There is no “medicine” for dyslexia and other related learning disorders. Proper instruction, referred to as remedial intervention, promotes reading success and alleviates many difficulties associated with dyslexia. Instruction for individuals with reading and related learning disabilities should be:
- Intensive - given every day or very frequently for sufficient time.
- Explicit - component skills for reading, spelling, and writing are explained, directly taught and modeled by the teacher. Children are discouraged from guessing at words.
- Systematic and cumulative – has a definite, logical sequence of concept introduction; concepts are ordered from simple to more complex; each new concept builds upon previously introduced concepts, with built in review to aid memory and retrieval.
- Structured - has step-by-step procedures for introducing, reviewing and practicing concepts.
Reading and writing in alphabetic languages depend on sound-symbol correspondences, that is, relationships between sounds (phonemes) and letters (graphemes). One of the chief ways of unlocking the mysteries of reading and writing for children is phonics, a method of instruction that teaches these correspondences and uses them to help learners in both these areas.
In English, there is not a one-to-one relationship between sounds and symbols. Each sound may be spelled by more than one symbol or symbol cluster, and a single symbol or symbol cluster may signal different sounds, depending on context. The 26 alphabets of the English language combine to give 44 phonemes. Phonics gives learners a statistically good shot at “sounding out” a word in a way that either matches what they know or is close enough that other clues, like context, will help them figure it out. Usually, children start learning to read using phonics around the age of 5 or 6. However, we cannot assume that everyone can teach themselves the rules of phonics.
Phonics programs progressively introduce the child to different letter-sound pairings, beginning with the simplest, most consistent and most frequent combinations and then gradually expanding to cover more complex and unusual ones. A typical program might begin by teaching:
- Simple one-to-one, letter-sound relationships. The focus here is on those consonants that occur frequently, tend no to look or sound like one another and have a predictable one-to-one relationship between their letter and their sound. One commonly taught sequence for introducing consonants is m, t, s, f, d, r, g, l, h, c, b, n, k, v, w, j, p, y. Children can make many words from just the first few consonants and vowels.
- Vowel sounds. In order to read words, children need to learn about vowel sounds, too. Vowels tend to be more difficult to pronounce than consonants. They can be long or short. They can be taught that long vowels "say the ir names" (the a sound in cake, the e sound in key and the e sound in time). Short vowels do not.
In systematic programs, specific sets of letters, generally six to eight consonants and two vowels, are taught as a unit. Once they are mastered, children go on to another set. Initial groupings typically contain several of the consonants noted above plus the vowels a and i because the sounds of these two vowels are the easiest to distinguish from one another. Once a child knows the first group of consonants and vowels, she is excited because she can now begin to link these letters to their sounds and then to blend these sounds together and read the word on the page. These simple consonant and vowel combinations are used to make the words in a child’s first books and are the focus of reading instruction in first standard. By the middle of first standard, a child should be able to sound out a growing number of these words.
- Complex letter-sound patterns. Having mastered one sound - one letter linkages, the child is ready for links where letters and sounds do not invariably have a one-to-one relationship. The focus is on patterns where, for example, two letters may represent one speech sound; these combinations are referred to as digraphs. Although they sound quite technical, digraphs are very common: sh as in ship, ch as in chip, ng as in sing, th as in thing, wh as in when. These and other, more complicated letter-sound relationships are generally taught during first grade and continue into second. As children progress they are surprised to learn that not only are there digraphs but there are also trigraphs (dge as in wedge, tch as in itch) or even quadrigraphs (eigh as in weigh, ough as in tough). To give you a sense of how helpful it is learn these patterns, imagine trying to pronounce the letters dge (ledge) or eigh (sleigh) if you haven’t been taught that they group together to make one pronounceable sound.
- Rules. Children are taught useful rules that help them figure out the correct pronunciation of different letter patterns. A child learns that the pronunciation of a letter sometimes depends on what letters come after it. In first grade children are taught the "silent e rule": a vowel followed by a consonant and then e, such as in take, dime or home, is typically pronounced as a long vowel. They also learn that the letter c may be pronounced as k when it is followed by a, o or u (such as in cake, come and cup) or followed by any consonant (clap and crack), or as ssss if followed by e, i or y (cent, cinema and cyclone).Such rules help encourage the rising reader to look at all the letters in a word.
