Teaching Students with Dyslexia in the Regular Classroom
Wadlington, Elizabeth, Jacob, Shirley, Bailey, Sandra, Childhood Education
Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Cervantes had carefully planned the new year's curriculum, put up fresh bulletin boards, arranged desks and equipment, and posted classroom rules. She had reviewed her class roster and carefully studied each child's cumulative folder. Everything was ready. Then the unexpected happened. The school counselor asked Mrs. Cervantes to meet with a new student and his parents before school started. The parents explained that their child was dyslexic and would need special accommodations and modifications. Smiling at the parents and student, Mrs. Cervantes desperately tried to remember any college training that would have prepared her to teach this student. She racked her brain for information that she might have picked up during inservice workshops or conferences. She realized that her knowledge of dyslexia was limited to vague references in journal articles and obscure comments made by colleagues. What was she to do?
In recent years, many effective teachers have found themselves in similar situations. Although an estimated 10-15 percent of the general population has dyslexia (Ryan, 1994), dyslexia is a confusing term for most educators. Teachers and reading specialists frequently are unsure of both the exact definition and their legal and ethical responsibilities. Since many students with dyslexia are in regular classrooms, their teachers are often overwhelmed trying to help these students without neglecting others.
This article will seek to end the confusion by answering the following questions: What is dyslexia and what characterizes individuals with dyslexia? How can the needs of students with dyslexia be met in the regular classroom?
Dyslexia is "a disorder of constitutional origin manifested by difficulty in learning to read, write or spell despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and socio-cultural opportunity" (Orton Dyslexia Society, 1988, p. 2). Kamhi (1992) further defines dyslexia as a lifelong problem with processing phonological information, which involves encoding, retrieving and using phonological codes, and deficiencies in speech production and phonological awareness. Simply put, dyslexia is a difficulty with language, not intelligence (Wilkins, Garside & Enfield, 1993).
Experts make a distinction between developmental dyslexia (whose origin is suspected to be congenital or hereditary) and acquired dyslexia (a disability that occurs as the result of brain injury after learning to read) (Frith, 1986). Most students with dyslexia in regular classrooms have developmental dyslexia, which is thought to be connected to brain and chromosome differences (Lyon, 1995). While dyslexia persists in spite of age and maturity, its effects may be lessened by remediation and compensatory techniques (Clark, 1988).
Individuals with dyslexia frequently display outstanding strengths; many dyslexics are creative, visual thinkers. Their unique abilities often make them successful in art, science and technical fields. Some famous and talented people who are suspected to have had dyslexia include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, George Patton and William Butler Yeats (West, 1991).
Dyslexia affects each person in different ways (Wilkins, Garside & Enfield, 1993). Early signs of dyslexia may include difficulty in: learning to speak, remembering, pronouncing words clearly, expressing ideas meaningfully, listening or following directions. Lower elementary children may exhibit difficulty with the following (singly or in combination): learning the alphabet, sequencing, rhyming, word memory, reading, writing and spelling. Other signs that may or may not accompany dyslexia include a poor sense of time or space, an inability to finish work on time, extremely messy handwriting (dysgraphia), inadequate organizational skills, an inability to pay attention or complete tasks, a weak understanding of concepts such as "before," "after," "right" and "left," poor study habits, problems keeping up with possessions, and, sometimes, difficulty with mathematics. …