For Those with Dyslexia, Whole Language is a Coping Mechanism, Not a Strategy

For Those with Dyslexia, Whole Language is a Coping Mechanism, Not a Strategy

I think about hanging up my advocate hat a lot because sometimes it just isn’t healthy for me.  There are moments when I think we are making progress with dyslexia awareness and then there are days when I feel like I was hit by a truckload of indescribable frustration. Today, one of my clients was sent this picture as an example of how they will help her dyslexic son. This is from a large district that knows better. So, let’s take these ‘strategies’ one at a time.

Good Readers:  For Those with Dyslexia, Whole Language is a Coping Mechanism, Not a Strategy

Look at the picture

Well, if we are looking at the picture, how is that actually teaching reading?  It is actually teaching guessing based on the picture. That isn’t reading and it certainly is not decoding. It certainly isn’t creating reading independence.

Slide through the Whole Word

I was not even sure I knew what this meant, so I Googled it. What I found was that it means having the student use their finger or some kind of tracking device and start to read the word from the beginning. Okay, so using a tracking device isn’t an entirely bad idea, but how does that teach reading. It is an accommodation, not a strategy. Where is the explicitness?

Skip the Words and then go back

Again, how is this teaching reading? It is no secret that reading is a skill that has to be explicitly taught, so how is just ignoring a word, explicitly teaching reading? This is reading on and then filling in the blank with what you think might fit. So, the sentence could be: He went to the ___ to get some milk. The student could insert any of the following: store, shop, café, grocery store, refrigerator, Starbucks, counter, etc. Which one is right? If we are teaching the students to fill in the blank what will happen when they start to get to a level when they are guessing at every other word?

Get Your Mouth Reading to Make the First Sound

What?? I have no words. Is this an attempt to incorporate phonetics? If so, they are dangerously close to explicitly teaching reading. But this doesn’t make sense. What about the second and third sounds? What is the first grapheme is <ch>, which phoneme are they getting ready for? /k/, /sh/ or /ch/? (Etymology is a great tool for this question).

Reread. Does it look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?

There is something to be said for rereading something and self-correcting. But, does it look right? That should be a question for spelling, not reading. Of course it looks right, the publisher did not misspell the word, right? Words don’t make sounds, people do. So, does it sound right also does not make sense. I am assuming they mean, when I pronounced it, did I hear a word that fits? If it sounded right, you probably wouldn’t have to reread it, right again?

Spell the word out loud

Okay, now here is something I can get behind! But it depends on the purpose of spelling it out loud. Are they spelling it grapheme by grapheme like ch + ea + p  or are they spelling it out loud like c + h + e + a + p. If it is the latter, then it’s pointless. If they are spelling it out loud in order to identify the different graphemes and/or morphemes, then have at it!

Try a Different Vowel Sound

This could go wrong on so many levels. The first and most obvious is which vowel should they try? Should they try a long vowel or a short vowel? Now they have up to 9 different attempts at the word. Also, are they doing this for each syllable? What if the word is <approach>, which vowel will they try to represent the schwa sound, which is arguably the most common phoneme in English? Oh, that’s right, we just skip teaching the schwa, because it is too complicated, right?

Think of a Rhyming Word You Do Know

If you knew a word that rhymed with the word you are stuck on, then wouldn’t logic follow that you would know the word you were stuck on? So, I come across the word glass and I can’t read it, but I understand that class and mass rhyme, then I implicitly understand that the word is glass. Also, what happens when the word is <with>? What other words have the rime ith? Smith and pith? What grade school student is going to come up with that?  See for yourself at

Chunk it. Look for Smaller Words Inside

Oh, the bane of my existence. This could be so valuable if we just changed it a little bit. How about: Chunk it. Look for Morphemes. Let’s take the word <heard>. So the student finds <ear>, which has a different pronunciation that the [ear] in <heard> and now they are not only confused about pronunciation but losing out on the learning the structure of English. Another par to the travesty, is that is missing the opportunity to show the morphemic boundaries of this word which is <hear> + <-d>. Now we have the fruitful conversation about our writing system being meaning based.

I save the best for the last, the title.

