I am a certified LBS and have been working with dyslexic students for 25 years. I am trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach. This summer, I began working with a student who is entering second grade, and I am stumped. She must decode every word sound by sound. She has no recall of sight words (even if an entire hour was spent drilling one word). She has made gains and retained all short vowels, 5 vowel blends and all digraphs, and can decode phonetically correct words in a list (still sound by sound, but much less segmented than she had in the past). Occasionally, she can read a sentence in isolation, but the majority of the time, when given a short passage (large font, good spacing), she over-relies on context and reads every word incorrectly - or if prompted, must laboriously decode every word. She doesn't seem to be able to organize all that she knows and access the sounds/rules when reading in context. Essentially, she reads by letter, not word. I have been doing Lindamood-Bell Seeing Stars Program and LiPS. But in 2.5 months, she has made no gains in her ability to read words in context. She is a bright girl with no developmental delays.

Any help you can give is much appreciated!

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

Fluency issues can be tough, and 2 ½ months may not be enough time to see change. There has been research that shows that improvement in phonological awareness skills can improve fluency. In other words, as a student’s sound awareness improves (which will then impact letter-sound knowledge, and subsequently, word reading), so does fluency. I recommend the work by Dr. Maryanne Wolf. You might find her book Dyslexia, Fluency, and the Brain quite interesting. I assume you’ve looked at the student’s working memory skills, as these could be playing a part in her challenges.

Fluency drills, as monotonous as they are, are important for building recognition and better automaticity of spelling patterns. It may be helpful to engage in repeated readings of phonograms/letter patterns, keeping the phonogram the same and changing the initial letter (increasing the difficulty as she becomes successful). A number of reading programs have these types of word reading drills. Additionally, it may be helpful to engage in repeated readings of text.

Shadow reading with you reading aloud together (and her reading a split second behind you) is another technique.

Given that she is struggling so, she should have access to audiobooks. Beyond decoding, reading comprehension strategies are important for these students. Using her stronger spoken language comprehension skills to monitor what she is reading will aid her. Regardless, the tenets of structured literacy intervention will help her.

Good for you to be thinking about this. For many successful dyslexics, while they become accomplished at reading, many continue to be slow readers.