Follow up on signs of dyslexia during remote instruction

How to recognize when students may have future reading difficulties and how schools can offer interventions now

A teacher may notice that a student misidentified the sounds of words, such as “cat” and “bat” during an online activity, but fail to follow up on whether the student has other difficulties with phonological awareness as remote learning continues.

Not paying attention to small signs that a student may have future reading difficulties could result in the student falling behind, and, even worse, your district violating its child find duties.

“If a student is displaying risk factors of reading difficulties showing up down the road, we want to be able to give them interventions right off the bat,” says Barbara Steinberg, a dyslexia and education consultant at PDX Reading Specialist LLC in West Linn, Ore. “Our goal is to screen early so we don’t end up with a huge number of kids in third grade showing the signs [of dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities].”

While most screening methods were not created with virtual administration in mind, educators can remotely explore the following four components typically addressed in standardized tools to determine whether a student may benefit from receiving some intervention now despite school closures.

1. Phonological awareness

Examine the student’s ability to hear sounds in words, Steinberg says. Challenges in this area are the most common cause of student’s later difficulty with reading. For example, look at whether a young student can hear the first sound in “pig” or “cat.” In an older student, see if he can hear the beginning, middle, and ending of words and manipulate the sounds in words. You may want to play an online game, such as I Spy, and show the student pictures or illustrations and ask him to identify the word represented and the sounds in the word represented. “Pictures are how we end up teaching kids to hear these sounds in words,” she says.

To ensure the student can hear you properly when you pose questions, and can clearly share his responses, ensure you both wear headphones and directly face the screen during a videoconference. “You have to see each other’s lips and make sure the student is hearing the word correctly,” Steinberg says.

2. Rapid naming

Look at whether the student has difficulty storing and retrieving the names of familiar items, symbols, or letters, if she knows them, when they are presented randomly during a timed exercise, Steinberg says.

For example, if you virtually present colors on the screen in one order, such as, black, red, yellow, green, blue, and the student identifies them, then ask the student to name the colors when they are presented in a different order on the screen, such as red, blue, yellow, green, black, and the student struggles, this may be indicative of future reading challenges. “It’s a way to predict whether a student is going to have difficulty with reading fluency,” she says. “This mirrors the process of being able to read. Reading has to be automatic.”

3. Sound-symbol knowledge

If the student knows letters and sounds, virtually present him with a sheet of nonsense words and see if he can decode them properly. You want to see if the student can decode individual sounds and blend them together to read words. “This may predict future trouble with reading multisyllabic words,” she says. “We want to see how automatic the student is.”

4. Family history

Set up a videoconference with the student’s parents to discuss the family’s history of learning challenges, Steinberg says. Find out:

– If a parent struggled with reading in school or ever said “I hate reading” to staff, Steinberg says. Or if another relative had dyslexia or struggled with reading. That may mean the student may struggle as well. “There is a lot of shame around learning challenges,” she says. “Some parents may not be willing to volunteer they struggled. There has to be trust.”
– If the student previously received speech-language services or had been previously identified with a speech-language impairment, then was exited out of special education. “We often find that students who are identified in fourth or fifth grade with an SLD had early challenges with speech and language,” Steinberg says.

Also review the student’s records to uncover if any documented interventions or services were delivered to the student in the past that may have been overlooked, Steinberg advises.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

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