Good Readers…

This seems to be a misnomer. Good readers do not use pictures to decode words, they do not look for smaller words in bigger words, they do not think of rhyming words while they are reading, they do not think about their mouth and first phoneme of a word, they certainly do not replace vowels! They don’t need to, because they are good readers.

The moral of the story is that science has shown time and again that explicitness is the key to teaching reading. Our brain was not intended to decipher print but it has developed the capacity to learn when explicitly shown how to do something – like read. We know that students with dyslexia need a little more help strengthening the reading system and guessing is not a strategy it is a coping mechanism! This graphic does nothing more than rob our children the opportunity to learn how English is structured, how to interrogate their language and learn to decode unfamiliar words in order to be independent readers and spellers.


Download a PDF copy of this article here.


32 thoughts on “For Those with Dyslexia, Whole Language is a Coping Mechanism, Not a Strategy

  1. April Coggins

    Thank you for so clearly articulating the problem with the whole language approach. Teachers are not being properly trained and don’t realize the ineffectiveness of this method. I look forward to sharing this article with parents and other educators!

  2. D

    I love this article. I came into elementary from middle school and always thought there was something a little off about these graphics…you have brilliantly stated the reality that makes these “strategies” flawed.

  3. Meeghan

    I completely agree. Children need to be explicitly taught to read. That is why so many little readers are having trouble today. So few teachers are not trained in explicit reading instruction. Reading is not a guessing game.

  4. Aimee

    I also have an issue with the “good readers” title beyond the reasons you give. I don’t like the term used in general. It doesn’t need to be a qualitative statement. A reader, A strategic reader, an experienced reader…all these are less damning than “good reader”. The opposite of good is bad. My son calls himself a “bad reader”. I hate it because bad implies negativity, much more so than an inexperienced reader or what’s the opposite of strategic anyways? My 10 yr old can’t think of a word, so it’s not as negative as being the opposite of a good reader. It’s a small point, but I think an important one when talking about reading difficulties. Why give a struggling child any additional reason to feel defeated? And if they can’t do what a “good reader” does them what are we implying? Maybe I’m over sensitive, so excuse my rant lol, but I wish we could change they way we talk about reading to motivate kids, not make them feel shame.

  5. Bruce Deitrick Price

    Dear Dr. Sandman-Hurley,

    Perhaps you can explain something to me. Why isn’t the International Dyslexia Association using its clout to drive all these bad ideas out of the discussion?? How at this point could a school be publishing such advice??

    I am having some cognitive dissonance here. I’ve always thought of the International Reading Association as almost a gangster organization. It is still pushing Whole Word, Whole Language and the rest. And I always had a sense that the IDA was a comrade, an ally, a member of the gang. So from that perspective it’s no surprise that the IDA would tolerate these bad ideas.

    But I believe that you’re a smart, sincere person; and you are a member of the IDA. So can you square this up for me? Are the members of the IDA united in membership only, and each one has a different theory?

    Recently, I was talking to a phonics expert who expressed hope that the iDA was going to moderate its behavior, let’s say. I was thinking to myself, this is naïve. But maybe you would say, no it’s not naïve, because things are changing. The IDA is going to move toward the way phonics people think.

    Here is another bit of background that explains why this whole story is so screwy. Everyone agrees that phonics is an essential ingredient of reading instruction. Even the Education Establishment officially embraces that position. But at the same time I’m seeing more and more websites that promote sight- words, and basically give all the worst advice you can imagine. Let’s put it this way. It’s like watching Obama say that he’s trying to defeat ISIS even as many people suspect he’s not really trying very hard to defeat ISIS. Similarly, the reading establishment says they care about one thing but at the same time they seem to allow all these other things to stay in play. Are these people clumsy and disorganized, or totally deceitful?

    Bruce Price

    1. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley Post author


      IDA had publicly criticized Reading Recovery in an entire issue of their journal. Schools are still publishing this advice because Universities are still teaching it.
      The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association) does have a history of whole language philosophy. However, in their defense they have been much more open to publishing articles about dyslexia ( We have also been selected to present at their conference this year.

      I cannot speak for the membership of IDA. I can say that those who I have met have been in agreement that whole language and balanced literacy do not work for kids with dyslexia.

