I am a fifth and sixth grade reading specialist. I have worked with a student using the Wilson program completing ten of twelve books. This student came into fifth grade a non-reader and left after sixth grade reading quite well. He has just completed seventh grade, and when I inquired about how he was doing his resource teacher had said she started the program over because he was having difficulty spelling.

I am frustrated because I feel that this is a waste of his time and a blow to his self esteem. He has many accommodations as well as tools to help with spelling. I have always believed that reading came first and spelling often lagged behind. Are there programs for students like this child who have completed a multi-sensory phonics program but still struggle to transfer spelling skills to everyday writing?

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

First of all, kudos to you for using Wilson!! This is very heartening. I just find that so much of the time dyslexic-specific materials are not being used in the public schools.

I have found in my work with students with dyslexia that, indeed for some students, spelling can “come last," but I have also worked with students who learn spelling rules more easliy than decoding. Regardless, the key to spelling is explicit instruction in spelling patterns and rules. I have a lot of information about spelling here [1].

Most programs undergirded in the tenets of Structured Literacy [2] build spelling into daily activities. For your student, I suspect that he needs further instruction on Latin and Greek roots and affixes [3]. Research has shown that beginning in 4th grade, 60% of the words students encounter are morphologically [3] complex, and therefore, instruction in roots and affixes is key to their success. It is very helpful for them to learn that the spelling of the root doesn't change. At 3LI [4], we really like the [5] for teaching Latinn and Greek morphology. Roots are accompanied with pictures that are great for our dyslexics. Marcia Henry's book, Words, is also a good resource.

As you know, writing then adds another level of demand for the dyslexic student. There are so many things to think about when writing that spelling can suffer as students work to get their thoughts down. So, that's why learning writing strategies [6] and using speech-to-text programs are important.

I've got some spelling programs here [7], but as you know — direct, systematic, explicit instruction is key.

Let me know if you have other questions. And, this student is lucky to have you continuing to advocate for him! (As are your other students, I'm sure!)