Theories and processes of reading
What is dyslexia?
Importance of identifying dyslexia
How can schools help dyslexic students


The Department of Health (Emerson, 2004) estimates that there are approximately one million people in the United Kingdom who suffers from learning disability amongst these 200,000 are estimated to be children although only half of them have been diagnosed. Learning disability is a disorder which may encompasses a wide range of areas such as deficits in learning to speak, read, write, comprehend and do mathematics (Shaywitz, Morris, & Shaywitz, 2008). This may occur amongst students despite being intelligent or in combination with other disorders such as ADHD or Autism. Shaywitz et al (1992) found that seventy-five percent of all students categorised as having a learning disability had some form of reading disability.

This report is primarily directed towards addressing dyslexia which is a form of reading disability although some declare the two to be synonymous. More specifically this report will focus on informing primary teachers about dyslexia amongst children between the ages of 3 and 6 years.

It should be noted that there are two forms of dyslexia; acquired and developmental (Pressely & McCormick, 1995). The former, also called Alexia, is characterised by dyslexia which has occurred due to an incident resulting in brain damage whilst the latter arises due to a genetic disorder which may progress with age. Although patients suffering from Alexia are instrumental in the development and understanding of dyslexia it is developmental dyslexia which is the focus of this report as it is much more relevant to an educational setting and one which most primary teachers may have to deal with.

Theories and processes of reading

Learning to speak is a natural process (Chomsky, 1986) and given enough social exposure individuals learn to speak without being taught formally. In contrast, reading is an artificial process and requires active teaching for it to be learned (Davey, et al. 2004). In order to understand dyslexia teachers first must apprise themselves of theories and processes of reading so that they may fully appreciate the effect that a deficit has on a particular stage or process resulting in dyslexia. This, in turn, will provide an idea of where a teacher may concentrate their efforts so as to improve reading.

There are many theories of reading; however, two in particular serve the purpose of this report and are useful in understanding dyslexia. Frith (1985) proposed that there are three stages of reading development; logographic, alphabetic and orthographic. The first stage is named logographic stage in which students use images, colours and visual recognition to identify words. This stage is associated with nursery level students (Learner, 2003) and is exemplified by children being able to read their name or common signs. The second stage is referred to as the alphabetic stage. In this stage children learn to break words into small components of sounds (phonemes) or in reverse learn to form words by combining phonemes. For example the words ‘cat’ and ‘bat’ will be decoded using a combinations of ‘c’ or ‘b’, ‘aaa’ and ‘t’ respectively. The orthographic stage is the third stage and is characterised by recognising morphemes such as prefixes or letter groups (graphemes). At this stage children become familiar with patterns and are able to use other words to infer pronunciation. For example, pronouncing ‘cold’ or ‘bold’ from their knowledge of the word ‘told’. Consequently, readers require less attention in reading words. Learner (2003) states a further stage titled fluency which she describes as children being able to read fluently without stammering. This is attained through continuous reading which can be promoted by ensuring that pupils are given books appropriate to their level.

Although there are other stage theories most conform to Frith’s (1985) stages of reading development. Fodor (1983) stated a similar hierarchy with phonemes at the lower end whilst orthographical modules at a higher spectrum. However, Frith’s model has been criticised on the grounds that, like other stage theories, development does not necessarily rise in the stage suggested in her model. Additionally, the model is limited as it confines itself to the word level and fails to account for sentences. Nevertheless, it outlines the three main internal concepts in reading; visualisation, phonemes and graphemes. Similar constructs have been proposed by Vellutino et al. (2004) who used the terms phonological, semantic, syntactic and pragmatic coding to explain the process of reading.

The dual route cascaded model (Coltheart, Rastle, C, Ziegler, & Langdon, 2001) is one the most dominant theories which explain reading as it combines the three concepts suggested by Frith (1985) and is not constrained by the notion of stages. Coltheart et al. (2001) declare that three routes are used to read a word after visualisation.

