This section is written for literacy, numeracy and ESOL teachers who are not dyslexia specialists. It provides an overview of current theories of dyslexia.

Some theoretical background will enable tutors to understand the nature of the difficulties faced by dyslexic learners and how these might influence approaches to teaching and learning. This section also provides a basis for further study and professional development.

There are many different theories of dyslexia. Individual researchers pursue particular avenues of exploration. It is important to remember that research is ongoing and that our knowledge is still partial.

It might be assumed that dyslexia theories have led to the development of associated teaching and learning approaches, but this is not always so. Teaching and learning approaches have often been developed from observation and experimentation by practitioners themselves; the links between theory and practice are not straightforward.

  • Making sense of the different theories
    It is generally argued that the difficulties associated with what we call dyslexia are caused by developmental abnormalities.
  • Biological theories
    A look at the Biological theories of dyslexia.
  • Cognitive theories
    A look at the Cognitive theories of dyslexia.
  • Social interactive theory
    A look at the Social interactive theory of dyslexia.
  • What do theories agree on?
    There are some general agreements on some of the causes of dyslexia.
  • Where are there areas of disagreement?
    Disagreements on the definition and causes of dyslexia
  • Teaching Dyslexic Students 1Teaching Dyslexic StudentsKevin L. HuittDecember 1999Teaching Dyslexic Students 2AbstractDyslexia is a problem facing many students in today's educational system. Unfortunately, itappears that there are no known medical alternatives to alleviating the cognitive processingchallenges presented with dyslexia. Therefore, educators are required to make instructionaladjustments if dyslexic students are to be successful in an academic environment. One of theprimary adjustments that must be made is in the way dyslexic students are taught to read andwrite. A variety of successful solutions have been developed to address this dilemma. This paperprovides an overview of the problems faced by dyslexic students and how teachers can modifytheir instruction to accommodate these difficulties.Teaching Dyslexic Students 3Teaching Dyslexic StudentsTrying to meet the individual needs of all students is a difficult task, as any educator todayknows. That task is made even more difficult when the student has a diagnosed learningdifficulty such as dyslexia. The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief review of the literaturerelating to dyslexia and how classroom teachers can assist students with this learning disability.Defining Dyslexia and Identifying Its Causes“Dyslexia is a language learning disorder that results in deficits in reading, spelling, and,Balise, Black, Nussbaum, Oakland Stanford, 1998, p. 140). A popularmisconception is that children who are dyslexic see things backwards. In reality, their problemsare founded in the connection between seeing words and producing or remembering the soundsthey make (Balise et al.). Dyslexic children have a hard time learning to read throughconventional methods. These children do not possess the ability to focus on the different parts ofa word and produce the sounds, either in their head or aloud, which make the word. Because ofthis inability, dyslexic children, if taught through conventional methods, are forced to memorizeevery new word that they come across and hope that they remember in future reading activitieshow to pronounce it.The key question that still baffles the scientific community is “what causes dyslexia?”Doctors now know that dyslexia is not a disease with a cure that will be discovered in the nearfuture. It is a condition that demands teachers use specific teaching methods to get around theperceptual and processing problems that produce dyslexia. Researchers have recently focused onthe brain and its abnormalities as a way of discovering more about this condition. Through brainimaging techniques, as well as experiments on mice and rats, they discovered that there is adifference in some of the lobes of the brain that may inhibit the reading process (Castles, 1997).Teaching Dyslexic Students 4There is also evidence that slow development of the inferior temporal cortical areas may lead todifficulties in forming memory representation of objects (Castles). Because words are objects tothe brain, this is a link to what may be wrong in people who suffer from dyslexia.Genetic evidence is another area that researchers have chosen to focus on in the last severalyears. There is evidence that dyslexia has a significant genetic component. This component,however, is the same one that produces a normal variation in reading, so there can be no definiteconclusion made about the influence of the genes (Castles, 1997). At the moment, there isnothing that can medically be done with this