Understanding Dyslexia: How to Identify, Prevent and Remediate Word Level Reading Difficulties

Watch this hour-long recorded webinar presented by Dr. Louisa Moats, President of Moats Associates Consulting, Inc., and Dr. Dale Webster, Chief Academic Officer for CORE Inc., to learn what dyslexia is and what it is not, what causes difficulty learning to read and spell written words, how to recognize the signs of dyslexia, and the principles of effective intervention and instruction for students with dyslexia using the multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework.

Students with Dyslexia Can Become Strong Readers

Students with dyslexia do not need to struggle endlessly to become proficient readers. CORE’s professional learning services will equip your teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to prevent reading difficulty but also to identify the warning signs of dyslexia and intervene with evidence-based instructional practices that work. When working specifically with special education teachers, our professional learning services focus on effective instruction for students who have been identified with dyslexia.

Our Instructional Implementation Experts can also assist with the selection and implementation of effective reading curricula for teachingstudents identified with dyslexia.

Email us or contact us directly at 888.249.6155 ext. 3.



Moderator: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today’s webinar, Understanding Dyslexia: How to Identify, Prevent, and Remediate Word Level Reading Difficulties. We really appreciate your taking time out of your busy schedules today to participate in this Webinar, and we’re also very appreciative of the sponsor of today’s webinar, CORE, Inc..

Moderator: Before we begin, I’d like to review just a few quick housekeeping items. We welcome your questions and encourage you to send them throughout the presentation for the Q&A period we’ll have at the end. To send a question, use the questions feature in your control panel. Just type your question into the top box, and then click send. I’ll receive your question, and I’ll put it into the queue to be answered at the end. If you experience any technical difficulties during the webinar, please use that same question feature to get my attention, and I’ll do my best to resolve the problem for you.

Moderator: We will be sharing a recording of the webinar with you, as well as a copy of the slide deck, so keep an eye on your email tomorrow for details about how to access those materials. They will be posted directly on the CoreLearn.com website, but we will send you an email with a link directly to them tomorrow. Now, let’s get started. I’m pleased to welcome today’s speakers, Dr. Louisa Moats and Dr. Dale Webster.

Moderator: Dr. Louisa Moats is president of Moats Associates Consulting, and has served as a national board member and vice president of the International Dyslexia Association. She earned her MA in learning disabilities special education at Peabody College of Vanderbilt, and her doctorate in reading and human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Moats has been a teacher, psychologist, researcher, graduate school faculty member, and author of many influential scientific journal articles, books, and policy papers on the topics of reading, spelling, language, and teacher preparation.

Moderator: In addition to the Letters Professional and Development series, her books include Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers, Spelling: Development, Disability, and Instruction, Straight Talk about Reading, and Basic Facts about Dyslexia and other Reading Problems.

Moderator: Dr. Moats is joined today by Dr. Dale Webster, who is Core’s chief academic officer. He leads the education services division, and is responsible for the day to day operations, training, and quality control of core’s educational consulting and management staff. Dale brings 20 years of experience in teaching, professional development, research, state level policy work and administration, and curriculum development to schools and districts across the country that Core works with.

Moderator: Dale earned his Bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, and a California multiple subjects teaching credential from San Diego State University, along with a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Houston, and a PhD in education at the University of California Irvine where his research focused on vocabulary development for English learners.

Moderator: Dale has served on the California Curriculum Commission, an advisory body to the California State board of education on curriculum frameworks and textbook adoptions, as well as numerous other state and local educational panels. Dale is also president of Interactions for Peace, a non-profit organization that teaches peaceful problem solving skills to youth. He is a board member of the San Diego branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

Moderator: We are really excited to have both Dr. Moats and Dr. Webster with us today and to share all of their knowledge and information about dyslexia and other reading problems. We do have a lot to cover, so I’m gonna go ahead and turn the program over to Dr. Moats now.

Louisa Moats: Thank you, Emily. Greetings, everyone. We have representation from all over the country and Canada in our participants list, it’s really wonderful to see the level of interest that now exists for understanding dyslexia, and treating dyslexia with more informed ideas and practices.

Louisa Moats: We’re gonna use this hour to talk about what dyslexia is and what it is not, what causes difficulty learning to read and spell written words, how to recognize the signs of dyslexia because there are likely to be dyslexia students in almost every classroom, and Dale is going to take over for me talking about the principles of effective intervention and instruction for students with dyslexia within an MTSS framework.

Louisa Moats: I have written a book called Basic Facts about Dyslexia with Karen Dakin and much of what I’m commenting on today can also be found in a very short book published by the International Dyslexia Association with this same title.

Louisa Moats: What is dyslexia? Well, the word itself tells us what it is. These two Greek roots dys and lex, and lexia, mean simply difficulty with words. Notice that the words that describes this condition does not say “difficulty with seeing.” Right away, in the word itself, is embodied the concept that dyslexia is a disorder of language processing. Why is this definition important? The definition I’m about to read.

Louisa Moats: We have to clear up the many myths and misconceptions that are associated with this term, we need to link educators to better information and resources, and we need to promote science based instruction in our classrooms. I would add to this, we need to make information readily available to parents who are often mystified by the difficulties their kids are having learning to do these basic aspects of reading and writing.

