A Big Thick Rope Tied Around Me
Eight months ago, my 9-year-old daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia and began working with a private reading specialist using a research-based structured literacy program. 4 days a week for 45-minutes a day. For the first time, someone was providing a clear, strong ladder for her to climb. Maeve recently shared her experience, “Before I knew I had dyslexia and then right after I knew I had it, I felt like I had a big thick rope tied around me, and that rope was tied to a brick that was pulling me backward. Now, I feel like that rope is getting thinner and thinner, and I’m moving further and further away from that brick. Someday I might even decide to cut the rope.” What did a research-based structured literacy program with a trained professional do for my daughter? It empowered her with the tools she needs to succeed. This ladder exists, and with support, every child can learn to climb it.
-Amy Janssens, parent of Maeve (9 years old)
You Are No Longer in This Reading Group
As a student in first grade, I had just learned to read. Or rather, I was trying to read. Or, in this case, I was thinking I was reading, but I wasn’t? Either way, our teacher put everyone into groups for reading. We were reading "Jack and the Beanstalk" in my group, and I was struggling with it, but I thought I was getting it. Yet, no matter how hard I tried to understand the books I read at the time, nothing could prepare me for that day when she told me, “You are no longer in this reading group.” I was held back. I didn’t know why, or what I was doing wrong, but I was. When it turned out later that not only was I not reading right, I wasn't even truly reading, it would change my life forever.
-Teddy, High school student with dyslexia
We Spent Thousands of Dollars
Our family has spent years in school systems that did not offer structured literacy as well as thousands of dollars on testing and tutoring, while our daughter suffered anxiety and lowering self-esteem related to learning to read. Had schools offered structured literacy from kindergarten, years of stress and loss of learning time could have been avoided. Our daughter and others like her could have become confident readers earlier on and spent their energies on learning math, science, history, writing - all of which were road-blocked due to reading difficulties. If a child struggles with reading, every area of her academic life will suffer. Structured literacy in every school, for all children, would create the opportunity for every student to thrive.
Goodbye to Our Neighborhood School
We love public school and desperately wanted to keep our kids there. But when my first grade twins struggled to learn to read and our school seemed to know no more than I did about how to help them, we had to make a change. Neither our public school teachers nor our principal nor the school reading interventionists knew anything about the signs of dyslexia or how to effectively teach kids with it. And so, with broken hearts, we pulled our kids out and placed them in a private school with a structured literacy curriculum. We also paid thousands of dollars for a private assessment and for effective tutoring. All while our beloved neighborhood school sat a block away with hearts in the right place but with no knowledge or skills to help us.
Lives Profoundly Changed
I have been tutoring dyslexic students for over 30 years. My extensive training in structured literacy has been essential for my work. I have seen child after child make steady, strong reading (and spelling) progress. These are students who could not learn to read using the methods taught in their classrooms. All the children I’ve worked with have benefited, most were able to accomplish grade level reading in a relatively brief period of time. These children would not have become readers without structured literacy, their lives were profoundly changed by this approach.
Tools Needed to Help Students Succeed
As a special education teacher in Ann Arbor from 1972 to 2010, I taught many dyslexic children. From 1977 to about 1997, Washtenaw County teachers were fortunate to be able to attend classes in structured literacy sponsored by WISD. Arlene Sonday, a national trainer, came in yearly to instruct new teachers as well as refine the teaching of those previously trained. These workshops made all the difference in the world for my students. I could actually teach them to read and no longer needed to be satisfied with just helping them along in the standard general ed reading curriculum, in which they continued to fail. The Science of Reading is clear about effective reading instruction. Unfortunately, most teachers have not been exposed to the methods that work for teaching all children to read. Teachers want their students to succeed with reading but need the tools to use so that every student becomes a good reader.
"Just Slow Down"
Our son began to show signs of dyslexia in kindergarten. We provided additional support at home as we both are educators. I personally have a master's degree focusing on reading development. At home, our son had plenty of resources. At school, not so much.
His school would not test him for dyslexia even though it was evident through his work and his oral assessments that there was an issue. They referred us to our doctor. Our doctor said he did not have the proper tools to assess him - we needed to go through the school. We went back to the school, requesting support for him. One of the teachers did a baseline assessment, identifying that he had dyslexic tendencies, but it did not affect him.
What she failed to realize was that our son had developed coping strategies to "pass", but his coping strategies did not allow him to demonstrate his full understanding and learning of concepts. For example, he would write a paper on a topic, but would be deducted points because he flipped letters in the course of his writing. Instead of earning the A which he did on the school's writing rubric, he earned a B or lower due to his dyslexia. When confronted about deducting additional points for dyslexia, the school claimed if our son would slow down while working, this wouldn't be an issue. This clearly illustrated their lack of understanding of dyslexia. Slowing down can be a coping skill, but does not mean the dyslexia disappears.
This affected his self-esteem. At times his classmates would poke fun of him because of inopportune reversals. It took years to help build his confidence and remind him that he indeed was intelligent. He still struggles, but now, he has accepted it as a part of who he is - not a flaw but rather a unique characteristic. I wish that the school was more educated on dyslexia and would have provided adequate support for him and others that struggle.