December 14: Dyslexia in the Classroom

Knowledge of dyslexia will make me a better teacher. As a teacher candidate pursuing history and English language arts endorsements, reading comprehension and writing will be very central to my subjects. Knowing that dyslexia cannot be treated, but not cured can help me to support my students in the classroom who struggle with reading comprehension and writing. If students have been identified to have dyslexia and have the appropriate documentation in their IEPs, I will be able to help support them with appropriate assignment accommodations and work with the academic resource program to better support them in my class. Not only will I be able to help support them academically, I will be better able to support them socially through my awareness of the learning disability. For example, I will know not to put them on the spot when it comes to reading out loud. Additionally, if students come into my class without the knowledge of dyslexia, I can help to identify it and assist them through the process of finding the best treatment for them.

Having grown up in a household with family members with dyslexia, it has been especially eye-opening to learn more about the implications of the learning challenges as well as the triumphs my loved ones have made while living with it. Dyslexia has nothing to do with people being unintelligent or lacking stimulating literature exposure in their foundational years. It is something they are born with and will continue to live with throughout their lives.

Below is my “artifact” from EDSP 6644: Educating Exceptional Students. It is a Peer Review Assignment which required research of dyslexia and a brief summary of my findings. Through taking a closer look at this specific learning disability, the assignment addresses the following questions: Why is dyslexia relevant to Special Education? What did I learn from my research and do I agree or disagree with the findings?

Dyslexia in the Classroom: Identifying and Supporting Students with Dyslexia

Reading and writing are two of the most important skills students need to master in order to be successful academically and socially. Unfortunately there are a variety of challenges which directly impact student success in learning and developing these important skills, dyslexia being one of these challenges.  In the article “Understanding Dyslexia and its Instructional Implications: A Case to Support Intense Intervention” Gray (2008) explained the importance of understanding what dyslexia is, identifying it early on and using “intense phonics instruction” (p. 120) to support students who struggle with it. Since dyslexia affects anywhere from 1.5-5% of people, it is important for teachers to be aware of this disorder and proactive in its intervention (Gray, 2008, p. 116).

According to Aylward et al (2003) and Morgan (1896) “dyslexia is a congenital disorder that is characterized by unexpected difficulty learning to decode and spell words in relation to one’s verbal intelligence, motivation, and educational opportunities” (as cited in Gray, 2008, p. 116). The inability of the student to recognize, decode and spell words directly impacts the rate at which a student can read as well as their ability to comprehend what they are reading: Often times these students are able to comprehend material that is read to them because they are not required to process the words themselves as they appear on the page (Gray, 2008, p. 116). Dyslexia does not imply that students have a low intelligence, does not cause students to flip letters, is not found more in males than females nor is it curable (Gray, 2008, p. 117). Although it is difficult to identify before 3rd grade, it is important to detect the earliest signs of dyslexia as children progress in school through spelling, specifically when words demonstrate the inability to connect letters with their sounds, and reading books which students are unable to rely on visual cues and memorization to read and understand the story (Gray, 2008, p. 117-118).

Neurological research has discovered that dyslexia causes students to use different neural pathways when they are reading which not only confirms that dyslexia is present from birth, it suggests the possibility that intense instruction has the capability of altering brain functions to improve reading fluency and word recognition once it has been detected (Gray, 2008, pg. 118, 120). In her case study, Gray (2008) outlined the efforts she undertook to work with one of her struggling students by using “intense phonological-based instruction” (p. 120). This particular 4th grade student underwent a year long, four day a week, one-on-one, multi-sensory approach to instruction which included alphabetic principles, reading, spelling and writing: At the end of the school year, he was able to spell words accurately and his reading level had increased by two grade levels and continued to improve into the following school year by another grade level (Gray, 2008, p. 120-121).

Dyslexia is an important learning disorder to understand due to the challenges it creates for children as they learn to read and write and the lasting implication it will have on students who have not had the opportunity for intense intervention like the student in Gray’s (2008) case study or more importantly, early detection. Special educators are likely to find that they have students with dyslexia. According to the 2008 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) approximately 13% of all students are placed in special education, 50% of the students are found to be learning disabled and 80% of that same population struggling with reading (as cited by Washburn, Joshi, & Binks-Cantrell, 2011, p. 166). Based on these statistics, methods for supporting students with dyslexia will need to be included in their IEPs to help ensure their success in both the academic resource and general education classroom. That same NCES report has found that 52% of the students in special education who are learning disabled and struggling with reading spend 80% or more of their educational experience in the general education classroom (as cited by Washburn et al, 2011, p. 166). This is crucial information for general education teachers as they have a primary role of developing reading and writing skills in the general education classroom and have the responsibility to support those students who struggle in these areas as well as advocating for their individual intervention with reading specialists.

