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Inspired Ideas

A Grade-Specific Approach to Supporting Students with Dyslexia

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, Author and Educational Consultant

Preschool

Focus on language development, both expressive (encouraging students to use their expanding language to communicate in increasingly complex sentences) and receptive (by reading aloud to students from language-rich books, including nursery rhymes, and using academic vocabulary while interacting with the students). Students at this level should start to learn print concepts: Following words in texts from left to right, from top to bottom of the page, from page to page; recognizing that spoken words are represented in print by specific sequences of letters; words are separated by spaces in print; beginning to recognize and correctly identify upper- and lower-case letters of the alphabet, starting with the letters in each child’s name. Several times daily, have students play games and engage in activities that help them develop phonological awareness.

Kindergarten

Continue to expand and develop students’ expressive and receptive language while increasingly incorporating new vocabulary and experiences with print. Students should also continue to frequently play games and engage in activities that help them develop their phonological and phonemic awareness.

Grade 1

Continue to develop proficient phonological and phonemic awareness in all students using multimodality practices and activities that develop and expand students’ language skills and vocabulary. Use an evidence-based, comprehensive core reading program that helps teachers provide high-quality instruction and supports students as they progress along the continuum from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

  • Level 2 (learning to decode words with blending and segmenting): Students in Level 2 should do most of their text reading practice in small group lessons or 1:1 tutoring, where errors can be corrected, and skillful reading modeled and encouraged.
  • Level 3 (reading fluently and building a growing set of sight words): Students reading at Level 3 can benefit from independent reading and related writing and reading increasingly complex text with appropriate scaffolding support from the teacher. Begin to incorporate instruction in morphology, learning about prefixes, suffixes, root words, and base words to expand their word reading skills and vocabulary.

Grade 2 and up

Continue developing and expanding students’ language and vocabulary in speaking, reading, and writing. Continue to teach accurate decoding and spelling using a wide range of two-syllable and then multi-syllable (i.e., three syllables or more) words.

English Learners and Dyslexia

Students in our classrooms who are learning to speak English may be at risk for dyslexia at the same levels as their English-speaking peers. The fact that some English learners (ELs) may have the underlying language disorder that can lead to dyslexia can often be overlooked because many teachers are understandably more focused on the challenges of helping students learn how to speak and understand English.

“[E]specially for the largest population of EL students in the U.S., native speakers of Spanish, many of the same “red flags” or indicators of dyslexia can be as readily identified in these students as in the students who are native speakers of English.” — (Lesaux & Siegel, 2003)

For example, Raynolds, López-Velásquez, & Olivo Valentín (2017) found that reading and language skills learned in a child’s first language can be readily transferred to English, especially when there are commonalities between the two languages, such as with Spanish. For ELs with learning difficulties in kindergarten and first grade, there is a strong consensus across research studies that reading instruction that includes explicit, systematic instruction of phonological awareness and phonics is associated with improved word reading outcomes (Hall, Steinle, & Vaughn, 2019). This type of instruction is especially effective when provided using evidence-based strategies for teaching EL students (Mathes et al., 2007; Richards-Tutor, Aceves, & Reese, 2016).

Conclusion

Oftentimes — but not always — dyslexia — along with closely related and sometimes coexisting conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), DLD, and dysgraphia — can be a factor in why a student is struggling despite adequate effort and instruction. Unfortunately, prevalent and disproven myths about this learning disability can potentially prevent early detection, delay intervention, and abet ineffective, sometimes even unscientific, instructional methods causing students to continue to struggle unnecessarily.

References

Adlof, Suzanne M, and Tiffany P Hogan. “Understanding Dyslexia in the Context of Developmental Language Disorders.” Language, speech, and hearing services in schools vol. 49,4 (2018).

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