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Support for Students with Literacy Difficulties and/or Characteristics of Dyslexia

Literacy difficulties appear on a spectrum and impact students in a variety of ways.1 Students with characteristics of dyslexia may be impacted by difficulties with phonological processing which may have secondary consequences in fluency and comprehension for reading2; these difficulties may also impact spelling and fluency for writing.  While characteristics of dyslexia are most commonly noticed with reading and writing, these difficulties may also impact a learner in other ways. 

In District 196, we strive to meet the needs of all learners to achieve their full potential. Our elementary literacy programming includes a strong emphasis on comprehensive, scientifically based literacy instruction. We provide this instruction through a workshop framework which addresses reading, writing, word study and emphasizes oral language through a learner’s day. Within each workshop, we address all essential instructional components outlined by the National Reading Panel3: text comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, phonics and phonological awareness.  This representation underscores the importance of not subscribing to an “either/or” approach to our instructional delivery. This affords opportunities to provide our students with instruction that meets their needs. 

Our word study block utilizes a code-emphasis approach to teaching spelling, phonics, word study, high frequency words and phonological awareness. This structured approach focuses on providing multisensory, explicit, systematic, sequential and cumulative instruction (MESSC) of foundational reading standards.  Our reading and writing workshops support students in a meaning-based approach that incorporates all components of literacy instruction and all other Minnesota State English Language Standards, as well as social studies and science standards.

This comprehensive approach to literacy instruction emphasizes engaging students in meaningful and joyful reading experiences and empowering them to be critical consumers of information.

We cannot lose sight of our higher aspirations for students: sending people out into the world who find comfort, entertainment, edification, inspiration, provocation, and joy from reading improves the quality of their lives and relationships with others.4

Below is a visual of our workshop model and also additional support in place to meet the needs of our learners.

Screening and Intervention

In District 196 we understand the need to identify learning needs as early as possible. We currently have a screening system in place that utilizes a number of measures to identify students’ learning strengths and areas of growth. This data determines classroom instruction, as well as provides additional intervening support which might be necessary in addition to classroom core instruction. These intervening supports may vary in strength, dosage, alignment, attention to transfer, comprehensiveness, behavioral or academic support, and individualization5. Intervening instruction to support learners includes multisensory, explicit, systematic, sequential and cumulative processes. 
District 196’s current screening tools:

  • Phonological awareness assessments
  • Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words
  • Letter Identification
  • Word reading
  • Writing Vocabulary
  • Concepts About Print
  • Text leveling
  • Spelling inventory

District 196 uses these tools as initial screeners to identify students with characteristics of dyslexia. Student data is reported to MDE in compliance with MN 120b.12 sub (2)(e).

Teacher Professional Learning

In District 196 we recognize that knowledgeable teachers who understand how to adjust their teaching make a difference in teaching students how to read and write6. We also believe that if children are a community’s most precious product, then those who educate them should be its greatest commodity7. Therefore, we have long term investments in our building leadership teams which include literacy specialists such as Reading Recovery® and Literacy Lessons® interventionists, literacy coaches and lead interventionists in every elementary building who support teacher professional development and student-centered coaching. Our district literacy coaches and lead interventionist have participated in and been credentialed  in extensive additional professional learning such as:

  • Graduate level course work in literacy and delivering professional development 
  • Cognitive Coaching®
  • LETRS - Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling
  • Reading Recovery® and/or Literacy Lessons

After the completion of initial training, literacy coaches and interventionists engage in coaching along with quality ongoing professional development in order to increase teacher knowledge and student growth8. Teachers are required to take reading continuing education credits prior to re-licensure, as well. Therefore, District 196 is committed to providing ongoing professional learning opportunities that focus on literacy instruction, as well as meeting the needs of students with reading and writing difficulties and characteristics of dyslexia; inclusive of initial training and ongoing support in the implementation of a multisensory, explicit, systematic, sequential and cumulative (MESSC) approach to instruction.

The Power of Partnerships

In District 196 we recognize the complexities of literacy learning and are grateful for the partnerships we strive for in support of all learners, including those with characteristics of dyslexia. We celebrate the diverse perspectives these partnerships bring and use caution to avoid dogmatic, either-or approaches to literacy learning.   We ceaselessly seek solutions for each unique learner and strive to  serve the literacy needs of all students. 

Recommended Resources for More Learning

PDF: MDE Dyslexia Discussions 
PDF: Navigating the School System When a Child is Struggling with Reading or Dyslexia FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - Minnesota Department of Education
Webinar: Preparing Teachers to Support Children with Dyslexia in Classroom Contexts- Dr. Kristen McMaster


1 Hasbrouck, 2020; Joshi & Aaron, 2012
2 IDA, 2022
3 NRP, 2000
4 Dodell-Feder and Tamir 2018. pg. 10 The Joy of Reading Donalyn Miller and Teri S. Lesesne
5 NCII, 2022
6 ILA, 2002; Moats, 1999
7 Shaw & Newton, 2014
8 Cunningham et al., 2015; Elish-Piper & L’Allier, 2011; Neuman & Cunningham, 2009; Papineau, 2017; Spear-Swerling & Zibulsky, 2014

Cunningham, A. E., Etter, K., Platas, L., Wheeler, S., & Campbell, K. (2015).
Professional development in emergent literacy: A design experiment of teacher study groups. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31, 62-77.

Miller, D., & Lesesne, T.S. (2022). The Joy of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Elish-Piper, L., & L’Allier, S. K. (2011). Examining the relationship between literacy coaching and student reading gains in grades K–3. The Elementary School Journal, (1). 83. doi:10.1086/660685

Hasbrouck, J. (2020). Conquering dyslexia: A guide to early detection and prevention for teachers and families. New Rochelle, NY: Benchmark Education 

International Dyslexia Association. (2022). Definition of Dyslexia. Accessed: July 8th, 2022. 

International Reading (Literacy) Association. (2002). What is Evidence-Based Reading Instruction? A Position Statement of the International Reading Association.Newark, DE.

Moats, L. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers should know and be able to do. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

Neuman, S., & Cunningham, L. (2009). The impact of professional development and coaching on early language and literacy practices. American Educational Research Journal, 46(2), 532-566.

National Center on Intensive Intervention. (July 8th, 2022). Taxonomy of Intensive Intervention. 

National Reading Panel (U.S.) & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read : an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Papineau, S.J (2017). Special Education Teacher Perceptions of Effectiveness and Knowledge in Literacy Instruction: Implications of Literacy Coaching. Dissertation: Education Administration and Leadership. 25. 

Shaw, J & Newton, J. (2014). Teacher Retention and Satisfaction with a Servant Leader as Principal. Education, v135 n1 p101-106.

Spear-Swerling, L., & Zibulsky. (2014). Making time for literacy: Teacher knowledge and time allocation in instructional planning. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27(8) 135-1378.