What Is Structured Literacy?

If you have done any research about dyslexia, you have already heard the term “Orton-Gillingham.” You may be wondering what that is and how it is related to another buzz word in the field of dyslexia, “Structured Literacy.”

Research supports teaching dyslexic learners using an Orton-Gillingham approach. Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist,  and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist, created a way to establish new neural pathways for efficient reading by breaking down every element of the English language all the way down to its smallest sound, the phoneme. The inability to hear each and every sound within a word is the primary weakness for a dyslexic learner. The Orton-Gillingham approach uses multisensory instruction which means seeing, hearing, and touching all at once. After strengthening the ability to make sense of how sounds and words are related (phonemic awareness skills), the method goes on to teach the seven types of syllables along with spelling rules in a very logical and systematic way. Intense practice establishes the habits which allow dyslexic learners to read by sounding out and to spell by applying easy-to-remember spelling rules. The ability to read and spell by sounding out, not by the extremely hard work of memorizing what a word looks like, is essential to learning to read with speed, accuracy, and understanding.

Recently, The International Dyslexia Association has penned a new term to describe this type of instruction. Here’s why… Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham created the Orton-Gillingham method which was then promoted by an organization called the Orton-Gillingham Associates. Other organizations with different names,  started using this same method, and it was still referred to as the Orton-Gillingham method. It’s like asking for a “Kleenex” rather than a tissue, even when the name brand is something else. To clear up this confusion the Orton-Gillingham method is now being referred to as “Structured Literacy”, and if that is even more confusing, you are not alone!

For an excellent infographic explaining Structured Literacy created by Carolyn D. Cowan, Ed. M. for the International Dyslexia Association please click here.

A New Path

Imagine hiking a small mountain. The goal is to get to the other side of the mountain in the fastest, easiest, and least frustrating way possible. You have three choices. One choice is to start on one side, follow the path to the top of the mountain, and then down the other side. The other choice is to go around the mountain without climbing to the top at all. The third choice is to zigzag all around the mountain, without a clear path, going up and then down, up and then down, and up and then down again until you finally reach the other side. Without argument, the fastest way would depend on the ability of the person hiking and the height of the mountain. While we might consider either of the first two options, we would all agree that the third way of zigzagging across the mountain would definitely be the most frustrating rather than the least frustrating way to go.

Now, transform that mountain into the brain trying to read and spell. For the typical reader, reading and spelling takes place by signals relaying messages in a neural, or brain, pathway that is fast and easy because it exists on the left side of the brain. However for people with dyslexia, that pathway has not been laid down in the brain due to genetic factors. Like the hiker who wanders back and forth over the mountain without a clear path to reach the other side, the dyslexic learner is using both sides of the brain, zigzagging back and forth in order to decode a word to create meaning out of it. Compound that process by putting words into sentences, paragraphs and stories. The goal of reading is hard to reach, and the experience is very frustrating.

However, the amazing part about how God created us is that the brain can be transformed and new neural pathways created. Through logical instruction and intense practice, a clear pathway that makes reading and spelling easier and less frustrating can be laid down in the brain. Dyslexic learners CAN read and spell given the right kind of instruction, by the right kind of instructor, for the right amount of time. Proven Orton-Gillingham methods like the Barton Reading & Spelling System can help. Find a certified Barton Tutor today at http://www.bartonreading.com!

Read Alouds Promote Empathy and Kindness

I just came across an excellent resource for books to read and discuss with your child that promote empathy and kindness. According to Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg in his book entitled Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, empathy involves focusing our attention on what’s going on within others, and it is a key component of healthy communication and conflict resolution. While you are enjoying a great book with your child, you can expose them to character qualities that will benefit them for a lifetime! These books are listed by category at the Doing Good Together website.

Why One-On-One Tutoring?

When parents first learn that their child has dyslexia, emotions range from relief for having found the culprit responsible for their child’s learning struggles to being overwhelmed by the road ahead. The first question asked is usually, “How do we get help for our child?” Upon examining options, parents in Texas are fortunate to discover that there are educational laws protecting and providing for their child. Schools provide programs for dyslexia that allow a child to be taught in a better way within small groups. Is there a case, however, when a student might benefit from a one-on-one setting with a tutor that can individualize instruction for that particular child? The answer is yes!