Route 1 is the grapheme-phoneme rule system which involves converting graphemes (letter groups) into smaller chunks of phonemes (sound). This is important in deciphering unfamiliar words by using conversion rules to pronounce them. Eysenck (2004) illustrates this using the irregular word ‘pint’ which has a conversion rule and suggests this may well be pronounced to rhyme with ‘hint’. This route in turn is instrumental in the reading of non­ words using conversion rules as such it is important in learning new words.

Students who exclusively or mostly adhere to route 1 are said to be surface dyslexic in the manner that whilst they are able to read regular words they are unable to read rare irregular words properly (Bub et al., 1985).

Route 2 is the lexicon-semantic system which resembles the orthographic system proposed by Frith (1985) in her theory of reading development. It is suggested that upon seeing a word the orthographic input lexicon (a construct in which familiar words are stored) is activated which in tum allows the meaning to be retrieved from the semantic system. The sound pattern of this word in then used to pronounce the new word in the phonological output system. Consequently, this route allows the reading of both regular and irregular words as long as it is familiar. Conversely, it is ineffective in learning non-words or unfamiliar words.

People suffering from phonological dyslexia rely mostly on route 2 as such they are described as readers who are able to read familiar words but struggle to pronounce unfamiliar words

Alternatively, adherence to route 2 may lead to deep dyslexia which is similar to phonological dyslexia in respect to the fact that such people have impairments in reading unfamiliar words. In addition to this they are prone to making semantic reading error such as reading the word ‘boat’ as ‘ship’.

Route 3 is similar to the Route 2 however it differs in the respect that whilst the word is familiar and hence available in orthographic input lexicon the meaning is not extracted via the semantic system. As such familiar words will be pronounced correctly regardless of whether they are regular or irregular, however, it disallows reading of words which are unfamiliar or considered non-words.

Coltheart et al. (2001) provides a very coherent explanation of the reading process. Although some concerns have been raised as to its applicability in languages using monosyllabic words such as Chinese and Japanese it need not concern us as although this is a valid and important criticism the present report is directed towards addressing learning to read in primary schools which are primarily taught in English. Eysenck (2004, p. 385) declares this “model to provide an excellent account of disorders such as surface and phonological dyslexia.” However, Coltheart et al. (2001) have deemphasised the role of vision an aspect which Frith (1985) has promoted. Bosse et al. (2007) found that deficit in the visual construct is vital in explaining reading disorder such as dyslexia.

What is dyslexia?

In essence, reading involves the visual, phonological, lexical and semantics processes and as such deficit in any of these fields may lead to reading difficulties such as dyslexia. Although this explains what occurs in dyslexia the definition still remains unclear. There is controversy between psychologists and educators on how dyslexia may be identified (Hynd, 1992). This controversy mainly rises due to the cause of dyslexia not being known. Lyon et al (2003, p. 2) states:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and 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.”

Although this definition is disputed and it overemphasises the role of the phonological component it outlines the key features of dyslexia. Lyon (1995) analysing various definitions of dyslexia concluded that the notion that dyslexia is an ‘unexpected’ reading difficulty has been consistently stated by most definition. This according to Shaywitz et al. (2008, p. 454) refers to the “presence of a reading difficulty in a child (or adult) who appear to have all the factors (intelligence, motivation, exposure to reasonable instruction) present to be a good reader but who continues to struggle”. Stuebing et al. (2002) identified the discrepancy of one and a half standard deviation between IQ and reading score to be an indicator of dyslexia, however, this number is arbitrary.

The issue of concern is not the discrepancy but the inadequacy of applying this test amongst young children. As a result it is difficult to determine as to whether a student is suffering from dyslexia or just poor reading skill as such it has been referred to as the wait-to-fail model (Shaywitz, Morris, & Shaywitz, 2008). Although this is a cause for concern Francis et al (1996) have identified that both group of readers benefit comparatively from early intervention. Consequently, it may be advisable to provide additional help to all who are exhibiting reading difficulty regardless, however, due to limited resource and issues of practicality this may not be feasible.

