Dyslexia expert Kelly Steinke, founder of READ Learning Educational Services, talks about raising dyslexia awareness in schools and why it matters.
The term ‘neurodiversity’ is generally used in context of spectrum disorders like autism or mental health issues such as ADHD. Neurodiversity means that people don’t come with ‘one-size-fits-all’ brains. People are more complicated, and science has shown that different brains are wired in different ways. These differences are part of what gives us our unique abilities, interests, fears, strengths, and weaknesses.
I began my career as a special education teacher and taught for almost 20 years in the Midwest, East Coast, and Pacific Northwest. During this time I became a National Board Certified Teacher in Exceptional Needs, earned a Master of Arts Degree in Education, and founded my company, READ Learning Educational Services. For the past seven years, I have served the community as a dyslexia specialist.
My interest in dyslexia was spurred out of necessity. Throughout my teaching career, the majority of my students were diagnosed as reading disabled. Though dyslexia was never directly stated on student documents or evaluations, I learned through professional reading that dyslexia was (and still is) the most common type of reading disability. In taking this knowledge back to my classroom, I realized most of my students showed the tell tale signs of dyslexia.
Needless to say, after many frustrating years of teaching without any knowledge of dyslexia, or alternate reading approaches, I experienced a ‘teaching epiphany’. I realized my students made little to no gains in reading because I was using reading interventions that were not in line with what medical research had proven about dyslexia and the brain. My instructional approach (how I was teaching and what I was teaching) was not effective for the majority of my dyslexic readers.
This was a life changing realization for my students and my family. I completely changed how and what I taught when working with students who showed the signs of dyslexia, and on a personal level I identified dyslexia in both of my daughters at only 5 years old. This answered a lot of questions for our family and is why I’ve dedicated my career to the helping families and schools with dyslexia diagnosis, intervention and academic supports.
Communities become stronger, more compassionate and more accepting of differences when they are educated to recognize and understand each other’s unique traits – diversity.
One of my favorites was always the ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ campaign. T-shirts were sold in March and worn on a specified day. Students gave a school-wide presentation that educated peers about treating everyone, despite differences, with respect and compassion. This created an overall positive ‘buzz’ within the school climate. Another positive initiative happens during the month of April when it’s common for schools to celebrate autism awareness month. This is important because it raises awareness. It reinforces acceptance, support, and builds understanding around autism. The goal is to make life easier and happier for those who have autism. At the same time it aims to build understanding for those who don’t, so they are able to interact, work, and be friends with folks who have autism. It’s mutually beneficial. These initiatives are examples of neurodiversity awareness.
They are beneficial to our communities. As a dyslexia specialist, this makes me pause to think. Over half of our country has some kind of dyslexia legislation in place, yet I’ve never heard of a school celebrating dyslexia awareness month. Come to think of it, I’ve never worked in a school that has recognized October as being significant to dyslexia. Do schools in your area celebrate dyslexia awareness month? I’m sure there are districts that do, and I’d love to hear where they are and what kind of events are planned for dyslexia awareness. Please share!
Autism is generally easy to spot because of how a person interacts or doesn’t interact socially. On the contrary, dyslexia is not visible from the outside. You can’t tell someone has dyslexia by looking at their outward behavior. This makes dyslexia awareness all the more important. Dyslexia comprises 80% of all learning disabilities and is visible through FMRI imaging in neurological research. Yet, the term is still taboo in many of our schools. Neurological imaging has proven that dyslexics have different brain wiring in the language processing center of their brains and have shown different activation patterns within the brain while they are reading. This sounds like neurodiversity to me.
This is where neurodiversity comes into play and where more awareness and education is needed. Different approaches get different results. As a dyslexia specialist and the founder of a specialized learning center, READ Learning Educational Services, I help students, young and old, learn to read and spell when traditional approaches have failed. There are no “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching reading and many (not all, but many) in the education world are unaware of two very important principles.
