My Background With Dyslexia
Before the decades of research around how children learn to read was dubbed, “The Science of Reading,” I’ve been on my own deep dive journey.
I’m a former Pre-K teacher and I’ve completed a masters degree program in teaching for Pre-K to 3rd grade.
I’m also raising three children/teens with dyslexia.
Like many, my teacher prep program didn’t provide much in the way of teaching me about reading instruction beyond a single course.
I was fortunate enough, however, to be a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children which focuses its efforts on exemplary practices in the early childhood profession.
Through the organization's publications, the idea that phonemic awareness was a crucial indicator of reading success was coming online…
As were the published results of the National Reading Panel.
So I wasn’t left completely in the dark when it came to research and dug deep into what children need from birth to age five.
I was able to remain oblivious to what I didn’t know about reading instruction once kids made the transition to kindergarten.
That was until my son’s scores for that indicator—phonemic awareness—were consistently in the lowest percentiles throughout his kindergarten year.
My happy, observant little boy who had EVERY recommended literacy and language rich opportunity possible in his early years, was now wringing his little hands with anxiety because he wasn’t learning to read easily.
So for more than a decade now, I’ve done that deep dive into the research around reading.
For years I’ve done multiple things:
- Joined support groups and organizations;
- Bought, read, and traded books;
- Attended countless conferences; and
- Paid thousands of dollars in teacher training courses beyond my teacher preparation program.
You'll see a portion of my ever fluctuating library below.
Striving to better understand and support my own kids felt impossible and absolutely necessary at the same time..
When we were denied services at some parts of the journey…
Or when we found services being offered were insufficient or repetitive…
My husband and I needed to know what instruction to look for outside of the schools while advocating for our dyslexic students in schools.
Sometimes that also meant hiring tutors or driving an hour for specialized camps.
Sometimes that just meant me.
At the time, resources were scarce, and the journey was daunting.
My wheels were constantly spinning!
Fast forward. My kids are doing well overall, but the bumps in the road for full literacy are still there.
In 2021-2022, I was ready for a training refresher.
The courses I’ve taken previously were primarily designed for whole classroom instruction in K-2 and didn’t meet the needs of the families with older learners and contexts beyond the classroom.
I was hoping to find something that would give any parent quicker and easier access to powerful instruction, saving them the hours and resources my family had spent.
Dyslexic Students and Their Families Need Accessibility and Acceleration
I had some search criteria for a training course:
- Fewer limitations on setting and age;
- Greater affordability;
- Easy access through an online platform;
- Plenty of insights for experienced teachers as well as novice caregivers;
- Some helpful resources that are free and shareable to the public;
- Heavy emphasis on acceleration to keep older students closer to grade-level work; and
- At least some information beyond foundational skills that could apply to older struggling readers as well.
After reading about methods like Phono-Graphix in David Kilpatrick’s Equipped for Reading Success, and seeing recommendations for Reading Simplified in The Science of Reading Facebook group, I eventually attended a couple of live and on-demand Reading Simplified Workshops Marnie gave.
Reading Simplified is where I landed and in January 2022 I became a member of the Reading Simplified Academy. The PD and support delivered!
I dug into training quickly, testing activities on my 11-year-old.
Simultaneously I had multiple contacts and conversations with parents about their children’s midyear school data and diagnosis.
These were friends' children.
These friends had stories and concerns about their own dyslexic readers or reading in general.
Their wheels were spinning!
These parents needed a faster, smoother journey than my own, diagnosis or not.
Though attempts were made to find qualified tutors, they came up short or were put on waiting lists.
These families were mainly seeking Orton-Gillingham based tutoring; I would have to – it worked for the dyslexic readers in my home and I have training in Orton-Gillingham based programs.
But these were older readers.
These kids had already experienced instructional loss due to COVID.
These kids couldn’t afford to go back to the very beginning.
These kids needed acceleration.
I shared with the parents that there are other approaches that work for struggling and dyslexic readers that are still explicit, systematic and cumulative.
And I got the parents’ support in trialing Reading Simplified while I was still taking the main course!
