In my work as a dyslexia specialist, I’ve discovered a number of keys to effectively helping these students learn to read. Here are three of them.
Making time for one-on-one sessions
Whether students are struggling with phonemic awareness or they just don’t know their letters very well, I try to get one-on-one time with them to drill down and find out exactly what they’re missing. I find their gaps and then address them. I like to sit down with the student individually to figure out where they are, so I can meet them there. Making assumptions can be easy, but I refrain from thinking I know what they do and don’t know. This is especially important for older students who’ve developed coping mechanisms. The main thing is to assess students and then address their gaps.
I have segmented each grade into my day so I devote a certain amount of time to each grade. Based on assessments, I collaborate with their classroom teacher to decide who needs the most attention. Then I pull them out for a tailored session twice a week.
Working as a team
Ideally, a dyslexia specialist would only take the Tier 3 students from a classroom. Kids are at different levels in every classroom, and differentiating instruction is hard for a lot of educators. If specialists take in those who need the most help, it’ll lighten the load for educators taking Tier 1 and 2. Recognizing that we’re all one team with the same mission helps us improve our staff culture and focus on the bigger picture. This indirectly helps students get what they need.
Every other Tuesday, we have professional learning communities (PLCs), where we look at data and strategize how to move forward. We’ve held several professional development training sessions about our reading program Reading Horizons. In the past, we haven’t been a school that’s big into technology—we don’t like devices in the hands of our younger students. For educators to feel more comfortable using devices, we make sure we’re tracking progress and assessing student improvement. Because Reading Horizons can also be used virtually without much instruction or guidance needed, students have the autonomy to learn at their own pace and achieve mastery.
We want our educators to be comfortable using software to differentiate learning, and I think we’ve built a culture of collaboration. Educators help each other out with the program, which in turn improves the student experience of using the tool to learn to read.
Consistency is key for all students, but especially students with dyslexia. Reading Horizons is systematic and teaches concepts in a specific order. It allows students to begin where they are with their reading abilities and to progress at their own pace. We give students 30 minutes of reading program time per day in a general education classroom. Then we pull out students who need extra help twice a week for 45 minutes each.
Getting educators on board to teach reading in this systematic way has been critical at my school. Regardless of teachers’ feelings toward devices in the hands of students, a light bulb goes off when they see reading test scores go up.
Recently, 21 out of 23 first graders we tested made significant gains to reading 12 words read per minute in one term—the expected average for second graders. Among our second graders, 21 out of 23 gained an average of reading 20 words per minute. Buy-in is an ongoing journey, but the results speak for themselves.
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