Please note, the term ‘approach’ is not synonymous with the term ‘program’. There are hundreds and maybe thousands of reading programs available to educators. ‘Approach’ refers to the actual teaching method/style in which a student is taught. This includes but is not limited to the sequence of content taught, how content is presented, the type of text that is used for students to read, specific strategies that are taught to support reading and spelling skills, and strategies to support memory and generalization of concepts.
At my reading center we only use Orton Gillingham-based approaches. Orton Gillingham is a very different way of teaching reading (when compared to balanced literacy approaches) and is steeped in medical research as opposed to educational philosophy / theory. It’s intense, explicit, sequential, multisensory, rule-based and focuses on spelling just as much as it does reading. Reading and spelling are taught in tandem. Orton-based interventions focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, fluency, accuracy, and spelling. If you’d like more information on how to teach spelling systematically, check out the Silver Moon Spelling Rules program.
Students we work with at READ Learning generally enter our doors with five things in common.
We’d likely see less students with these five characteristics in common if there were increased awareness and education surrounding dyslexia in our schools. If you’d like to learn more about dyslexia, request our ‘Characteristics of Dyslexia’ or ‘Dyslexia Testing’ resources.
Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Last year, I spoke with a special education teacher who shared a frustrating conversation she had while at work. She was in a meeting with her school’s psychologist discussing student literacy needs. She shared that a few of her students were showing signs of dyslexia. She went on to share that most of these students had shown little to no progress in reading even with ongoing tiered intervention and classroom instruction over the past year. The school psychologist responded by saying that it didn’t really matter if her students were dyslexic or not because it wouldn’t change the way they would teach reading to them anyway.
‘It wouldn’t change the way they would teach reading anyway.’
This statement is worth repeating because of its transparency. It shows that this professional is working in a district that’s missing some key information. In other words, ‘he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.’ This district has not trained their key players to understand the neurological / medical research surrounding dyslexia. If they had, the psychologist would know there are different courses of action (approaches), recommended when working with students who show symptoms of or are diagnosed with dyslexia. When students are not making enough progress to close the achievement gap between themselves and benchmark reading levels, it should, at the very least, spur a conversation about other possible approaches that could be used for the child’s reading instruction and why the current approach is not working.
I felt the need to share this story because it’s not an uncommon experience. I hear versions of this quite often, except with different players. In the other versions there have been principals, special education directors, reading specialists, literacy coordinators and other teachers as the persons who aren’t knowledgeable about dyslexia or alternate reading approaches.
Unfortunately, I can relate to this experience. When I was still teaching in the classroom, I listened to my special education director tell our department not to use the word, ‘dyslexia’ when talking to parents, but instead to refer to the cluster of symptoms as being a reading disability. Yikes! This perspective is comparable to going to the doctor with pneumonia and the doctor telling you that all you have is a cold. The prescribed solution for pneumonia is very different from that of a general cold. With a cold you would simply rest up and drink lots of fluids. With the latter, you’d be given medication with specific directions on how to take the medication and for how long. This is a relevant analogy considering dyslexics have different wiring within their brains. They acquire reading differently from the majority of readers.
Because they learn to read differently, it’s important to identify them as early as possible and have alternate, more prescriptive approaches readily available. It’s a common myth that dyslexia is rare. Dyslexia is not rare; the prevalence in the general population is 15-20%. Instead, what tends to be rare is a school’s ability to accurately identify and intervene.
