A Teacher’s Dilemma – What Do I Do with a Non-Reader in My Classroom?

Last week, I got to spend some time with a dear friend who is a third grade teacher.  This friend was not only my college roommate, but is also a phenomenal teacher.  School had already started for her and she was telling me about a little boy in her class who was the most delayed reader she had ever had in all her years of teaching.

Though she has a lot of tricks up her sleeve and will do anything for her students, she did not know what to do for this one.  She described him as having good understanding when listening, and being a little boy who tried hard, but he was extremely confused about letters and could not read or write.  He had virtually no connection between the letters and the sounds.

I have been involved with dyslexia and learning disabilities for so long that I recognized the dyslexic symptoms right away.  I knew if I could get my hands on that student, I could start making permanent changes for him immediately.

But what I also realized is that what is second nature for us at Stowell Learning Center, is still not mainstream knowledge.  Classroom teachers (along with most of society) don’t really understand learning disabilities and dyslexia.

What do you do with a student who can’t make sense of print when you have mountains of curriculum to teach?

How can a student have good motivation and seem to understand when listening, but not be able to read or write at all?

Even most of our special education teachers are challenged by these kids, as their job is to find ways to support students so that they can function in the mandated curriculum.

Prognosis for Dyslexia

It is commonly believed that dyslexia is a life-long struggle, to be coped with but never to be corrected.  Neuroscience research proves that through targeted and intensive cognitive training, the brain can be rewired to learn to process information more effectively.

We have absolutely found this to be true!  Dyslexic learners CAN become good readers and spellers.  More reading will not do the trick, but identifying and correcting the weak underlying skills and then intentionally and sequentially remediating the reading and spelling skills will.

Is This Student Dyslexic?

Dyslexia is coming to the forefront as more and more states are looking at legislation around dyslexia and education.  Most sources now site 20% of students as being dyslexic.

Here are some questions parents and teachers can ask that will help them determine if dyslexia testing is warranted:

  • Is there a family history of dyslexia?
  • Was there difficulty learning the alphabet?
  • Is there lingering difficulty with letter and number reversals, particularly after age 7?
  • Does the student have difficulty sounding out unfamiliar words?
  • Does he or she tend to add, omit, shift, repeat, or substitute sounds in words when reading, spelling, or speaking?
  • Does the student have average to above average intelligence?
  • Does the student have talents in non-academic areas (sports, acting, music, art, mechanics)?
  • Does the student tend to be creative or artistic? Good at building things?
  • Does the student see things in a different way? Think “out of the box?”
  • Does the student tend to get very frustrated with himself over his reading and writing challenges, calling himself stupid or dumb?

All of these are very common symptoms of dyslexia.

Will the School Correct my Child’s Dyslexia?

Not likely!  The school’s job is to teach a vast array of curriculum – to increase students’ general knowledge in many subject areas.  While basic reading and spelling instruction is given in the primary grades, the child who simply can’t learn these basics in the traditional way is likely to be left behind.  Specialized instruction and support at school will help some, but for most students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities, the key to permanently eliminating the challenge is to identify and develop the weak underlying learning/processing skills that are causing the problem.  This is not typically something that schools are trained, funded, or given the time to do.

The best of both worlds for struggling students is to have supportive, caring, classroom and special education teachers to help them and to accommodate their learning challenges at school, AND specialized cognitive training (generally outside of school) that will address the underlying skills that are at the root of the problem.

This is what we do at Stowell Learning Center.

Success in reading, writing, spelling, math and all those academic subjects taught in school, rests in large part on many different underlying learning/processing skills that allow the brain to get and organize the information needed for learning.  It has been traditionally believed that if you have dyslexia, learning challenges, or attention problems, you just have to learn to live with it – to compensate or get around it.

The truth is that most learning and attention challenges, including dyslexia, can be dramatically improved or completely corrected by first identifying and developing the underlying skills that are not supporting the learner well enough, and then remediating the affected basic academic skills.  We have seen this thousands of times over the last 30 years and the brain research in the last 25 years has proven that the brain can be retrained.  Our bright but struggling students do not have to resort to coping strategies to survive school.

And with the right kind of help, they can let go of their coping strategies and become the confident, independent learners that have the potential to be!

Do you or your child struggle with speaking, reading, learning, or attention?  These challenges can be changed.  While there are no simple, overnight solutions, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected through developing the weak underlying skills and remediating the affected academic areas.  Need to know more??

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“Helping smart but struggling students dramatically improve or completely correct their learning and attention challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough.”
We serve children and adults with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning and attention challenges including learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.
Jill Stowell, M.S.
Author:  At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Founder and Executive Director – Stowell Learning Centers

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