I believe that every student wants to be successful! This letter addresses some of the ways in which I have helped students support that goal.
There are some students with reading disabilities who may also have co-morbid disabilities. Co-morbid means that they have reading differences, and may have Attention Deficit Disorders, or Sensory Processing Disorders, Information Processing Disorders, or other learning differences. I find that most students I work with have average to high-average IQs. Since their disability is invisible, and might go unnoticed for several years, they may begin to lose self-esteem and self-confidence.
By the time the disability becomes apparent, the student probably has failed in reading and orthographic skills (spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc.). At this juncture, parents might begin to request testing and other evaluations that affirm to the student that, indeed, there is something wrong with them. Their friends are reading with facility and they cannot. Sometimes, they are labeled “lazy” or have a behavior disorder, inappropriate for the classroom. Please let’s not call any child lazy. Every child wants to be successful!
Students with co-morbid disabilities and average/high-average I.Q. require an academic environment that extinguishes inappropriate behavior and enriches their learning (Medina, 2014). Yay for any research with this evidence! I have worked with, and still work with, many students in classrooms with dyslexia and other learning differences. After many incidences of anxiety and hysteria, I realized we were still missing components to completely support these students with co-morbidity. My students needed a way to utilize the right brain to build new neural pathways to the left side of the brain. Orton Gillingham, the way Dr. Orton envisioned, is the “gold standard” for explicit instruction addressing dyslexia.
So, I delved into coordinating strategies, such as flexible seating, student-created board games, and meditation techniques that were introduced in the tutoring sessions with reluctant learners. With each new strategy, the students were spending less brain power being anxious and showing more willingness to learn new skills and techniques for reading.
I also found that students who were oversaturated with tutoring and a variety of therapists could now be engaged in learning skills for reading. By introducing intentional methods into the explicit and structured practice of Orton Gillingham, the learning sessions became more productive. One fifth grade student with dyslexia and sensory processing disorder grew from a second-grade reading level to a sixth-grade reading level in two years. The student wanted to read books he chose, and enjoyed his learning. Prior to the accommodating strategies, this student would cry and refuse to learn.
For example, when instruction is focused on the environment, as well as the delivery system, students are eager to learn (Meeks, et al., 2013). Instead of a structured, physical environment with my student and me facing each other across a table, I introduced a large body pillow, placed on the floor in close proximity to me. My once reluctant student sat on the pillow, and was provided the flexibility to also move around and walk up and down a specified area. I put a boundary line of tape on the carpet in our learning space. The tape indicated “do not cross that line”! Movement allowed the student to fidget and get rid of tension (Littman, 2016).
Flexible seating and framing of the learning environment, techniques for simple meditation for anxiety, and creation of student-made floor board games enhances meta-linguistic skills. With these few modifications, the students with reading disabilities and other learning differences are now free to get rid of the “big black cloud” (Trueblood, 2014) and concentrate on learning. Every student wants to be successful!