Louisa Moats: We know a great deal from research, and it’s unfortunate that in general, this is still a very wide gulf between the world of scientific research and the world of educational practice, but all of you should know that we have thousands and thousands of studies, and they’ve been written up in many consensus reports, and reviews of research that give us very solid information about how a good reader learns to read, what’s going on in the brain when that happens, how students with difficulty learn to read, and what is causing them problems if they are stymied by some of these basic skills.

Louisa Moats: We also know a lot about the relationship between language, generally speaking, and the more specific language skill of reading. We know a lot about how to be most helpful in teaching kids with reading, spelling, and language problems, and in helping them manage their lives and become successful individuals.

Louisa Moats: Currently, all but eight states now have guidelines about dyslexia or legislation about dyslexia identification and treatment. Over the past few years, very vigorous advocacy that has been led by parent organizations and some professional organizations has resulted in much more widespread recognition of dyslexia as a very common disorder. I happen to live in one of the states that does not have any such rules, but we’re hoping that eventually that will change.

Louisa Moats: You all should know that in the year 2015, one of the deputy secretaries of education issued a directive to states in which he stated that there was no reason not to use the term dyslexia where appropriate in evaluating students, in writing reports about them, in classifying them for various supportive and remedial services in school, and he also affirmed the fact that the term is a useful link for parents and for students to very solid information about what’s going on with them when they experience problems learning to read. Just recently, California, where Core is based, adopted very extensive guidelines in the fall of 2017.

Louisa Moats: That document is about 75 pages long, but it’s full of good information, and you can access it on the department of education’s website. Some of the other states that have exemplary guidelines, in my opinion, are Arkansas, New Jersey, and I think North Carolina come to mind. Parents have banded together and pressed for these changes because they, in the main, have experienced a lot of frustration with their kids not being appropriately diagnosed, or described, and not given appropriate instruction in schools. We’re hoping that this general movement is going to change all that.

Louisa Moats: Here is the formal definition that you can find easily by Lyon Shaywitz and Shaywitz from 2003. You can go on the IDA website and download it as well, or go to the original article that explains all the terminology, but this definition has held up now for 15 years, and as much as we discuss making changes in it, there is not any consensus that it needs to be changed at this point.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neuro biological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension, and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Louisa Moats: Now, let me point out a few things about this definition. It points to a central issue in dyslexia which actually has three parts to it. When we start dissecting what goes into the ability to read words fluently and accurately, the sub components that are at issue and more or less depending on the individual are, first of all, the ability to detect individual phonemes in spoken words, so if I say the word “chip” for the student to know that ch- is different from tch-, for example. Or ch- is different from g- for example, and to know that clearly, and be able to identify that as a speech sound in the English language may be the first issue.

Louisa Moats: The definition says that these problems with word recognition typically arise from a problem in the phonological component of the language. It does not say, the definition does not say always arises from. How can that be? When we look at what’s involved in learning to read words with an alphabetic writing system such as we have in English, another problem can be paying attention to recognizing and rapidly associating the symbols or graphemes that represent each phoneme in the language. Because we have an alphabetic writing system, we use letters and letter combinations to represent speech sounds, so a dyslexic individual almost always has trouble remembering which symbols go with which sounds, and recalling them both for reading and for spelling rapidly and efficiently.

Louisa Moats: Then there’s a third component here in the definition which is that in order to become a proficient reader, one has to establish what we call a sight vocabulary, and that does not refer to irregular words, that’s a common misconception in education jargon. We as psychologists of reading use the term sight vocabulary to refer to any word and all words that are recognized automatically with very little effort. We also see that in dyslexia we have some kids who can learn the individual sound symbol relationships, often with a lot of work, but where they fail to progress is in establishing that rapid recognition vocabulary for fluent reading.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia is a language based problem. Those functions I just described of speech sound awareness, letter sound correspondence, and automatic recognition of words are all functions that are stored in the language hemisphere of the brain. There are intricate networks set up in the brain that include these networks that subsume or support the association of sounds with written symbols and the development of an automatic sight vocabulary for reading.

Louisa Moats: Notice that in the definition I read to you, there is absolutely no mention of reversals or seeing things backwards, an extremely common misconception is that a hallmark sign of dyslexia is reversals and directional problems. A subset of kids seem to have more trouble keeping directions straight than others, but not all do, and this certainly is not a part of the definition. Confusing symbols is very typical of an early stage of reading development anyway.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia is not just an affliction of the intellectually gifted. One of the myths that we want to dispel is that of the Einstein syndrome, actually Einstein was not dyslexic, there’s not evidence for that, I don’t know how that got going. All levels of intellectual ability can experience this specific problem, learning how to read alphabetic symbols and translate them into spoken language. Also dyslexia is not related to a lack of willingness or motivation to read, although very early in kindergarten, kids can become frustrated and turned off, and look as if they are avoiding reading for motivational reasons, but most kids come to kindergarten wanting to learn how to read.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia occurs also at all socioeconomic levels. Unfortunately, the way a lot of these guidelines and policies have been written, the more privileged in our society tend to recognize and be recognized when a student is experiencing dyslexia, but even … and in fact, maybe more kids from more disadvantaged circumstances experience these very same problems, and they’re much less likely to be labeled as such. There are slightly more boys than girls, who in the prevalence studies that are done with good methodologies, are demonstrating symptoms of dyslexia, but it’s more like two and a half to one, or two to one than what we used to think.

Louisa Moats: Even with optimal classroom instruction, even in the very best circumstances, although we can prevent reading failure with excellent instruction in many cases, a real biologically based dyslexia can still emerge and will require specialized instruction for quite a while. This is because the brain is not, in evolutionary terms adapted for reading, and some kids just don’t have the wiring to do it. Out of the 2,000 or so individuals that I saw as a clinician when I was in private practice back there in Vermont, I can think of about three or four who literally could not learn how to read in spite of dedicated efforts by their teachers.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia often occurs with other developmental problems, or we say that a common comorbid condition is ADHD, and then sometimes there are other problems as well. The pure dyslexia that has no other concomitant problems I think is relatively infrequent, and the more common scenario is that kids will have dyslexia, symptoms of dyslexia plus other issues that may be impeding their academic progress that have to be recognized and taken into account as well.

Louisa Moats: The term dyslexia is most often used to identify a reading problem that originates in an inability to recognize and spell written words accurately and quickly, but we need to use these more specific terms rather than literacy, because literacy is a very broad term, and when you ask people what they mean by that, they say things like media literacy, and social literacy, and civics literacy, and so on. We’re talking about the very specific task of learning how to recognize the printed word, and it is a reading, and spelling, and language problem so we don’t use the term literacy problem.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia and special education. About 80-85% of students with an identified specific learning disability will have a primary problem with reading and/or language. Special ed teachers should be trained to a far greater extent than general ed teachers in the treatment of reading disabilities, but unfortunately, in many states, the rules for preparation of special ed teachers are not up to where we want them to be as far as preparing special ed teachers with this reality. Then 10-20%, or one out of every five to 10 students will have symptoms of dyslexia, not all those kids, in fact, the majority are not going to qualify for special ed. They are going to be in intervention groups that are organized under general education responsibility, and they are not, most of these students are not the primary responsibility of special ed, at least special ed alone. We need to think of the identification and treatment of dyslexia as a general education responsibility and issue first and foremost.

Louisa Moats: How do we recognize a dyslexic person when we see them? Well, we see these kids all the time. If we know what we’re looking for, we’ll be alert, and we’ll use the right terminology for what’s going on with them. In preschool and kindergarten, the first thing you need to know is get a history. Was the student late in learning to talk, were they slow to learn new words? Also you have to ask the parents, “Would you care to tell me,” they don’t have to tell you, “Would you care to tell me if any immediate relatives have had trouble with learning to read and spell or learning to talk?” Because dyslexia runs in families, and there’s a strong genetic component when there’s a strong family history.

Louisa Moats: Then having trouble producing speech sounds, so sometimes when students are referred for articulation delays, there’s a little flag, they could be at risk for experiencing dyslexia as they start to learn to read, and in fact, the better research we have now on very young kids is showing that very sensitive screening tools can pick up a very, very early predisposition to confusion about the identity of speech sounds. That’s where scientific research is going in the future.

Louisa Moats: Kids at the preschool or kindergarten level may not enjoy looking at books. They don’t mind being read to, but they don’t want to look at the letters, play with the letters. It’s confusing information for them sometimes, and they’re avoidant. Sometimes they can’t recall the sounds of letters, even if you’ve repeated them many times, and as they learn to read, that may be a very prominent symptom, and then being unable to break words into separate speech sounds, and of course that’s why we’re going to use tests of phonemic awareness at the kindergarten level to begin to flag kids who are at risk.

Louisa Moats: In kindergarten and first grade, say mid kindergarten on, there are obvious problems learning phonics, and not only, as I said before, learning the individual sound/symbol correspondences, but applying them in word recognition and spelling. Spelling is usually awful. These students, many of them have trouble controlling the movements involved in handwriting and producing letters that you can read at an age appropriate level, and then retaining words that they’ve seen many times. If a student has seen a word 50 times and still can’t remember it, that’s certainly a red flag. Avoiding reading and writing and then low scores on direct assessments of phoneme awareness.

Louisa Moats: As students get a little bit older, then the more prominent symptoms, if they are making some progress, will be having to see words many, many times before they remember them and can recognize them instantly, still some obvious deficits in knowing phonics and applying phonics to decoding on both real and nonsense words on word reading tests. Poor spelling, handwriting, and written work, and then a slow rate of reading, low scores on fluency tests, on curriculum based fluency measures, and a high error rate during oral reading, and then downstream, as the definition says, this will affect comprehension, because if you can’t read the words fluently and accurately, it’s going to interfere with your comprehension of the text, and one way to get at that is to test a student’s oral language and language comprehension orally to see if there’s an obvious difference between their comprehension of spoken language, and their ability to comprehend when they read.

Louisa Moats: Then in the intermediate grades, again, fluency and a reduction in oral reading fluency and then silent reading fluency are hallmarks of dyslexia in addition to inaccurate reading of real words and nonsense words. Accuracy matters a lot, and it’s not okay if students are getting the gist of a passage because they may have good background knowledge and comprehension, if they’re making a lot of word reading errors, that’s an indicator of dyslexia and should be explored further because those errors are going to interfere with comprehension as time goes on.