biological and genetic information.In regards to the brain's processing of visual and auditory information, it has beendetermined that students with dyslexia cannot take the components of words and put themtogether into sentences. This inability makes it harder for comprehension of sentences or longerpassages. Most dyslexic high school students can follow along with someone else reading apassage, but they cannot come up with the meaning of the passages on their own. There is strongevidence that the eye movements of dyslexic readers are different from those of normal readers,making it harder to stay on task when reading material (Castles, 1997). However, this is likely tobe a result rather than the cause of aberrant reading. Studies have also shown that dyslexics havea deficit in rapid neuronal functioning. Because of this deficit they cannot keep up with theinformation that is flowing from their eyes to the brain and words and sentences quickly getmixed up in the brain, making no sense whatsoever. This is also called low spatial frequencyvisual information, which is due to an abnormality in the brain functions required for successfulreading (Castles).One constant throughout this research is the discovery of phonological deficits in studentswith reading disabilities. Phonological processing is the use of sounds of language (Siegal &Teaching Dyslexic Students 5Vandervelden, 1997). It had been theorized that the deficits in the phonological processing arewhat cause the students to become deficient in the areas of reading. When students beginlearning to read, or even speak, it is required that they be able to hear all the sounds that arepresent within a word and store them away in memory for later use. As a student becomes moreproficient in the areas of reading, the skills they learned early on from listening and repeatingbecome an unconscious ability, one that can be called upon at any time without much thought.Because of their phonological difficulties, dyslexic students are not able to store the initialinformation and recall it when necessary. Instead, the words get quickly jumbled and look likenothing more than a mass of letters that have no value whatsoever to the dyslexic reader.Identifying the Dyslexic StudentAs described earlier, one aspect of dyslexia is that there are deficiencies in thephonological, or sounding out, property of the child’s brain. Therefore, identifying dyslexicstudents most often occurs during the process of a child learning to read, usually in the earlystages of their schooling (between the ages of 6-8). All children struggle at times with the processof learning how to read. There are going to be some children who do not catch on to reading andwriting techniques right away, but who should not be described as dyslexic. Dyslexia, as withother learning disabilities, is something that is constant and follows the student for a long periodof time, usually longer than six months. The disability is recognizable by looking into the natureof the reading problems, rather than the fact that they exist. Therefore, it is vital that educatorsbecome aware of why a child is struggling with reading. Dyslexic students do not have the abilityto learn how to read like a normal child, where constant repetition is the key to learning thestructure of words and sentences. When looking at the text of a book or some other document,Teaching Dyslexic Students 6they are unable to sound out the words that they do not know. But how do we, as educators,recognize these children within the classroom environment?The key to discovering whether or not a child could have a learning disability is to sit downwith the child one-on-one. Follow along with his/her reading patterns. When he/she comes to aword that is not immediately read, do not give the answer. Ask the student to sound it out (youwill have needed to have already gone over the sounds that the different letters make in thedifferent situations). Most children, with a modest amount of prompting, will be able to soundout the word. His/her distinct rhythms will be recognizable. A dyslexic child, however, will beunable to sound out the words. He/she will only be able to see the word as a whole and will notbe able to even split it up into the sections that will allow for the rhyming technique to be used.Dyslexic students are also typified by a difficulty in sequencing. Math is very difficult forthem especially in the disciplines like geometry and algebra that are spatial in nature. Dyslexicstudents, when writing about an event, will tend to skip around when describing events that havetaken place (e.g. “I went and brushed my teeth. I got out of bed.”) Chronological order is aproblem that cannot be easily solved just by pointing out the problem. It is something that thestudent must be constantly reminded of. Not all dyslexic students suffer from sequencingproblems, the inability to provide written information, or severe phonological problems. Itdepends on the level of dyslexia that each student exhibits.Children with dyslexia are often described as having many talents outside