You could sponsor events for dyslexia awareness month. Maybe you could reach out to bring in an expert that is able to speak about dyslexia. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the science behind teaching those with dyslexia, I would suggest reading the book, Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. A few years back, I shared this book with a reading specialist who, after reading it, came to me in tears. Had she only known sooner…were some of the feelings she shared. These are just a few ideas that will open up the lines of communication and start those important conversations.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce
Kelly Steinke is a mother, wife, teacher and business owner. Kelly began her career as a special education teacher and had goals of becoming a special education director. After completing her Master’s Degree in Administration and Leadership, Kelly became licensable as a director of pupil services & special education. It was about this time that she became interested in the field of dyslexia. Instead of pursuing administrative goals, Kelly pursued certifications as a dyslexia specialist and founded her company, READ Learning Educational Services, LLC. READ Learning is a full time reading center specializing in Orton Gillingham-based reading interventions (online and in person) and dyslexia diagnosis. Kelly is also a speaker, adjunct instructor and the creator of Silver Moon® Spelling Rules curriculum and professional development trainings. For more information visit www.ReadLearningServices.com
Caylla's Extraordinary Story ~ 9 Months to Literacy
If you’re in the mood for an uplifting story than you’re in for a treat. I tell the following story to wrap up many of my presentations because it’s a story of hope, a story that’s not easily forgotten and one that has brought many parents of struggling readers to tears (including myself - every time I tell it). The tears these parents have cried aren’t tears of grief; they are tears of joy. This story has not been dramatized and it is not made up. This is a real story about a real student.
Smart & Illiterate
Several years ago I was teaching as a special education teacher, working with students who qualified for services in reading. Caylla, one of my students, was a charming young lady whose main interests included fashion, friends and music. In talking to Caylla you could tell that she was as bright as she was charming. Caylla’s outward appearance and conversational abilities told this story, but as soon as Caylla was asked to read or write, a totally different story was revealed. You see, Caylla was different from the majority of her classmates because Caylla was in 5th grade and couldn’t read. Caylla was completely illiterate and at the same time she was smart. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Let me explain more. Caylla had normal intelligence yet in 6 years of formal schooling not a single teacher or her parents had been able to teach her how to read.
Causes for Reading Failure
The cynics would say, “Well there must have been other issues going on.” “What was her home life like, and was she lazy/did she even care about learning to read?” “Did she come from a low socio-economic background?” "Was their trauma she had experienced?" Most would think there must have been some type of extrinsic cause for her reading failure. But, Caylla did not have truancy issues, health issues or other extenuating circumstances. She had loving parents, caring and "highly qualified" teachers, and she was given a lot of extra reading help before and after school for many years.
Dyslexia is Invisible
Unfortunately, none of this mattered because no one realized that Caylla was dyslexic - severely to profoundly dyslexic. Dyslexia is an invisible disability. You can’t see dyslexia by looking at someone. Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the Audrey G. Ratner Professor of Pediatrics (Neurology) and Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity calls this The Paradox of Dyslexia.
In September of 5th grade, Caylla was not even reading at a prekindergarten level and behaviors were starting to take form. It was looking like Caylla was on a fast track to dropping out of school at a very young age. Having dyslexia in our family, I knew a thing or two about dyslexia identification and remediation. I knew without a doubt Caylla was dyslexic and recognized that if Caylla hadn’t learned to read by this point in her life that she never would unless given the right type of programming - Orton Gillingham based reading intervention.
From Illiterate to Literate
Caylla had never been given Orton Gillingham based reading instruction, so my I began working with Caylla everyday - 50 minutes each day - and Caylla started to make progress. Yes, you read that right...I worked with her 5 days a week, one-on-one!! Some days were easier than others, but by the end of the school year Caylla was reading at a 4thgrade level! There aren't words to explain the extent of this 9 month long transformation. To put it simply, her teacher’s were amazed, her mom was elated, and Caylla’s reaction was humbling...she knew all along that she had the ability to learn to read. Deep down she knew she was smart enough to learn to read.
The Right Type of Instruction
At the end of the school year and after completing my final benchmark reading assessment, I said to Caylla, “You have worked so hard this year and you’ve become such a great reader. All of your hard work has really paid off. What do you think of your growth?” Caylla responded with a wide smile and corrected my statement. She said, “Oh, Mrs. Steinke it wasn’t me …you just needed to water my brain with the right type of water.”
