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6.1 What Teachers Need to Know and Be Able to Do

Every teacher in Colorado is likely to be a teacher of students with dyslexia. Research indicates that 12% to 20% of students fall on the continuum of reading difficulties, beginning with those who exhibit mild characteristics of dyslexia and spanning to those with significant impairments in learning to read, spell, and write. Chances are high, if not absolute, that a teacher at any grade level and in any subject area will encounter a student or students with dyslexia over the course of his or her career.

Some of these teachers will be the first to encounter preschoolers who demonstrate delays in early language development, seem oblivious to such concepts as rhyming, or struggle with speech-sound matching games. Others will be charged with the responsibility of introducing young children to formal reading instruction, while others will be responsible for delivering early intervention to those whose reading development appears atypical compared with that of many of their peers.

As these students progress, they will have teachers who will introduce them to the complexities of reading in varied genres and for different purposes and who will expect mastery of content and conceptual understanding to be evidenced through the complexities of written language. These students will be in classes with teachers who are experts in math, physics, psychology, and world history. Along the way, there will be other educators — counselors, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, reading specialists, and special education teachers — who interact periodically or daily with these students. All of these educators will encounter students with dyslexia. At a minimum, they will need to have an awareness of dyslexia. In some instances, they will need expertise in the identification and treatment of reading and literacy-related disabilities and an understanding of the social-emotional consequences of struggling with tasks that other equally bright students do so easily.

An awareness of dyslexia allows teachers to consider alternatives to labels such as “lazy,” “unmotivated” and “showing poor effort.” It instills in them the knowledge of basic accommodations in testing formats — various ways of demonstrating mastery or extended time — that could mean the difference between academic success and failure for their students. They will be able to differentiate between accommodations that are reasonable and meaningful and those that are misguided and limited in their practicality.

All teachers need to know that dyslexia exists, that it is real; they must know how to recognize the sometimes obvious — and, at other times, subtle — characteristics and symptoms of dyslexia. Teachers without expertise in learning differences need to know which colleagues will help them in making essential adjustments and accommodations and in choosing and utilizing teaching strategies that will allow all students to learn and be successful.

This chapter will briefly introduce teachers to what an awareness of dyslexia means in the classroom, some of the important research about their role in effective instruction for students with dyslexia, and what teachers with specific responsibilities for the teaching of reading and associated literacy skills must know and be able to do. In each section of the chapter, teachers will be directed to resources and information that they may use to delve deeper into specific areas of research, evidence-based instructional strategies, or the science of reading instruction.


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The National Center on Improving Literacy offers a helpful infographic and companion brief entitled What Do We Mean by Evidenced-Based?