Benefits of Reading Simplified Are Quickly Revealed
Beyond delivering on all I had searched for, the simplicity of the Streamlined Pathways and the fact that there were 3 of them was incredible!
I could find out what my students knew through simple assessments and work from there – achieving my goal of providing work closer to what is expected of the grade level.
Many other observations followed.
But the power of Reading Simplified for one student, was especially evident and oh, so exciting!
It’s this 3rd grader’s story that needs to be told.
Findlay* was newly diagnosed with dyslexia and newly identified for an IEP…
Receiving specially designed instruction, daily, one-on-one, with a resource teacher.
This instruction was described as “auditory and tactile drill and repetition of spelling words according to a grapheme pattern.”
(Note: It’s unclear how consistent instruction was due to instructor absences.)
At this point your probably noticing that this is not going to be a direct comparison of Reading Simplified and Orton-Gillingham.
It’s worth noting the instruction described by the school does not describe what most of us trained in Orton-Gillingham would consider a full lesson – with all components covered in either a single lesson or over two days. (More reflections later.)
I got to work with Findlay at a frequency of two days a week for 30-45 minute sessions from mid-January to mid-May.
And we took breaks – week-long breaks for illness and vacations.
These gave me enough information to choose a Switch It list and get started.
We also read a passage to get a sense of oral reading (chosen using data from a school evaluation).
Mom indicated through text message that our first session was a success:
You and Findlay’s fishing pole [an art project completed that day] were his favorite parts about the day. Thank you!!! He says you make learning easier.
I supplemented Reading Simplified passages with 2 series of Catch Up Readers from Phonics Books, Ltd. –Island of Adventure and Talisman–after progressing through vowel +e on the pathway. See more about their books here.
The Reading Simplified Academy course introduced me to this resource, and I am beyond grateful for the flexibility this provided.
That should give you a good idea of instruction.
And then there are the results!
Data Tells the Rest of the Story!
As you can see from the school’s benchmarking data (NWEA Map scores shown below), Findlay experienced regression in the first semester of 3rd grade with regular classroom instruction.
After receiving an IEP and beginning tutoring with a Reading Simplified lesson plan with me, progress can be seen from Winter ’22 to Spring ‘22.
With a beginning score in reading of 161, Findlay began at the 1-9 percentile (score range 156-172).
In less than 16 instructional weeks, Findlay’s spring score of 194 meant growth into the 40-49 percentile (score range 193-197)!
Findlay still did not pass our state’s 3rd grade reading test that was given in March. Ugh!
But Findlay’s parents and I knew we were making accelerated progress.
You could find Findlay reading a book now, uncoaxed, even at siblings’ sporting events!
We did not work at all together over the 9-week summer.
Findlay’s parents had secured a spot at a month-long Orton-Gillingham summer camp with 1-on-1, 50-60 minute daily tutoring sessions. This was more of a social goal for them than an academic one.
Summer data while attending the intervention camp is seen from Spring ‘22 to Fall ‘22.
This intervention and the subsequent 4 weeks of summer with a break from instruction were not successful for Findlay*, though confidence and a sense of belonging were expressed by being at camp.
I was surprised with the lack of growth in reading because one of my own children experienced great outcomes (equivalent to a year of growth) when he attended this camp.
Findlay switched schools to start the Fall of 2022, but stayed in the same district.
Resource support was provided at the same frequency as the previous semester.
Instruction was described by school personnel as “Into Reading for the scope and sequencing, but will utilize IMSE [Institute of Multisensory Education] strategies to help teach the rules.”
In our tutoring time with Reading Simplified, we again began work at the start of the semester.
Same schedule, several breaks, mirroring the first semester of our work together.
We continued to use a 3 component Reading Simplified lesson plan.
We shifted some word work to a spelling/morphology focus that I’d previously studied in conferences, more multisyllabic word instruction, and a couple of additional spelling techniques learned from an EBLI (Evidence Based Literacy Instruction) spelling webinar when time allowed.
This focus was requested by the parents.
After assessment, we followed the 2nd Grade and Up Streamlined Pathway utilizing the 4th and 5th grade materials.
