Why do some learners struggle with reading? Sometimes, there is not a clear reason. With a little extra help, many struggling readers are simply able to crack the code and catch up. Other times, there is a clear reason: For millions of students, it’s dyslexia. Unfortunately, many individuals with dyslexia remain undiagnosed and have a more difficult time catching up to their peers.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a common learning disability marked by problems with written language, specifically with decoding (pronouncing written words) and/or encoding (spelling words). People with dyslexia have trouble learning how written languages such as English use letters and letter combinations to represent sounds or how to combine letters to form syllables and words.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder in the U.S., affecting about 1 in 10 individuals. People with dyslexia have normal IQs, but differences in their brains make reading much harder for them. The dyslexic brain has a more difficult time understanding how letters and letter combinations represent sounds, and how letters are combined to form syllables and words. The symptoms of this learning disability include trouble with decoding, spelling, rhyming, and phonological awareness. If you have a student who may fit this criteria, visit the International Dyslexia Association page for self-assessment tools that provide information about diagnosing dyslexia in specific age groups.

Overcoming dyslexia

The keys to helping dyslexic readers overcome this learning disability are early detection and then intervention with a research-based, structured reading program. Early intervention gives the best results. According to Sally Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, brain scans of kindergartners and first graders who have received a year’s worth of reading intervention begin to resemble brain scans of students without reading problems.

Students with dyslexia typically need intensive, individualized instruction with feedback, guidance, and ongoing assessment in phonemic awareness, phonics, and reading fluency. The most successful programs emphasize these core elements as well as building vocabulary and increasing comprehension. Besides emphasizing multisensory instruction, the International Dyslexia Association states that "effective instruction for students with dyslexia is also explicit, direct, cumulative, intensive, and focused on the structure of the language."

The power of teacher expectations

An article in Education Week*, "Dyslexia and the Power of Teacher Expectations," delves into the impact of teacher expectations on students with dyslexia. The author, Kyle Redford, describes how students with dyslexia commonly view themselves as intellectually inferior. Humiliation about their learning disability causes them to retreat from class participation, thus furthering the expectation—held by themselves and by their teachers—that they aren’t going to perform well in school.

To break this cycle, Redford asserts that greater understanding of dyslexia is essential. Teachers must be trained to identify dyslexia. Further, they must not expect that students with dyslexia will underperform their peers. If teachers fully understand and communicate the extent to which students with dyslexia are intelligent and capable, these students will have a much greater chance of raising their achievement.

Tools and adjustments like audiobooks, speech-to-text spelling apps, and extra time on assessments can be game-changers for students with dyslexia, Redford says. “But if teachers don't know the potential that lurks below their struggling student's symptoms, they may not explore these possibilities.”

For more information on teacher expectations and dyslexia, listen to this recording of the Senate Committee on Education’s recent hearing entitled “Understanding Dyslexia: The Intersection of Scientific Research and Education.”

*Note that Education Week articles are accessed on a tiered subscription model. Non-subscribers can enjoy three free articles per month.

Features of Read Naturally interventions make them well-suited as reading programs for dyslexia

Read Naturally programs build phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension through high-interest nonfiction stories. The Read Naturally Strategy was designed to help students build confidence and motivation through self monitoring of progress. The following table describes the specific ways in which Read Naturally interventions are well suited to help students with dyslexia. Read Naturally interventions can be easily incorporated into both school and home settings and have helped countless students with dyslexia become competent readers. 

Read Naturally
Intervention Programs
Instructional Supports for Dyslexic Students
Immediate Feedback
Guidance, Modeling
Ongoing Assessment,
Adjustment Options
Multi-Sensory Methods
Systematic, Cumulative
Fluency Instruction
Phonemic Awareness
Phonics Development
Spelling Development
Vocabulary, Comprehension
   Read Naturally
Strategy Programs
Read Naturally Live   ✔*  
Read Naturally Encore   ✔* ✔*
Read Naturally ME   ✔* ✔*
One Minute Reader      
Read Naturally GATE  
Other Read
Take Aim at Vocabulary      
Word Warm-ups    
Signs for Sounds      
*Phonics levels

For More Information

pointer International Dyslexia Association
pointer Learning Disabilities Association of America
pointer The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

Research Basis for Read Naturally Intervention Programs


Emanuel, Gabrielle, and Mayra Linares, "Unlocking Dyslexia" (five-part series), National Public Radio, November 28–December 10, 2016.

Gorman, Christine, “The New Science of Dyslexia,” Time, July 28, 2003.

Hall, Susan, and Louisa Moats, Parenting a Struggling Reader, Harmony Books, New York, 2002.

Hall, Susan, and Louisa Moats, Straight Talk About Reading, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1999.

Mather, Nancy, and Barbara J. Wendling, Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2012.

Redford, Kyle, "Dyslexia and the Power of Teacher Expectations," Education Week, May 16, 2016

Shaywitz, Sally, Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003.

White Paper: Dyslexia and Read Naturally

Part I: What is dyslexia?
What dyslexia is and is not, common characteristics

Part II: How do proficient readers read words?
Typical brain development, how proficient readers learn to decode words and develop word recognition

Part III: How does dyslexia affect typical reading?
How dyslexia may impact the acquisition of proficient reading, the unique needs of dyslexic readers

Part IV: Dyslexia and Read Naturally Programs
How Read Naturally programs utilize evidence-based practices to support learners with dyslexia

View the White Paper


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