Louisa Moats: Again, poor spelling, handwriting, and written expression. Avoidance of reading, and weak application of reading strategies. Why is that? Because if you’re struggling and expending all of your attention on trying to read the words, you’re not going to have any cognitive desk space, as we say, left over for seeing the big picture, and deliberately monitoring your comprehension and applying good strategies for extracting the meaning of the text.

Louisa Moats: As time goes on, these symptoms continue. Slow and laborious reading, being overwhelmed by multiple assignments, not being able to work fast enough to cope with the increasing pace of work in the middle grades, lacking effective strategies for studying, and needing accommodations and modifications, some of them technology based, and then written work is the telltale indicator, the poor spelling, letter formation confusions, spacing, organization, and volume of output are usually all issues for the dyslexic students.

Louisa Moats: Then in high school, again, slow reading, and needing accommodations for that, and technology supports. Comprehension and vocabulary compromised from lack of reading and lack of practice, writing poorly with effort, needing strategy, instruction, and study skills to manage and not speed reading, heaven forbid, I hope those days are gone, and needing perhaps a foreign language substitute or exemption, because if the first language is that difficult, learning a second language is often an inordinate strain, especially learning it as a second language in a classroom.

Louisa Moats: Screening for dyslexia is imperative, and most states now, all but the eight I mentioned or referred to, not by name, are including guidelines for dyslexia screening, and what do those screenings involve? They involve timed tests of letter naming, or letter sound associations of direct measurement of phoneme awareness that gets at phoneme segmentation and blending in kindergarten, and then as students get older, if they’re having problems from second grade on, I personally see evidence in the work od David Kilpatrick and others that we need to screen for advanced phonological awareness, advanced phonemic awareness skills in older students because those skills underlie the acquisition of a sight vocabulary, and the acquisition of spelling vocabulary as time goes on.

Louisa Moats: They we need to directly measure decoding and word recognition, and oral reading fluency using a timed test of passage reading with norms, that is a grade level passage that is equated to a certain level of difficulty in curriculum based measurement, and we need measure both rate and accuracy once a student can read. The social and emotional consequences of dyslexia in some cases are severe. Managing a student’s emotional health is extremely important, and of course prevention of failure in the first place, and accurate labeling of what’s going on are critical pieces of maintaining emotional health in a child who’s very frustrated and wondering what in the heck’s going on with them, and we want to identify early to avoid the syndrome of chronic and learned helplessness, and avoidance, and feelings of inadequacy. This goes back to using the D word, one reason to do it is that it’s a big relief to students to have a name for the problems they are experiencing. It sounds a little bit more definite than a word level reading problem, which is what researchers often call it.

Louisa Moats: We want successful students, even if we can’t make the dyslexia go away, and it won’t, it will affect students through their schooling in the main. We want to give students, while we’re remediating the problem, a repertoire of affective coping strategies, study skill strategies, and reinforce independent use of those strategies as students get older. We want to encourage resilience, and thinking positive about the good things that are happening, the things that are possible.

Louisa Moats: We want to encourage flexibility, we want to encourage self advocacy, be able to talk about what dyslexia is and what’s going. Information about it is very empowering for students, and this issue of dyslexia and the gifts of dyslexia, dyslexia is not a gift. I really have many, many cases in my memory as a clinician of people being very burdened by their condition, however, what saves them in their lives is developing success in some area of life, any area of life, whether it’s visual/spacial, whether it’s in leadership, whether it’s in athletics, whether it’s in being an adventurer, whether it’s in landscape design, music, whatever it is. We have famous dyslexic people who have become poets, and doctors, and lawyers, or whatever.

Louisa Moats: Dyslexia does not bar people from success in life, and it’s really important that every dyslexic student that you have realize that and that their strengths be nurtured with as much energy as their weaknesses are addressed in their school lives. One of the key factors in resilience is having in one’s life a strong, constant support of a relationship with at least one adult who believes in the child’s worth and capabilities. This is why parents, if you want to work with your own student at home, just be careful to evaluate whether your child needs the safety of a completely unjudgemental relationship, a safety net of being able to go to the parent and say “I struggle with this,” or “I had a failure at school today,” or whatever it was without the parent also taking on the role of teacher. Sometimes it works fine, but we have to be careful that every student, if we can, has at least one adult who is unconditionally accepting of who they are.

Louisa Moats: Now I will pass the baton to Dale, who will talk about teaching, the most important part.

Dale Webster: Thank you, Louisa. I’m going spend the next few minutes talking about effective instruction for students with reading difficulties and dyslexia, but Louisa and I will agree that instruction that we’re gonna be describing here is good for all students, not just those with difficulty. However, research has converged to show that a comprehensive approach to teaching students with reading difficulties and dyslexia is absolutely critical for their success I’m going to talk more in depth about each one of these components in the time that we have.

Dale Webster: Before we dive into the instructional components, it’s important to define some terms based on our knowledge that English is a morphophonemic system. In other words, English is based on not only sounds, the phonemes, but also larger units of meaning called morphemes. We see here on the slide that a phoneme is the smallest unit of speech sound. For example, the word “cat” has three phonemes, c- a- and t-. A grapheme is the letter or group of letters that represent a phoneme. In the word, “cat,” there are three graphemes, the letters c, a, and t. What makes English spelling challenging in terms of that phoneme, grapheme connection is that many times there isn’t a one to one correspondence, like in the word cat that i just described. Instead we have graphemes like c and h together to spell the ch- sound and also tch to spell the tch- sound at the end of the word, like in the word “catch.”

