Dyslexia and the Effective Use of Decodable Books
By Dana Stahl, M.Ed.
Dyslexia is a language based learning disability that is also referred to as a reading disability. Children who are dyslexic have difficulty identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Dr. Sally Shaywitz the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity defines dyslexia, “as an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. It is most commonly due to difficulty in phonological processing.” These children have difficulty envisioning how to spell words, often inverting letters and numbers. Dyslexic children display difficulty with decoding, reading rate, and comprehension. As educators, it is important to understand learning issues associated with dyslexia, and effective tools schools can incorporate when working with children who display difficulty in decoding, reading rate, and reading comprehension.
Decoding is the practice of using various reading skills to translate written words on a page into sounds that are read aloud. When readers decode, they sound out words by pronouncing their parts and then joining these parts together to form cohesive words. Slow but accurate word identification can indicate a weakness in processing words. This still comes under the umbrella of “dyslexia.” Some children struggle with both accuracy and speed of reading. This is known as double-deficit dyslexia.
Reading rate is the speed at which a person reads a written text during a specific unit of time. It is generally calculated by the number of words read per minute, but is influenced by a number of factors, such as a reader’s purpose, level of expertise, and relative difficulty of the text. Reading fluency in general is compromised by reduced accuracy, automaticity, and intonation.
Reading comprehension refers to a process that occurs when students can read, understand, and interpret written information. A student with reading comprehension issues struggles to make meaning out of the material that they read. These children can appear to read well but do not appear to grasp the meaning of what they read.
“Once at school, children need to learn basic phonemic awareness, or awareness of the individual sounds (phonemes) in words, because phonemes are the things represented by letters and letter patterns in our spelling system. Children who can’t pull words apart into their component sounds (segment) will not be able to spell well. Children who can’t combine sounds into words (blend) will not be able to read well.”
Decodable books offer dyslexic students books with words they can sound out once they have mastered letter-sound relationships. They have a strong phonics emphasis encouraging students to blend letter-sounds together enabling them to read unfamiliar words. Phonemic instruction foster independent reading skills. Decodable books allow beginning readers to feel successful building their confidence to explore complex text needed for content-based learning.
As educators working with dyslexic students, it is essential to understand how to incorporate specific teaching strategies and effective teaching tools that foster the development of reading skills of students with language-based learning and reading disabilities. Reading decodable books is an excellent way to foster decoding, reading rate, and comprehension. Once it is understood that learning disabilities represent the discrepancy between students’ academic potential and their corresponding performance, a conversation can ensue where educators, parents, and students can recognize the necessity of breaking down the barriers that guard these children from finding success to reaching their full potential. #