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.
Soaring Not Stumbling: Teaching and Preventing Struggling Readers and Spellers.
• Cover pictures. Many young students struggle with the left-to-right eye movement of reading. Allow students to look at the pictures, then cover them with a blank sheet of paper while reading. Covering pictures makes it easier to focus on text.
• Practice blending words together aloud. Many students guess wildly while reading because they've never realized words are made of individual sounds blended together. Put away the books and practice saying words aloud with a space between each sound. (k-a-t) Then ask the child to blend the word back together.
• Explain that writing is code. Many students guess at words because they haven’t realized that letters and groups of letters represent sounds.
• Teach all the sounds. Many letters say more than one sound. For example, the letter “S‟ sounds different in the word “sad” than in the word “is.” Many students misread simple words because they don't know all the sounds.
• Make it fun. Learning the basics doesn't need to be boring. Engage young children through play. Practice the phonograms with games, large motor activities and art projects.
Vowel sounds highlight the concept of phonemic awareness and the ability to both glue words back together and break them into their individual sounds.
Recently, I had this driven home to me when I was working with a sixth grader whom I tutor. This student has been in the public schools and can read and spell thousands of words. Nevertheless, he struggles with reading and spelling and does not perceive himself to be smart. He has read and spelled below grade level his whole school career.
As I have been working with him, I have noticed he often mumbles. I had not wanted to push him too hard, because of his low self esteem. Today I realized it is his cover up for not knowing the vowel sounds. Up until this point, he has sounded out words that he already knows how to spell. He must think ahead to the spelling and as he knows the sounds of the written vowels he says them correctly when sounding them out. However, today he stumbled greatly over the word "children." He could not sound out the second syllable and seemed particularly hung up on the short E sound. Like many struggling students he began to shut down.
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.
Tears of relief and of untapped pain are a common response to reading Uncovering the Logic of English. The book goes to the heart and provides relief to the hurting.
Underneath the confident, poised exterior of many highly educated English speakers is a deep anxiety and pain that there is something wrong with them. They struggle with written language and try to hide their embarrassment. I believe this pain is at the root of our national debate on reading education.
Though it has been more than a decade since scientific research has conclusively demonstrated that systematic, explicit phonics is necessary for learning to read, as a nation we still do not buy it.
While speaking to over a hundred educators, I asked, "Raise your hand if you have ever abandoned the perfect word choice when writing because even the spell-checker couldn't recognize your attempt." I was shocked. More than 90% of the room raised their hands. Something is deeply wrong with how we are teaching English!