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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Parents of dyslexics: Teach phonics

Children in Upper Arlington, Ohio, are now taught to read using a phonics-based approach. Photo: Emily Hanford/APM

Parents of children with dyslexia forced their school district to teach phonics, reports Emily Hanford on NPR. Upper Arlington, Ohio schools had been using the whole-language method, which “holds that learning to read is a natural process” that doesn’t require direct instruction, she writes. Instead, children were surrounded by books.

That didn’t work for dyslexic students — or for many of their classmates.

People with dyslexia have an especially hard time learning to read because their brains are wired in a way that makes understanding the relationship between sounds and letters difficult. Research shows that they learn to read better when they are explicitly taught the ways that sounds and letters correspond. And research shows that even students without dyslexia learn better this way.

“I have started to call it not dyslexia but ‘dysteachia,'” says Brett Tingley, one of of the parents who signed the group complaint. Teachers “are not giving the right kind of instruction.”

Upper Arlington had to retrain its teachers to use “a phonics-based approach that explicitly and systematically teaches them how letters represent sounds to form words on the page,” writes Hanford. Most hadn’t learned that in teacher education programs.

“O Octopus ah!” the kids yell in a first- and second-grade classroom at Barrington Elementary School in Upper Arlington. Their teacher, Ashley Stechschulte, is holding up a series of cards with words on them, and the children repeat after her as she sounds out the first letter sound.

They discuss the “ck” in sock and the “wh” in whistle. What’s the difference?, the teacher asks.

“The ‘ck’ can only go at the end (of a word) and the ‘wh’ can only go at the beginning,” says Jacob.

Students who show signs of dyslexia receive one-on-one tutoring.

Structured, systematic phonics teaching is the “most effective form of intervention” for all struggling readers, whether they’re diagnosed with dyslexia or not, writes Julian Elliott, professor of educational psychology at Durham University.

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