Proposed reading instruction changes could help Kansas students with dyslexia

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Sarah Collins sits next to her 10-year-old son Austin while he reads a book. It’s a task that was once a challenge.  Within the first couple of weeks of kindergarten, Austin started struggling with reading.

“His teachers came to me and said he’s not learning, he’s not paying attention and it’s just really hard for him,” said Sarah Collins.

His struggles in class started to affect his self-esteem.

“How did you feel,” Sarah asked Austin.

“Well I was feeling like I’m stupid, I’m not a smart person at all, I’m a failure,” Austin said.

“For him he didn’t know letter sounds, he couldn’t identify the letters themselves even after kindergarten. It wasn’t because we hadn’t read to him, it wasn’t because his teacher wasn’t a good teacher it’s because that’s not what he needed.” said Sarah Collins, Austin’s mom.

The turning point for Austin happened when his parents enrolled him a phonetic program through the Fundamental Learning Center in Wichita.

Austin is now flourishing in the 4th grade.

“We could have bypassed a lot of struggle had we had a teacher who had been instructed on that,” said Sarah Collins.

Better help could come to other kids like Austin in Kansas.

The Kansas State Board of Education received or accepted the state’s task force on dyslexia’s recommendations to help meet the reading needs of students who are at risk for dyslexia.

RELATED LINK | Report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia to the 2019 Kansas Legislature

” If you can’t read at an acceptable level, you can’t be a successful citizen later on.” Jim Porter, District 9 representative for KSBOE said.  “You have to address the reading problem and that’s the reason this whole process took place.” 

Some of the key recommendations:

Providing evidence-based approach to teaching literacy skills.
Requiring Kansas Public Schools and Universities to train teachers on better instruction techniques 
Screening and identifying children who are at risk sooner, starting in Kindergarten.

Recommendations that Jill Hodge, a reading specialist for 18-years, believes are steps in the right direction.

“We will be able to reach that 17 to 20 percent of students who are dyslexic and get them early so that we can intervene before we have to remediate because it’s so much harder the older they get,” said Jill Hodge, teacher with Andover Public Schools.

As a reading specialist, Hodge uses a structured learning method called Alphabetic Phonics and it’s helped her effectively teach children with reading difficulties.

“Again dyslexic kids and adults are above average intelligence,” said Hodge. “Usually they are very creative, they’re good problem solvers, they have vivid imaginations, they have all kinds of super powers we call them but reading writing and spelling are difficult so they can learn it’s just we have to teach them a different way.” 

Hodge is excited about the task force’s recommendation as it emphasizes training teachers and aspiring teachers in college how to deal with kids who have dyslexia and how to teach a structured literacy program.

“Teachers will do it, you just have to give them the tools,” Hodge said.

“I’m so excited that hopefully kids don’t have to go through what Austin went through,” said Sarah Collins.

Now that the KSBOE has received the task force’s recommendations, the next steps are to start the implementation process. Porter said the goal the is to have the new standards in place by the start of the 2019-2020 school year. 

You can read the full report, here

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