An old saying goes, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” It’s tough to disagree with such a simple, logical statement.
Of course we teach children in the way they learn, right?
For a majority of them, that statement would be true.
But for one in five children, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Those are the students who think differently due to the neurological difference in the way their brains work — the students with dyslexia. Their “trouble with words” typically includes struggles with reading, spelling, writing, memorizing facts, copying from the board, taking notes, taking tests — pretty much all the tasks they’re required to perform in the classroom.
These children — who are smart, curious and motivated to learn — pose no end of frustration for themselves, their parents, and their teachers for their continuing difficulties and plateauing in their “academic” progress in the classroom right around third grade.
These same children invariably excel in a variety of pursuits outside the classroom: in the arts, sports, storytelling, innovative problem-solving, entrepreneurial skills, and creative thinking — the kind of higher-level brain processing that doesn’t get measured on standardized tests.
They are considered “learning disabled” because they don’t fit into the way students are typically taught in our schools. And California state law does not require dyslexia be addressed with an effective, comprehensive, or well-informed approach.
Now, finally, help may be on the way. And it comes via the California State Assembly. Namely in the form of a bill recently introduced by Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) who has listened to his constituents, paid attention to vast amounts of research, and learned about how California can more effectively educate the one in five students who currently are not taught in the way they learn.
His bill, AB1369, provides for critical needs in dealing with dyslexia:
1) Early identification in grades K-3, rather than waiting for them to fall behind, which requires time-consuming and expensive remediation and often results in the student’s loss of confidence and self-esteem.
2) Teacher training so that they understand what dyslexia is and how to teach students with it — currently would-be teachers do not typically receive adequate training to prepare them to teach students with dyslexia.
3) Appropriate evidence-based reading programs that are proven to work for students with dyslexia — too often school districts do not invest in these multi-sensory, phonics-based programs, and simply provide programs for slow readers or English-language learners and expect them to work.
4) Improved definition of dyslexia in California Education Code — replacing outdated language that refers to an “imperfect brain” with the definition of dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association.
Due to the rapid growth of the grassroots movement Decoding Dyslexia — now in every U.S. state and several other countries — many states have passed legislation similar to that proposed by Assemblymember Frazier. Count New Jersey, Arkansas, and even Mississippi as states with more effective dyslexia legislation on the books than in the Golden State.
As a parent of a high school senior with dyslexia, I have been working for more than a decade to improve the public school services for him and students like him. It has been time-consuming, expensive, and extraordinarily difficult to help him along his academic pathway to success while maintaining his self-confidence and self-esteem in a system that wasn’t built for him.
The time has come for California to move forward and teach the one in five children with dyslexia in the way they learn. They need you to help them.
Please indicate your support for AB1369:
Send a note to: Decoding Dyslexia California: DDCALetters@gmail.com.
Sign the online petition
Write to the following:
Assemblymember Das Williams
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0037
Assemblymember Jim Frazier
Sacramento, CA 94249
Learn more about dyslexia: Attend one of the monthly Dyslexia Dialogues sponsored by the Parent Resource Center of the Santa Barbara Unified School District. The upcoming event, March 26 at Santa Barbara High School at 7 p.m., will feature John Rodrigues, author of High School Dropout to Harvard, chronicling his unique pathway to success with dyslexia. It is free to the public, and Spanish interpretation will be available.
Cheri Rae is the director of The Dyslexia Project and author of DyslexiaLand. She does outreach with the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the Santa Barbara Education Foundation about dyslexia.