We’ve previously discussed the challenges of reading for students who have dyslexia (links to all blog posts here), but our extended experience of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic has led these students to face a new host of difficulties in education in general and reading in particular.
Some students discovered their support services, including one-on-one or small-group reading sessions, were no longer available because of the need for social distancing. Others found it was hard to understand what their teachers were saying in class because of masks or online because of technology issues.
Over a year later, many remain physically separated from the teachers that help them overcome their challenges, marked by struggles with recognizing, decoding, and comprehending words, preventing them from moving forward to reading-to-learn along with their peers. There’s no way to know how many students struggle specifically with dyslexia because schools often don’t track the condition by itself. Instead, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it’s listed as an example of a disability under the broader category of “specific learning disabilities.”
Most school districts, at the time of this writing, are hoping to open for all in-person learning in the fall, but even if that happens — and with the delta variant sweeping the country, there’s no certainty of that — we can’t expect these students to simply dive right into new material without adequate remediation.
To answer the question of how best to support dyslexic students at this critical time, Education Week asked four educators to chime in on what they feel are best practices to reconnect with students and bring them up to grade level. Here’s what they had to say about the problems; we’ve added possible solutions to their comments to suggest some follow-through ideas for teachers and parents to implement.
Category for support: Avoid asynchronous learning
Specific comments: “You expect them to navigate independently work they can intellectually access, but they can’t decode the instructions?” –Josh Clark, head of The Schneck School in Atlanta
“There is a distinction between teaching children how to read and assigning reading. We have stayed away from asynchronous learning because it’s not direct instruction. There needs to be guided practice. Kids need feedback and immediate correction. They need independent practice, and then they need review.” –Yvette Goorevitch, chief of specialized learning and student services for the Norwalk, Connecticut School District
Possible solutions: One-on-one online meetings with students, as if you were teaching side-by-side
Provide parents with some instructional information so they can help in at-home sessions
Category for support: Rethink how and what you teach: you can’t just take what worked in a physical classroom and transport it to a remote platform
Comment: “Students need real help in sustaining their efforts and developing the stamina to do the really hard work of learning to read, particularly when you have a learning disability or you’re dyslexic. The kids need that support as well as the direct explicit instruction.”
Possible solutions: Break up assignments into smaller segments and goals with shorter time periods to avoid students from losing focus
Reinforce information by involving all the senses, i.e., see/read a word; listen to the word spoken by the teacher then repeat; write the word several times, pronouncing it each time
In the time you have, focus on direct, explicit instruction with real-world applications for the knowledge to make it relevant to the students’ lives
Category for support: Take advantage of uniquely remote options
Comment: “We’ve been able to pull together kids with similar needs from across the district and put them together in small remote groups and have our literacy and dyslexia specialists work with them very intensely … rather than sending these specialists out to all our schools or pulling kids in from a variety of schools and (having them miss) instructional time.” –Goorevitch
Possible solutions: Take advantage of chat groups; place several students in a group and have them model for and help each other, then bring progress back to larger group
Provide assignments from educational websites, like agencies that specialize in instructing dyslexic students, and tie in to work you provide students in online classes
Category for support: Embrace assistive technology
Comments: “I do think people are not so afraid of technology anymore. It levels the playing field for these students. If these kids aren’t reading the same text as their peers, they’re not getting that vocabulary.” –Joanne Pierson, project manager for Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan
“It’s just the idea of presenting multiple ways of gaining meaning. That removes barriers to the knowledge so that more people can access it.” –Clark
Possible solutions: Use apps and web-based multimedia programs to reinforce basic decoding and fluency skills
Use AceReader for developing and maintaining fluency skills
Do you have other potential solutions for providing remote support for students with dyslexia? Please share your ideas with us in the comments section below.
Mitchell, Corey. (May 15, 2021). “5 Ways to Remotely Support Students with Dyslexia.” Education Week. Retrieved from https://fs24.formsite.com/edweek/images/5-15_BlendedLearning-Spotlight_Sponsored.pdf.