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Supporting students with dyslexia

Donell Pons
October 24, 2018

This is part three of a four-part series about what educators can do to identify, assess and accommodate students with dyslexia. You can also read Part One: Identifying students with dyslexiaand Part Three: Supporting students with dyslexia. Part Four: "4 ways to lead a dyslexia initiative" will be available November 1.

Dyslexia affects every instructional task a student faces in school. Fortunately, there is a window of opportunity to tackle and remedy this language-based learning disability at an early age. Whether or not your school and district take formal measures to screen and support students with dyslexia shouldn’t interfere with your ability to measure reading skills and provide support. Here are three tools educators can access immediately to identify, accommodate and support their students with dyslexia.

Online dyslexia screeners

If you haven’t received any training regarding dyslexia, you can always access an online screener. Screeners don’t diagnose your student, but they do informally assess their alignment with characteristics of students with dyslexia, depending on their grade level.

For detailed guidance on how to choose a reliable dyslexia screener, take a look at part two of this series, How to find a dyslexia screener.

Existing assessments

Every school collects reading data, especially for K-3 students. A parent can find more information about what data that is by visiting their state Office of Education page and looking under “early literacy.” Parents and teachers can use this information to initiate an objective conversation about a student’s reading performance. If class assignments or test results show that a student has problems with rapidly and automatically naming known letters and letter sounds, or has difficulties with phonemic awareness, they are exhibiting two of the primary universal characteristics of dyslexia. These characteristics of dyslexia are easily recognizable if an educator knows what to look for.

Online and print resources

There are excellent free online resources available through the International Dyslexia Association, Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, and The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Many webinars and informational videos are available on YouTube. Additionally, there are many excellent books available for educators from “Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print” by Marilyn Jager to the well-respected “Overcoming Dyslexia” by Sally Shaywitz. I would also highly recommend “Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties” by David Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick has studied 30 years of reading research and combined his findings in his comprehensive book.

Using what you know

If you don’t have a formal team involved in universal screening for reading challenges, find a group of people in your school who are interested in improving reading outcomes. Every school should have a working team of educators who are assessing the needs of students. This team should be part of the larger conversation regarding reading assessment and intervention.

Once the administration at my school saw our reading data, they supported my idea to implement a reading program. Reading data gathered from NWEA MAP testing and other standard assessments indicated there were many students who were struggling with reading. With the support of the administration, we offered training in the components of evidence-based reading instruction to every educator and paraeducator in grades K–5. There were educators with varying degrees of knowledge in structured literacy. Those with the most education and experience provided support for teachers who were just beginning their training.

It’s an educator’s responsibility to know the characteristics of dyslexia. If a student is identified and accommodated early, they have the potential to read just like their non-dyslexic peers. The number of states with laws specific to dyslexia has nearly doubled since 2013, but until every district has a process to screen and support students with dyslexia, the resources online and within a district are enough to make a positive change in students’ lives.

Donell Pons is a reading and dyslexia specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah. Pons started her career in education when her youngest son was diagnosed with dyslexia. She has a master’s degree in education and teaching from Westminster College, along with a certification in special education. Connect with her at dbpons@gmail.com.

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