WHAT A DIFFERENCE!
Understanding, teaching, and empowering students with language-based learning differences such as dyslexia
Kendra McCuine, M.Ed, teacher and interim director of the Hope Graham Program (HGP) at Bancroft School, writes about the beautiful and amazing dyslexic brain. Read on and discover further proof of what Hope Graham students already know: Dyslexia is a difference, not a disability!
Growing Lifelong Readers vs. Kids Who Can Read
Without a doubt, the daily instruction provided in the Hope Graham Program provides students with the skills that they need to decode and understand text. We help them to develop the neurological pathways necessary for accurate and efficient reading through the highly effective Orton-Gillingham approach. We provide modeling, guided practice, and opportunities for independent application of the best research-based comprehension strategies. And we engage our students in frequent fluency drills in order to build their reading speed, accuracy, and expression.
While these underlying reading skills are absolutely necessary for our students to succeed, they are insufficient in their own right. Fitting with Bancroft’s mission to develop lifelong learners, the Hope Graham Program aims to empower students not only to know how to read well, but to become readers for life.
While we can and do measure the indicators that a child is progressing in his or her reading ability, the broader goal of empowering lifelong readers is far more difficult to directly assess. We can get a sense that a child is on the right track when they:
- Have access to books that match their interests and passions
- Spark and engage in conversations outside of school about what they are reading
- Keep track of books that they would like to read in the future
- Are developing the stamina to read independently for increasingly lengthy periods
- Can identify the books that have most impacted or resonated with them
- Connect information and life events to what they have read in books
Hope Graham Program teachers facilitate this progression by exposing students to all kinds of books at their “just right” level, encouraging students to ear-read (listen to) more difficult but engaging texts while reading along in a hard-copy text, helping students to make lists of books they would like to read, and providing opportunities for students to build reading stamina, both in school and for homework. In addition, as students enter the upper middle grades, they begin to track their “textual lineage,” documenting the books that have resonated with them and have therefore contributed to their growing sense of who they are as individuals.
We know that children who read stay readers. A term that is often used in the field of reading instruction is the “Matthew Effect,” meaning that the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. Students who read a lot experience substantial growth in their reading skills, while those who do not read for pleasure outside of school lose pace significantly with their peers who do. The number of words that students are exposed to when they read, or do not read, is staggering (Image credit: Kyleen Beers):
Incredibly, students who read less than a minute each day are exposed to 8,000 words in a year, while students who read for 20 minutes per day are exposed to 1.8 million words in the same period of time! All of those words translate to an expanded bank of word knowledge and familiarity that helps students to decode more accurately, read more quickly, and understand more deeply.
If these figures make you worry that your child has missed out or is behind, don’t. Lifelong learners do not develop overnight, and it’s never too late for students to build a robust reading life. This is the work of a child’s entire academic career. Rather, we as parents, teachers, and students ought to feel empowered. The work we do each day helps to grow readers who love to learn through text, and who can speak with enthusiasm at the dinner table about the latest great thing they’ve read.
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