The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Should All Teachers Be Trained To Teach Dyslexic Students?

on July 31, 2016

This past week week a friend who is a professor at Portland State University invited me to join her and several other professors in testifying before the Oregon Teacher and Standards Practices Commission (TSPC). When she explained the need for my testimony I quickly agreed, even though I had only a day to prepare what I would say and no time left to write anything for this blog.

Well, I went, I saw and even though I did not conquer,* I’m glad I participated. I will explain everything below.

 Several months ago a local group, Decoding Dyslexia, (DD) representing the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), proposed a new set of Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) to the TSPC, and there is a good chance that they will be accepted and put in place. Those rules would require big additions to teacher preparation programs that would substantially increase the time and cost for students to earn teacher certification, and require all colleges and universities to hire new professors and develop new courses.

It is not surprising that current professors of teacher preparation object to such extreme changes in their programs. But there is a bigger question that they and I are asking: Is there really a need for all elementary classroom teachers to be trained to teach students with dyslexia? The 46 professors who signed a letter objecting to the acceptance of the proposed rules think not. Their basic argument is that working with dyslexic students should be done in special education classes by teachers trained to teach special needs students. And, I agree.

In addition, I would argue that, based on my own training, research and experience as a teacher and school principal, there are not that many children in our schools who suffer from dyslexia. Now, I am aware that the IDA has claimed that the number is 1 out of every 10 students, but I see that claim as erroneous, based on a loose definition of dyslexia, not on research. They count any one who is not up to grade level in reading as dyslexic. I see many other possible explanations for students’ reading problems and will list them below.

Poor school attendance

Low IQ

Learning English as a second language

Not reading on their own outside of school

Not being read to regularly by parents and teachers

Too much emphasis on phonics in primary grade classrooms and too little on building a sight vocabulary

Individual differences in mental, physical or emotional growth

As a teacher and principal for 45 years I saw many students with one or more of the problems listed above, but very few with what I consider to be dyslexia, which I would define as the inability to recognize written words and/or get meaning out of print over a long period of time.

Actually, our oldest son fit that definition in his early years in school, but he did not turn out to be dyslexic. In both first and second grade he was not able to recognize most written words or get meaning out of the books he was asked to read. Well aware of his problems, I tutored him at home using books that I felt were easier and more appealing than the ones at school. Still, he made very little progress.

Meanwhile, our son was promoted from grade to grade and his teachers did not seem alarmed. Then, suddenly, in 3rd grade he began to read and made rapid progress. I never found out what his third grade teacher did to motivate him or help him crack the writing code. But, from that time on he grew into an avid reader. He completed elementary school and high school without problems and went on to a respected university. Afterward, he went through law school and was chosen as his class’s valedictorian. He has made a career as a civil rights lawyer and received many honors for his work.

At this point I think you see my professional and personal reasons for speaking against creating a “Dyslexia for all teachers” program in Oregon’s colleges and universities. The proposed OARs are the product of mostly people who have lived with others that were actually dyslexic and who share a different understanding of the disease and its scope than I do. If you wish to read about my views on teaching reading in general, which are also different from those of the IDA, please go back to my post of July 9th entitled “Reading in Hebrew VS Reading in English”.
*In case you didn’t recognize the statement starred in my intro, it is a slightly distorted quote from Julius Caesar, commonly known as “Veni, Vidi, Vinci.

One response to “Should All Teachers Be Trained To Teach Dyslexic Students?

  1. Doug Garnett says:

    Thanks for writing this, Joanne. I have a son going into college who is dyslexic but wasn’t diagnosed until late in 8th grade because he used his smarts and quick thinking to achieve well regardless.

    Some might think I’d support the proposed changes because of his experience. But I don’t. Dyslexia is a subtle, tricky thing to diagnose and to work with. The last thing we need are non-experts with a smattering of superficial skills to make things worse. I know schools would seek to make it more than this. But my experience is that these types of efforts end up taking true experts out of the picture by replacing them with pseudo-expertise.

    In fact, I often disagree with the dyslexia foundations on their approaches – most of which seek to add labels early. Given error rates, too much early labeling is a bad thing.




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