Teachers enter the field of education because they enjoy working with children. Watching a child learn something new is a wonderful experience! PC READS supports teachers and encourages all to learn more about dyslexia.
“I had a dyslexic student in my class a few years ago.”
Although not a direct quote, many parents who share a dyslexia diagnosis with a teacher hear something similar to this. Yet, just about every teacher is going to have at least one dyslexic student in their classroom – every year. Given that up to 1 in 5 students is dyslexic, a classroom of 25 may have as many as 5 dyslexic students.
In reality, teachers often become the first line of defense for dyslexic students. While dyslexia can be diagnosed as early as 5 years of age, this rarely occurs. Thus, it is very uncommon for a dyslexic student to enter school with a dyslexia diagnosis. One of the most common identifying characteristics of a dyslexic student is a student who is unexpectedly having difficulty learning to read. A teacher with knowledge about dyslexia will be more adept at identifying struggling readers and will be more effective at ensuring students are receiving effective instruction and appropriate interventions. With such classroom support from teachers, struggling students will maintain higher self-esteem. Many, if not most, of these struggling readers are unidentified dyslexic students.
Unfortunately, too often, schools wait to evaluate students for learning disabilities until the third grade or later. Most people are familiar with the saying, “we learn to read until third grade, and then we read to learn.” Waiting until third grade to evaluate why our struggling readers are having difficulties and whether there is an undiagnosed learning disorder is essentially wasting precious time during which intervention is essential.
Until the law changes in every state, requiring screening specifically for dyslexia, the majority of dyslexic students will remain unidentified. Private testing is expensive, as a full neuropsychology exam may cost over $2,000 and is not always covered by insurance. Therefore, being able to better identify struggling readers and understand why they struggle (whether it is dyslexia or another reason) is important to ensuring that all students become literate. As a teacher, you can change a child’s life – in the classroom and beyond.
What will a dyslexic student look like in my classroom?
Understanding the characteristics associated with dyslexia will enable teachers to reach all students more effectively. Dyslexia will present itself differently among students, as it is considered a spectrum disorder. Some dyslexic students may not even appear to be struggling, as those with strong executive functioning skills are often able to mask their dyslexia quite well for a number of years. Some students who are struggling may be dyslexic, but may also have a poor working memory, weak executive functioning skills and/or AD/HD. It is estimated that 30% of dyslexic individuals have coexisting AD/HD. In other words, dyslexia may only be a part of the reason a student is struggling, but it should not be overlooked.
A first step is to learn the warning signs (See our What is Dyslexia? page). In early elementary school grades, teachers may first notice a student who is unexpectedly struggling to read, or is not reading at the expected potential. The student may comprehend stories well, but have difficulty reading the same story aloud – perhaps skipping small words or substituting similar words. Once spelling tests are given, teachers may be confused by the student who consistently performs poorly on the pre-test, but can ace the post-test. Often, an analysis of the same student’s written work will show consistently poor spelling, which is very phonetic.
Meet Alice: Alice is a second grade student. Her DIBELS scores are mostly green, but even the green scores are just at benchmark and not above. Sometimes, her fluency scores are yellow, but her cumulative DIBELS score remains green. Alice does very poorly on the weekly spelling pre-tests, but usually gets at least a 90% on the final test. She participates in classroom dialogue and has a large spoken vocabulary. Yet, her writing does not reflect her vocabulary and her spelling in written work is very phonetic. When reading, Alice skips words and avoids sounding out unknown words. Alice may be dyslexic.
For older students, who are no longer reading aloud often in the classroom, a teacher may notice the child who dislikes writing. This student may have a strong, varied verbal vocabulary, but uses simple words when writing. Again, spelling in written work is usually poor. While spell check is helpful for computer tasks, errors will still be made with homophones and grammar (capitalization and punctuation). Often, dyslexic students appear to know the material being covered in class, but test poorly. Dyslexia also affects math and many dyslexic students have a difficult time memorizing their math facts.
For more information, please refer to the excellent “Fact Sheets” distributed by the International Dyslexia Association.
What can I do differently in my classroom to reach all students, including those dyslexic?
In 2013, the IDA published a handout titled, Dyslexia in the Classroom: What Every Teacher Needs to Know. This handout has excellent information in it that can practically be applied to classroom teaching. Two other good sources of information for teachers are: The Univeristy of Michigan’s Website (Link) and The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
It is also wonderful to incorporate books about dyslexia into your classroom. For those teaching elementary school, consider reading aloud a book to the class about a struggling reader, such as If You’re So Smart, How Come You Can’t Spell Mississippi? (Barbara Esham) or Thank You, Mr. Falker (Patricia Polacco). For older students, learn about famous dyslexic people, including authors and entrepreneurs.
Will an IEP or 504 Plan state that the student is dyslexic? Shouldn’t it?
In reality, many students with an IEP or 504 with the category “Specific Learning Disability” are unidentified dyslexic students. Generally, a student will only have a diagnosis of dyslexia if privately assessed. (Refer to our Evaluations page for additional information). When a struggling student is evaluated by the school to assess whether a learning disability is present, this evaluation is performed under the IDEA. Under the IDEA, students are evaluated as to whether they fall into one of 13 distinct categories (i.e., Austism, Deafness, Specific Learning Disability). The most common category for special education qualification is Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”). Many students with the qualifying category of SLD are unidentified dyslexic students.
If a student has been privately screened or tested for dyslexia and that information has been shared with the school, an IEP or 504 Plan should include the diagnosis. On October 23,2015, the United Stated Department of Education published a “Dear Colleague” letter on this topic. This directive letter clarified that dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia may be written on IEPs and encouraged schools to use these terms so as to ensure effective and appropriate education of students with such disabilities.