Dale Webster: Even more complicated are the vowel spellings like for the long A sound, like in the word “day,” or “rain,” or “ate.” Right there are three different examples of a way to spell the long A sound, so that’s what makes it somewhat complex, or very complex, especially for kids who are having difficulty.

Dale Webster: A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning, prefixes, suffixes, Greek and Latin roots are examples of morphemes, but morphemes can also be words. So, for example, the word garden is one morpheme, it’s one unit of meaning, even though it has two syllables, some people get confused with morphemes and syllables. Garden has two syllables, but it’s really one unit of meaning. But when you ad -er to the end of garden to make the word gardener, now there are two morphemes, the -er is a nother unit of meaning that’s added on to garden.

Dale Webster: With that, I’m having difficulty with my slide turnings. Phonemic awareness. This is the term that’s garnered a lot of attention in the past 25 years or more in the reading world. People often confuse it with phonics, but it’s not phonics, it’s the foundation for learning phonics. There are many levels of phonemic awareness, but three important ones that have been the focus of research and are closely related to reading school are oral blending, segmenting, and manipulation. Manipulation includes deleting sounds and substituting sounds.

Dale Webster: Oral blending is the ability to hear sounds in a word, and then put the word together, or put the sounds together to make the word. For example, the teacher might say the sounds in cat c- a- t-, and then the students would reply with the word cat. Segmentation is essentially the opposite of that, where a word is presented by the teacher, and students have to segment, or parse out the sounds that are in the word. For example, the teacher might say “Boys and girls, the word is cat, what are the sounds you hear in cat?” The students then would reply c- a- t-.

Dale Webster: Phoneme manipulation is considered the most advanced form of phoneme awareness, and Louisa was talking about this, was alluding to this earlier. Examples of phoneme manipulation, as I said, are deletion and substitution. When we delete sounds in words, we say something like “Say cat, now say it without the c-. What’s left?” And the students would respond with “at.” For substitution, we would say something like “Say cat, now replace the c- with m-. What’s the new word?” The students then would say “mat.”

Dale Webster: Whoops, I skipped a slide.

Dale Webster: In terms of the principles of instruction, in the first bullet we were thinking about teaching the speech sounds, and it’s really important here for teachers who are providing an instruction and intervention for students with reading difficulties to properly pronounce the sounds and not distort them by saying cuh instead of c- or tuh instead of t-. This is really important, because for students who are having difficulty, we don’t want them to sound out a word like cat to be cuh a- tuh. So, if they’re already having difficulty hearing the sounds, and manipulating those sounds, they’re gonna have even more difficulty if the teacher is distorting the sounds and modeling incorrect pronunciation.

Dale Webster: In addition, using multisensory strategies are useful additions to make the instruction even more explicit for students who are having difficult, looking at mouth formation while students are producing sounds, and moving tiles or blocks to represent the sounds are effective strategies. Once students are ready, these tiles can include letters to help students continue to develop that alphabetic principle.

Dale Webster: Now we’re moving into phonics, which is this relationship between the sounds and the spellings. Notice I’m not saying letters here, although they are letters. The term I use here is spellings, so thinking of a sound, and then how do we spell that sound, is a way we want to present this information to students so they can more easily grasp the concept. In many cases, as I pointed out, there are multiple ways to spell a particular sound. We talk about all those different variations over time.

Dale Webster: In this instance of the word “shock” that you see here on the screen, we have three sounds: sh- o- and k-, but five letters. The first sound sh- is spelled S-H. The second sound, o- is spelled with O, and then the final sound is k- and here we have some choices. Either C, or K, or CK together make the k- sound. Good phonics instruction is gonna teach kids that usually when we hear a k- sound at the end of a word or syllable, and it comes after the short vowel sound, it’s usually spelled with a CK. That’s good phonics instruction.

Dale Webster: We want to go even more than just telling students what the sound is, we want an explicit phonics lesson sequence. A strong, research based phonics lesson is more than just telling students that a sound is spelled a certain way. Here you’re gonna see the components of an explicit phonics lesson sequence. Step two is what I was referring to about teaching the sound spelling, but in addition, and very importantly, teachers have to teach students the strategy for how to sound out or decode the words, and to practice this decoding strategy by reading words out of context. This is blending, and referenced in step three.

Dale Webster: This step is going to be really important for students who are having difficulty, and it may take some time for students who are having difficulty to grasp. Continued work and phonemic awareness, segmentation, blending, manipulation in particular, and continued blending of words on the board is going to help them grasp that concept over time, but it’s difficult for many students.

Dale Webster: After students have practiced sounding out words, then we want them to re-read the words again for automaticity without sounding them out. That’s gonna build that automatic word recognition referred to in step four. Then the fifth step is very important, where we’re putting the new sound spelling that we’re teaching into practicing within the context of real reading. Decodable text is a very important component, because in these texts, there are many instances of the target sound spelling that we’re teaching and also any previously taught sound spellings, along with previously taught irregular words, that students need constant review with. Then the last step in our sequence here, word work, provides students with opportunities to end code, or write down the words and spell the words to help them cement those newly learned sound spellings and through previously learned correspondences.