of theirschoolwork. Educators can utilize these abilities to discover if their students could possibly besuffering from dyslexia. In my experiences, dyslexic students are very bright students who canunderstand complex problems and tasks when they are presented to them aurally. Ask them totake that knowledge and apply it to paper and all of a sudden a teacher will feel like he or she isTeaching Dyslexic Students 7talking to a totally different child, one that does not seem to have the same capacity for talkingabout complex problems. It is very difficult for the dyslexic student to write down his/her ideas.Because the processing sequence in the brain does not work properly, the student cannot writedown the things that he/she is thinking or speaking about. Even when the thoughts are writtendown, the handwriting and spelling are atrocious.Working With Dyslexic StudentsIdentifying dyslexic students is important, but what exactly can educators do about it? Thefirst course of action is to start in the early grades with testing and recognition of the disability.Nothing is better than discovering the problem early and doing everything possible before thechild begins to continue through school several steps behind all the other children.The majority of the new research focuses on the use of phonological techniques in helpingthe child to learn how to read. For example, Siegal and Vanderwelden (1997) put childrenthrough a series of exercises over the course of 12 weeks that were designed to facilitate thegradual expanding use of letter-phoneme relationships in early reading and spelling. Theresearchers decided to approach the subject through the use of modalities. The children wereasked to listen to a word and then pick out the same word from a visual list of three similarwords. The researchers were looking for gaps in the phonological skills of the children and whatshould be attacked in the future tests. “Printed word sets were ordered to assess phonologicalrecoding from partial to complete with eight trials at four levels: for example, (mask) dressboat(Level 1: initial-consonant difference); meat (mask) mould (Level 2: last consonant difference);milkmonk (ask) (Level 3: noninitial-final consonant difference); big (bug) bag (Level 4: voweldifference only)” (Siegal & Vanderwelden, p. 66). From this point, the students are required to gothrough several more tests of phoneme skills to test their strengths and weaknesses.Teaching Dyslexic Students 15After the revision exercises have taken place, students write their final draft during the nextclass period. If computers are available, they need to be taken advantage of. One aspect ofdyslexia that cannot be combated is the tendency for the student to be a horrible speller. With thetechnology that is available as a resource to students today, it is no longer a problem. Ifcomputers are not an option, the spelling should be overlooked in the final draft. When thestudents do turn in their final drafts, all pieces of paper that were used over the course of theassignment should be turned in for evaluation. The students should be graded on the productionprocess as a whole rather than on just the final product.Summary and ConclusionsIn my experience, dyslexic students will never be able to read at what is considered thenormal reading rate. We, as teachers, cannot make the expectations for them so high that theywill no longer be able to reach them. Techniques for teaching dyslexic learners are perhaps someof the hardest to learn and implement. It takes time and effort. When the trial and error processfails, we cannot give up on a child or decide that there is no point for continuing. We mustalways be looking for new methods to get the point across. It just takes a little more time andeffort to help the dyslexic student reach his or her goals. Dyslexic students are some of thebrightest and creative children in the classroom today. We cannot afford to let them down by notworking at our best capacity to help them succeed in an academic environment.Teaching Dyslexic Students 16ReferencesAbbott, R.D., Abbott, S.P., Berninger, V.W., & Reed, E. (1997). Year-long balancedreading/writing tutorial: A design experiment used for dynamic assessment. Learning DisabilityQuarterly, 20(3), 249-63.Balise, R.R., Black, J.L., Nussbaum, N.L., Oakland, T., & Stanford, G. (1998). Anevaluation of the dyslexia training program: A multisensory method for promoting reading instudents with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(2), 140-147.Breznitz, Z. (1997). Effects of accelerated reading rate on memory for text amongdyslexic readers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 289-297.Castles, A. (1997). The basis of developmental dyslexia: Neural, cognitive, genetic or allthree? International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 44(4), 387-90.Siegal, L.S., & Vandervelden, M.C. (1997). Teaching phonological processing skills inearly literacy: A developmental approach. Learning Disability Quarterly, 20(1), 63-79. .


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