September 06, 2015

Dyslexia in the Classroom

I teach at a small private school that specializes in children with learning disabilities. About half of the students have dyslexia, which means that they have difficulty reading, writing and spelling.

Often, the traditional approaches to teaching children to read and write do not work for children with dyslexia, and unfortunately many people with dyslexia are never properly diagnosed and they continue to struggle with reading and writing throughout their whole lives without ever knowing why these things are so difficult for them.

Even if a child is diagnosed as having dyslexia, there are very few teachers in the school system who know what to do with this information once they get it. And it's not their fault—dyslexia is the most common learning disability, but teachers receive little to no training on working with children with dyslexia.

Before starting at my school a few years ago, I was one of these teachers. I had a vague idea of what dyslexia was, but my knowledge was very limited and when I look back it is clear that many of the students I worked with didn't just have "poor reading skills," they had dyslexia.

There are two approaches that my school uses for children with dyslexia. The first is the Orton-Gillingham (OG) method, which is a language-based, multi-sensory program that is most effective when used one-on-one or in small groups. It can be difficult to incorporate OG into a large classroom (although parts can be taught in a whole class setting), but my school has individual remediation periods where students are put into small groups to work on whatever they most need to work on, so this is where OG usually takes place. My school uses Susan Barton's Orton-Gillingham program, but this is just one of many options.

The second approach we use is called Real Spelling. I LOVE Real Spelling, and it is something that I always try to incorporate into my Language program. Real Spelling involves word inquiry and teaches children to make sense of how words work by investigating morphology, etymology and phonology.

Here's a great example of how Real Spelling and structured word inquiry can be used in the classroom:



The official Real Spelling website is a little out-dated and is largely used as a place to buy the Real Spelling products (which are great—my school owns the Real Spelling Toolbox and I use it regularly), so I would also suggest checking out the many other amazing blogs and sites that discuss Real Spelling and structured word inquiry. Here are a few of my favourites: WordWorks Kingston, Real Spellers, and Linguist-Educator Exchange.

I think the most important thing I've learned in the past few years is that ALL students should be taught to read using approaches like Orton-Gillingham and Real Spelling—not just students with dyslexia. I have seen improvements in reading ability in all my students when using structured word inquiry, and I will now always incorporate this into my Language block even if none of my students have dyslexia.

I plan to post more about how I use structured word inquiry in my classroom in future posts, so stay tuned!




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