You know what's totally awesome? Not being afraid to shout your truth from the rooftops.
Today I testified, along with many other super rad humans from Decoding Dyslexia and other places, in front of the TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Committee) in Salem.
Backstory: in 2015 Oregon passed a law which stipulated that all pre-service teacher training programs (and Special Education and Reading endorsement programs) had to provide mandatory coursework on dyslexia. Some Oregon universities have pushed back. This public hearing was called to hear testimony from proponents and opponents of the proposed university guidelines. Spoiler alert: I am a proponent of this legislation and the proposed university guidelines. Below is my testimony because I'm not done speaking my truth.
I graduated from Lewis and Clark College’s M.A.T. program in 2010. I am currently a licensed early childhood/elementary teacher in the state of Oregon. I was raised in Oregon and am a proud graduate of Gladstone High School. I am also dyslexic.
I did not know that my dyslexia was the cause of my almost constant struggle in school until after I graduated with my M.A.T. and began teaching. I never heard the word “dyslexia” as a child, and I certainly never heard the word “dyslexia” at Lewis and Clark.
My M.A.T. program had one course on learning disabilities/special education, and this course consisted almost entirely of overviewing how children are referred for Special Education and the different component parts of an IEP. My professor consistently reassured us that should we have a child in our classrooms that experienced learning difficulty we should simply “do our best” with that child in his or her general education setting. I distinctly remember my professor saying that it’s the SPED teachers who have the training that allows them to step in and provide intervention to struggling students. The general education teacher’s job is just to make sure to follow the proper channels to ensure that those students are referred for possible SPED eligibility.
We did not have any coursework on how English words can be explicitly taught or why that is of immense value to every learner, not just essential for the dyslexic learner. Instead our coursework in how to teach reading and writing revolved around how to best construct reading and writing workshops. One required text in my M.A.T. program, Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades by Debbie Miller, stated that in a reading workshop, “the books and materials I’ve [Debbie Miller] chosen are most likely not at the children’s instructional level; whether a child can or cannot read them doesn’t matter. I’ve chosen them because the familiar songs and story lines, the short text, and the colorful illustrations are perfect for children’s working with books, practicing reading behaviors, becoming engaged and motivated, and building community.”
Another required text from my M.A.T. program, Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis, stated the following, “There are no better print materials to use with reluctant readers than picture books. The pictures complement the text to help less proficient readers access meaning….But sometimes reluctant intermediate and middle school readers are more reticent to choose picture books than their proficient reader counterparts. They believe that reading picture books will further identify them as unsuccessful readers. We need to promote picture books by reading them out loud, both fiction and nonfiction. Book choice is contagious. If we read picture books and share our passion for them, kids will choose them, too. In classrooms where proficient readers and their teachers choose compelling picture books, reluctant readers climb aboard.”
I also learned in my teacher education program that should a student continue to struggle to read proficiently, we should listen to that student read in order to hear what types of errors (miscues) that student is making. While listening to a student read is certainly a helpful assessment tool, the required text we were given to teach us this tool, Miscue Analysis Made Easy by Sandra Wilde, contained seriously misleading statements about the English language, such as, “It’s important to realize that an explicit phonics approach posits that learning to read is primarily a matter of learning what sounds go with each letter or combination of letters and then blending them together, while a holistic view suggests that readers who begin with repeated reading of whole texts can eventually abstract out how phonics works without very much conscious awareness of it, or formal instruction.”
We have decades of scientific research that clearly indicates that if you have dyslexia—which approximately 1 in 5 people do—you must have access to explicit, sequential, and multi-sensory instruction in reading in order to become a proficient reader and writer. We have had this information for over 30 years, and yet many teacher education programs are still teaching pre-service teachers that kids will, basically, learn to read on their own and our job is to keep them engaged with exciting texts. If they really resist reading, however, try enticing them with a picture book. Even if they are in middle school. Even if the shame of not being able to access literacy in middle school in front of their peers is at that very moment creating emotional scars they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
My coursework at Lewis and Clark College failed absolutely in preparing me to meet the needs of dyslexic students. In fact, the coursework at Lewis and Clark pushed me more deeply into the shame that I had carried with me my entire life, the shame of thinking you are broken. It was not until I graduated and had the good fortune to pursue hundreds of hours of post-graduate study that I realized dyslexia is real and there’s something you can do about it.
I am not broken, but our system of educating teachers is. Let’s fix it together.