I recently read an article that struck a chord with me. The topic was not related to learning disabilities, but it certainly can be applied. It quoted Benjamin Franklin as saying,
It is really true. Despite the hope that “this year might be different” or that “maybe something will click soon,” studies have shown that, if a child is not proficient with phonics/decoding by the end of the 3rd grade, chances are they never will be.
In fact, according to leading researcher, Joseph Torgesen, results of six early intervention studies revealed that, on average, more than 26% of primary school children fail to reach the 30th percentile in word-reading ability using traditional phonetic/decoding intervention.
Failure of phonics-based instruction for older children, based upon Torgesen’s review of data, is even more daunting. The study shows that the vast majority of children aged 9-12 who received systematic phonetic instruction did not improve in text reading ability and comprehension, and well over 90% failed to achieve reading fluency. Torgesen’s conclusion:
“These studies reflect one of the consistent findings in our research on interventions with late elementary children: If children’s impairments in word-reading ability have reached moderate or severe levels, our current interventions cannot typically bring their reading fluency rates to the average range.”
Source: Torgesen, Joseph K. Preventing Early Reading Failure. American Educator, Fall 2004.
Ultimately, Torgesen concludes that, for the majority of students, phonics is an effective method for the early literacy instruction in the educational system. But let’s take a closer look…Yes, phonics may work for the majority – but what about that minority for whom it doesn’t?
Another quote from Torgesen’s study speaks to why some do not benefit from phonics instruction:
“Children who are delayed in the development of phonemic awareness have a very difficult time making sense out of “phonics” instruction, and they certainly have little chance to notice the phonemic patterns in written words on their own. A simple way to say this is that for individual children, phonemic awareness is what makes phonics instruction meaningful. If a child has little awareness that even simple words like cat and car are composed of small “chunks” that are combined in different ways to make words, our alphabetic way of writing makes no sense.”
Basically, phonemic awareness assumes that children have mastery of that on which it is based – letters and the alphabet. In my experience with working with dyslexic children, often diagnosed with deficits in phonemic awareness, it is clear that the letters and the alphabet are in no way mastered. Actually, there is much confusion and uncertainty.
For example, if you were to look at a lowercase b and, in your perspective, it could be a d, p, or q (perhaps even a 9 or 6), sounding out the letter is the least of your problems. Many parents and educators would be shocked to see the amount of confusion these clients experience with the very basic symbols on which literacy is built. Without mastery of these, they can’t truly move forward.
So, who are these children? Who is the minority – the ones for whom “our alphabetic way of writing makes no sense?” My children! My own two amazing sons…and, not surprisingly to me, the wonderful, gifted, and talented clients that I have had the privilege to work with at New England Dyslexia Solutions!
In reflecting back on the days before I knew that dyslexia was at the cause for my oldest son’s confusion, my heart broke on a nightly basis – not only because he was struggling and found homework so difficult, but also because I was ridden with the guilt of being frustrated by his mysterious inability to focus, copy words down correctly, and simply manage the homework that teachers reported should be completed in 20 minutes.
…My son would work on his homework for seemingly hours – requesting breaks, needing my constant presence, and procrastinating on what appeared to be extremely simple tasks! Many times I had to pull the drapes in the dining room to conceal his neighborhood friends playing outside – already done with their homework.
We tried tutoring based on the recommendation of a psycho-educational counselor – and this is where we finally realized that he simply didn’t “get” phonics. His tutor, a 4th grade teacher, worked with him week after week. She noticed that he didn’t pick-up on blends – like “ou” or “ch” – and forget silent letters and long/short vowel sounds…those just seemed unfair! The “sight words” always tripped him up, too. She finally came to me and said, “I don’t think I’m helping him…I’m not sure I can.”
Now, let’s roll back the tapes a bit. It was not that my son “couldn’t” read. He managed…and with intense concentration and some support, he actually could make some sense of the material. It was just EXHAUSTING for him (and me) to get through.
When I finally was introduced to The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis, things started to fall into place. It was like I could finally understand what was going on…and it was presented in a way that made me feel so relieved! My bright little boy – who could converse with adults and had a wonderful verbal vocabulary, but was floundering in the classroom – he had a gift! We just needed to help him overcome his difficulties with the written word – so that his gifts could shine.
The end of the story is that, since the Davis program, my son has become an independent reader, writer, and only occasionally asks me how to spell a word. He feels just like any of the other kids in class. He’s keeping up, he’s happy, he’s well adjusted, and is not being pulled out for any special ed intervention. As a mother, this is what I am most happy to see…the fact that he is an honor-roll student is a definite bonus!
It is really special to have your own child inspire you. And mine did. It is because of all that I have been through with him that I am here today, writing this blog, hoping to somehow help other parents who are going through what I did. So, although I understand that blogs are mainly meant for healthy discussions on topics of interest, I feel the need to insert a “shameless plug” here:
If your child has had intervention at school and continues to struggle, there is help.
New England Dyslexia Solutions specializes in working with those students who are being left behind by traditional methods.
How long can you afford to try the same thing, day after day, and expect different results?
There is a really wonderful video, created by The Learning People (a network of Davis providers in the UK), that captures the empowering nature of the program. They have been kind enough to post it on YouTube for all to see. I would highly recommend watching it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-IncFDf6OY
If you have any questions about the Davis program, or if you are empowered to take a step toward freedom of the frustration of dyslexia (for you or your child), please contact me directly.
Oh…and by the way…my youngest son has also had the benefit of the Davis program – he, too, is an inspiration to me and continues to amaze me with his shining GIFTS…yes, of dyslexia.