Tips for Teaching Dyslexic Kids to Read

This post is second in a two-part series about teaching kids with dyslexia how to read. Read the first part in the series here.

A better way
Let’s imagine that a child is having difficulty with words of more than one syllable. Using the word rocket as an example, we can see some steps the child might be taken through.

1. A card displaying the target word (e.g. rocket) is shown and the child is told what the word is (e.g. “This is rocket“).  The card is then hidden from view

2. The child is shown rows of incomplete words such as.

r _ b _ t _ r _ _ c _ e _ _ r o _  s _ _ _ c k _ t r _  _ l e r
_ o o  _ t r o _ _  t _ o c _ _  r _  o _ k _ _ r _  _ k _  e

He or she is told, “In each row, one or more of the words can be made into “rocket” if you add the right letters. And each time you fill in a word, say “rocket”. If at any time an error occurs, the child is asked to stop. The card with the target word is brought back into view and the child is asked to correct the error.

This single activity reflects a number of features that lay the foundation for effective learning. They include:
(i) The demands are minute — the child can easily meet them and they yield repeated success. This is a novel and invaluable experience in the reading life of a dyslexic child.

(ii) The activity addresses “first letter guessing” — the material has been specifically designed to show the child that the first letter cannot be the basis of a correct response.

(iii) The system relies on and develops visual analysis — this modality has been sorely neglected in the teaching of reading even though it offers major advantages. One of its advantages is the possibility of simultaneous comparison of words. A child can literally “see” why a response is correct or incorrect by simply placing the target word next to any of the other words. Spoken words (that is, words presented in the auditory modality) do not permit anything close to this since two pieces of auditory information can never be simultaneous

(iv) The same word, with tiny variations, is repeated numerous times — including having the child say the word. This feature addresses the naming problems that stalk dyslexic children. This refers to difficulties they experience in coming up with the name for the words they see on a page — even when they recognize the words. (The “tip of the tongue” phenomenon that all of us experience gives a sense of what they endure. Like the child, you know you know the word — it’s on the tip of your tongue — but it stays there and you simply cannot get it out). A major technique for dealing with naming problems is high levels of repetition and the activity has been designed to offer children this feature.

The advantages we have been discussing accrue from just one carefully designed activity. It’s not hard to envision the extensive changes that result when a host of activities is offered which share these principles. The reading experience of dyslexic children is transformed. In place of endless failure, there is steady success. It’s not the fantasy world of Alice in Wonderland, but it is a dream come true.

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