Did you know that 1 out of every 5 students has dyslexia?
This statistic has always stuck with me. My class sizes ranged from 20-26 students. So, I likely had 4-5 students every year that struggled with dyslexia. Yikes!
It took me some time in the classroom to build up my experience, but I figured out pretty quickly that I was doing a disservice to several students a year who needed me to teach them differently.
Recently, Jamie had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Hoover, a reading therapist with Ascend Learning. Kelly spent 20 years in the classroom in grades 1, 2, and 3. She is passionate about helping and advocating for students with dyslexia and shares some practical advice for any teacher.
To listen to this podcast, you can click HERE. (The sound was tough in this particular episode due to a technical glitch that happened right when the interview started. But the info was so good, that I powered through. We all know what it is like to have technical challenges, right?!)
After I listened to the Not So Wimpy Teacher Podcast episode with Kelly, I had some pretty big takeaways that I wanted to share with you.
What is Dyslexia?
When I first began teaching, I thought that dyslexia was just seeing letters backwards. This is a common misconception, and I was not alone in this understanding. Can this be a symptom of dyslexia? Yes, but it is not the only symptom.
Kelly shared with us in the podcast that Dyslexia is a brain-based learning difference and is caused by a difficulty in language processing and how the brain is interpreting letters and sounds. Dyslexic students struggle with basic reading skills, writing, spelling, and language.
In the podcast interview, Kelly reminded us that those with dyslexia have average to superior intelligence and a unique set of strengths that non-dyslexic people don’t have. She emphasized that these children are very smart, they just need to be taught the right way.
What Should I Be Looking For in My Students?
So, where should you start in your classroom? What should you be looking for in the students that you suspect may have dyslexia?
Kelly recommends looking at those bright students with a unique vocabulary. You will notice that many of these students are always making connections with your read alouds. They are up front and center during a read aloud, can make deep connections, and even relate it to other stories. Now, look at the same student when they read with you. You will notice that they struggle with simple words. You will likely discover that these students can comprehend when they listen to stories, but can not comprehend when they are reading. This is because decoding is difficult for these students.
Kelly also suggested that teachers look for the unexpected. A dyslexic student is so strong and intelligent, but surprise you when they struggle reading simple sight words.
She points out that another huge indicator is if your student is inconsistency.
“Consistently inconsistent. One day they can read the word “was”, but not the next day.”
This was a huge lightbulb moment for me! I can not tell you how many times I struggled to understand how a student could read a sight word one day, but struggled with the exact same word the next day. This happened even from one page to another when reading. These same students knew how to read a clock one day, but not the next. Or they knew a specific multiplication fact one day, but couldn’t remember the fact without skip counting the next day.
Kelly also shared how phonological tasks are challenging for a dyslexic student. A student may have trouble rhyming or have difficulty isolating sounds. These students may not be able to tell you what word would be left if you take away a sound, or what sound is in the middle of “cat”. They struggle telling you the number of sounds they hear in a word, they consistently struggle memorizing the letters to the sounds they make.
How about students’ written work? Kelly suggests that you look at your older students’ spelling. Do they still spell phonetically? Is it jumbled? Do they may have the correct letters, but have them in the incorrect order? This last point was something I started noticing in my students. The correct letters were all there, my students were just placing them in the incorrect order.
Do you have students that ignore punctuation when reading? Do these students omit words? Do they read the first sound of a word, then replace the word with another that has the same beginning sound?
I can still remember the first time I heard a student do this. He tried so hard, but was always replacing words with other words. I used to be confused why he did this. I thought that maybe it was a tracking issue, but testing proved this was not the case. Kelly shares in her interview how these can be symptoms of a student with dyslexia.
Kelly also pointed out that a student with dyslexia will have labored, slower reading. Do you notice how tired these students get after reading? They struggled reading for a length of time and now they are exhausted.
Jamie shared in the podcast how her daughter, who has dyslexia, came home from school exhausted. This is because she had to work twice as hard at decoding and reading throughout the school day. Kelly explained to the listeners that Jamie’s daughter was using a different part of the brain to read, which made her tired faster than others.
Please remember that they may not seem like they are doing the work, but they are! They are just exhausted because it takes more work to decode the words and spell them.
What Should We Do if We Suspect Dyslexia?
The most important thing you can start with is to keep observational notes on your student. Then, present this information, along with work samples, to parents in a conference.
In the podcast, Kelly reminds us to always tell parents that you are NOT an expert on dyslexia and that you can not diagnose this. Next, tell them what you have seen and what you know about dyslexia. You may want to inform parents that it is genetic and runs in families. This may help families realize that it is something to look into. If they want a diagnosis of dyslexia, outside testing is the route to take.
Next, put accommodations into place for this student and inform the parents what these will be.
What Accommodations Should I Put in Place?
Kelly shared some easy to implement accommodations in the podcast:
- Provide systematic and explicit instruction.
- Allow students to ear-read (listening center, listening to stories through headphones, hearing a story while reading along).
- Give students extra time on tests.
- Spelling tests should only follow one phonetic rule.
- Give students opportunities to present information in a different format (such as an oral presentation or diorama).
- Provide assistive technology such as speech to text during independent writing time.
- Access to class notes ahead of time. (It is difficult for students with dyslexia to copy and transfer information from the board back to their paper.)
- In reading groups, use stories at their level of decoding. When they are choosing books for independent reading, allow students to choose books they are interested in but offer opportunities to ear-read it.
If dyslexia is new to you, I encourage you to take the time now to learn more on the topic. Research, read blogs, listen to podcasts on the topic such as the interview Not So Wimpy Teacher did with Kelly.
You are going to have around 20% of your learners every year that are dyslexic. They need you to advocate for them and teach them in a way that will help them be successful!
If you would like to hear more from Kelly Hoover, you can check out information about her curriculum and other tools on her website at www.ascendlearningcenter.com.
Have a Not So Wimpy day!