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May 21
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by Jess

Have you ever asked yourself what your local school teachers know about dyslexia? What have they learned on their own? What professional development have they been exposed to since they finished their teacher training programs? Have you ever wondered what they know to be an intervention for dyslexia? I recently read a thread on a Facebook page dedicated to teachers when the topic of dyslexia was posed to 75,000+ teachers. How they responded was not completely unexpected, but it was unnerving.

Before I go on, let me assure you that I love teachers. There are many, many teachers in my life. We have five teachers who work for us as reading therapists and I think they are all intelligent, empathetic, creative and passionate people. So, this article is not a bashing of teachers, instead the purpose is to shed light on what they have been taught, or not taught, to do for children with dyslexia.

The question posed to the group was this:

"I am a second grade teacher in my second year. This year, I will be teaching a student who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia (about 6 months ago). I work in a private school so we don't have IEPs. Do my fellow teachers have any advice on tried and true methods or learning tools for working with the student, but also suggestions on developing a solid relationship with the parents and managing their/my expectations and responsibilities?

First, a, full round of applause for this teacher’s sense of duty to this child and her desire to do the best she could for him. I was alerted to this thread by a friend who happens to be a mother of a child with dyslexia as well as a teacher and we watched the comments roll in. The following is a list of the most common comments that were left for the original poster in the spirit of helping her new student with dyslexia.

At the time this article was written, there were 67 responses from fellow teachers and more than half of them left a comment similar to this one:

It has been proven that certain color overlays help students who have dyslexia...I had a student this year in my third grade class that used a purple overlay or transparency to read...this helped her tremendously...

And this one…

Making your copies on pastel colored paper is better for them.


Making your copies on pastel colored paper is better for them.

One more…

I have squares of yellow transparency sheets so that students can focus on sentences/paragraphs at a time!

I am going to start out by giving everyone A or effort. The very serious problem with these statements and the training behind them is that covered overlays should not be considered anything more than an accommodation. If a student states that overlays help with their reading, that is great – the fact remains that overlays, different colored paper and dimming lights, are not the intervention. These are all equal to band-aids and kids with dyslexia need medicine (metaphorically speaking of course).  Let’s think about this for a minute. If we could all go to the store and buy colored transparencies that solved reading problems, wouldn’t we don’t that and effectively eradicate dyslexia? What about spelling? This teacher wanted to know how to help a student with dyslexia and they need spelling help too, yet there were no suggestions for writing. Lastly, if the covered overlays do dramatically improve the reading of a child, then they did not have dyslexia.

This comment was most striking to me:

‘I've never taught a student with dyslexia.’

The fact of the matter is, if you are a teacher and have been in one classroom, you have taught a child with dyslexia, no matter where you teach. Dyslexia affects up to one in five individuals. Let’s compare that to Autism, which is one in eighty-eight, yet the awareness of Autism is omnipresent and dyslexia is still the victim of rampant misinformation by those who work with our kids every day.

This comment baffled me:

Teach the "child"

What does that mean? If I am not teaching the ‘child’ who am I teaching? How do I teach the ‘child’ is the question of the hour and this does very little to help the original poster, yet I know I have heard an iteration of this comment in more than one IEP meeting.

In this string of misguided comments were a few gems that gave me hope:

I work in a private school as well…We as teacher are empowered to recognize students who are struggling and who may not have the documentation, but we work with our learning specialists to create a working plan for the student.

Reduce spelling lists/tests, make sure that no points are taken off for spelling mistakes, read all tests aloud, - tracking can be a major problem therefore scan tron /bubble tests pose problems so allow them to highlight their answer choice directly on the test, provide all teacher notes because they are so busy processing each and every word they are often behind and notes are hard for parents to read to help them review. This student can learn just differently!

The point of this of article is that every once in a while we get a glimpse into the knowledge our intelligent, caring, competent teachers have regarding dyslexia and that window into their current training and ability to help students with dyslexia should shake us and our universities to our core.  Very recently, Sally Shaywitz summed it up better than anyone:

Often and quite accurately, we bemoan the 'knowledge gap', that is, the gap between existing knowledge and the knowledge necessary to bring about improvements in health or education. In the case of dyslexia, (while there is always the desire for more), there is currently sufficient knowledge to do a far better job in identifying, intervening in and accommodating dyslexia. There is an unacceptable and harmful wide gap between the robust existing science of dyslexia and how this knowledge is implemented, typically not implemented, by schools. In dyslexia, there is not a knowledge gap but rather an action gap. As a consequence dyslexic children frequently go un-identified, un-remediated and un-accommodated with great harm to the children, to their families and to society. Educators must act to translate this body of converging science into policy and practice. Our children's lives and futures (human capital) is too precious to waste.

KelliDr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org and www.dyslexiadr.com.) She is currently writing, Putting the D in to the IEP, and you can read excerpts at www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Dr. Sandman-Hurley a Certified Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. She has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute at www.facebook.com/dyslexiatraining

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4 Responses to “Dyslexia: ‘I’ve never taught a student with dyslexia.’”

  1. In the last 8 years I have been teaching dyslexic students I have seen the definition of dyslexia changing a great deal. This I believe is the work of interested parties who make big business out of dyslexics and parents of dyslexic children.

    What exactly is dyslexia? Stanovich has this to say: “Standard exclusionary criteria include conditions that began or existed prior to school entry such as severe attention problems,( Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — also referred to ADD or ADHD), mental retardation, oral language impairment, emotional disturbance and/or behavioural difficulties, deficits in hearing or visual acuity, neurological disorders such as autism or childhood schizophrenia, or chronically poor health. Children are identified as having dyslexia only when factors that would be expected to cause problems in all areas of learning, not just reading, are excluded.(Stanovich, 1991).”

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    • Wow–you’re quoting from a book published in 1991 when we have a mountain of new scientific research and brain scans in the last couple of years to confirm that dyslexia is real, ranging from mild to severe? I implore you to get out of that decade and enter 2013. Read Dr. Sally Shaywitz’s book and just Google dyslexia and read the latest medical research. Your statement is exactly perpetuating the problems many of our kids face in schools.

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  2. Students or parents should notify schools, teachers, substitutes and any other people involved in the students education of learning issues ahead of time and have student carry a copy of letter stating the same information of verified disability.

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  3. I talk about teaching the student sometimes. it’s shorthand for two things.

    #1: Teaching the student you actually have, as opposed to the one you wish you had

    #2: Teaching the student and not the subject. If you can’t explain the fundamentals to an 8 y/o, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

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