Whilst it maybe difficult to identify the early onset of dyslexia amongst very young student teacher may be able use other indicators to recognise those who maybe more at risk such as unstable vision (Talcott & Hansen, 2000), poor concentration, speed of processing (Davey, et al., 2004) or even those who often take longer to complete their work. As stated previously by Lyon et al (2003, p. 2), “dyslexia is neurobiological in origin”, a finding which is contested although gaining ground. In any event, it would be cautious to take extra notice of those children who have parents or sibling suffering from dyslexia as they maybe more susceptible than others.

Importance of identifying dyslexia

Marzola, and Shepherd (2005) have stated dyslexia to be a clinical illness and as such trained professional or clinicians in that field are required for diagnose this deficiency. Whilst diagnosis of dyslexia is beyond the scope of the teacher it is imperative that measures be taken by teachers to recognise signs of this deficit such as those that have been stated previously. This should be done early as possible as Felton and Pepper (1995) found that dyslexic students who do not receive intervention before year 3 failed to improve later on. Similar conclusion was reached by Shaywitz et al. (2008) who stated that it was challenging for older students to meet reading standards as opposed to younger students. However, it should be noted that dyslexia is not a lag in learning to read which later improves on the contrary there always remains a gap between normal readers and dyslexics (Woodstock and Johnson, 1989) which current intervention have not been able rectify. Currently, there is no cure for dyslexia and as such there will remain some challenge in teaching dyslexic student, however, teacher may be able to ameliorate their reading level through good teaching practices (Temple et al., 2000).

Late diagnoses or lack of intervention to improve also has an effect on the student’s well-being, motivation and self esteem. Ingesson (2007) in a study conducted interviews with 75 teenagers with dyslexia and found that most suffered due to early reading difficulty ranging from being bullied to lacking academic self-esteem. Many later chose vocational subjects and decided against studying further. That is not to suggest that dyslexics cannot be successful as many are, however, they are at a
disadvantage as opposed to others.

How can schools help dyslexic students?

This reported is directed towards addressing young students aged 3-6 years as such the primary focus is early intervention. The most effective method at this stage is phonics (Shaywitz et al 2003) consequently this report will focus on this approach.

Lyon et al. (2003) emphasised that dyslexia is a deficit in the phonological component. This is partly due the success of phonological intervention. Moat and Foreman (1997) declared phonics as the easiest aspect of teaching to dyslexia as well as the most effective. One example is the phonic remedial reading lessons (Kirk et al., 1985). This programme is in four stages. In the first stage children learn to sound the most frequent phonemes and syllables. Thereafter in the second stage they learn to combine some these learnt sounds to form words. The third stage involves them combining the less practiced sounds to make words and finally they are given supplementary material to practice further. There are other methods such as these which promote phonologic awareness (PA) through a hierarchical of word structure; see Learner (2003) for examples and materials and Seigel & Vandervelden (1997).

Moreover standardised tests such the Comprehensive Test for Phonologic Awareness by Wagner (1999) are also available.

Shaywitz et al. (2004) found that phonological intervention resulted in rises in the left frontal and middle temporal gyms thus indicating that invention can lead to lasting improvement in neural systems and is also is indicative of the benefits and importance of skilled reading. However, Ramus and Szenkovitz (2008) have argued that rather than a phonological deficit dyslexia is a deficit in accessing the phonological construct thus placing the onus on memory load. In any event, this does not deny the effectiveness of PA although it may be prudent to allow ·students addition time to learn so that memory load is lightened.

Phonics focuses on the word level reading, however, effective reading req’:lires fluency which according to Kuhn and Stahl (2003) can be attained through reading book which are of the appropriate reading level. This can be further facilitated via guided oral reading inwhich the teach reads along with the student. Whist this may be troublesome as a whole class activity, recordings can be provided or peer reading can be allowed as an alternative.

Shaywitz et al. (2008) illustrated that there is rarely one method which works rather it is a combination of various methods which has the best effect. Swanson (1999) reiterated this assertion by stating students should be directed and taught strategies so they may generalise on reading by themselves.


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