This time around our additional texts became a lot less controlled, and I balanced informational texts and fictional.
Texts included articles from Text Project for grades 2-5 that Marnie introduced us to in the Reading Simplified Academy’s main course.
Sections of chapter books, and ELA texts being read in Findlay’s school were also used.
The progress can be seen from Fall ‘22 to Winter ‘23.
With a beginning score of 186, Findlay started the semester in the 20-29th percentile for a 4th grader (score range 183-187).
By winter, that score of 208 meant growth to the 63rd percentile!
In one year, with lots of breaks in instruction and in less than 32 weeks total, Findlay went from the bottom 10th to the 63rd percentile of peers in reading and made more progress than 99% of peers!
How excited are you for this?
I can’t claim all of this positive growth was due to Reading Simplified alone because my dyslexic student did receive support at school.
But this is life-changing and encouraging for Findlay and all the adults involved with instruction.
Reading Simplified Is Worth a Try When You Need Big Growth Fast
Confidently I can say that even with a different intervention at school, Reading Simplified still worked for tutoring – no conflicts.
My own dyslexic kids benefited from Orton-Gillingham based tutoring programs, but growth for my own children took years–not a semester or two–like Findlay experienced.
I will go out on a limb to say that the pace of growth for this dyslexic student does seem to be a direct result of the diagnostic thinking and streamlined approach from Reading Simplified.
Marnie Ginsberg also shared with me that this data is how a single-subject ABA experiment looks.
Post-Test: Intervention A
Post-Test: Intervention B
Post-Test: Intervention A
It’s just 1 case study, but that curve clearly suggests that only Intervention A (a.k.a. Reading Simplified) worked for this child.
Upon reflection, Intervention B took the student back to the very beginning of instruction with an Orton-Gillingham scope and sequence – back to introducing each individual grapheme-phoneme correspondence.
Who has time for that?
This student already had the majority of the basic code secure. While the student may not have been able to articulate the rules he’d been taught in his school tutoring or Tier 1 instruction, the student didn’t need to go back to the very beginning.
So, if you’re curious…
If remediation is taking too long…
If you want to build off what your students already know…
If you have an upper elementary or middle school student who needs acceleration and more than beginning phonics (most do)…
If you have a dyslexic reader…
Give the Reading Simplified system a try!
I’m a learner at heart, so Reading Simplified won’t be my last professional development training!
But Reading Simplified will be my first-line intervention when children need acceleration and a strong foundation in sound-based decoding to get them on the road to fluency.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Adrienne Mormino and my family is full of teachers! During high school, my first teaching job was teaching dance to preschoolers. After high school and college, I continued teaching preschoolers and began training preschool teachers for The World Bank Children’s Center and the Library of Congress’s Child Care Center in Washington D.C. Upon moving to Indiana, I helped community preschools implement curriculum and assessment and later served as Children’s Curriculum Designer for my church, but mainly relished my role at home with my kids.
I hold a Bachelor’s in Child Development and a Master's in Teaching that didn’t prepare me to teach reading or give me the tools to help my own children with language-based learning difficulties and dyslexia.
Along with my husband, Brian, and community members, I co-founded R.E.A.D.S. (Recognizing, Educating and Advocating for Dyslexic Students) The organization supported a structured literacy reading pilot in local schools and continues to support families throughout the community. I’ve delivered testimony in the Indiana House and Senate for what was passed as Senate Bill 217, often referred to as the “Dyslexia Bill.”
I have additional training and coursework in reading and writing through Handwriting Without Tears, M.A. Rooney Foundation, Institute of Multi-Sensory Education, Dyslexia Training Institute, Student Achievement Partners, and Reading Simplified. I’m a proud member of The Reading League and The Reading League-Indiana and am a Teaching Assistant for Reading Simplified. I’m also currently serving as a member of the Academic Achievement team at Cummins, Inc., as a board member for The Arc of Bartholomew County. My three loves: traveling with my family, the fall season, and independent bookstores. And, finally, if you haven’t yet, consider reading Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life, a memoir by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney who had great difficulty learning to read and write.