Caylla was right. She had always worked hard and all of her hard work and effort had not paid off until she was given the right tools to work with. Why would you continue using the same reading methods year after year when they haven’t worked year after year? Changing reading methodology for Caylla was like flipping switch. All of her hard work was finally able to produce results.
If you have a story of your own or have any questions about Dyslexia, we'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact through our website at www.READLearningServices.com
Poor Spelling is often a Sign of Dyslexia or other Learning Disabilities
Unfortunately, some are not so lucky. Researchers believe that 15-20% of the population is affected by dyslexia, with the top 10% being severe enough to need some type of learning intervention and other supports and accommodations. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurobiological in origin and is considered a language acquisition disorder that primarily affects reading fluency, spelling, and reading words in isolation. There are many other symptoms of dyslexia and they persist despite having quality teachers, caring and involved parents and regular school attendance.
The next class will be offered in Appleton, Spring 2019.
For more information, contact Kelly at [email protected].
“Sound it out” is a common direction that students are given when they can’t read a word. “Sound it out” makes sense to most of us because it’s what most readers do when they can’t read a word. They sound it out. But, what if you don’t read like most readers? What if you are unable to read by sounding out? Or, what if “sounding it out” only works some of the time? That’s when you’ll see students relying on memory, picture clues, context clues, or guessing at words based on the shape and size of a given word or the first letter in the word. These strategies allow students to compensate, for the inability to sound out words, for a short period of time. After awhile though, text will become too advanced for these strategies to work all the time.
Why Teach Syllable Division Rules
If a student can’t read by sounding out, they typically hit a wall by the end of their third grade year, if not sooner. It’s around this time that reading emphasis shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Vocabulary explodes and students are no longer able to “solve” words, or guess at words, by using strategies other than sounding out. This is why syllable division rules are necessary to teach. This process makes vowel sounds and other units of sound highly predictable which, in turn, makes unknown words easier to read.
Find out what research says and how to teach this skill. Request the full article. Email us at [email protected]
Most people don’t realize that only 4% of American English words are truly irregular and have to be learned through whole-word methods such as memorizing. Building understanding through applying spelling rules takes away the need to rely on memorization to spell words.
Secondly, memory can be an area of trouble with students who have learning disabilities. This means relying on memory presents an even bigger disadvantage to the struggling speller. Select a program that clearly teaches spelling rules, provides a lot of practice applying the spelling rules, and presents the rules in a logical sequence. It can be very confusing and defeating for students to practice spelling rules on words that contain additional spelling rules that they have not yet learned.
Learning objectives should be presented in a logical order beginning with the most basic words, concepts, and rules. Each lesson should build off previously mastered material and progressively become more complex. It is necessary for lessons to provide review and use a controlled word list so students are not presented with rules that haven’t been taught.
Struggling spellers are not passive learners. They will not learn to become good spellers by working independently on activities in workbooks or worksheets. They need a high level of student to teacher interaction so they are actively engaged in learning. Often times the most engaging programs are explicit or direct instruction programs. These are scripted programs that are easy to facilitate even if you don’t have a background in education.
Now a days many products and programs are labeled multi-sensory. Multi-sensory means you are using more than one of your senses (auditory, tactile/kinesthetic, visual) to do something. This is good practice, but the brain will remember information better when learning is paired with three or more senses at the same time. When this occurs it is called, “simultaneously multi-sensory”.
Students benefit from lesson plans with a consistent sequence that includes verbal and nonverbal cuing and prompting. A model-lead-test approach is a proven method when it comes to working with struggling learners. The teacher will model new skills, guide the students through applying the skills, then test to see if the skill has been learned and can be used independently.
