How Schools Can Help Dyslexic Students with Reading

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This is chapter three of the MindShift Guide to Understanding Dyslexia. You can find the remaining chapters and a complete printable PDF of the entire guide by clicking here.

Children who cannot read and can’t figure out why can face unbearable difficulty in classrooms. There are students who know something is wrong but can’t say what and may assume that adults might not believe them. When faced with homework, such kids will fidget, distract, cry or rage, or act out when it’s their turn to read in front of the class. Some students decide that it’s better to end up in the principal’s office than face another humiliating failure.

Sometimes it’s the classroom teacher who recognizes and identifies a student who is struggling. But because some misconceptions about dyslexia persist and often permeate teacher training programs, it’s not uncommon that highly educated and hard-working teachers haven’t been given the proper training to address the struggles of dyslexic readers.


As we’ve seen, dyslexia isn’t a disease. It’s not a visual problem nor is it related to low intelligence. Yet these are persistent misconceptions about dyslexia that often keep students who experience biologically-based reading difficulties—a different brain that requires extra attention and special intervention—from getting the help they need.

Reading expert Mark Seidenberg, author of Language at the Speed of Sight, says there’s a large gap between beliefs about how reading works and what research says, and that gap is what works to keep kids from getting the proper interventions in a timely manner. In that gap are two persistent reading misconceptions/myths:


Misconception #1: Kids’ reading problems are connected to vision. Dyslexia is a language-based disorder, not a visual one. Vision is involved with reading, but the first signs of trouble for many dyslexics often show up in their speech.

As discussed before, though it seems counterintuitive, reading problems are most often connected to matching letters to sounds, not “flipping” letters backwards or other vision issues.

Misconception #2: Reading is more like a sophisticated guessing game, in which students use what they already know about the topic and about language in general to guess at printed words instead of sounding them out. “This theory was sold for decades,” Seidenberg says, “that the best readers are those who spend the least amount of effort on the actual text. That you only have to sample the text and use the things you know to guess most the words. By this theory, good reading is more like skimming.” Research shows otherwise, however: to achieve fluency and understanding, good readers sound out each word individually and then put the words together to form coherent sentences.

Correcting these misconceptions about reading can go a long way for teachers in spotting possible struggling readers early.


Universal screening for every child does help flag children who may be at risk for developing dyslexia, says Seidenberg. But what happens next is much more important—getting the child the help they need.

After a child has been identified as having a phonological or comprehension challenge, classroom teachers have an opportunity to get the student the help they need—but only if the teacher knows what to do. According to Seidenberg, one of the most important next steps for educators is to step outside the classroom to get the at-risk student the intense intervention needed from a trained reading specialist— realizing that educators can’t handle serious reading issues alone. It is not realistic for a single classroom teacher to be able to address the needs of an entire class as well as the specialized needs of children who need lots of individualized attention.

The end of this section includes a brief overview of a research backed intervention that educators should know about, one that can teach nearly all dyslexics to read.

But one other step teachers can take in the classroom is to learn more about the techniques used to minimize reading differences early. For teachers who have diagnosed dyslexics in class, there are strategies to help students get the most out of class time, even when reading and writing is a struggle. Strategies include

• allowing more time for assignments and tests
• supporting vocabulary development
• avoiding contests or prizes for amount of material read instead of time spent reading

But these ideas are only the tip of the iceberg, as the needs of dyslexic students change throughout school years. Check out these expert resources for a more robust understanding of teaching strategies for dyslexic students:

• A Dyslexic Child in the Classroom, Davis Dyslexia Association International

• Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, International Dyslexia Association

• Dyslexia Strategies for Teachers, University of Michigan Dyslexia Center

• Information on Dyslexia for Teachers, Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity

• Eight Things Every Teacher Should Know about Dyslexia, We Are Teachers

• Understanding Dyslexia Online Course for Educators, MindPlay


Fortunately, scientific research supports a specific kind of reading intervention that can teach nearly all dyslexics to read: structured literacy. Although it often appears under different brand names, like Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, SPIRE or others, structured literacy is a blanket term for the evidence-based, multisensory and explicit reading instruction that is based on six specific language areas determined by the International Dyslexia Association.

The method is often more repetitive and intensified for students with dyslexia, but the tenets of structured literacy—which have a strong basis in phonics and word structure—benefit all readers. In structured literacy, students

• Begin with phonics, learning the most basic units of sound and how those sounds make up words
• Learn word structure and how word structure guides spelling and pronunciation
• Then learn word syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language) and comprehension
• And most importantly, students review key concepts many times while also adding new material

According to the International Dyslexia Association, the core of structured literacy instruction, which accounts for its success, is that it is

1. Explicit and focused on direct instruction
2. Systematic and cumulative, following a logical sequence that builds on previous concepts, and
3. Diagnostic and individualized, based on a student’s particular needs


This is chapter three of the MindShift Guide to Understanding Dyslexia. You can find the remaining chapters and a complete printable PDF of the entire guide by clicking here.