Dale Webster: In terms of principles of instruction for phonics, there are well over 150 ways to spell the 43 or so phonemes in our language. We need to concentrate our efforts on the most useful, or most frequently occurring sound spelling patterns, so depending on the program, the program will teach in the range of 75 to 90 different sound spelling patterns, but they’re going to be the most common ones. We want instruction to be sequential, meaning that we teach the easier stuff before the harder stuff. For example, short vowels and the basic consonant sounds that have that one to one mapping, like I described earlier with cat. Then we get into the more complex sound spelling patterns after that, like the various ways to spell the long vowels, more complicated vowel digraphs.

Dale Webster: I’ve already talked briefly about multisensories, so we want students to be working as many modalities as possible, the visual, the auditor, kinesthetic tactile. These sound spellings need to be taught explicitly. We have to be explicit and explain the concepts, being straightforward and not leaving anything to chance. We don’t want students to discover that the long I can be spelled with IGH, we don’t want them to discover that, because for some, they never will discover it, or it will take them a long time rather than just being explicit about it.

Dale Webster: Finally, the instruction should be cumulative so that as the concepts are building on one another, there’s ample opportunity to review that old learning, the previous learning, and any good programs that are out there will embed this review regularly into the instructional routine.

Dale Webster: On to fluency. Fluency is defined by three elements, accuracy, automaticity, and prosody. Accuracy is reading the words correctly, and the complete phonics lesson that I described a minute ago is gonna help kids to do that. Automaticity is the ability to read words automatically. In essence, when a word becomes automatic, the word is considered a sight word. This is what Louisa was referencing earlier, meaning that the student has decoded the word enough times so that the spelling patterns have bonded to the pronunciation of the word in long term memory. This process is called orthographic mapping, and really depends on ability to work at the advanced level of phoneme awareness.

Dale Webster: Remember, I talked about that earlier, the ability to delete and substitute sounds. This will be a key to instruction for students having difficulty. Working with them on deletion and substitution tasks to facilitate this orthographic mapping and automatic word recognition process.

Dale Webster: Finally, prosody means that a student is reading with intonation and expression according to the rhythm of our language. If a student is reading with prosody, then this is a sign that the student is comprehending or at least mostly comprehending what they’re reading.

Dale Webster: In terms of vocabulary instruction, good vocabulary instruction has two components, specific word instruction where we’re teaching the meanings of individual words, but even, very importantly, is our word learning strategies where we’re teaching students how to break down words based on analyzing the meaning of the morphological parts. Remember, I referred to morphemes earlier as units of meaning, so those prefixes, suffixes, root words and helping students learn to analyze the word, and break it down by these morphemes.

Dale Webster: Then another component of word learning strategy instruction is teaching students how to obtain meaning from context. I would just like to give a quick nod to word consciousness, it’s really teachers helping students to develop an interest and curiosity about words, helping students to be aware of words, playing with words, having games in your classroom, crossword puzzle, Scrabble, and generally showing an interest in words, and even giving students the entomology or origin of words will get kids to be interested, and all these things will get them interested in paying more attention to words. Obviously wide reading across genres and topics will also be key to developing vocabulary, but we have to get students to be able to read proficiently in order to be encouraged and motivated to read widely.

Dale Webster: Very quickly, principles of vocabulary instruction, very important one being repeated exposures to words so that students are learning the words in depth. Another key to good vocabulary instruction is the use of the words in varied contexts. Teachers need to create scenarios, or rely on good programs that set these scenarios up for students to discuss how these words fit into these scenarios, and how they’re used in these various contexts. This is based on the work of Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown in their book Bringing Words to Life, it’s a great book.

Dale Webster: In addition, working with words to show the relationships between and among words is an important part of vocabulary instruction, too, where teachers are using semantic organizers that show what the meaning is, examples, non examples, and providing synonyms and antonyms if appropriate.

Dale Webster: Comprehension is a very complex process, and is based on a strong foundation of oral language. It depends on all the elements that you see here on the slide. Interpreting complex sentences is something that we as a field have been discussing more within the past decade with the advent of the common core, and the move to have students interact with more complex texts. But, again, it requires students to be proficient readers in order to be able to access this complex text.

Dale Webster: In terms of comprehension instruction, we want to make sure that we are thinking about what we do before, during, and after. Providing background, setting a purpose for reading, asking questions that are text dependent, or require students to provide evidence from the text, and thinking aloud, and verbalizing our thought processes when we come across as teachers areas where we think that students might have trouble comprehending.

Dale Webster: After reading, we want to summarize and retell, and do some rereading for a specific purpose, close reading is a great example of this, where students will go back into the text to determine an author’s purpose, compare and contrast themes, how authors use evidence to support their claims, a variety of activities that really build comprehension. When it comes to speaking and listening, we want students to develop oral language competence, we want students to spend time hearing texts beyond their grade level to develop new vocabulary and hear more complex sentence structures, and then have rich discussions with each other about the text.

Dale Webster: In terms of written expression, the common core standards and other recently developed state standards expect students to write about their reading, and do research, and present that research orally and in writing. In addition, writing to persuade or argue a point is an emphasis. With these two big goals for writing, it’s important that students have a strong foundation in writing that’s described here on the slide. Louisa and other colleagues have been vocal and critical about the fact that the common core are lacking specific standards that address writing foundations. Extremely important is the issue of proper letter formation and fluent handwriting, as shown by the research of Virginia Berninger and her colleagues at the University of Washington.

