What I learned about dyslexia from 33 years of teaching

This post is by Dana Ross Stanke. She is a Reading Interventionist, who lives and teaches in Waco, Texas.

I have been in a classroom in one capacity or another since 1971. (I prefer to think of myself as experienced as opposed to old.) For 33 years I have been a reading specialist, a Reading Recovery teacher, a reading coach, and a reading interventionist.  I’ve seen the reading pendulum swing from phonics to whole language to balanced literacy.  What hasn’t changed in all those years is that some children, no matter what reading program is thrown at them, have great difficulty learning to read and write.  My fascination and passion has always been with these particular children.

I am not a diagnostician, and if you are in education you know as well as I that neither classroom teachers nor reading specialists can diagnose dyslexia.  However, we can learn as much as we can about the tendencies that are exhibited by children who struggle with reading and writing   As well we can  discover researched teaching practices that enhance all children’s learning to read and write, and especially those who struggle.

My intent in writing this blog is to delve as deeply as possible into the realm of dyslexia. I will do so over several months and several blogs.  My delving will not be as an expert, but as a fellow learner.  Having served on my campus as a reading coach for many years, this year I have the privilege of working once again as a reading interventionist with second graders.  This experience has warmed my heart as well as reignited my yearning to learn more about the reading process.

In my search for recent research on dyslexia, I have come across a free course on coursera.org entitled Supporting Children with Difficulties in Reading and Writing by the University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International.  This is a 6-week online course that covers definitions and identification of dyslexia (Week 2), ‘co-morbidity’, and psychological and social aspects (Week 3), practical teaching approaches (Weeks 4 and 5), and study skills, aids and accommodations (Week 6).  I encourage you to go online and take the course along with me, if you also have a passion in this area.  Otherwise, I hope to synthesize and share with you my gleanings from taking this course.

So let’s jump right in. 

How is dyslexia defined by the experts? 

Dyslexia International defines dyslexia as “a neurologically-based condition, which is often hereditary. It results in problems with reading, writing and spelling.  It is usually associated with difficulties in concentration, short term memory and organization.  It is not caused by poor schooling, poor home background, poor motivation for learning, poor sight, hearing or muscle control, although it may occur with these conditions.”

Although prior to the 1970’s, dyslexia was defined as a visually based issue, extensive research now shows that although the visual issues can accompany dyslexia, the fundamental problem is with a deficit in phonological processing.  This difficulty or deficit, present at birth, has a profound effect on early development, well before a child begins the process of learning to read and write.  Here are some of the risk factors seen in the birth to pre-school years in children at risk for dyslexia:

  • Dyslexia in the family
  • Persistent confusion between left and right
  • Inability to appreciate nursery rhymes and songs
  • Late talking
  • Producing sounds in wrong order in words
  • Lack of organization
  • Difficulty in
    • following a rhythm
    • establishing manual preference
    • learning songs and poems by rote
    • naming familiar objects (not a vocabulary issue)
    • following a sequence of instructions
    • concepts of time and space

As I look over these risk factors and learn more about dyslexic tendencies at such a young age, several educational implications come to mind:

  • Early intervention in the pre-school years is paramount.
  • Parents, day-care and pre-school teachers should be knowledgeable of these tendencies.
  • Day-cares and pre-schools (and homes) should be bursting with song, rhymes, rhythm and dance.
  • WHY do we wait until age 8 to test for dyslexia?
  • Our educational dollars would be better spent in the early years to provide intensive intervention to those children who struggle with phonological difficulties.

Lastly, and this is wholly my opinion and mine alone:  Pre-K and Kinder classrooms should be filled, from starting bell to ending bell, with the above-mentioned activities, with lots of large-motor activity (recess) thrown in.  The time that is spent learning and drilling letters, sounds, sight-words and reading in these early years is stealing from children the very developmental tasks they need to insure that they be good readers and writers in later years.

In my next blog, I will write about risk factors to look for in school-aged children as well as research-based interventions for those who struggle to learn to read and write in the primary grades.

Question: What developmental tools and tasks do you use in your classroom(s) for ensuring all can be readers and writers? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

This post is by Dana Ross Stanke. She is a reading recovery teacher in Waco, Texas.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “What I learned about dyslexia from 33 years of teaching

  1. Wow — great stuff. I so appreciate reading the opinions of someone who is IN THE CLASSROOMS trying to make public education GREAT!