What is the Best Reading Program for Dyslexia?
According to the International Dyslexia Association®, 15%-20% of students show signs of a learning disability, and the majority of these students have dyslexia. This means that potentially one in every five students will have a learning disability, so it is important that educators have an in-depth understanding of the unique barriers students with learning disabilities face, and how to support them.
Despite the commonality of dyslexia, many people with this learning disability have never received a diagnosis nor participated in intervention programs. However, this has been changing during the past few years. Here’s why:
Evidence-Based Programs Work Best for Students with Dyslexia
Advancements in brain science have pushed the topic of best practices in reading instruction to the forefront, including techniques for teachers to better identify and assist students with dyslexia. For instance, a 2015 study conducted by Stanford University's Bruce McCandliss found that phonics-based instruction for beginning readers helps activate the part of the brain “best wired for reading.”
As a professor in Stanford’s education department, McCandliss specializes in neuroscience—including educational cognitive neuroscience—and psychology. Indeed, the 2015 study conducted by McCandliss and his fellow researchers centered on brain science's potential to improve reading instruction, particularly for struggling readers. A Stanford news release based on an interview with McCandliss explained:
“As the field of educational neuroscience grows…both brain researchers and educational researchers can improve their understanding of how instructional strategies can best be harnessed to support the brain changes that underlie the development of learning.”
The study offers intriguing takeaways that could lead to improved neuroscientific awareness for classroom teachers. For instance, when reading, skilled readers typically engage the left hemisphere of the brain (where our visual and language regions reside) while struggling readers do not. According to McCandliss’s research, the best way to address this deficit is to employ phonics-based, letter-sound instruction.
Along with this research, the International Dyslexia Association states that taking a Structured Literacy (SL) approach is the most effective way to instruct students with reading difficulties. This is because dyslexia and other reading disorders stem from language processing issues. Structured Literacy is backed by the science of reading and tackles language head-on through “analysis and production of language at all levels: sounds, spellings for sounds and syllables, patterns and conventions of the writing system, meaningful parts of words, sentences, paragraphs, and discourse within longer texts.”
Equipped with this knowledge and a grasp of the brain-related science to back it up, teachers can develop focused strategies aimed at ensuring all students—especially those who have or may have dyslexia—become confident readers.
Implementing the Science of Reading in School Districts
During the past several years, school districts across the country have been implementing instructional strategies backed by the science of reading. In 2021, a record number of states passed reading laws, most of which promote the implementation of research-based literacy instruction in the classroom. Along with laws, government relief programs like the ARP ESSER Fund require a specific percentage of the district’s money must be allocated toward evidence-based reading intervention programs.
Evidence-based programs are typically based on the science of reading, which is a gold-standard body of research that explains how the human brain learns to read. Along with being based on the science of reading, individual programs must undergo scientific research to determine if their intervention methods support student reading success. This means the best reading programs not only help students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, but they help everyone on their journey toward literacy.
Promoting a Love of Reading for All Students
With such an emphasis on making sure students with dyslexia receive a proper diagnosis and intervention, it can be easy to overlook another important element: Fostering a love of reading for all children. Indeed, a post written by teacher and educational therapist Ezra Werb on the online ADHD-focused magazine ADDitude observed, “By some counts, more than half of children with ADHD also have a learning disability—and dyslexia is the most common.”
Werb went on to offer a handful of tactics that provide students with dyslexia and other disorders such as ADD or ADHD with a chance to nurture a love of reading. The first step is to make sure these students are receiving or have received “phonics and fluency intervention,” Werb said. However, this often is not enough. After all, the educator pointed out, students who struggle with reading often have related anxiety that may cause them to feel wary about plunging in on their own.
With this in mind, here are a few of Werb's suggestions:
- Allow and encourage students to read books, magazines, and other texts about things that interest them. Even if their choices center on topics that seem silly or frivolous, this tactic is a simple but valuable way to boost reading confidence.
- Recognize that all reading counts. For instance, although graphic novels contain less text than standard books, Werb noted that they still “allow readers to practice comprehension skills that involve analyzing images and synthesizing those with the dialogue and narration.” Moreover, they can do wonders in terms of grabbing and sustaining a young reader’s interest, which may also help build reading skills.
- Utilize the library, keeping in mind that audiobooks and films based on books tend to work well with struggling or anxious readers. As Werb explained, watching a film is an incentive to read the book upon which it was based, while listening to an audiobook can provide a reading experience with “training wheels” that helps students gain confidence.
The end goal of these approaches is to help struggling readers become more capable and confident. With so many students impacted by learning disabilities like dyslexia, it is encouraging to see a growing commitment to using the power of science as a key intervention strategy. After all, teachers and administrators should not be left in the dark when it comes to deploying tactics that may help all students learn to read.
For more information about what dyslexia is, and how it affects the reading process, check out this blog.
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