Volume 7, Issue 4
By Emerson Dickman
Why do we spend so much time thinking, talking, and writing about literacy?
Why is it important to understand how to teach reading and writing?
Why is it necessary to help children who struggle to learn?
We ask these questions because a literate population is the foundation upon which modern societies are built. In all civilized cultures, the ability to read unlocks the door to opportunity, fulfillment, and happiness.
Thanks to giants in the fields of research and practice, we know how to help children whose struggle with learning to read is unexpected in relation to their other skills and abilities.
“The fruits of these scientific labors cannot be realized, however, unless teachers understand and are prepared to implement them” (Moats & Foorman, 2003). The IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading describe what teachers need to know to identify and assist children who struggle. Lack of knowledge or consensus in the field is no longer an excuse for graduating unmotivated, underachieving students with low self-esteem and limited goals. Unfortunately, according to Jessica Hamman, the founder of Educator’s Learning Lab, “there is a wealth of information at the research level that does not trickle down” (personal communication, 2018).
The scaffold upon which informed instruction depends is simple and logical but often overlooked due to insufficient resources (e.g., knowledge, time, space, personnel). We must learn to communicate in simple, logical, and indisputable terms the three elements that scaffold informed instruction:
1. A methodology that is explicit, structured, sequential, and cumulative
2. An instructor who is sufficiently trained to deliver such methodology with fidelity
3. Delivery of instruction with sufficient intensity to make a difference
Questions to Ask
- Method: Does it have a scientific evidence base? Has it been field tested? Does it have a track record of success?
- Instructor: Do teachers have the training, experience, and knowledge necessary to deliver the chosen program of instruction with fidelity?
- Intensity (AKA dosage, a term introduced by Donald D. Deshler): Are intensity, duration, reinforcement, and opportunity to integrate sufficient to ensure a reasonable rate of progress?
The formula is simple: Informed X 3 = Results. Finding the necessary ingredients or elements to make the formula work is another story. The following quotes underscore just how challenging this is. Sad to say, some of the older quotes are no less relevant today.
In Evans v. Board of Educ. of the Rhinebeck Central School Dist. (1996), the court held that the facts in that case demonstrated “that an integrated, multi-sensory, sequential method is a necessity rather than an optimum situation” (Evans at 348). Congress has advised the following:
“In light of the legislative history and case law, it is clear that in developing an individualized education there are circumstances in which the particular teaching methodology that will be used is an integral part of what is ‘individual’ about a student’s education and, in those circumstances will need to be discussed at the IEP meeting and incorporated into the student’s IEP. For example, for a child with a learning disability who has not learned to read using traditional instructional methods, an appropriate education may require some other instructional strategy” (64 F.R. 12552, 1999).
In other words, if the school is using a method of instruction different from that implemented in the general education classroom, the parent has the right to know what the instructional method is—and it should be identified in the IEP.
The second ingredient necessary for the success of informed instruction is a knowledgeable instructor.
“One factor that impedes effective instruction with children at risk for reading failure is current teacher preparation practices. Many teachers have not had the opportunity to develop basic knowledge about the structure of the English language, reading development, and the nature of reading difficulties” (Lyon, G. R., 1998, p. 5).
“Most teachers are not being given the content and depth of training needed to enable them to provide appropriate instruction” (Brady & Moats, 1997, p. 1).
“Certification is not a direct analog for qualification and data do not indicate that certification necessarily provides a qualified teacher” (U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 2002).
“Research conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation in Colorado revealed that ‘only 12% of the more than 400 licensed practicing teachers surveyed could pick out an adjective from a set of nouns on a multiple choice test’” (L. C. Moats, personal communication, February 16, 2005).
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) of the U.S. Department of Education has stated,
“If an IEP team determines that it is necessary for the individual providing the special education or related services to a child with a disability to have specific training, experience and/or knowledge in order for the child to receive FAPE, then it would be appropriate for the team to include those specifications in the child’s IEP” (OSEP, letter to Dickman, 37 IDELR 284, April 2, 2002).
In other words, if the school is using a method of instruction different from that implemented in the general education classroom, the parent has the right to know if such method of instruction offers training or certification and, if so, whether the instructor has been sufficiently trained or certified.
