Emotionally Sound Instruction

by Maria Bechard M.A., CCC-SLP

“In all remedial work, the teacher should start first with the child and then find the appropriate method.  Fit the method to the child, not the child to the method.”  Monore- 1935, p. 227

One of the first steps in ensuring a child’s sense of pride in their dyslexia identity is to make sure that the child is identified as early as possible to ensure that the appropriate instruction is implemented. If the proper teaching is provided, then the child will experience a great deal of success, which will result in an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem which will most likely promote a love for learning.  The International Dyslexia Association recommends a Multisensory Structured Language Teaching Approach for the dyslexic child also known as Structured Literacy Instruction. 

This type of instruction is based on the principle that a dyslexic child demonstrates weaknesses in their underlying language processing skills in the area of phonology (the speech sound system) as well as in print or orthographic processing which makes it difficult for the child to connect speech with print.  In Structured Literacy instruction a multi-sensory approach is implemented which utilizes two to three learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic-tactile) simultaneously which promotes engagement and enhances learning and memory.  The International Dyslexia Association defines Structured Literacy as an approach that “ emphasizes the structure of language, including the speech sound system (phonology), the writing system (orthography), the structure of sentences (syntax), the meaningful parts of words (morphology) and the relationships among words (semantics), and the organization of spoken and written discourse. The integration of listening, speaking, reading, and writing makes this instruction multisensory.”

The elements of instruction are introduced systematically and explicitly. Students begin listening to sounds in words and develop phonemic awareness skills.  Subsequent intervention follows the sequence of reading and writing sounds, which are then blended into syllables and words.  The various elements of language such as consonants, diagraphs, blends and syllable types are introduced in an orderly fashion.  In this type of approach the child is learning the rules that govern out language with regards to decoding one syllable words as well multi-syllabic words which contain the varied syllable types in our language as well as reading base words with prefixes and suffixes.

This approach also incorporates the rules that govern our language with regards to spelling which are weaved throughout the reading process.  These skills are taught in conjunction with reading to reinforce the grapheme-phoneme sound correspondences as well as other language-based rules. For example, if the child were learning a specific reading syllable division rule then his spelling instruction would be words that followed that rule. Instruction dealing with the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes and inflectional endings is also embedded in instruction and includes ways in which words are related to each other (for example, trans: transfer, transform, transition).  Vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension are also addressed in a sequential and cumulative manner

Another important aspect of this approach is that the text presented to the student is very controlled in nature in that it is decodable.  The grapheme-phoneme correspondences as well as other rules known by the student are presented in a controlled manner so that the child can apply learned strategies in text.  Additionally, the use of controlled decodable text is implemented to ensure that the child continues to use learned strategies to eliminate the need to guess words based on shape or contextual cueing. Controlled text also assures a great deal of success during the reading process for the child, which in turn can have a positive effect on reading fluency and comprehension.  

Equally important, the rules that govern our language in regards to spelling are weaved throughout the reading process and are taught in conjunction with reading to reinforce the grapheme-phoneme sound correspondences as well as other language based rules. For example, if the child were learning a specific syllable division rule regarding reading then his spelling instruction would be words that followed that rule. Instruction dealing with the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes and inflectional endings is also embedded and includes ways in which words are related to each other (for example, trans: transfer, transform, transition).  Vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension are also addressed in a sequential and cumulative manner.  As children learn new material, they continue to review previously learned material in improve the level of automaticity Children learn about the history of the language and study generalizations, which govern its structure. Instruction is diagnostic and prescriptive in nature.  The educator seeks to understand how an individual learns and seeks appropriate strategies.

The most important aspect regarding this approach is that it is emotionally sound. Since previously learned material is constantly weaved or reviewed as new material is being introduced systematically the child experiences a high degrees of success during teaching and gains confidence as well as in skill. Learning becomes a rewarding experience, which builds self-esteem and motivation to learn.

As professional providing services to dyslexic children, I can certainly state that I have found a multi-sensory structured language approach that has been a successful fit for my students. The words of my students always speak volumes to me.  Here are just a few:  “You know Ms. Maria it would be silly to think you’re not smart just because you have to touch and say sounds.”  Ms. Maria, I think I know more rules than my teacher about spelling- I know that for sure.”  Mrs. Bechard, I bet last year I would not have been able to read these three syllable words and would have just been guessing all the way.” “Mrs. Bechard, this is the first year I asked for books for Christmas and got the ones that I wanted.”  Mrs. Bechard, I have all A’s this semester.” 

Maria Bechard, M.A., CCC-SLP, is the owner of The Literacy Corner located in Crestwood, Kentucky.  The Literacy Corner provides expert diagnostic and therapy services for language-based impairments such as dyslexia. Maria is a licensed and nationally board certified Speech and Language Pathologist. She has made it her mission to educate the community regarding the prevalence of dyslexia as well as the rights of the dyslexic individual. Maria is dedicated to promoting the love of learning that is often crushed for the dyslexic child.