IS IT TIME TO ADD A THIRD APPROACH FOR DYSLEXIC LEARNERS?
I’ve just finished reading ‘Wild Things’, a very interesting book by Sally Rippin, the author of the popular ‘Billie B Brown’ and the ‘Hey Jack’ children book series.
The book gives us an insight into the author’s struggles with her youngest son who is dyslexic and has been diagnosed and medicated for ADHD.
I agree with so much of it, as I have found so many similarities with my own son, when he was struggling to fit in, to decipher words, to feel confident despite the huge challenges to read, spell and write. Both her son Sam and my own son Keanu were class clowns, couldn’t spell or read and although obviously intelligent, lost their love of school and learning more and more every year.
In Year 3, my son did a dyslexia correction program and has continued to thrive ever since, devouring books, writing plays and having his HSC Extension English work published by the board of studies. His HSC score (he can’t stand the system of scoring it that way) was over 95 and he went on to university.
Yes, I’m a proud mother, but I’m stating this only to let you know that you don’t have to believe people telling you that ‘we need labourers too’, ‘he is just not academic, but it’s good to have a different brain’ (which I agree with, as long as the child is not held back from achieving their own dream by a lack of education) or ‘unfortunately it’s too little, too late now’.
Sally came to a different conclusion regarding her son and writes:
1. “Dyslexics just don’t have an academic brain”
There seems to be a need to find something a child is good at and fill every afternoon with soccer, rugby, horse riding, swimming, dancing or drawing activities. It’s great to let them shine in an area they excel at. I understand that and agree that confidence is vital.
Yet it undermines and diminishes their mental ability to hold their own with literacy and numeracy, as much as their peers do. The assumption that academia will never be their area of excellence makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Reading and writing is so highly regarded at schools and without reaching at least an average level of fluency, they are getting anxious, rebellious, withdrawn – and even worse. That is how they measure themselves deep down: “I must be dumb.” That is the deeper issue here – and from my experience with my own son and hundreds of similar clients, I know that the opposite is true.
2. “Unfortunately it’s too little, too late now”
Sally researched all about dyslexia for her book and came to the conclusion that the only way her son would have been a successful reader was lost in the small window of phonics learning. She keeps telling the reader many times that only a phonics approach in the first three years of a child’s school experience would have made a reader out of her son. The many hours of individual tutoring in phonics later in his life were ‘too little, too late’. She mentions that the only ‘evidence-based’ reading program was phonics-based.
I have not found this to be true – not for my son, nor for the hundreds of students and adults I’ve been working with over the past eighteen years. There is no cut-off date when the brain refuses to make the phonics connection – there is only a difference in learning style that is necessary if phonics has not proven to help a child to read. That alternative way of learning does not depend on a dyslexic individual’s age.
Whole Word Learning
Whole Word Reading Programs (Sight Words), as generally explained:
- Whole word reading programs, also known as sight word approaches, emphasise memorising words as whole units rather than decoding them phonetically.
- In this approach, children are encouraged to recognise and recall words by sight without necessarily understanding the phonetic patterns within them.
- Whole word programs often use flashcards and repetitive exposure to build a child’s sight word vocabulary.
- Advocates of whole word reading programs argue that they can lead to faster reading fluency because children can recognise common words without needing to decode each letter.
- Common whole word programs include the “Dolch Sight Words” and “Fry Sight Words” lists.
In ‘Wild Things’ by Sally Rippin, whole word learning was seen as the ONLY other alternative…one she does not like, and which is not evidence-based. I agree that whole-word learning is NOT the answer – at least not for dyslexic children. Can there be a third option?
Multisensory Language programs are often sighted as the answer for dyslexic students, if all else fails.
The Phonics Approach – The Evidence-Based Approach in Schools Sally Rippin Likes
Phonics Approach (according to the internet):
- Phonics is an instructional method that emphasises the relationship between letters (graphemes) and their corresponding sounds (phonemes).
- It teaches children to decode words by breaking them down into their individual phonetic components and then blending those sounds together to form words.
- Phonics instruction often starts with basic letter-sound correspondence and progresses to more complex phonetic patterns and rules.
- Advocates of the phonics approach argue that it provides a systematic and structured way for children to learn to read and helps them become more skilled readers and spellers.
Research has shown that phonics instruction plays a crucial role in teaching children to read, especially when it comes to decoding unfamiliar words.