      Beyond this, all I can do is agree with you, that this is frustrating and fraught with inconsistencies and slowness. I think trying to change and/or enlighten the education community regarding reading and dyslexia is a tall order. All we can do is keep banging the drum.

  6. Deborah Lynam

    Ugh, so many of these little charts have come home in my kids folders over the years. I used to send notes back to the teacher asking her to please refrain from introducing these tricks to my son as they were going to confuse him and slow down his rate of progress.

  7. kathy grover

    OMG. Don`t even know where to start. “Whole Language” went out years ago, at least here in N.J. All of the above “tricks” are EXACTLY how good readers read. What prompts would you suggest. Pronounce the word letter by letter ????That would work. ( yeah, right)). Try that on “like”, “the”, “play”, or almost any word. Check out John Hopkins or better yet, What Works Clearing House…I will leave it at that before my blood boils over and my brain explodes !!! Also interesting that this article comes from Dyslexia Training Group. Show me the research, please show me the REAL research , respected research that has used field testing, etc., that can possibly believe that only phonics in isolation is a good idea. I don`t mean the lame stuff from Barbara Wilson… selling a “program” .Good luck with that !

    1. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley Post author


      I thought this was a post that required an urgent reply because I am concerned about your brain exploding. So, let’s talk about about your post. You stated that ‘Whole Language’ went out years ago. So, forgive me if I am a little confused about where you stand. If you are implying that the education field supports the “Balanced Literacy’ approach, then I still disagree with the strategies, because ‘Balanced Literacy’ is still Whole Language with a new name.

      You surmised that I suggested students read letter by letter. I did not state that in my blog post, anywhere. What I do propose is that teacher be taught that English is morphophonemic and that a word cannot be pronounced until they understand the morphemes of the word. What I really said, was have the child identify the morphemes first and then pronounce the word (and I did mention this in my post).

      You suggest that a student cannot ‘sound out’ the following words: like, the and play. It is perplexing to me that someone that has such a strong conviction about how to teach reading, such as yourself, that you don’t understand those words. The word like is very easy for a student. It is one morpheme (like) and follows the patterns where the final non-syllabic e is there as a marker to mark the i to be long. Most kids understand that pretty early on and can then pronounce it – they don’t have to guess when they understand (versus memorize). The word the is perfectly ‘regular’. What you might not know is that the word is usually an unaccented syllable and therefore the e is a schwa. Kids understand this as well. If you do accent the word the, such as in the sentence, ‘He was THE best soccer player we ever saw’, then you do hear the final e. Finally, you insist that a child would not be able to pronounce play using traditional phonics methodologies. If you are an educator, this concerns me. The word play consists of the onset and the rime . Pretty easy to explain, right? After a quick search on Wordsearcher it is quite clear ay represents the long a phoneme, so kids will understand that pretty quickly as well. Is the logic too much for you, or should we just tell them to memorize (versus understand) based on shape?

      You will be hard-pressed to find a place where I stated that I advocate for an ‘only phonics in isolation’ model of reading. You will however, find plenty of ‘real research’ about explicitly teaching reading and decoding. You can start with the following books that include a plethora of ‘real’ research: Reading in the Brain, Proust and the Squid and Overcoming Dyslexia. I would only be interested in returning to this discussion after you educate yourself about reading, the brain and words such as like, the and play.

      Lastly, I think you read right past the title. I was responding to these ‘strategies’ for children with dyslexia. When it comes to kids without dyslexia, these ‘strategies’ may work. However, these ‘strategies’ rob our kids of truly understanding their own language.

      1. Gayle Knapp

        Great rebuttal to Kathy, Kelli! As a Dyslexia tutor I am confounded by the lack of knowledge about the correct methods for teaching reading to dyslexic students. This lack is found in classroom teachers in Elementary and Resource/Special Ed teachers at all levels. After all, the RESEARCH-proven methods have been known for more that 30 years (Kathy PLEASE READ Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz and visit her website at

        WIth high probability the lack of knowledge of the proper teaching methodology on the part of teachers lies solidly in the Colleges of Education. I have personally had the response of a professor of Special Ed to a question about Dyslexia: “That’s where they read backwards, isn’t it.?”

