A Team Effort Can Improve Outcomes for Students with Dyslexia
It was this time of year about 15 years ago that my life’s trajectory took a hard left, and I found myself on a new journey. It was one I had not anticipated, and it took my life in a whole new direction.
I had paused my career in marketing to raise my three children. They were all under the age of 9, and two were attending the same elementary school. I was embracing the opportunity to be involved in their education by volunteering in the classroom and joining the PTA, and I found ways to integrate some of my professional skills into this work.
Then we received a phone call from my son’s 2nd grade teacher. She shared that the fall screening of his literacy skills showed he had not yet mastered pre-K skills. This call set me on a path—a mission, even—to ensure he learned to read. I began to build my knowledge base on all things reading, seeking out experts, current research, and course work to help ensure I could be a partner with school staff. I never did return to my marketing work and today find myself several months into my role as a senior research scientist at the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL) at BU Wheelock.
Now, what got me thinking about those memories? One, October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and, as it turns out, dyslexia was the diagnosis we eventually received for my son. Two, a recent national report has revealed the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on students’ reading achievement. To me, it feels like another altered trajectory moment, this time a collective opportunity to put all the pieces together and tackle literacy recovery for all children, including those students at risk for dyslexia.
If the destination is improving literacy outcomes for all students, we know that it must be a team effort that includes educators, families, and students. If we break it down, like NCIL does, we are looking at four major priority areas to address learning recovery in literacy: screening and assessment, instruction and intervention, professional development/technical assistance, and family engagement.
To start, students need to be screened and assessed early with sound tools that provide data to drive appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention. Educators need high-quality professional learning on evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention based in the science of reading and opportunities to apply that knowledge to improve students’ reading skills. And finally, our families need regular information and opportunities to confidently partner with schools to support screening, assessment, instruction, and/or intervention.
Taken together, NCIL’s focus on these priority areas are meant to realize a comprehensive system of literacy-related services, managed by schools in collaboration with families and community organizations to maximize the quality and range of services for students with dyslexia. At any point in time, a student adequately supported in this system is experiencing a set of high-quality, integrated, and aligned evidence-based literacy practices. As students with dyslexia move through the system, it is the cumulative quality of the adult-directed activities across time that will most strongly determine whether they attain full literacy skills.
My son is now 21 years old and a college student working toward an education degree. The road here has been a bumpy one, but he has consistently had a group of adults committed to his literacy success in his corner. A journey this important becomes part of daily life, affording unending learning opportunities; for me, it ultimately became my new career. One of the best things about working at NCIL is knowing there is a team tirelessly working to produce resources and services that will support the entire team, educators, families, and students in all the priority areas. I encourage you to visit NCIL’s website and explore all the resources. And in honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month, you can start with Understanding Dyslexia, and I hope you will feel confident to raise some awareness, whether it be your own or someone else’s.
Kristin Kane is a senior research scientist with the National Center on Improving Literacy at BU Wheelock. She previously served as the senior advisor for the Office of Early Childhood Development in the Administration of Children and Families for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.