful career as an engineer, solving complex problems using math, science, and computer programming. With tears in his eyes, he said, "When I read your book, I understood for the first time that English is a code and that all these years it was not my fault I didn't understand it. Thank you." He then went on to explain that since retirement, he has been tutoring children in the public schools. Each year, he is paired with a third or fourth grade boy who cannot read. He described each boy he had tutored and their passions and talents. He summarized it this way, "They are all gear heads like me."