Dale Webster: Oops.

Dale Webster: To summarize, effective instruction contains all these components, explicit, systematic, cumulative, sequential, incremental, and data driven. I’m just gonna review these briefly, ’cause we’re bumping up against our one o’clock end time.

Dale Webster: We don’t want to leave anything to chance with students, we want to make sure we’re clearly explaining all the concepts, especially the ones that are gonna cause a lot of confusion. Our instruction is systematic, and the lessons follow familiar teacher led routines. Having clear and consistent instructional routines allow students to focus on the new concept that’s being taught, and doesn’t leave them wondering what the teacher wants them to do next. They’re consistent, they happen over time, and it doesn’t leave any confusing questions in the student’s mind.

Dale Webster: Cumulative, I mentioned earlier that it’s very important, and good programs are gonna have cumulative review built in, so that’s not up to the teacher to have to figure out “What should I be reviewing?” The program’s gonna give them some guidance in that regard.

Dale Webster: The instruction is sequential and incremental following a planned scope and sequence, and progresses in measurable, manageable steps.

Dale Webster: Lastly, it’s data driven. Progress monitoring assessments are used frequently, our tier three students that are in the need of most critical intervention, they need to be progress monitored once per week. Our tier two students who are more strategic, they need to be progress monitored at least once a month, but many recommend biweekly. Then our students who are at benchmark and above, those not in intervention, they need to have at least two or three times a year of benchmarking. Curriculum based measurements that are usually part of any good intervention or tier one program really focus on the monitoring the progress of the learning for that particular sequence of lessons.

Dale Webster: To conclude here, successful instruction includes multisensory learning where children are using all their senses to learn the concepts of language, and … I’m trying to go to the next slide, and I’m not having success doing that.

Dale Webster: There we go, thank you.

Dale Webster: Lastly, regarding reading and writing tasks for older students, the importance of teaching cognitive strategy such as deciding what the goal of a task is, monitoring whether they’re accomplishing the goal, knowing when they do and don’t understand, and having an approach for tackling complex tasks is going to be important. That concludes my portion on instruction. I’m gonna turn this back over to Louisa now so she can say some final words.

Louisa Moats: Thank you, Dale, that was a great overview of what needs to be done. Even though we have this high proportion of kids who are correctly described as having symptoms of dyslexia, as many as let’s say between 10 and 15%, most of these students can be successful in life, and those who are successful have learned about themselves, they often have the right way of describing what is going on with them. They understand that when they have a reading problem, it’s not symptomatic of generally low ability, or lack of potential. These are students who can use resources to help themselves, who can connect with a mentor and role models, and who are continuing to learn as they go and maximizing their individual strengths.

Louisa Moats: It’s not a life sentence for low performance by any means, especially if the student is surrounded by people who understand the nature of their problem and what can be done to help out.

Louisa Moats: Putting it all together, we want to emphasize how important it si to use really good screening tools to identify students as early as possible, to use explicit and systematic instruction in the regular classroom that has all of the key components of the essential components of instruction that Dale described. We want to monitor progress and intervene proactively if kids aren’t progressing by changing something for the better. We want to be sure that programming for our students is comprehensive, and that it develops their strengths as well as remediates their weaknesses. We want to teach students to advocate for themselves and make their way in the world by having a self image that is healthy, if you will.

Louisa Moats: Thank you for joining us today, you can get a lot more information just by going to the International Dyslexia Association website. There are a number of free materials there, and they put on a national conference every year, and regional conferences in your area, and thank you very much.

Moderator: Wonderful, thank you both, Louisa and Dale, you really went through a lot of great, in depth information in not too much time. I do want to remind everyone, because we’ve had a lot of questions about this, we will be sending you this slide deck, so if you were not able to scribble down all those notes, that is okay, you will get a link to download this and have all of this great information at your fingertips. You’ll also get a link to the recording, so feel free to listen to the webinar again or share it with your colleagues if you want to help spread this information. One quick thank you before we move onto Q&A, we are obviously at the top of the hour and the end of the official time for the webinar, but Dale and Louisa have agreed to stay on for a few minutes extra and take some questions, so we’ll get to those in just a second.

Moderator: But I do want to thank today’s webinar sponsor, Core. Core is dedicated to helping educators be their best. Core’s reading, writing, and math professional learning services equip administrators and teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to implement effective researched based classroom practices that result in sustainable academic excellence. You can learn a lot more about Core’s professional learning services and find many resources like this webinar on their website, which is CoreLearn.com. You’ll also find some additional resources, including a white paper specifically about this topic of understanding dyslexia.

Moderator: All right, like I said, we’re gonna stay on for just a few more minutes to go over a couple questions that have come in. We will share all the questions that came in with Louisa and Dale, and you may get some follow up there. But let’s just go ahead and dive in.

Moderator: This is a comment that we talked about earlier on about some difficulties that students with dyslexia have with writing, and this question is: do you know the neurological explanation for this connection between dyslexia and poor handwriting?