      2. kathy grover

        What a bunch of crap…C-R-A- P…Tap it out ! Let me take you through this insane take on literacy learning. To Begin, please do not worry about my teaching of struggling readers and writers…Also Reading Recovery Trained…Look at the picture…yes, well for early learners this is a cueing system. Perhaps that is why as the reader becomes more proficient, illustrations do not support text. Yes, one should run their finger under the word…smoothly…Not skip the word, but try something that starts like that and keep reading. If you don`t get ready for the first sound, where are you looking? If that sound for “o” didn’t work, try the other one. Very simple. Don`t get it? Looking at analogies isn’t powerful? OMG…Looking for smaller parts or words almost always works…if it doesn’t you just plainly tell the child that it didn’t help you with this word. What else could you try? Again, What Works Clearing House research? Don`t see it.

        1. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley Post author


          I don’t believe in censorship and I also believe in both sides of an issue, so I am posting your ‘response’. I asked you to educate yourself on both sides of the debate so we could have a fruitful discussion, but you have outed yourself as a “nothing left to learn’ educator. I have been trained by a university that is very Reading Recovery-friendly AND I have done extensive (enough for a doctorate) reading, researching and writing about dyslexia. So, I am educated on both sides and I am ready for a professional and informed conversation. So, again, when you educate yourself on both sides of the debate and still find yourself on the Reading Recovery side of the issue and have something to truly offer to this discussion, I will be H-E-R-E.

          By the way, you are reading things between the lines that I never stated. I never stated that kid should ‘tap it out’, but it is a better strategy than guessing.

          How does finding we in went help the child or ear in heard or in in mine?

          Lastly, the cueing system has been debunked…here is an article for you to add to the list of things you need to read:

          And…once again…you missed the title…I am writing about kids with dyslexia…

        2. Heather

          Kathy Grover,

          The picture beginning readers should be looking at when learning to read is the letter or phonogram (a, sh, th, etc.). That is why teaching children to look at pictures is always a bad idea when teaching children to read. If a teacher wants to teach the meaning of a word read, a picture, like a picture of a muskrat, can be very helpful.

          Running one’s finger under a word is not necessary. It can be a distraction for some students. Again, it doesn’t teach a child how to read, but it can remind students to read from left to right, and some beginning readers find it helpful for focusing.

          Students who are thinking about the first sound, may be students who need more practice learning letter sounds and symbols in isolation before reading words. Instead of teaching students that strategy, teach them letter sounds and symbols in isolation.

          Yes, I agree there is a place for trying the next sound of a letter, especially if children have been taught all the sounds for each letter/letter combination. I wouldn’t use the word guess, but instead, prompt the child to use the next sound.

          Finding small words in a word is not teaching the English language. Instead, teach children how to syllabicate, read/write phonograms, morphology, etc.

    2. Heather

      Kathy Grover, Yes, you don’t just tell students to sound out a word letter by letter, but phonogram by phonogram, while teaching them spelling rules, such as the one in “like”. Yes, there is memorizing, memorizing of phonograms and rules, and there is some guessing, for instance, trying long a after short a, or separating a word into syllables a different way than is usual, but after we have narrowed down our options based on what we know about the English language. Whole language is not dead. If it was then more people would understand the logic and science of the English language.

  8. Kristen Koeller

    I love your site and I especially love Dr. Kelli…. But I have to respectfully disagree with the article. I grow wary when we begin to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I am a certified Reading Recovery teacher. During my training I quickly realized that it was not going to properly serve students with Dyslexia. I am also an RTI specialist. This means that many of the students I serve are dyslexics. Many are not identified (via IEP) and many will need Tier 2 interventions on a long term basis.

    That being said, I frequently use this very chart with ALL of my striving readers – dyslexic or not. It is part of balanced literacy instruction – which I recognize is not enough for dyslexic students – but does not need to be left out either.

    I balance my Tier 2 interventions with O-G based strategies and routines, and approaches directly from Dr. Shaywitz’ research, (in addition to the many strategies proven & recommended by IDA and The Dyslexia Training Institute). But ultimately, I want to grow “real readers” and to do that, all striving readers need every tool available in their tool box!

