Reading's Hard Enough for Dyslexics without It Being Boring, Too
Help me give my students dry erase materials for encoding practice (translating speech into writing), a display rack for decoding charts (writing to speech), and graphic novels for high-interest, independent comprehension practice.
The students at my school are wonderful, resilient middle school kids who deal with all the day-to-day obstacles of being low-income, minority, and housing-insecure in Northwest Dallas, TX. It is amazing what they can do academically, considering what they face before and after school each day. My specific students have yet another challenge: dyslexia, a neurobiological disorder that can affect word recognition, reading comprehension, and spelling.
When the tornadoes tore through our attendance zone the night of October 20, 2019, many of our students' families lost everything.
Buildings on our block were completely destroyed. Cars and houses were crushed by debris. The apartment complex next door has been condemned and will have to be razed and rebuilt. Luckily, despite $2 billion in losses, there were no fatalities.
My school had a multi-day power outage, and water and wind damage, but the other middle school in our high school feeder pattern was damaged beyond repair and will have to be rebuilt. As a result, we took in more than 300 "refugees" from that school into our 900-student campus. Understandably, there have been growing pains but these kids have shown maturity and resilience beyond their years.
My students love a good, well-paced narrative as much as anyone else. They can recount movies and TV shows they've enjoyed with great clarity. You could say they are "fluent" in the visual medium. The problem is that, when they try to transfer this fluency to the printed word, their dyslexia makes it unpleasant and frustrating.
We are requesting graphic novels which are a great bridge between movies and literature.
If a student gets tripped up on the words, visual cues offer contextual clues to help them decipher. This helps the students plow through what would typically be their "frustration level" and continue reading.
Essentially, my students need practice creating the "movie" in their minds as they read. This movie is the sign of a fluent reader and most people develop it as learn to read. Imagine trying to read a story in a language you barely know: you would be so focused on translating each word that you wouldn't remember what you just read. People with dyslexia struggle in much the same way. They are so busy decoding each letter and then figuring out each word that they can't get a sense of the overall sentence, paragraph, or story. As a result, they frequently have almost zero reading comprehension.
The graphic novels I have chosen are popular, high-interest, and age-appropriate. The intended outcome for students who use these materials is that they improve their reading comprehension. I intend to use these graphic novels as non-assigned, low-pressure, take-home materials that students can read at their leisure and then discuss with their classmates and I. Through these low-stakes conversations (and with my encouragement), I hope students will develop independent reading habits and increase their understanding of how the act of reading can benefit them.
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