How to support middle, high-school students with dyslexia
Donell Pons
March 14, 2019

This is Part Two of a five-part series about how to support and accommodate middle-schoolers, high-schoolers, and adults with dyslexia. Read Part One, where Pons shares common behaviors and characteristics that indicate students’ need for language-based intervention.

When it comes to accommodating middle and high school students with dyslexia, educators don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are more struggling readers in the United States than fluent readers who have the skills to not only decode text, but to understand and draw deeper meaning from what they’re reading. Students without the foundational skills to read are enduring a range of challenging classroom experiences. They need appropriate assessments so that educators can provide them with effective instruction. Once middle school or high school students have been identified as dyslexic, educators can accommodate them in three different ways.

1) Implement a solid intervention system.

Using a Structured Literacy reading program not only provides the best instruction for students who may struggle with reading, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest it is the best instruction for all readers. Schools with well-trained teachers who understand the elements of Structured Literacy are prepared to find, assess, and instruct students who are struggling with reading at any age. Training all staff in the same Structured Literacy program provides not only a foundation for instruction, but also a shared vocabulary for every teacher.

It would be helpful if the program had a software component, so that the busy older student could do work outside the classroom. This can often accelerate learning. Software also provides an opportunity for immediate feedback when a student is working alone and struggling with a concept.

Response to Intervention is the framework for implementing appropriate levels of intensive instruction to improve academic outcomes. If schools have well-trained teachers who are supported by an RTI framework for reading instruction, then educators can provide high-quality classroom instruction supported by tiered levels of support.

Multi-Tiered System of Support is an expanded framework that not only includes academic instruction, but also social and emotional care. Without quality Tier I instruction, the number of students in Tier II and III intervention can exceed the school’s resources.

2) Introduce effective tech tools.

Older students can take responsibility for their own growth by using the many tech tools out there. For a list of those that I’ve found to be the most effective, see the Resources box below.

It’s important to remember that tech tools are useful on a project-by-project basis, but students should also have the opportunity to learn how to read through a well-informed Structured Literacy program.

3) Educate students, teachers, and administrators.

Since dyslexia is the most common learning disability, every student, teacher, and administrator should educate themselves about the characteristics and effects of dyslexia. Dyslexia doesn’t correlate with intelligence. A very low IQ will impact reading at some level, but students with relatively low IQs can learn to read well, because they don’t have a language-based learning challenge. Likewise, people with very high IQs can struggle with reading because of a language-based learning difference. This understanding alone should lead to far less unfounded criticism of students who struggle with reading.

Daniel Coyle has written a powerful bestseller called The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Coyle begins the book by examining some of the most successful groups, from Google to the Navy SEALs. He found that these groups have many things in common. One of the most important elements for groups to be successful is safety. When people feel safe, they are far more productive and feel freer to take the risks to be creative. However, it’s not human nature to feel safe. We are all worried about being accepted, and this detracts from feeling safe. Imagine how students with dyslexia feel when they go unidentified, misunderstood, and simply neglected. They have no hope of feeling safe. It’s important to talk about dyslexia in an informed way with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The conversation, unfortunately, has all too often focused on the challenges of learning to read, with little attention paid to the strengths.

The Made By Dyslexia group is releasing some important informational videos to educate the public about dyslexia. The videos focus on the strengths of people with dyslexia and work at dispelling some of the myths. It’s never a bad idea to lead a discussion about dyslexia by talking about the obvious strengths that students with dyslexia have.

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Resources

Need more help? Here's a list to get you started.

  • Reading Horizons is a phonics-based system that provides explicit, systematic, and sequential decoding instruction.
  • The Structured Literacy approach has been copyrighted by the International Dyslexia Association. It’s a method of reading instruction that contains phonology, sound-symbol association, syllable instruction, morphology, syntax and semantics.  These elements are taught systematically and sequentially through explicit instruction with diagnostic teaching.
  • Microsoft’s Immersive Reader includes text support programs with syllable division, highlighting parts of speech, and reading the text.
  • Google Drive offers a free text-to-speech extension.
  • Learning Ally is a nonprofit education solution organization with more than 80,000 human-voiced audiobooks with highlighted text to assist struggling readers.
  • Read Aloud is a free text-to-speech Chrome browser extension.
  • Claro Software offers a range of useful apps to read text.
  • The Claro ScanPen app allows you take a picture of any text from test questions to instructions and have that text read back to you.  

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Watch for Part Three of this series later this month, where Pons will share how high schoolers with dyslexia can prepare for the ACT.

Donell Pons is a reading and dyslexia specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah. She 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.

To learn how to identify young students with dyslexia, read Pons’ four-part series about supporting and accommodating students with dyslexia.

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at knamahoe@smartbrief.com.

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