Category Archives: dyslexia

For a struggling reader, intervene as early as possible, says new research

child with adult helping to readIf you notice a child is having trouble reading, intervene as soon as possible, even in preschool.

So conclude researchers who looked at the reading achievement of students for twelve years.  The researchers concluded that struggling readers should receive help as early as possible.

Their research shows that struggling readers are obvious to teachers in first grade (the earliest grade included in the research).  Without help, these kids will not improve over time.

In short, there is no advantage in waiting to intervene.  Start now.

Many children do not receive help until third grade–too late, according to the researchers.  This might be because many states have passed laws saying that all children should be reading by third grade.

Participants in the study were 414 people in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study who were assessed annually every year in elementary, middle and high school.

For more information, read “Achievement Gap in Reading Is Present as Early as First Grade and Persists through Adolescence” in the November 2015 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

Teach children to predict, an important reading skill

Predicting means anticipating ahead of time what might happen in a story. As adults, we do it all the time. We read a murder mystery and we predict “who done it.” We read a romance and predict how the couple will get together. We read a thriller and predict if the characters will escape.

Predicting is more than making a guess. It is using what we already know and applying it to a new situation. When children predict, they make a connection between what they know and what they don’t know yet. They increase the likelihood that they will comprehend what they read. Wild guesses are not predictions.

Predicting from what we know to what we don't know graphic

Predicting focuses little children on what they are about to read. By looking at pictures, titles, subtitles, charts, photos, cartoons and other graphics, they grasp an idea about a story. Predicting attracts the child to a story. She wants to know if her prediction is correct. Predicting forces children to use visual or word clues to create meaning.

The Common Core State Standards include predicting in the reading standards.

However, predicting does not come naturally to all children. Children with dyslexia might be able to predict in a real life situation when there is no reading involved, but because they struggle deciphering the phonics code, they lose track of the meaning. Some children with dyslexia also have trouble sequencing. If so, predicting what will happen next is difficult.

Autistic children may also have trouble predicting since they have trouble interpreting social clues. The text might say that a character froze and was unable to talk, but the child might not know that the character is scared. How then can he predict what will happen next?

Here is a method of predicting that can be used with children of all ages. It combines vocabulary with predicting.

  • Go through a picture book or reading selection before the student reads it. Write down a dozen or more vocabulary words important to understanding the meaning of the text. Choose words which the child is likely to already know plus one or two new words.
  •  Write or type the words clearly on a paper, and then cut apart the words. Have one set of words for each pair of children if children are working in pairs. Put the words in plastic sandwich bags.
  • Explain to the child that he will be predicting what a story is about. He will be acting like a detective by using word clues.
  • Let the child pull out one word from the bag, read it aloud it and tell you what it means. If the child can’t read yet, tell him what the word says. If he doesn’t know the meaning, explain it to him. Lay the word on the desk or table in front of the child.
  •  Ask him what he thinks the story will be about based on that one word. Accept his answer.
  • Let the child pull a second word, repeating the previous two steps. Continue until all the words are read aloud. Encourage the child to change his mind about the prediction, or to become more convinced with each word.
  • Now ask the child to sort the words into categories or groups. (This step might be too advanced for some preschoolers.) Again, ask what he thinks the text might be about. Accept all answers, but gently steer the child into a prediction related to the text.
  • Now read the text. As you or the child read, note words the child pulled from the bag. Ask if the child still thinks his prediction is correct, or if he has changed his mind.
  • When the reading selection is complete, remind the child of his prediction and ask if he was correct.  Look at the words again.  Talk about what words helped and what words didn’t.  Ask what other words might have made the prediction closer to the truth.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia (the brain’s inability to read, write and spell with ease) has many causes, not all of which apply to every impaired reader.

In people with dyslexia, nerve cells in the brain are thought not to work well together in order to achieve reading. Or those cells might cooperate, but at slower rates than for average readers. Why?


What might cause dyslexia?


faulty genes

brain injuries

problems connecting sounds to symbols

blockage of brain pathways

using the right hemisphere for left hemisphere functions

migrating neurons

hearing problems

unskilled reading teachers


  • Genetics might play a role for some readers. Defects in a gene known as DCDC2 and its interaction with another gene, KIAA0319, have been identified as related to dyslexia, according to researchers at Yale University.
  • Physical problems in certain parts of the brain might cause dyslexia. Sections of the brain specializing in language or vision, in particular, are needed to see letters; to associate those letters with sounds, syllables and words; and to derive meaning by combining words into sentences. If one part of the brain used in reading is damaged, dyslexia could result. Injuries to parts of the brain might have occurred before birth—a stroke, for example—or they might have happened after birth—a fall, for example.
  • Problems identifying sounds within words and connecting those sounds to letters or to letter patterns is the most studied possible cause of dyslexia. Children with this problem have trouble sounding out c-a-t. When they hear words like “Tyranasaurus Rex,” they don’t hear syllables or individual letter sounds; they hear words. No problem. But when they learn to read, they must take the sounds inside words apart and attach letters to those sounds and put the letters back together again to know words. For some people, this is hard.
  • Failure (blockage?) of the pathways normally used in reading could be a cause of dyslexia. Or weakness at connecting points along the brain’s pathways could cause slow processing.
  • While most readers use the left hemisphere of the brain in a dominant way when reading, it is thought that some dyslexic readers might use the right hemisphere more dominantly, or they might use both hemispheres equally. If so, reading becomes a labor-intensive undertaking.
  • Some researchers think that when the brain is developing, neurons that should be part of one section of the brain “migrate” to another spot in the brain and develop there. When a reader tries to access those cells, they are not where they are supposed to be, hampering the reading process.
  • Young children who have hearing problems might develop a life-long problem associating sounds with symbols for those sounds, resulting in dyslexia.
  • A well trained reading teacher who can identify anomalies in a child’s struggle to read can’t undo the above problems, but she can suggest strategies to lighten or even overcome some of these problems. However, if a child’s teacher is not savvy concerning strategies in the field of reading, the child might flounder. A teacher isn’t the cause of dyslexia, but her lack of skill can make the child’s struggle to read harder.

