Due to the Coronavirus epidemic, schools across the globe have been forced to transition to an online learning environment. Instead of sitting in classrooms every day receiving face to face instruction from their teachers, students have had to shift to a world where all of their education is through a screen. Much of online learning is self-directed, which has taken a toll on all students. While all this is unique and challenging, it is even more so for students struggling with a-typical approaches to learning. Over the last year, I’ve been exploring the issue of dyslexia in the classroom as part of an independent study research project, with a particular interest in the way students with dyslexia are taught. This first began as a personal interest and then has grown into something more.
Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. The disability affects a very wide range of people and produces such different symptoms and varying degrees of severity that predictions are hard to make. However, the prognosis is generally good, especially when it is identified early. There is no cure for dyslexia, instead, individuals with the disability must learn coping strategies. Although the direct cause of dyslexia is unclear, there are many differences in the way the brain of a person with dyslexia develops and functions. With appropriate teaching methods, individuals with dyslexia can learn successfully.
Dyslexia has no relation to a person’s intelligence or their desire to learn. It requires a reading instruction that is based upon a systematic and explicit understanding of language structure, especially phonics. Individuals diagnosed with dyslexia have been proven to have a broader range of abilities, which might also be reflected in the differences in the dyslexic brain. These abilities include reports of giftedness or talents in nonverbal or spatial areas. Essentially, the difference of a dyslexic brain could encompass more than a reading problem, such as differences in auditory and visual perception and processing, as well as conceptualization ability, or the manner in which information is combined.
A proper learning method for people who struggle with reading, known as The Orton-Gillingham Method, was not created until the 1930s. The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a direct, specific, multisensory, and structured, way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily to individuals, such as those with dyslexia. This method of teaching is used at The Windward Institute and at many other schools throughout the country that specialize in teaching kids with language-based learning disabilities. According to Dr. Russel, the head of The Windward Institute, “All of our courses have to have a solid research base to it, by research I mean an analysis where multiple studies have been done in a particular area that indicates that this particular technique is effective in teaching kids with language-based learning disabilities.” The Windward Schools, one in Westchester and one in New York City, teach kids with language-based language disabilities tools that can help them succeed for the rest of their lives.
Although The Windward Institute does amazing work, they can only teach a certain amount of kids. However, as an attempt to help all kids struggling with reading, a New York Senator, Shelley B. Mayer is currently working to get a bill passed that would “require school districts to conduct mandatory early screening for dyslexia for all children.” This bill is currently idle in the Education Committees of the Senate and Assembly. The bill must move forward to the Floor Calendar before it can be voted in. The acceptance of this legislation will guarantee that all children with dyslexia and language-based learning differences get the proper services, support, and assistance they need to be successful in school. It is critical that individuals with this disability are diagnosed early so that it does not begin to affect their own self-image. Students can begin to feel discouraged at school after dealing with a great deal of confusion, stress, and anxiety as a result of their reading challenges. Their self-esteem can take a hit once they start to feel that they are less intelligent and less capable than they actually are. One in five students is affected by dyslexia, but unfortunately, most parents, teachers, and administrators are not properly trained to recognize the symptoms of dyslexia and its related disorders so that it can be diagnosed early. Children with dyslexia often have significant strengths, so when their learning challenges are addressed, they are able to excel in school and beyond.
The Coronavirus outbreak has greatly affected the way people live their lives. However, Covid-19 has provided so many new learning challenges for students who already had language-based learning disabilities. Students with dyslexia normally rely on small group guidance and direct instruction from their well-trained teachers in order to succeed. Even though teachers at schools like Windward have continued to use their same methods and try to mimic the classroom setting as much as possible, learning as a dyslexic in this new environment definitely has its own challenges. Students are much more likely to get distracted while learning at home. With only a small box on the screen for teachers to watch students through, kids can begin to fall behind. Teachers no longer have control of their classrooms, as kids could be learning from their kitchens, bedrooms, or anyone else in their home. Using distance learning platforms, particularly with kids with dyslexia or other learning differences, will require an extreme amount of patience from everyone involved. Essentially, even though everyone is doing their best to make sense of this new world we are living in, this new learning environment is even more unique and challenging for those already struggling with a-typical approaches to learning.