In Australia, the new literacy curriculum is solely based on phonics and has been tested successfully last year. A teacher friend of mine had only positive things to say about it, as even dyslexic learners had the benefit of relating to the visual (graphenes) to translate them into sound (phonemes). However, many dyslexic kids were having trouble retaining the information.
InitiaLit, the new kid on the block, is very structured and rolled out in Years 1 and 2 – I really hope it helps at least the majority of children an entry into reading.
But what if your child is not among them? If they forget the words they learned to spell and find the sounding out simply nauseating (that is how many clients describe it).
“Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) Programs”
These MSL programs use phonics as well as visual and tactile ways to learn to spell and read. Engaging multiple senses (sight, sound, touch) to reinforce learning can be effective for students with dyslexia or other reading challenges. However, it is a bit overwhelming. It gives me the impression that it’s deemed to be necessary to throw a lot of different ways at students like dirt on a wall – hoping something will stick.
Why not take the time to find out what type of learner we are trying to help – from my past experience of working with dyslexic individuals, most of them were either visual or tactile.
That was what the Davis Method provided for my son. He is also on the visual-tactile scale, leaning towards visual. It was all he needed.
The Davis Method
Davis Dyslexia Method, as explained on the internet:
“The Davis Dyslexia Correction program is based on the premise that dyslexia is not a result of cognitive deficits but rather a different way of thinking and learning. The program aims to provide individuals with dyslexia the tools they need to understand and work with their unique thinking style.
- Davis Symbol Mastery: A central component of the program is “Davis Symbol Mastery,” where individuals learn to master the visual and perceptual symbols that make up words. This involves creating and manipulating clay models of words to develop a concrete understanding of language.
- Visualisation Techniques: The Davis approach also incorporates visualisation techniques to help individuals develop mental images for words and concepts. This can enhance comprehension and reading fluency.
- Trigger Words: In the Davis approach, individuals often identify specific “trigger words” that cause confusion or disorientation when encountered. They then learn techniques to overcome the confusion associated with these words.
- Orientation Counseling: The program includes counseling sessions to address any issues related to disorientation and anxiety that individuals with dyslexia may experience. This counseling aims to help individuals gain better control over their thought processes and emotions.
- Individualised and Student-Centered: The Davis Dyslexia Correction approach is highly individualised and tailored to the specific needs and strengths of each learner. It recognizes that dyslexia can manifest differently in different individuals.
- Non-Phonics-Based: Unlike many phonics-based programs, the Davis approach doesn’t primarily rely on phonics instruction. Instead, it focuses on developing visual-spatial skills, mental imagery, and a deeper understanding of language.
For me, the answer was to get a strength-based solution… If these students are visual learners like Sam (Sally’s son) and Keanu, my son, then why teach them like the rest of the class? The phonetic way of reading, the translation of ‘graphenes into phonemes’ is the best way of learning for auditory learners – and in all my 18 years of working in that field I have never come across an auditory learner. No, that’s not true: the rare person I assessed who turned out to be an auditory learner, I had to send away as our program would not have suited them. Reading ‘the Gift of Dyslexia’ by Ron Davis started my journey as a dyslexia facilitator after my son’s program was so successful.
The dyslexia correction program I was taught – and have changed when I created my own program over the years – is ideal for visual or tactile learners. Over 90 % of people I see are on the scale between visual and tactile learners, often with a preference to one or the other.
How does a program for visual-tactile learners look like?
1. An assessment will make sure that dyslexia is the reason for the struggles and also if there are additional conditions present. I have found that sometimes there is ADHD, undiagnosed dyspraxia or high-functioning autism presenting too. These factors will have to be addressed as well to make the program successful.
2. We go back to basics and learn the alphabet by creating it (with plasticine) and making sure there are no confusions. This alphabet will become the basis for learning to spell, visually and remember much clearer how to spell words.
3. Words without clear meaning will need to be understood (the meaning gets created in plasticine)
4. Reading and writing are done differently.
There are ball exercises to train the brain and daily reading/writing exercises (but differently). The ultimate success is arrived by the student’s daily application – for three to six months, as the program is designed to change the brain’s activity by using the preferred neural pathways. A dyslexia tutor helps to finetune and correct the progress, yet the job is for the student to do, with the help of a parent or support person.
I think it is worth three to six months of our lives to make this a priority, don’t you?