“Properly certified teachers are often improperly prepared to deliver effective instruction” (G. Dickman, 2003, Summer Newsletter, NJIDA). Any child who is not learning to read using “traditional instructional methods” that requires “some other instructional strategy” is entitled to a properly trained, experienced, and knowledgeable instructor. The best evidence-based practice is of no value if it is not delivered with fidelity to design by a knowledgeable instructor. “Teachers must have the knowledge base to be effective before they are given the freedom to be creative” (G. Dickman, 2003, Winter Newsletter, NJIDA).
The intensity and duration of remediation and fidelity to instructional design required to achieve a reasonable rate of progress cannot be overestimated. Hollis Scarborough, senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories, has observed that “the key to meaningful effect size was intensity” (Scarborough, 2013).
“Many but perhaps not all children who are significantly below average in reading in the third to fifth grade can be brought up to grade level if they are given intensive, linguistically informed teaching …” (J. Torgesen, personal communication, October 2, 2018).
“Without early identification and early intervention (before entry into the third grade), reading difficulties severe enough to hinder learning and the enjoyment of reading will persist into adulthood unless intensive and specialized remediation programs are provided” (Lyon & Kameenui, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
In other words, if the school is using a method of instruction different from that implemented in the general education classroom, the parent has the right to know the method of instruction, the training of the instructor, and the recommended intensity of instruction.
A 60-minute lesson that is provided in three 20-minute segments per week in a small group cannot be counted as three whole lessons. Instruction delivered without a lesson plan lacks focus and structure. A remedial grouping that is heterogeneous may be ineffective if it is too fast for some and too slow for others. Remedial instruction that is not based on data to confirm the efficacy of methodology and dosage wastes valuable time.
Unfortunately, special education, according to NICHD (1998), is “not closing the gap” between potential and achievement for a variety of reasons; a few are listed:
- Group sizes that are too large
- Use of inappropriate inclusion and service delivery models
- Delayed intervention and remediation
- Inadequately prepared teachers
- Identification is based on failure
- A system that is more concerned about procedural compliance than outcomes
Informed X 3 = Results
The formula or recipe is simple; we know how to close the gap. The challenge is to shop for evidence-based ingredients, hire a qualified chef, and provide the space and time necessary to bake the cake. Parents have the right to know if the instruction being offered is Informed X 3. Have those responsible for educating the child gathered the ingredients, hired a qualified chef, and provided sufficient time to get the job done? If so, Informed X 3 has the power to unlock the door to opportunity, fulfillment, and happiness for the child.
Brady, S., & Moats, L. (1997). Informed instruction for reading success: Foundations for teacher preparation: A position paper of the International Dyslexia Association. Baltimore, MD: International Dyslexia Association.
Evans v. Board of Educ., 921 F. Supp. 1184 (SDNY 1996)
Lyon, G. R. (1998). NICHD Research Program in Reading Development, Reading Disorders, and Reading Instruction: A summary of research findings. New York, NY: National Center for Learning Disabilities.
Moats, L. C., & Foorman, B. R. (2003). Measuring teachers’ content knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53(1), 23–45.
Scarborough, H. S. (2013, October 4). [Comments during presentation]. Conference conducted by the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.
U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Washington, DC: Author.
Emerson Dickman is an attorney and has been an advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families for more than forty years. Among the cases he has handled are leading precedents (New Jersey Supreme Court) protecting the due process rights of pupils in special education (Lascari) and the constitutional rights of adults with developmental disabilities (J.E.).
Emerson is a past president of the International Dyslexia Association and a former IDA representative to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities. He is currently a member of the Professional Advisory Boards of the Center for Development and Learning and The Children’s Dyslexia Centers. In the past, he has served as secretary of the Arc of New Jersey, a member of the Professional Advisory Board for the National Center for Learning Disabilities (six years), a member of the Learning Disabilities Roundtable sponsored by the Division of Research to Practice of the U.S. Department of Education, chairman of the Protection and Advocacy Agency for the State of New Jersey (five years), and a founding board member and secretary of the Alliance for Accreditation and Certification (for Structured Language Education). Emerson has received numerous honors including the 2012 Margaret Byrd Rawson Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Dyslexia Association.
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