    This chart alone is not enough, I agree. But it’s also not a “bad” thing for any reader whose ultimate goal is reading for meaning. And honestly, some of the strategies on this chart really resonate with my dyslexic students (who can more easily practice these strategies when accessing text via tts technology).

    My dyslexic students are also becoming “good readers”. I wouldn’t label them, or this chart as anything less. Integration is key. Polarization is not an option for their Tier 1 classroom teacher or for us at the Tier 2 level. (And since a great many of our dyslexics will not be identified or given an IEP, it’s my job to make sure a spectrum of integrated, research-based supports are in place for them to be successful in their class, working ON grade level, and making forward progress in their literacy development! (This includes decoding, comprehension, fluency, writing, phonics strategies, and so much more.)

    As their Tier 2 intervention teacher (and a dyslexic myself) I’m not holding back on any tool or routine that is sound in practice, research-based or productive in making key connections with young readers. Balanced literacy has a role to play with the development of dyslexic readers too. Don’t polarize, integrate. 🙂

    Will this chart help them with decoding? Maybe. Maybe not. But it has it’s place in their instruction – and it’s not a bad thing.

    1. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley Post author


      I appreciate a good disagreement, especially when it is framed in a coherent and professional way, like yours.

      I also appreciate that educators have to navigate through RTI. I did state in my post that I do believe these ‘strategies’ will probably work for children without dyslexia who may be struggling for other reasons. However, even for these students, I think it is far-fetched to call them ‘strategies’. To learn to decode unfamiliar words, a student needs to understand how English is truly constructed. I believe that teaching them to guess is not teaching reading. I also do not state that I believe a student should only be taught using ‘phonics’. I am not sure why people are insinuating that when I did not say it anywhere in my post. I believe in teaching the meaning of a word first, then its morphology, then its pronunciation (aka decoding). What I did repeatedly say was that I was advocating for explicitness in teaching – this graphic is far from explicit and just leaves kids less engaged with their own language and I think that is a travesty for everyone.

      I see the term ‘balanced literacy’ used quite frequently, and this graphic attached to it. Quite frankly, I think the ‘strategies’ in this graphic for dyslexic kids are absurd and like I said, more like accommodations and ways to avoid looking deeply at the words.

      Lastly, Reading Recovery had never been shown to be effective for kids with dyslexia and Marie Clay herself would not advocate for its use with dyslexic kids. She also frowned on the use of Reading Recovery past the 1st grade.

      I do appreciate your passion for the topic and I have no doubt you are a dedicated teacher.

    2. Deborah Garrity

      Thank you. Finally a thoughtful, realistic approach to reading instruction carefully explained. As a fellow Reading Specialist, I know we use a multitude of well-researched strategies/programs/coping mechanisms to reach our children. Thank you for bridging this (seemingly) unending, great divide!

    3. Rachel goodrich

      Hi. What do you think about Level literacy Intervention for children with dyslexia? My dyslexic 7 year old is in this program. It states that it is not a dyslexia specific program. We are in Alabama and they passed a law last year requiring dyslexic students to be provided orton gillingham instruction by someone that has been trained in the curriculum.

