10. Dyslexia and Language Arts Skills

My question is regarding older children with severe dyslexia. My oldest son is 15 and my youngest son is 11 (9th and 5th grades). My oldest also had auditory processing disorder which went undiagnosed. How do I help them with grammar and reading and spelling when they are atypical learners? I am using Ted Warren's grammar workbooks but would love any insight on teaching literacy to children with dyslexia. 

This is a hard question to answer. Without knowing the students’ current skills levels or more about their dyslexia, I cannot give any specific advice. I can, however, give you general advice, including the following:

  • Reading and Spelling: Assess your students to figure out which phase they are in: Emergent Phase, Phonemic Awareness Phase, Pattern Phase, Syllable Phase, or Latin/Greek Phase. Align your reading and spelling instruction to your students’ phases, not their grades. Use The Roadmap to Literacy chapter 6.2 What Phase are Your Students In? and the advice contained in Section Three chapters (The 15 Aspects of Language Arts). This advice applies to all students, not just those who are dyslexic.
  • For dyslexic students, everything depends on how you have treated the dyslexia to date and what the status is of the auditory processing disorder. Have the students been taught to read using a Lindamood Bell approach or an Orton Gillingham approach? If not, start there. (Lindamood Bell approaches can treat the auditory processing disorder.)
  • For dyslexic students, always check for Irlen Syndrome. It is a condition where students see distortions when they look at a page of text. It is very common in students diagnosed with dyslexia. See pages 540–541 in The Roadmap to Literacy for information about Irlen Syndrome, how to screen for it, and how to treat it. If students have been seeing distortions, they will not realize it. It will be much easier for them to work with literacy skills once the distortions are cleared up.
  • Grammar: When presented in an enlivening way, sentence diagramming can be a good way to learn basic grammar skills for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic students.

Sentence diagramming can be a kill joy, or it can be stimulating. Most people treat diagramming like taking medicine, but it should be more like building a model. To make it stimulating, give the students an image for the basic sentence diagram such as building a sentence house with different rooms for subject and the verb. (See page 289 The Roadmap to Literacy.) Have the students put the simple subject and the simple predicate in the correct room in the sentence house. Then build from that image to teach the rest of the parts of speech and how they relate to the simple subject and simple predicate. This approach has not been written yet. (In fact, it is on my to-do list for the sequel to Roadmap to Literacy. It is one of the few chapters I have yet to write.) However, if you are familiar with sentence diagramming and have a bit of creativity, you can flesh out the sentence house idea for yourself. Things can go in the basement or cellar (i.e., below the base line) or in the second story (above the base line). Middle school and high school students of mine have added their own imaginary twists to the sentence diagram (floating in the clouds, going to heaven, etc.). My experience has been that students become quite receptive to diagramming sentences and to grammar if they have an image for sentence diagramming and if you yourself are interested in the grammar of the sentence.

About the Author Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl