Advocacy for Writing by Speaking, Reading by Listening, and Students with Dyslexia
Advocacy requires that parents and teachers learn what dyslexia is, what dyslexia is not, what we can reasonably expect from traditional reading instruction, what kinds of results students are getting with aural reading and oral writing, and what accommodations are available. Advocates need to know how to ask for accommodations, what the law says about the rights of persons with dyslexia, and how parents and teachers can help students understand themselves so they can develop a strong self-image based on their strength and self-confidence based on success. Advocates get to see academic improvements in their students, but they also get to see a change in their students attitude when the have overcome the limiting effects of slow and labored reading and found that they can do reading and writing tasks at the same level as non-disabled students who are smart, like they are.
Why do Students with Dyslexia Need an Advocate?
Students with dyslexia or specific learning disability in the area of reading, need an advocate because, in most cases, these students are stuck in a traditional visual reading/paper and pencil school environment, and they need someone to call for a change in their school programming. The general public and most teachers know very little about dyslexia. The general belief is that dyslexia is the reversal of letters which causes the student to be unable to read. It is further believed that given the latest remedial reading programs, students with dyslexia will respond to the remediation and be able to read like the average student reads. These ideas are both wrong. These misconceptions and the lack of understanding of dyslexia results in school programming that focuses all the students attention on trying to remediate the reading problem at great cost to the student in intellectual and educational development. As long as these misconceptions and misunderstandings continue, students with dyslexia will not learn an effective way of reading and writing print, will not learn to use assistive technology, and will miss out on important educational experiences that could have fully developed their talents and abilities.
How are Students with Dyslexia Stuck?
When all their programming is focused on getting through school the best way they can using visual reading and paper and pencil writing, bright students with dyslexia are stuck. They will use little or none of the aural reading systems that could enable them to read at 250 to 350 words per minute with good comprehension nor use the writing systems that will enable them to write at 100 to 170 wpm without spelling or typing. They will have little or no opportunity to use writing systems that would enable them to produce good written language like they can produce when they speak, and they will inadvertently be taught that they cannot perform academically even though they might be among the most academically talented students in the class.
Why don't our Schools "Get it"?
The general public and our educational culture do not understand that these students problems are small problems, inadequate visual decoding of words and inadequate spelling. As a result, the small problems become large problems because they block the students from developing their good language ability they're good intellect and there are other talents. Most schools and the general public just don't "get it". If the students were blind, they would be immediately understood and programming in school would develop their abilities through the use of assistive technology and other accommodations that make sure that they had an equal opportunity to learn, and a equal opportunity to show what they have learned through read-aloud-testing and other accommodations. They would get full accommodations for their print disability, not an advantage, just "a level playing field". If no one gets this concept of accommodating for the print disability of students with dyslexia, these students will be doomed to going through the educational system with inadequate reading skills and as a result get an inadequate education.
Institutional policies are in place for providing aural reading and oral writing support for students with print disabilities if the students have blindness, but not if the students have dyslexia. Until our educational culture learns that bright students with dyslexia also need equal access to print, and until our institutional policies reflect those needs, each of these students with dyslexia will require an advocate who takes the lead in asking for a school program to meet those needs.
What is Required to be an Advocate?
These students with dyslexia need someone who sees their potential, sees how continuing on a traditional path of just trying harder will lead to poor results, and sees how aural reading and oral writing can let them use print fully and let them develop their intellectual skills and get a good education. A person with this kind of understanding and vision has the first requirement for being an advocate. The second requirement of an advocate is the ability to lead others, and sometimes require others, to provide full accommodations for the student's print disability with aural reading and oral writing systems.
Who are Advocates?
These advocates are usually parents, often parents who recognize that their child's problem with print is similar to the print problems of other adult family members, siblings, parents, and/or grandparents. These parent advocates recognize that continuing on a traditional educational program will get a similar result as other family members have gotten, that is, an adult who cannot read print adequately and an adult who, while capable, is not functioning up to his or her potential.
Not all parent advocates have family members who also have reading disabilities, but most advocates are parents. Parents have an advantage when it comes to understanding what is happening. Unlike a teacher who has only one year to collect data before the student moves on, the parent has seen all remedial reading programs that have been tried over the child school history and sees the inadequate results. Often these parents are already doing things at home on their own like reading textbooks to the student, typing from dictation, etc. When they hear about aural reading and oral writing they already "get it", and with a little encouragement they set out to lead others in providing the needed accommodations.
While most teachers do not understand that these bright students with dyslexia need accommodations for their inadequate reading, some special education teachers who have learned about aural reading and oral writing, or seen students succeed with it, understand the need and become the students' advocate. Occasionally, other teachers see the tremendous potential of a student and begin wondering what would be possible if this student's reading was not an obstacle. These teachers can also become advocates when they learn that aural reading and oral writing is an alternative that can remove the reading and writing barriers.
How Can You Become an Advocate?
If you are the parent of a bright child who is a slow reader and that slow reading is holding your child back, learn about dyslexia and learn about aural reading and oral writing. Read the articles on this web site, and search the internet for information on aural weading and for information on dyslexia. If you think that your child would preform much better in school using assistive technology systems for doing aural reading and oral writing, you may be ready to take the next steps. You would need to determine if your child has a print disability or not. If your child has a print disability, you would need to have some evaluations done so you can get equipment and services needed to do aural reading and oral writing at home and at school. You would ask the school to use aural reading and oral writing with your child. Learn about your child's rights to get full accommodations at school under a special education plan or a 504 plan (Americans with Disabilities Act Section 504).
If you are a teacher, look at your students and ask which of my students have slow reading that is holding them back. Start with one student. It is easiest to start with the student who has the largest discrepancy between overall ability and visual reading and paper/pencil writing. Usually this is the student who seems like one of the brightest students when class discussion is going on but does very poorly when reading and writing is required. Imagine what this student could be doing if reading was not an obstacle to learning. Read the pages on this web site. Learn about aural reading and and look at ways you can provide accommodations so that your student will be able to make full use of print in your classroom. After you have had success with your first student, look at ways you can provide accessible print to others in your room. Tell your colleagues what your student has done. Join with other teachers and administrators to discuss ways to reach more students in your school to move them from low performance to high performance by using aural reading and oral writing strategies. Imagine what would happen to your schools overall success rate if those lower 15% of readers started reading aurally for class assignments, for magazines, for worksheets, for tests (for the spring achievement tests). Imagine how this would change their lives, their future.
After you have read the pages on this web site and you find that you have questions about how to proceed, feel free to contact me.