Reading is about a 6,000-year-old activity for human beings, a new activity in the evolution of the brain. The brain is not programmed to read any more than it is programmed to sing opera. Rather, in learning to read, we humans use parts of the brain which our non-reading ancestors used for something else—seeing and speaking, for example. Those same pathways which evolution streamlined for one purpose are now being used for additional purposes relating to reading, writing and spelling.

Work with brain imaging technology is revealing to researchers the parts of the brain involved in dyslexia. Work with the genome is revealing gene interactions which might have an effect upon reading. The answer to your question—What causes dyslexia?—is the brain and the complicated way in which the brain works.

For detailed information on some of these causes, read expert Maryanne Wolf, Ph.D., author of Proust and the Squid; The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.

Do after-school tutoring centers really improve a child’s reading?

Yes, after-school tutoring centers can improve the reading abilities of many children.

According to 2009 research by the University of Illinois, tutoring centers which do the following have the best chances of helping a student to improve reading skills:

• The center uses trained tutors (experienced teachers but also tutors whom the center trains).

Adult holding a book open for the child next to her and saying, "You and I are going to work together every day."

• The center tests the student to identify his reading strengths and weaknesses and then prepares a plan to address the weaknesses.

• The center continues to assess the student from time to time—with formal tests and with informal tutor appraisals—to show progress or a need for more work on certain concepts.

• The center’s tutors are in touch with the students’ classroom teachers so that they can work together to help students.

• The center’s reading program follows a sequenced strategy.

A 2001 US Department of Education report on tutoring centers agrees on these good practices suggested by the University of Illinois, but adds these others:

• The center offers intensive, on-going training for teachers.

• The center works with the child regularly (daily or at a minimum of once a week for up to an hour of instruction).

• The center offers individual strategies to meet the needs of the 17 to 20% of students not helped by the center’s usual approach to teaching reading.

Whether a tutoring center can improve the reading skills of a particular child depends on the needs of that child. If a child is doing average-to-well in school or is a good ESL student, the after-school program probably can strengthen his skills. If the child has serious reading problems, such as dyslexia, the tutoring center might be willing to develop an individualized instruction plan. But not all centers are able to do this.

My advice is to identify your child’s needs with the help of his classroom teacher and then interview various tutoring centers to find one which will meet his needs or, if none seem right, look for a private tutor who specializes in teaching reading.

For more information on these research reports, go to
http://www.cprd.illinois.edu/files/ResearchBrief_Tutoring_2009.pdf and http://www.cns.gov/areads/about/evtutoringworks.pdf.

What is choral reading?

Choral reading is group reading aloud in which a fluent reader serves as a model for students learning to read. It is a reading method frequently used in pre-K to second grade classrooms and in ESL classrooms, but it can also be a good method to teach reading at home.

Here’s how it works:

  • A fluent reader, usually a teacher, parent or recorded voice, reads a story aloud. The students gather around the teacher who uses a large-sized book whose text is also large. As she reads, she points to each word. Or, if children have their own copies of the text, they point to the words she says with their fingers.choral reading
  • The teacher reads the selection once while the children follow along silently with their eyes on the text.
  •  The teacher reads the selection several more times, each time with students joining in for the words they can say. Usually, with repeated readings, students can read more of the words.
  • Often the selection is reread the next day or soon after to reinforce the students’ ability to read the selection.

Why do choral reading?

  • It’s fun. Children love to read aloud when they are one of many voices. Many times the selections have repeated phrases like “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” or rhymes, which increase the fun.
  • More skilled readers serve as models for the less skilled students sitting by their sides. The less skilled readers listen not only to their teacher, but to their peers, and they learn from each other.
  • Less skilled students, who might be embarrassed to read aloud by themselves, feel comfortable as part of the group. Their mistakes either can’t be heard or are ignored. They feel more confident about reading aloud. They also realize that with repeated readings, they can read more words.
  • ESL students learn proper pronunciation, phrasing and intonation from listening and mimicking the fluent reader.
  • Dyslexic readers, who often memorize words rather than sound them out, remember better because they are enjoying the reading experience. Their lack of reading ability is less noticeable when they are part of a group.