High quality spelling programs, spelling programs that are steeped in research on learning disabilities, include real words and nonsense words. Nonsense words are make-believe words that sound silly. This is important because the learner will not be able to spell nonsense words visually (does it look right?) or by memory. The instructor will know, without a doubt, if the learner understands the spelling rule/skill that has been taught.
In math, students need to master basic addition before learning to multiply. In spelling, students need to master foundational spelling rules before moving onto more complex rules. There are rules for one-syllable words, but there are also spelling rules for two-syllable words and three syllable words. Never assume students will master learning targets without direct instruction and never push a student through a program thinking they’ll get it eventually. Build a strong foundation of skills so that other learning can take hold.
I’ve used several different spelling programs. Why haven’t they worked?
If you have tried spelling program after spelling program with no real success, then you know first hand that not all programs work for all types of spellers. The English language has a lot of rules and the rules have a lot of exceptions. Many spelling programs ask students to search for patterns within words. These patterns can be very abstract for struggling spellers because generally the reason for the pattern (the spelling rule) isn’t explained. Some examples include: CVC, CCVC, CVCe, CVCC, etc. These are confusing for struggling spellers because merely identifying a pattern does not build understanding. Instead this promotes memorization and confusion. Struggling spellers do not learn to spell simply by memorizing, like many of their peers do. Other times, spelling programs present too much information at one time. The long “I” sound can be spelled several different ways depending on the word it’s in. If all of these patterns are introduced at the same time it will confuse the student because it’s too much information to master at once.
If you search spelling rules online, you will find a lot of resources and programs. But, which resources are the best, most reliable, and accurate? Even if you have that determined, what is the best way to present/teach a rule based system of spelling? It’s one thing to have the content that needs to be taught. It’s a completely different skill to teach the material in a way that builds understanding and allows students to learn without become confused or overwhelmed.
Next Friday we will post 7 Research Based Tips for choosing a spelling program that WILL work for struggling spellers.
Poor spelling should not be ignored. Spelling directly correlates to reading and writing skills. Spelling also affects confidence and the ability to communicate clearly. Save time, money, and frustration by looking for a spelling program that is based on research in learning disabilities. In my next post, seven key research based components will be discussed.
The pictures below offer examples of American English spelling rules from the Silver Moon Spelling Rules Program. This research based and logical program brings spelling rules to life. It gives each rule a catchy name and pairs it with creative characters, and witty images. A sample lesson can be requested at: www.readlearningservices.com.
Background Knowledge & Vocabulary
If student reading is limited because they read as little as possible, then year after year this lack of exposure compounds and can create problems with reading comprehension. After several years of minimal exposure to text, students miss out on different types of vocabulary and expanding their background knowledge on various topics.
Believe it or not, vocabulary and reading comprehension may also be negatively affected if a student solely reads fiction books. In these books, the type of vocabulary used tends to be very general. In non-fiction text, the vocabulary includes academic and technical vocabulary. This is a different type of vocabulary that is important for children to build their understanding of because it is often topic specific or supportive to a topic. This is especially true beginning in the middle school years.
Use Audio-books. This is considered ear reading because students are reading through listening. Students with dyslexia should be encouraged to listen to books at their grade level and above so they are exposed to rich content and higher-level vocabulary. This is called, “ear reading”. When students get older, audio books can be set to read at a faster rate so students can hear more information in a shorter period of time. Audio books open the door to knowledge and continued learning when books are too labor intensive to read by eye (eye reading). In saying this, I’m not suggesting your student stops reading books altogether. I am suggesting that if your student is not reading at grade level or is taking too long to read, try using audio-books so their knowledge and vocabulary is not limited to text below their grade level. Two good sources for audio books are audible.com and learningally.com.
Students should also be encouraged to use new vocabulary when speaking and writing. You can make vocabulary cards or word journals to keep track of new words and their meaning. It will help if students hear and use higher level and technical vocabulary in conversation. In order to truly expand vocabulary, try to use all four methods of communication with the targeted words – speaking, reading, listening, and writing.