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  10. Patricia Brennan

    Today I read an article in the Mpls Star and Tribune about Decoding Dyslexia-MN. I am a Speech Language Pathologist with a degree in El Ed also. I was unaware of this organization. I am fascinated by the discussions on this web site. I have done extensive reading and taken classes in reading differences/disabilities. I am a firm believer in the Alphabetic Code/Alphabetic Principle/Phonological Awareness approach to teaching reading. The more I read and implemented the above approaches, the more the students made progress. Students love it and are not mystified by reading. I use the alphabetic code with all students with extensive, explicit teaching in phonological awareness skills for those who are dyslexic or have not had the thousand hours of lap time reading experiences. With so many children of other languages now in our schools, it is really helpful to them also.
    Maybe the previous teacher who professed belief in Balanced Literacy should study the structure of language, especially phonology (study of rules governing speech-sound production); phonetics (study of the way in which speech sounds are articulated) and phonics the system by which symbols represent sounds in an alphabetic writing system. In the beginning there were words and someone wanted to remember those words/stories/names whatever so they created symbols that represented those sounds in words. When I hear a teacher say “tell me what this letter says” I immediately know they do not understand how our language was developed and it gives me an insight as to how they were instructed to teach reading. Letters don’t make sounds, we do and they are represented by a symbol/letter. “What is this sound?” Phonics is actually taught backwards. Children should be taught the sounds of our language and then the letter names. Instead we teach them the letters (26) and then teach them what sounds they make (45)!! Children come to school knowing half of the alphabetic code if they are talking….they are producing the sounds. Now we just need to teach them what those sounds in the words they are saying look like. It completely changes how you teach reading and your understanding of why every child should be taught this way. I absolutely refuse to use phonics charts that do not teach the alphabetic code, which means I’ve had to make my own. I have had so much success that I do not understand why this is not taught in the teaching universities. There are many more explicit instructional activities I do for struggling/dyslexic readers (i.e, vocabulary and more vocabulary) but I believe, and I place importance, in a firm base in the alphabetic code/phonological awareness skills and to be decoding and writing fluently those sounds they have been taught. Then its reading to learn. Even with older students I use the Alphabetic Principle (Code + phonological awareness) approach as a part of each session and they like it and can begin to learn to read and write on their own. They now can help each other. Self esteem is such a good motivator. I am now ready to learn other “best practices” out there for dyslexic students through this organization.
    I looooved the “Good Reader” comments. I also have to question why the International Literacy Ass isn’t advocating more for ‘best practices’ in this area. Please feel free to delete if this is too wordy.

    1. Heather

      Patricia Brennan, How great to hear! I would love to hear more about your success! I work as a private teacher, volunteer in public schools, and I am learning more about speech and the science of our language, which has enabled me to teach students how to read, students who are not learning in school. And yes, knowledge and skills are motivating to students! Here are a few resources to check-out if you haven’t already, Don Potter’s website on education and reading (free and enough resources to keep you busy for a few years), “The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking” from Riggs Institute, The Logic of English, and Hillsdale College’s lecture on reading, part of a free online class about education.

  11. Dr. Sarah Hamsher

    Dear Dr. Sandman-Hurley,
    I just want to encourage you to be gracious to our teachers. This same teacher all on the same day may have tried to not only find “parent-friendly” (i.e., for those who are not educated in the field of education) helps for the parent whose child has dyslexia, but also for a parent whose child has autism, and a parent whose child has mild-hearing loss, and a parent whose child has ADHD (under OHI minor), and the parent whose child has mild TBI…the list could go one… in addition to keeping up with the state or district test prep or testing requirements, gathering materials for lessons, monitoring behavior issues, monitoring recess or lunch, attending a grade-level meeting during the planning period, as well as teach lessons for the day…all the while trying to maintain his/her composure when dealing a with a sick family member or other personal issues. This is the case even in a “district that knows better.”

    To this teacher’s defense, please remember that universities that have been accredited to license teachers with the mild-moderate license train teachers on all 13 federally identified special education categories not just SLD, which includes conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia (dyslexia is just 1 of 5 sub-disabilities listed in this 1 federally identified category). And, in regard to universities, it might be advantageous to remind your followers that universities are accredited through SPAs (and IDA is not one of them) and CAEP. Not all SPAs isolate dyslexia, even though some state agencies do. Keep in mind that, unless the IS in the school is a LLT or has Wilson, Orton-Gillingham, or other training specific to dyslexia, it’s truly unreasonable to expect teachers to be experts in all 13 categories and all their respective sub-disabilities. So, the “parent-friendly” Good Reader resource this teacher sent home DOES have several evidence based approaches for students with SLD – a category on which this teacher was most likely trained.
    My intent is not to minimize dyslexia (or any disability), but as a fellow teammate in the field of education, I want to graciously and kindly encourage you to be a part of the solution and more positively convey your perspectives…and to do what you can to uplift and edify our public school teachers in public forums.