Louisa Moats: These are both highly dependent on underlying language functions, and the big difference with writing is that students have to start with oral language as conjured internally, and access from long term memory all of the spellings that hopefully have been stored in the brain’s, we call it the brain’s letterbox. That’s what a famous neurologist calls it. The base of the occipital lobe where we store memories for printed works. When we write, we have to access those memories, and we also have to make the hand do the movements of, well, in one case, typing, but in forming letters by hand. Those letters are remembered as abstract symbols made up of certain basic forms. Those memories, for symbols, once letters become known to us as symbols, those two are wired into the language centers of the brain.

Louisa Moats: All of this symbolic learning is part of the reading brain’s networks that are built up to connect the phonological system with the orthographic memory system and with the brain’s lexicon, or mental dictionary of word meanings. That’s the connection. For all the research that really goes into the details, I highly recommend a book by Virginia Berninger and Beverly Wolf called, it has a long title, it’s published by Brooks Publishing, and it’s about dyslexia, dysgraphia, OWLLD, and so on, but look up Berninger and Wolf, and it’s a fairly recent publication and she explains the dysgraphia component I think in more detail than anyone else I can think of at this point.

Moderator: Great, thank you, I think that was very helpful and certainly we can learn more from that recommendation of the book. We’ve had several different folks ask this in a couple of different ways, but do you have any recommendations for good screening tools or assessment tools?

Louisa Moats: There are many out there. There will many that will accomplish the purpose, but they may not come with the title “dyslexia screener.” They may come with the title “early reading screening,” or “phonemic awareness screening.” There are some good allophonic screeners in the core resource materials. For phonemic awareness, the most detailed one, and the one that we’ve been experimenting with is David Kilpatrick’s test called the Phonological Awareness Screening Test, or PAST. You can find that on the internet by looking up Kilpatrick PAST, and the reason we like it is that it covers the range of skills, early, basic, and advanced that we think are important for assessment and instruction.

Louisa Moats: But then, otherwise, a timed test of real word and nonsense word reading, like the TO, what is it? It’s [inaudible 01:05:13] TOWRE. These screeners are not elaborate, they’re not expensive, they don’t take a really long time. You want to look at, and then I would say a spelling dictation test, and if kids can’t spell yet, you want to know if they can on a phonic screener tell you the sounds that the letters make, and then in turn, turn that around if they can write down the symbols for individual speech sounds, and for spelling, there are good spelling inventories out there, there’s the test of written spelling for a normative sample, and then many people include a test of rapid automatic naming, which doesn’t take very long. In my opinion for screening, it is not necessary to give the CTOP to every student, that’s the comprehensive test of phonological processing, it’s not necessary. It can be given as a more thorough diagnostic evaluation, but even then, you have to know what to do with that information.

Louisa Moats: The main things you want to look at are phonemic awareness, phonics, real word reading, nonsense word reading under timed conditions, and then if the student can read, timed passage reading using a curriculum based measure. Perhaps a rapid, automatic naming test. Those are the basics. Then a family history. You have to know what the history of the student in school has been. Has anyone tried to teach them anything?

Louisa Moats: You want to add to that, Dale?

Dale Webster: Yes, I’m sorry. Yeah, we like to send people to the Center on Response to Intervention. Go to their website. The website is RTIforSuccess.org. Again, it’s the Center on Response to Intervention, and we go to the resources tab, and under the resources tab, there’s a tools chart that has screening recommendations for screening and progress monitoring tools.

Moderator: Okay. We are kind of bumping up to our max time, but we’re gonna take one more question. Thanks to everyone who did send these in, we had a lot of really wonderful questions, and I apologize that we’re not gonna get to all of them. Louisa, when you were going through the qualities of dyslexia at the different grade bands, this comment came in that statistically speaking, all of these students would not be dyslexic, so what else can be dyslexia be confused with, and how do we tease out dyslexia versus some other issues that may be going on?

Louisa Moats: Well, what would you confuse dyslexia with? The main thing, to me, is that when students don’t receive proper instruction, and when they go through the first few grades, being taught to guess at words, or being expected to figure it out for themselves, or being given books that don’t have any regular phonic patterns in them, and so on, and they fall behind, the symptoms of being a poor reader look the same, and the only way you can tell the difference is to start teaching them appropriately and intensively to see how they respond. If a student just hasn’t been taught, and you catch them early enough, but this too, is difficult because if you catch them in second or third grade, they’ve had several years of inappropriate instruction, and that has redirected their attention toward things they shouldn’t be paying attention to, and directed their attention away from the details of speech and print.

Louisa Moats: That’s harder to remediate. To me, I think the most … The other thing is you should be sure the student speaks the English language, because if you’re dealing with English language learners, you have a different set of problems, and maybe those kids haven’t been taught this basic information either. Those are the two main things, to me, where it might be difficult to sort out what’s what.

Moderator: All right, and presumably some of those screening tools that you mentioned earlier would help get some answers about what exactly is going on with students. Thank you again everyone for joining us today, and thank you very much Dale and Louisa for taking your time and sharing your expertise. This was extremely informative I think for all of us, and gives us lots to move forward with and continue to explore this issue. Again, we will be sending you an email tomorrow with a link to the recording and to the handout, so just keep an eye on your inbox for those, or go out and visit CoreLearn.com and they’ll be posted to the website as well.

Moderator: Thanks for joining us, and have a great afternoon or evening, depending on what time zone you’re in. Thanks, bye, bye.


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