Can kids with dyslexia learn to read faster?

Even with lots of good reading instruction, some readers with dyslexia still read very slowly. While the Science of Reading is pretty clear about the best ways to teach students to decode words, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students is another challenge, and one that can be harder to overcome. Here’s what it takes to help students with dyslexia read faster.

It takes knowledge and patience

Do all dyslexics have trouble reading?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Many students with dyslexia struggle to read from the very beginning of their schooling. They may be slow to learn letter names and sounds, and even have early difficulties with conversational language, like recalling specific words or pronouncing multi-syllabic words. 

For other students, strong visual memory capabilities and lots of practice can memorize an impressive number of words. They may read slowly, or mix up similar words (saw/was, though/through/thorough/tough) but can often read well enough with these so-called compensatory strategies to read “at grade level” through second or third grade. Students with this profile are sometimes diagnosed with “stealth dyslexia,” meaning they have dyslexia but it is very difficult to detect. These readers may find reading exhausting or unpleasant, or be known for their poor spelling, but don’t get any specialized instruction because their needs aren’t recognized. 

In one example that really changed my thinking, I assessed a fifth grader who was pretty successful in class, but his parents had long-standing concerns about his reading and spelling. I found that, while he was passing grade-level reading assessments, he did not know the sounds of the short vowels! When he encountered unknown words or nonsense words, he did not have the skills to decode them. That severely limits a person’s ability to gather information about an unfamiliar topic through reading. 

So do all dyslexics have trouble reading? I’d say: eventually, without support, most will.

What is the best reading program for dyslexia?

The recommended reading approach for students with dyslexia is structured literacy. This can include lots of different programs, including Orton-Gillingham and OG-based curricula, like Wilson Reading or Barton. But structured literacy describes any program that teaches literacy skills in a comprehensive, explicit, sequential manner. It includes instruction in phonemes (sounds in spoken language), sound-symbol correspondence (phonics/”sounding out” words), orthography (spelling patterns), morphology (including prefixes and suffixes), semantics (vocabulary and comprehension) and syntax (grammar).

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

Improving reading fluency dyslexic students

While the core problem for most readers with dyslexia is in the phonological (sound) part of reading, some students also have trouble quickly identifying letters (and/or numbers, colors or objects). Students who don’t perform well on this rapid naming task, in addition to having phonological awareness deficits, are sometimes described as having a double deficit. When readers have low scores in both areas, they take longer to develop reading fluency and may always be slower than average readers.

For these students, I often use a fluency-focused program in addition to Orton-Gillingham to help them develop these skills. There are many different possibilities for improving fluency, but the basic principle is that students benefit from repeated reading with feedback, and from hearing a model of a more fluent reader. 

While we often think of reading fluency as “reading fast enough,” there are actually three components of fluency and they are all important. Fluent reading is reading that is accurate, expressive, and fast enough to allow for good comprehension.

  • Accuracy – it should go without saying that for reading to be considered fluent, the words have to be read accurately to understand the text.
  • Speed – reading fluency assessment too often focuses on fluency, getting kids to read faster. Kids become aware of these speed goals and focus on zooming through the text, at the expense of accuracy or understanding.
  • Prosody – prosody is the most challenging component of fluency to explain, but you know it when you hear it. I tell students it’s reading “like a storyteller,” using phrasing and intonation to express the emotions of the story. Lots of the feedback we give students – stop at the periods, notice the quotation marks, act out what the characters are saying with your voice – promote prosody. 

It’s not glamorous

Teaching the early stages of reading can be really exciting. Students go from non-readers, struggling to remember individual letter names and sound, to slowly joining together sounds and then having that a-ha! moment when they recognize the word they’ve just read. My son used to giggle uncontrollably every time he sounded out a word successfully. This stage is lots of work, but rewarding!

Building fluency can be a slower, less glamorous process. Even with the best types of instruction, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students can take years. Take data, like counting how many words per minute a student is reading, or take a short audio recording of them reading now, and again in a few months, so you can celebrate that growth, even when it takes a long time!

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

8 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Reading Fluency

What is reading fluency and why does it matter?

Reading fluency can be defined as the ability to read accurately, with sufficient rate and prosody (that’s phrasing and expression) to understand what you have read. Schools often measure it with an assessment like AIMSWeb or DIBELS, and they may report it as a score for ORF (Oral Reading Fluency), PRF (Passage Reading Fluency) or WRF (Word Reading Fluency). Students are asked to read out loud from grade-level text for one minute, and the number of words they read correctly is reported. The district establishes (or adopts) benchmarks–expectations for how many words a student should be reading per minute in the fall, winter, and spring of each grade. Then teachers use different types of lessons to improve your child’s reading fluency.

Why all the fuss about reading fluency? Children who don’t read fluently:

  • Have trouble making sense of what they read
  • Have trouble finishing their work on time
  • Often dislike reading
  • Often feel worried or embarrassed about reading out loud.
  • Find reading exhausting!

So what can parents do to improve your child’s reading fluency?

Some of the best strategies for improving reading fluency work both in school and at home. Find something to read and get started!

Pick the right text – Although some experts think it helps to practice with harder texts, most researchers recommend using stories kids can read mostly correctly (90% of words) to practice fluency. Teachers often send home texts that kids have already read in class, and which can be great choices for extra practice at home.

  • Reread a text several times – This works great with short texts like poems or a couple paragraphs of a story. Have your child read it a few times, enough so that they can “work out the kinks” and recognize all the words, but not so much that they just memorize the words.
  • Be a reading fluency model – Read out loud to your child. You can either read them a story they aren’t able to read alone yet, or reread an old favorite. Hearing how you pronounce words, group words into phrases and change your tone of voice for question marks and exclamation points helps them to know what good reading sounds like. Hearing good reading builds vocabulary, which can improve your child’s reading fluency.
  • Take turns – When your child is reading, the “I read a page, you read a page” strategy can keep your child interested and motivated to keep reading. It also gives the same great modeling as reading a whole story to them. Even better, they will hear you read some of the hard words that come up more than once in the text, which helps them figure out how to pronounce them.
  • Give feedback – after your child reads a section, tell them what they did well, and give them a suggestion for something to try next time. For example, “I really like the way you went back and read the whole sentence after you stopped to sound out that word. Reading the whole sentence is something readers do to make sure everything makes sense. Next time, watch out for words that look alike. I noticed you mixed up of and for when you were reading.”
  • Find new audiences – Kids need to read, read, read to boost fluency. Have them read to siblings (big or little), pets, or stuffed animals. Can they read to a grandparent over the phone, or on Skype or FaceTime?
  • Give them the chance to perform! – Record a video of your child the first time they read a new story, and then again when they have practiced. Point out how practicing helped them read faster, more accurately, and with more expression. Have them practice a book so they can read the family bedtime story when they are ready.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Like with any skill, practice makes perfect. Have your child do a little bit of reading fluency practice every day. Even 10 minutes could really improve your child’s reading fluency over the course of a few weeks.