    1. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley Post author

      Dr. Hamsher:

      Thank for you reaching out to me and thoughtfully expressing your concerns. I am going to assume your post was in response to the blog I posted about Reading Recovery. I totally agree that I should be gracious with teachers and I appreciate the tough position they are put with little to no training about dyslexia, yet they are expected to understand how to help everyone. Before I go on, you should know that almost all of our staff at DTI are teachers, my mother-in-law was a special education teacher for 30 years and Tracy’s husband is a fifth grade teacher. In fact, many of clients’ parents are teachers. So, we get it. That is why you would be hard-pressed to find an article that I wrote where I derided or blamed a teacher. In fact, I teach teachers at the graduate level, so I know that the universities are failing them. If there is blame to be had, the universities should shoulder it for being irresponsible and not acknowledging the research that could help 20 % of the population. Now compare that to the 2% of the population that autism affects, yet there is tremendous training there.

      The specific blog post you responded to was in response to a large school district, which I have worked with for a long time, sending a parent reading recovery strategies after an official diagnosis of dyslexia was presented to them. This is a district that knows better, but did not respond better. Additionally, nowhere in this article did I attack or be ‘ungracious’ to a teacher. I was dissecting the absurdity of the strategies for a student with dyslexia. The resource that was sent home is not an appropriate remediation for a child with dyslexia, and it is my job as an advocate, to make sure that child is not wasting his precious time when the appropriate remediation has been identified. The teacher does not have to be an expert, but the school district does have to provide the appropriate remediation either at school or outside of school.

      As far as being part of the solution and being uplifting, we provide training to teachers every single day and they thank us profusely because someone finally explained to them what dyslexia really is and how to help. On the flip side, I am part of solution for parents who are hitting brick walls in IEPs every single day. My tone may not resonate with everyone, but that is okay with me, because for those who it does resonate with, I am here to help whether you are a teacher or a parent. We will be presenting at the International Literacy Conference (ILA), to teachers, in July and I am pretty sure they will walk away believing that I believe in them. After all, my own son is in the “district that knows better’ so I must have some confidence in them, right?

    2. Heather

      Dr. Sandman-Hurley, It is for the reasons you described, that I, a state trained elementary teacher, am so grateful for articles like this one, which shares knowledge about the English language, and helpful criticism of popular methods. Elementary teachers should be masters of our language, so that they can teach children language. It’s what I needed as a classroom teacher, that I didn’t gain from teacher college, or any of my colleagues. If an elementary teacher is not knowledgeable about the science and logic of the English language, they do not have that knowledge to give to their students, and they become facilitators of curriculum and methods, instead of teachers. Once given knowledge themselves about the English language, teachers are more than capable of coming up with their own methods and strategies to meet individual needs of students. I continue to learn from the experiences of fellow teachers, speech pathologists, parents, and other experts. Without knowledge of the English language, elementary teachers may think they have to be experts in everything (every topic, every type of student, etc.) in order to teach. And yes, as you stated, the demands of a teacher are great. As you may have noticed, I do not see the issue as a dyslexic issue, but as an issue of a lack of knowledge that has effected teachers, and all students. There is a lot on a teacher’s plate, and yet, knowledge is power, and it brings clarity and encouragement. It also has a cost. Once a teacher has knowledge, they may have to jump ship in order to do the job of teaching. That is why I currently work as a private teacher. There is a lot in the way of teaching, as you described.

  12. Karin Merkle

    I was trained in whole language in college and was taught balanced literacy in the schools. I had a huge collection of books and I encouraged a love of books. I met with guided reading groups and taught comprehension strategies and fluency skills, but never actually taught HOW to read/decode until I was trained in an approach that built a phonemic awareness foundation and then taught the logic of reading and spelling through explicit, systematic lessons. Then I moved to another state and was hired and trained as literacy teacher and Reading Recovery. I went in to the position with an optimistic, open mind. I can assure you, though, that it didn’t take long for me to see that the strategies taught in RR and guided reading groups were not helpful for students with dyslexia (or most struggling readers, for that matter). I also had one RR leader tell me not to worry about the child who read “rug” instead of the word “mat”, since reading was meaning-based. Teachers, I too was taught to say, “But it is on the ‘What Works Clearinghouse’ list, so it must be effective”, without actually looking at the research and data. I just trusted my leaders. Look for yourself. You will find that the method is ineffective and the data is flawed. Same goes with the all these highly-related approaches: whole language, Balanced Literacy, guided reading, Reading Recovery, constructivist theories, multiple cues, LLI, Fountas and Pinnell, and the like. Here are two links that are very informative and just confirm what I found to be true from my own experiences:

