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8 Research-Based Instructional Recommendations for Students with Signs of Dyslexia

October 10, 2021

0min Read


One in five students has a language-based learning disability, the most common of which is dyslexia. Of students with reading difficulties, up to 80 percent are likely to have some form of dyslexia. Unfortunately, many of these children go undiagnosed until well after the primary grades, leading to significant difficulty with reading and subject-area studies.

Fortunately, awareness of dyslexia is rapidly growing. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education issued a new policy affirming that students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia are specifically eligible for school support funded through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

At the time of this publication, more than 40 states now have dyslexia laws, and an increasing number of school districts are increasing diagnostic and instructional services for students with signs of dyslexia. While state mandates are not always fully funded, the fact is that there is strong research supporting specific evidence-based instructional practices that enable dyslexic students to become successful readers and strong academic achievers. 

Here are eight research-based instructional recommendations for students with signs of dyslexia:

1. Multisensory Learning Modalities

Multisensory learning is a method of learning that includes more than one sense, such as visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. Because multisensory learning activates multiple parts of the brain, it’s been shown to increase engagement and enhance memory in all learners—but especially those with dyslexic characteristics.

International Dyslexia Association (IDA) recommends incorporating two or three of the senses into reading instruction to help dyslexic children better understand new information and make the lesson stick.

2. Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction, as defined by the IDA, is “the deliberate teaching of all concepts with continuous student-teacher interaction. It is not assumed that students will naturally deduce these concepts on their own.”

This student-teacher interaction is critical because very few students have the motivation or confidence to teach themselves, especially if they’re already struggling with dyslexic characteristics.

3. Fluent/Automatic Reading

When a student has achieved adequate reading fluency, that means that they’re able to read text quickly, smoothly, and accurately. When they’re reading aloud, they can place the proper expression and intonation on the words, and they can comprehend what they’re reading without pausing to decode each individual word.

Poor reading fluency is a very common characteristic of dyslexia and other reading disabilities; problems with reading fluency can linger even when students’ accuracy in word decoding has been improved through effective phonics intervention.

However, when students switch from oral reading practice to silent reading practice, you can no longer hear these pauses or mispronunciations, so it’s much more difficult to discern whether or not a student is struggling with fluency.

To help dyslexic students develop fluency, the IDA recommends that teachers:

  • Interpret fluency assessments accurately to understand each students’ fluency level
  • Provide appropriate types and levels of texts for reading instruction
  • Encourage students to engage in independent reading practice, and
  • Provide structured fluency interventions for students as needed.

4. Vocabulary

Knowledge of word meanings is critical to comprehension. When we read, we recognize words and word families we know. That’s why vocabulary acquisition is an essential element of reading growth.

In fact, cognitive scientists have suggested that vocabulary is one of the greatest predictors of reading comprehension.

As the IDA states, “research supports both explicit, systematic teaching of word meanings and indirect methods of instruction such as those involving inferring meanings of words from sentence context or from word parts.”

5. Morphology

A morpheme is the smallest unit of language that still holds meaning. Morphology, then, is the study of base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

When educators incorporate morphology into reading instruction for students with dyslexic characteristics, they help them more quickly and easily decipher unfamiliar words in a text.

For example, when a student understands that the word expectation means “a belief about the future,” then they can also easily infer the meanings of expected, expectancy, and unexpected.

6. Diagnostic Teaching

Diagnostic teaching is an instructional approach that aims to pinpoint exactly why a particular student is struggling and then provide individualized instruction to meet that student’s needs.

The IDA recommends that educators take both informal (for example, by observing the student in explicit instruction) and formal assessments (for example, by assigning standardized tests) of their students’ needs.

7. Systematic and Cumulative

According to the IDA, effective reading instruction for students with signs of dyslexia is both:

  • Systematic, meaning that the reading material is organized in a logical, coherent manner, beginning with the most basic concepts and progressing to more difficult ones; and
  • Cumulative, meaning that each step builds upon concepts previously learned.

Rather than allowing students to fall back into less difficult texts or frustrate themselves by moving ahead too quickly, you should structure the lessons in a way that enables students to strengthen their existing skills while developing new ones.

8. Syntax and Semantics

Syntax and semantics deal with the grammatical, mechanical, and sensible structure of language. They are the set of rules and principles that allow us to both convey and decipher meaning in a text.

The IDA recommends that educators include instruction in both syntax and semantics to help students with signs of dyslexia understand the mechanics of language, the relationship between words, and the contextual meaning of texts.


The Evidence-Based Reading Intervention Program for Students with Signs of Dyslexia

Incorporating all eight IDA recommendations into the ELA curriculum can be difficult. Fortunately, research has shown that Reading Plus is effective in meeting the needs of students with various reading needs, including those with signs of dyslexia.

The program is designed to help students establish efficient reading habits that enable them to spend their mental resources on interpreting and appreciating what they read, rather than battling with the mechanics of reading. Key components of the program specifically meet the IDA recommendations.

Additionally, the program helps educators use data to diagnose individual student needs and drive effective literacy instruction for all learners.

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