If your child has a dyslexia diagnosis, or even if you just strongly suspect dyslexia, there is plenty of information available to help you decide on next steps. Decades of scientific research have given us clear, concrete information about how to teach a dyslexic child to read.
Kids with dyslexia must be taught to read with the right method, at the right level of frequency and intensity. There are methods and approaches that research has proven to be effective, and fortunately they are easy to find. Research tells us that dyslexic readers need the right instruction for at least two hours per week in order to make strong gains.
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How to Effectively Teach a Child With Dyslexia to Read
In addition to being provided at least twice per week, reading instruction for children with dyslexia must be:
- Individualized – An effective reading method can be adjusted to meet individual needs. This means that even after you choose a program, the instructor will need to modify as your child progresses. Learners may master some concepts quickly and need more review on other concepts. Dyslexic readers need a program that can be readily adjusted, and an instructor who is skilled at individualizing instruction.
- Multi-sensory – Reading instruction for kids with dyslexia must include as many of the senses as possible: seeing, hearing, feeling (touching), and movement (kinesthetic). The most powerful learning happens when more than one sense is used at the same time.
- Direct and Explicit – Everything must be presented directly, deliberately, and clearly. Children with dyslexia should never expected to infer or deduce in order to learn how to read. Each piece of information or idea must be taught, practiced and discussed.
- Systematic – Systems or procedures for learning must be taught and used consistently to learn new material. Kids become so familiar with these procedures that they become automatic, leaving more brainpower available for learning the information being presented. Within each lesson the procedures are followed in the same format, creating a framework that allows the deepest learning to take place.
- Sequential and Cumulative – The organization of material to be taught must be logical and sequential. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic concepts and progress to more difficult concepts. Learning should be cumulative, meaning that each step is based on concepts that have been previously mastered.
- Synthetic and Analytic – Synthetic (part to whole) means taking the individual parts of reading (phonics) and showing how they are put together (reading words). Analytic (whole to part) means looking at words and breaking them into individual sounds. Good readers must be able to think in both ways.
Taken together, these elements are referred to as Structured Literacy or the Orton Gillingham approach. These are not specific programs or curriculum. Think of Structured Literacy or the Orton Gillingham approach as names for the collection of components that must be included in any instruction for a child with dyslexia.
How to Find the Help Your Dyslexic Child Needs
Now that you know the type of instruction that your child with dyslexia needs, how do you find it?
Thankfully, many public school systems have begun to implement English Language Arts programs based on the Orton Gillingham approach. Talk to your child’s teacher or principal to make sure that the elements of Structured Literacy are being used to teach your child. In many districts, this is already the case. You may be able to arrange for your child to participate in “intervention” Structured Literacy lessons that are more targeted and intense.
For a child with dyslexia, whole group or even small group instruction in Structured Literacy might not be enough. Even if your dyslexic child has a well-trained, highly skilled teacher who is using a program based on the Orton Gillingham approach, your child may need additional support.
If intervention support hasn’t helped significantly, you may want to talk to the teacher or principal about evaluating your child for special education services. In the best of circumstances, this could result in your child receiving exactly the Structured Literacy instruction they need. It can also be tricky, because public school educators are constrained by federal criteria for special education eligibility that often doesn’t “catch” dyslexia. And if your child is eligible, you may disagree with the school about what services are appropriate.
Kids with dyslexia can benefit enormously from the right one-on-one instruction, either from a parent or a private tutor.
Parent-Friendly Reading Programs for Children With Dyslexia
There are several Orton Gillingham-influenced programs available that have been designed specifically for parents or private tutors to teach children with dyslexia how to read. Although I settled on using the Barton Reading & Spelling System in my private tutoring practice, there are other options available.
In researching each of the products below, I truly felt that the authors or publishers of the programs are deeply committed to helping struggling readers. There are differences in each product, but I believe that no matter which one you choose, you’ll be providing your child with a research-based program that works. These are widely known as the best “at-home” reading programs for struggling readers.
Let’s talk about the Barton Reading & Spelling System first. It was designed for parents and tutors to be able to use, almost “right out of the box.” Each level comes with training videos, and the manuals are carefully scripted. The company offers unlimited support to anyone who purchases the Barton Reading & Spelling System. The founder, Susan Barton, has created tons of valuable instructional videos available on the Barton website, her Brighter Solutions website, or YouTube.
All About Learning Press is a company that publishes two Structured Literacy products. All About Reading and All About Spelling are both based on the Orton Gillingham approach. These programs are scripted for parents and tutors to use, and the company describes them as “open and go.” All About Learning Press offers plenty of support through its website and blog, along with an offer to contact them by email or phone if you have any questions.
Logic of English is a comprehensive, completely scripted program that aims to make the Orton Gillingham approach available to anyone. The Essentials materials cover reading, spelling, writing and grammar. There is also a separate program that teaches handwriting in a multi-sensory way. The materials are easy to use and include optional activities categorized by learning style to allow parents or tutors to provide individualized instruction.
Reading Horizons offers instruction through online software, instructor-guided written materials, or a blended program using both. Plenty of training is provided through the website and blog.
The Pride Reading Program is also meant to get parents and tutors up and running quickly with their student. The manuals are scripted, and training videos provide clear instruction on each part of the lesson structure.
If you have a child with dyslexia, or a struggling reader who needs to catch up, you may choose one of these programs to teach your child yourself, or you may want to hire a tutor. Either way, you’ll know that you are providing the right instruction for your child with dyslexia.
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