The Science of Reading: The Answer to Helping Struggling Readers
Imagine the constant confusion and self-doubt students with dyslexia grapple with daily. Reading is an integral part of every subject, but for them, there is a mismatch between how their brains work and how they’re being taught.
Many give up because it seems like even the specialists can’t help. But students with dyslexia are not alone, according to Lexia® Learning Senior Education Advisors Kimberly Stockton and Octavia Gray-Essex and Brenda Peters, director of assessment and consultation for ACT Dyslexia Solutions.
In fact, they believe there is a core problem with how reading instruction is provided in the first place, leading to dysteachia. Stockton, Gray-Essex, and Peters delved into this topic along with solutions during the edWebinar "Dyslexia, Dysteachia, and How Science of Reading-Based Instruction Is the Answer.”
What is Dysteachia?
Dysteachia is the misalignment between students who have been identified with dyslexia and the instruction they receive. Science has shown the dyslexic brain works differently and the struggles with reading can’t be dismissed as a lack of motivation or not working hard enough—children with dyslexia cannot change the way they process language.
Moreover, Peters believes dysteachia is impacting all students who are not reading at grade level because most teachers are using instructional methods that don’t or can’t adjust to students’ different learning needs.
Look to the Science of Reading
The answer is in science-based reading instruction, which is implemented through Structured Literacy instruction. The science of reading was developed from a multidisciplinary approach, including education, neuroscience, linguistics, and cognitive science, among others.
Essentially, it’s answering the question: How does the human brain learn to read? Structured Literacy uses a systematic approach to the components of literacy with purposeful instruction built around students’ challenges and strengths.
A common misconception about Structured Literacy is that it’s purely phonics. While phonological awareness is an important aspect of Structured Literacy instruction, it works in concert with other components for a targeted, explicit, and comprehensive approach to literacy acquisition. The seven key aspects of Structured Literacy are:
- Phonology: The sound system
- Orthography: The writing system
- Morphology: The meaningful parts of words
- Semantics: The relationships among words
- Syntax: The structure of sentences
- Pragmatics: The use and interpretation of language
- Discourse: The organization of language
While Structured Literacy instruction is important for all students, it’s absolutely vital for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Without explicit and systematic instruction that targets these areas of literacy and language development, students may struggle to decode and comprehend written language.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
The problem is that most higher education institutions are not teaching the science of reading, even for reading specialists and special education instructors. Consequently, to address the issue, school leaders need to implement comprehensive professional development programs.
This is not something that can be done quickly. It can, and should, take years because the evidence-based programs and practices alone are not enough, Stockton said.
Successfully adopting a new program requires an intentional process, and leaders need to think about how to achieve stickiness in their school or district to work toward sustainability. Stockton recommends using an implementation cycle where leaders are constantly shifting between phases from exploration to full implementation.
Implementing Structured Literacy: Where to Start
The presenters offered additional advice for those who want to implement Structured Literacy in their schools:
- First, school and district leaders should seek new hires from institutions that prioritize the science of reading. If hiring special educators, they must have a practicum experience, where they get coaching about how to implement these programs.
- Second, leaders must examine the curricula and ensure they actually support the science of reading.
- Next, educators should look at their schedules and adjust, if needed, to allow ample time daily for reading and language arts.
- Finally, and most importantly—screen students early. Early identification is one of the best strategies for helping struggling readers achieve literacy success.
Learn more and gain useful strategies straight from the presenters in the full webinar.
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