    And before you snag me on the whole idea of it being boring and students missing out on authentic literature and meaningful text, I will say that the phonemic awareness part and the explicit teaching of the hows and whys of our language is quite fascinating and students thrive on the logic of it (Why is the p doubled in ‘puppy’? When does ‘y’ act as a consonant and when is it a vowel? Why is cat spelled with a ‘c ‘ and kitten spelled with a ‘k’? How to pronounce Calvary vs. cavalry; scared vs. scarred? the word cooperate just means “to operate ‘together with someone’ “). It can also be done in a relatively short amount of time, all while LISTENING to and evaluating stories to improve vocabulary, critical thinking, creativity, imagination, and comprehension skills that are all an important part of becoming an independent reader and thinker.

    No need to completely end guided reading groups or balanced literacy, but might it be possible to save those approaches for 2nd grade and up, after kids have a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and know how to read and spell accurately without guessing, relying on context and picture clues, and/or memorizing?

    If you keep an open mind and you are willing to learn a bit about what science is screaming to us about dyslexia and how to most effectively teach reading (to every student) you may end up surprising yourself.

  13. Kathy

    Wow! I loved reading all of this! Can’t wait to start learning more about dyslexia, balanced literacy, and phonics!

    Is there “a” definition for dyslexia?

  14. Erica

    We can’t even say the word in our state. I’m told our state no longer recognizes it as a learning disability therefore we no longer discuss it. I’ve never been trained. I found your blog researching best practices for my new student who is menu diagnosed.

  15. Heather

    Correction: My post to the author, Dr. Sandman-Hurley, meant to be addressed to Dr. Sarah Hamsher.

  16. Maree

    Hi, I do use some of these strategies in my classroom with some readers, not all. As with everything we teach some things work for some learners and some don’t. My school also uses a highly phonemic program in the classroom, which again works with some learners and not as successfully with others. However, the aim of reading is to comprehend the text. So if they look at the picture and use the picture to help them maintain the meaning or if they trade a word such as in the sentence “I went to the _______ to buy milk” and they trade store for shop, but they maintain meaning then I see that as comprehending the text. Unfortunately a lot of people get stuck on reading as only decoding words, when reading is so, so much more than simply reading the words. We want them to understand what they are reading, not simply read the word. I can decode the words in a medical textbook, but that doesn’t mean you want me operating on you. Teaching children with dyslexia to read is really hard as I am sure every classroom teacher will attest to. I would love to see some advice on what I can to in my classroom to best support those children.

  17. April Mathis

    “Students with dyslexia need a little more help strengthening the reading system”? A LITTLE MORE help? I can’t remember where I read it, but I have seen it stated that phonetic decoding methods such as O-G methods are “a left-brained person’s solution to a right-brained person’s problem.” I am not an expert in the field. I am just the left-brained parent of a profoundly dyslexic 13 (almost 14) year old girl whose love of learning was almost killed by intensive O-G methods explicitly developed for dyslexics. I believe we are outliers in the world of dyslexics, but it drives me crazy when I read articles which contain phrases such as “explicitness is the key”. For some children, there is no “key”, and I resent experts (as a whole, not personally) who tell parents that there is one. For some children, O-G may work best. For some children, whole language may work best. For all children, treating them as individual learners and not as a product of research is what works best.

  18. Bayla Chana

    I am a school psychologist in a school (k-4) that has three reading specialists who ALL use Reading Recovery and do not believe that Dyslexia exists. They do not believe that explicit teaching is necessary and roll their eyes at me when I do extensive testing for low readers (phonological awareness to include elision, deletion and blending, decoding, rapid naming, verbal memory, fluency, reading comprehension-oral and silent, word retrieval…and then of course cognitive testing, developmental hx, and more if needed). They say that decoding testing is not necessary altogether because “when in life do you read a list of nonsense words”. It is so frustrating to see these students get dismissed because “they can read, they just need to attend better” or “they can read they just need to practice better reading behaviors”. On the other hand, we have two SLANT teachers but they don’t work with the students until middle school. Go figure. Needless to say it’s a very frustrating situation. Thanks for this great article.

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