While educators aim to create inclusive environments that adequately support all students, those with dyslexia often need extra interventions to achieve proficient reading and writing skills.
As a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting language and underlying reading-related processing, dyslexia can significantly impact a student's reading, writing and spelling abilities. If left undiagnosed and unaddressed, it can leave students frustrated and low on confidence, at best.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. That makes now an ideal time for schools and districts to evaluate their approach to serving students who are at risk for dyslexia and those who have been diagnosed. By fostering a compassionate and team-centered approach, educators can help guide students with dyslexia toward accurate and fluent decoding, increased reading comprehension, improved self-esteem and a brighter future. Here are three ways educators can ensure they are providing the scaffolding students with dyslexia need to succeed.
1. Make universal screening the first step
Recognizing dyslexia in the classroom can be challenging. Universal screening is an inclusive way to ensure students at risk are identified early. The number of children receiving special education services varies widely across U.S. states, potentially due to inconsistencies in identifying students who need support. Making universal screening foundational is vital to ensuring all learners have the opportunity to build the reading confidence they need to thrive.
That’s just the first step, says Tina Eichstadt, an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist and senior product manager for Pearson. While praising the progress educators have made in advancing the focus on screening, she observes confusion from educational teams in translating those results into diagnostic and intervention/instruction processes.
“The central question must be: ‘What's next?’ What’s the next step for instruction and/or intervention for all students, especially those at risk? How should the school community align and then communicate with families?” she says. “Districts often come to our team for support in navigating these post-screening decisions, and the answer is to build an integrated group of diverse professionals who have expertise across general and special education domains — and give them the power to make resourcing decisions.”
2. Create a network of “experts as deciders”
One trend Eichstadt has noticed is a merging of general and special education views as part of universal screening. One example is rapid automatized naming (RAN), which just a few years ago would only have been part of a diagnostic process in a special education workflow rather than a general education measurement tool.
Blending these measurement areas within universal screening opens the door for general education teachers to work more closely with special education staff, such as reading specialists, educational diagnosticians, speech-language pathologists and school psychologists, to make recommendations about interventions as a team.
One best practice Eichstadt has observed is school districts holding cross-functional, cross-departmental meetings where the entire team looks at universal screening data together. “I've seen magic in the school districts that take this approach,” she says. “They make better decisions and allocate resources more decisively, which supports student growth.”
3. Finding your place in the support ecosystem
While many districts have implemented this team approach, more work needs to be done. And the biggest barrier has to do with perception. “As we break down the silos between general and special education, we have to figure out new ways of working so all students benefit, including those in the middle who may be struggling but won't qualify for special education,” Eichstadt points out. “We need to come together for the kids in the middle in a way that will move the needle on educational outcomes, individually and collectively.”
She recommends educators determine their role in supporting students in two ways:
- On a day-to-day basis, such as through small reading group support.
- Holistically, such as by participating in monthly data meetings or a leadership group analyzing overall workflows and determining when and how measurement should happen during the year.
“Professionals need to be able to altitude shift — to run along the ground in daily work and then also rise to the 40,000-foot level to determine our individual places as part of the larger puzzle. There's value in both ends of that continuum, and it needs to be brought together in each of our minds.”
Educators play different roles and leverage different tools
Knowing which measurement tools fit into updated workflows can help educators make the best decisions for their students.
“Every school district has a suite of resources related to reading, writing and spelling, and they need to know which are related to dyslexia and struggling readers so they can tease out the questions they have and apply the right tool at the right time,” Eichstadt says.
To learn more about how Pearson can help your school or district implement early screening, and to access free resources and training, visit Pearson’s Dyslexia Resource Center.