One of the main thing I learned while researching dyslexia is that I previously fell into the category of teachers found to believe the misconceptions of the learning disorder: Specifically that “all students with dyslexia reverse letters” (Gray, 2008, p. 117). I have discovered that dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is present from birth and creates difficulty for the brain to process the distinct sounds in language that create individual words. The physical implications of this are that students with dyslexia are unable to spell and decode words correctly and/or recognize words accurately. This then creates challenges for students in terms of reading comprehension, reading aloud and/or spelling words all together. It astonished me that Washburn et al (2011) found 91% of the teachers they surveyed to identify one of the major characteristics of dyslexia as “seeing letters and words backwards” which fuels the misconception that dyslexia is visual rather than neurological (p. 174). Understanding dyslexia as a neurological disorder is crucial as it implies that dyslexia, although treatable, is not curable.

I do believe that Gray (2008), that dyslexia needs to be understood for what it truly is as a neurological disorder, that it needs to be identified early on and that students with dyslexia need to be treated. One important aspect of identification I discovered in my research is that there are three different types of dyslexia: perceptual (characterized by reading slowly and with great effort), linguistic (characterized by reading too fast and with carelessness for errors), and mixed (a combination of the characteristics found in perceptual and linguistic dyslexia) (Goldstein & Obrzut, 2001, p. 283). This is important to note when it comes to the treatment of dyslexia, as the Orton-Gillingham-based program used by Gray (2008) in her case study with her student may not be suitable for all students. “Implementing appropriate treatment” as noted by Goldstein & Obrzut (2001) is just as important as detecting dyslexia early on in the student’s educational career.

Reading and writing skills are not only needed for students to be successful academically, they are needed for them to be successful socially. I reached this conclusion based on my classroom experiences as well as the study reported by Humphrey and Mullins (2002). I have always believed that a student’s success or failure academically is one of the major contributions to their self-esteem and their ability to feel accepted by their peers and teachers. Students who struggle either sit quietly hoping not to be called on or act out in class as a way of drawing out laughter from their peers to overcompensate for their challenges. Both types of students often times receive labels from teachers and peers. Dyslexia is a challenge that students try to hide or overcompensate for and can impact their “self-concept and self-esteem” (Humphrey & Mullins, 2002, p. 196). Through their research, Humphrey and Mullins (2002) found that students with dyslexia associate being good at reading with being intelligent and because of that association find themselves to be unintelligent as they are not considered “good at reading” (p. 200). This student articulated misconception of being unintelligent is one that is already believed by most people in regards to dyslexia (Gray, 2008, p. 117).

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that impacts a large number of students in our schools. As educators, we have a responsibility to identify dyslexia early on and appropriately treat it. These steps help to ensure academic and social success in the lives of our students. Part of this job is educating adults and students of the realities of dyslexia and positively embracing those realities.

References:

Aylward, E. H., Richards, T. L., Berninger, V. W., Nagy, Field, K. M., Grimme, et al. (2003). Instructional treatment associated with changes in brain activation in children with dyslexia. Neurology, 61, 212-219.

Gary, E. S. (2008). Understanding Dyslexia and Its Instructional Implications: A case to support intense intervention. Literacy Research And Instruction, 47(2), 116-123. doi: 0.1080/19388070701878790

Goldstein, B. H., & Obrzut, J. E. (2001). Neuropsychological treatment of dyslexia in the classroom setting. Journal Of Learning Disabilities, 34(3), 276-85.

 Humphrey, N., & Mullins, P. M. (2002). Personal constructs and attribution for academic success and failure in dyslexia. British Journal Of Special Education, 29(4), 196-203.

Morgan, P. W. (1896). A case for congenital word blindness. British Medical Journal, 2, 1378.

National Center for Statistics (2008). The condition of education 2008. Indicator 5: Language minority school-age children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Washburn, E.K., Joshi, R. M., & Binks-Cantrell, E.S. (2011). Teacher knowledge of basic language concepts and dyslexia. Dyslexia, 17(2), 165-183. doi: 10.1002/dys.426

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