Dyslexia has many degrees of severity ranging from mild to profound. The small group setting and some Orton- Giillingham based curriculums may not provide strong enough instruction or support for the child with severe dyslexia. One-on-one tutoring allows the tutor to pace lessons according to the individual need and provide more intense practice if needed. Although dyslexia has classic characteristics, as a tutor for almost ten years, I have found that each of my students is very unique and needs help with specific skills that are different from every other student, even when dealing with moderate, or “classic”, degrees of dyslexia.

Along with the severity of dyslexia, the complexity of issues associated with dyslexia makes each learner unique as well. Issues that commonly accompany dyslexia are dysgraphia and ADHD. Sometimes nonverbal learning disability is a coexisting issue as well. The way these issues impact the learner has definite implications pointing to the advantage of one-on-one tutoring. The tutor must be able to adapt objectives to include activities related to coexisting diagnoses. For example, handwriting skills for dysgraphia should be taught separately from spelling skills until the student can handle thinking about both simultaneously. That point may be different amongst students. Students with ADHD need more movement activities to shift their brain back into gear when tired. Those without ADHD do not need the same pace adaptations. Students with nonverbal learning disability may need to be slowed down in order to correct bad habits of guessing that have been advantageous to them up to a point. They may need more understanding when something doesn’t quite make sense. Along with severity, complexity must be taken into account.

Finally, instruction within small groups requires more time to make progress because instruction time is multiplied by the number of students within the small group and must be paced to accommodate the slowest learner. Therefore, students may not reach goals any higher than to arrive at grade-level reading skills before being exited from the program.

Because dyslexia requires instruction that is direct and understanding is never assumed, every step within the Orton-Gillingham sequence must be explicitly taught. Students who exit a program reading at the fifth-grade reading level will continue to struggle unnecessarily in subsequent years. One-on-one instruction with the Barton Reading & Spelling System takes students to the ninth-grade reading level and perhaps beyond. Nothing is assumed and students acquire the skills they will need to succeed in high school with academic language. While reading speed will always be impacted, and students may continue to benefit from audio books to keep up with demanding assignment loads, Barton Scholars who finish all ten levels have the skills to sound out any unknown word. Accuracy in reading results in better comprehension.

In summary, yes, the advantages of one-on-one tutoring are great. The severity and complexity of learning differences as well as the opportunity to go further make a strong case for the option of one-on-one tutoring. If your child has benefited from a school program for dyslexia but still struggles with spelling, Barton is one of the strongest Orton-Gillingham influenced programs for teaching spelling. Please do not stop instruction if your child is not reading on at least the ninth-grade level. Consider Mrs. K. Tutoring to provide the added support your child will need to continue growing and flourishing with confidence!

To Be Scripted or Not to be Scripted?

Some would argue that a curriculum for students with dyslexia that is scripted in format does not meet the need for the individualized instruction necessary for these learners. Research supports the existence of brain diversity amongst ALL learners, and that is true even within the dyslexic community. This is due to comorbidity of issues such as AD/HD, dysgraphia, nonverbal learning disability, and executive functioning disorder, all of which may or may not exist with dyslexia. Then there are the factors of the severity of dyslexia and of each comorbid diagnoses. While the needs of individuals vary, the issues related to the difficulty a child has in reading and spelling due to dyslexia are quite classic; primarily, the inability to process the individual sounds within a word. Appropriate remediation requires explicit and multisensory instruction which allows for the creation of new neural pathways through intense practice. Therefore, a carefully scripted curriculum is not a hinderance, but it is indeed a necessary part of teaching a dyslexic learner according to their individual needs. Of utmost importance is the need for the dyslexic learner to understand the logical sequence of their learning through clear transitions and  by repetitive phrasing that can be used as a reference. Gaps in learning are eliminated. In addition, a scripted curriculum assures that the knowledge base of the instructor is secure. Finally, with a secure foundation, individualized instruction can then be achieved through adaptation of pace, choice of supplemental materials, and the rapport established as the teacher observes the unique traits of the student and responds by valuing the individuality of that student.