- Spelling. Although technically not part of phonics instruction, I have included spelling here because it is intimately related to reading and to the relation of letters to sounds. As children learn to read words, they also begin to learn how to spell these words. In general, a child should not be asked to spell a word she can’t read. Serious spelling instruction begins in the middle of first standard, although children are typically not held to accurate spelling until second standard. Effective spelling instruction is more than rote memorization of word lists. Spelling (going from sound to letter) strongly reinforces reading (going from letter to sound), and its instruction should be linked to a child’s reading lesson. Like reading, spelling instruction follows a logical sequence that begins with phonemic awareness and then learning which letters represent which specific sounds. As a child reads more and learns more words, he begins to appreciate that the same sound can have different spellings; for example, he learns that the a sound can be spelled mate, weight and straight. Through spelling lessons as well as his own reading, a child learns the most frequent letter patterns for different sounds.
Put simply, phonics is a series of rules that children have to learn and apply when they are sounding out new words. Children are taught a rule, for example the silent e rule, and then they practice reading word pairs with and without a silent e (bit-bite; fat-fate; tub-tube). Then children do skill sheets at their desk highlighting the silent e rule. Children must learn letter sounds to an automatic level - they must be able to see the letter(s) and say the sound immediately.
Reading is the most important skill that a child will ever learn. It is impossible for a person to live a productive life without being able to read, i.e., becoming literate. In most schools, children are expected to be able to read simple sentences and stories by the end of class I. By the end of class III, they are expected to be able to read almost any kind of text. As well as being able to "sound out" (phonetically decode) regularly spelled words, children must also master reading basic, common sight words.
“Sight” or “Dolch” words are those words which the reader is required to recognize without trying to sound them out. This is because they occur very frequently in the English language. Trying to sound out these words each time the reader encounters one, would affect his speed and hence his comprehension would get affected.
Edward William Dolch, PhD, compiled a list of 220 words, which make up between 50 and 75 percent of the reading material that school students encounter. The list was originally published in his book Problems in Reading in 1948. Many of the 220 Dolch words cannot be "sounded out" and have to be learned by "sight," that is, memorized. The list includes pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and verbs. The basic list excludes nouns, which make up a separate 95 word list. (If your child is unable to “sight read” the Dolch220 by the end of first standard, I’d suggest you consider a professional evaluation.)
Because fluency in reading the Dolch220 and the 95 nouns is essential to literacy, a variety of techniques are used to teach them, including: reading Dolch literature books, using flash cards, playing games and writing activities. Repetition and practice are very important in making recognition of sight words automatic. Once this core of basic sight words has been memorized, children read more fluently and with greater comprehension.
Here is another list, comprising the 150 most common words found in printed English; the words are listed in order of their frequency. As you skim them, you will notice immediately that a vast majority are sight words.
150 Most Common Words
Many remedial techniques use multisensory stimulation. The basic premise is that the stimulation of various sensory paths reinforces learning whereby, if one sensory path is weak, it gets supplemented by other sensory paths. As these techniques seek to utilize all four sensory modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile), they are also referred to as VAKT methods.
An example will make this clear. The majority of dyslexic children experience confusion over the direction of b and d. They can both be seen as a stick with a circle at its base. But on which side does the circle sit? A teacher might give the child a movement-based (kinesthetic) experience of the letter b by getting the child to draw the letter REALLY LARGE on the blackboard, or even in the air. This will involve the child using their arms, their sense of balance, their whole body. They will remember the day their teacher had them 'writing' in the air with their hand, making this great big shape, and can use that memory the next time they come to write the letter.
Some teachers purchase letters made out of sandpaper so that the children can run their fingers over the letter ‘b’, giving them a strong tactile (touch-based) memory. Yet another way to give a strong tactile memory of ‘b’ is to make the letter out of plasticine, play-dough or clay.