Are Our Readers Really Reading?

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Dyslexia is often referred to as a hidden disability because it can go undetected for so long. On the surface, everything looks fine. It has been my experience that dyslexic students are good at coping, they know how to play school. They work hard, they are highly verbal, love to answer questions in class, they are curious, can make the most amazing connections, and at an early age – when texts are predictable, repetitive, and have strong picture support – these students can look like readers. It’s not until you dig deeper and begin to analyze their phonemic awareness skills or their ability to rhyme and manipulate sounds that you may realize there is a hiccup.

I often ask teachers, “how do we know if our readers are really reading?” In a crowded classroom of 25 students with 25 different sets of needs, it can be easy to see a student as a reader if they can make out most of the words and get the gist of the story. While early stages of developmental reading do include memorizing text, and ad-libbing or filling in unknown pages with a child’s own storytelling, I caution teachers against assuming a child is truly reading unless they have analyzed their decoding skills with known words as well as nonsense or pseudowords.

Dyslexic students are so very bright that they can often figure out the story just from accessing a few words or using the pictures. However, if the words are in isolation or you use nonsense words like zeb, sim, or jek you might find that the student struggles to the connect letter-sound associations necessary for decoding.

On-going progress monitoring of words in isolation in addition to running records that analyze miscues are necessary to keep a pulse on a child’s reading development in the classroom. Don’t assume that just because a child appears to be reading that they aren’t coping with that text and silently struggling.