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Due Diligence for Students with Dyslexia

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Due Diligence for Students with Dyslexia

Four ways to build awareness about dyslexia in your district.  By Jodi Mahoney

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently tweeted, “It’s okay to say dyslexia! Schools must identify and meet the unique/individual needs of any child with a disability.” Finally!

October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month, so it’s good to see politicians beginning to take notice. In fact, dyslexia is finally getting the attention in schools it needs. Some states are taking it upon themselves to pass their own legislation to address the needs of their students. For example, in 2012, New Jersey passed three laws related to dyslexia, one mandating screening for at-risk students by the end of the first semester of second grade, another requiring two hours of annual dyslexia-related training for school personnel, and a third giving schools the ability to name dyslexia as a specific learning disability classification.

With as many as one in five students presenting with dyslexia, it is critical that educators and administrators in all states get on board with these efforts.

Inspired by New Jersey’s legislation and the “Literacy for All” Award given out by the New Jersey chapter of the International Dyslexia Association, our district in South Brunswick set out on a mission to be “dyslexia friendly.”

Here’s what you can do in your school and district to launch a similar effort.

 

1. Create a team to research, support, and promote this goal.

We started as a core team: a principal, some supervisors, and some teachers—and Team Dyslexia was born. We surrounded ourselves with information specifically related to fulfilling the mandate handed down by the state laws. We later added instructional-support teachers, resource-center teachers, and K–8 general-education teachers to our team to keep the learning going in this PLC.

Here are some good questions to ask your team:

  • What would meaningful training for staff look like? Which staff? All staff? K–3 staff?
  • What screening tools would we use?
  • What interventions do we have already in our district to support these students and what other interventions can we put into place? What can we do for these students in general education without a 504 or IEP.

 

2. Offer professional development opportunities.

We began by inviting a keynote speaker to address the entire district last fall (to complete our mandated training).

Together we created a follow-up presentation for teachers that included practical ideas for the classroom, interventions, and suggested resources. As we shared information, teachers started to recognize that some of their students’ struggles (past and present) may have been due to dyslexia—something they’d never considered. These presentations built awareness, interest, and expertise.

Some tips to launch professional development:

  • Use both in-house and out-of-of district experts where possible to provide information about dyslexia.
  • Find free webinars.
  • Read articles together.
  • Watch TED talks (see links below).

 

3. Partner with parents.

Working with parents to raise awareness and educate the community on this topic is a journey. For some, labeling dyslexia provides a welcome “name” for the difficulties they’ve seen in themselves or their children. For others, it’s simply an unwanted label.

We emphasize that dyslexia is about the way a student thinks and learns, not about their academic intelligence or potential. Many adults with dyslexia are successful entrepreneurs, out-of-the-box thinkers, and creative minds.

Go slowly and build a knowledge base. These are some ways we’ve reached parents:

  • For Dyslexia Awareness Month, we sent out a blurb in our parent newsletters defining dyslexia, detailing our district goal, and outlining our efforts.
  • We invited parents with concerns about dyslexia to contact the school administrators. This was huge. Just being able to openly talk about this struggle allows us to push forward in strategic ways.
  • In intervention meetings, we are able to ask parents directly, “Does your family have a history of reading struggles or dyslexia?” Given that dyslexia is genetic, knowing the family history can help us with early identification and allows us to home in on the students’ struggles and strengths with a different lens.

 

4. Support students.

Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, has said, “Dyslexia is an island of weakness in a sea of strengths.” Given that, it is our ultimate job as educators to support the weakness and nurture the strengths of these creative minds.

In this spirit, we have focused on what it means to create dyslexia-friendly classrooms. Some of these best practices include the following:

  • Minimize the amount of copying from the board.
  • Prioritize when it’s important to write and when an oral response would be just as appropriate.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity.
  • Use technology to help with written work.
  • Utilize audio tools, such as Learning Ally’s audio books, for reading.

The most important work you can do with your district as you start this journey is to get educated, create empathy, and build a team that will allow you to stay focused on the goal.

Recommended videos to build awareness and understanding:

What is Dyslexia? by Kelli Sandman-Hurley from TED-Ed

youtube.com/watch?v=zafiGBrFkRM

Overcoming Dyslexia, Finding Passion: Piper Otterbein at TEDxYouth@CEHS youtube.com/watch?v=ugFIHHom1NU

 

Other great resources:

Learning Ally

learningally.org

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

dyslexia.yale.edu

Decoding Dyslexia (chapters in almost every state)

decodingdyslexia.net

International Dyslexia Association (both international and individual state sites)

eida.org

 

Jodi Mahoney is the principal of Greenbrook Elementary School in South Brunswick Township, New Jersey.

 

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