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Academic Interventions for Children with Dyslexia
Who Have Phonological
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest E539
Authors: Julie Frost and Michael Emery
Approximately 3% to 6% of all school-aged children are believed to have developmental
reading disabilities, or dyslexia. In fact, almost 50% of children receiving special education have
learning disabilities, and dyslexia is the most prevalent form. Consequently, dyslexia has been
given considerable attention by researchers and extensive literature exists on instruction and
Dyslexia is a neurocognitive deficit that is specifically related to the reading and spelling
processes. Typically, children classified as dyslexic are reported to be bright and capable in
other intellectual domains. Current research indicates that the vast majority of children with
dyslexia have phonological core deficits. The severity of the phonological deficits varies across
individuals, and children with these deficits have been shown to make significantly less progress
in basic word reading skills compared to children with equivalent IQs. For example, some
experts report that between ages 9 and 19, children with dyslexia who have phonological deficits
improve slightly more than one grade level in reading, while other children with learning
disabilities (LD) in the same classroom improve about six grade levels. Without direct
instruction in phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondences, these children generally
fail to attain adequate reading levels.
Phonological core deficits entail difficulty making use of phonological information when
processing written and oral language. The major components of phonological deficits involve
phonemic awareness, sound-symbol relations, and storage and retrieval of phonological
information in memory. Problems with phonemic awareness are most prevalent and can coexist
with difficulties in storage and retrieval among children with dyslexia who have phonological
Phonemic awareness refers to one's understanding of and access to the sound structure of
language. For example, children with dyslexia have difficulty segmenting words into individual
syllables or phonemes and have trouble blending speech sounds into words.
Storage of phonological information during reading involves creating a sound-based
representation of written words in working memory. Deficits in the storage of phonological
information result in faulty representations in memory that lead to inaccurate applications of
sound rules during reading tasks.
Retrieval of phonological information from long-term memory refers to how the child
remembers pronunciations of letters, word segments, or entire words. Children with dyslexia
may have difficulty in this area, which leads to slow and inaccurate recall of phonological codes
Classification and Identification
Historically, classification criteria for developmental dyslexia have been vague and,
consequently, open to interpretation. For example, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, revised 3rd edition (DSM-III-R), developmental reading disorder
(dyslexia) may be diagnosed if reading achievement is "markedly below" expected level;
interferes with academic achievement or daily living skills; and is not due to a defect in vision,
hearing, or a neurological disorder. Because of such imprecise guidelines, educators and
clinicians use a wide variety of criteria when defining dyslexia.
School psychologists classify children based on federal and state learning disability placement
criteria. The federal guidelines for LD placement are as follows:
- Disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes (memory, auditory
perception, visual perception, oral language, and thinking).
- Difficulty in learning (speaking, listening, writing, reading, and mathematics).
- Problem is not primarily due to other causes (visual or hearing impairment, motor
disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or economic environment or cultural
- Severe discrepancy between apparent potential and actual achievement.
While the federal guidelines are more specific than the
DSM-III-R criteria, they are still rather nonspecific. Consequently, eligibility criteria for LD
services for reading disabilities vary from state to state.
Fortunately, there is some general agreement among educators, clinicians, and researchers in
terms of identifying phonological deficits in children with dyslexia. Phonological processing
impairment is generally identified by significantly impaired performance (generally, a standard
score less than 85) on phonological processing tasks. The following include some assessment
measures that may be used to identify these phonological core deficits:
|General reading ability
|Metropolitan Achievement Tests - Reading
|Gray Oral Reading Tests, 3rd Ed.
|Storage and Retrieval
|SB-4-Memory for Sentences
|Verbal Selective Reminding Test
|Rapid Automatized Naming Test
|Boston Naming Test
|Test of Awareness of Language
|Test of Auditory Analysis Skills
| Decoding Skills Test
- Teach metacognitive strategies. Teach children similarities and differences between
speech sounds and visual patterns across words.
- Provide direct instruction in language analysis and the alphabetic code. Give explicit
instruction in segmenting and blending speech sounds. Teach children to process progressively
larger chunks of words.
- Use techniques that make phonemes more concrete. For example, phonemes and syllables
can be represented with blocks where children can be taught how to add, omit, substitute, and
rearrange phonemes in words.
- Make the usefulness of metacognitive skills explicit in reading. Have children practice
them. Try modeling skills in various reading contexts. Review previous reading lessons and
relate to current lessons.
- Discuss the specific purposes and goals of each reading lesson. Teach children how
metacognitive skills should be applied.
- Provide regular practice with reading materials that are contextually meaningful. Include
many words that children can decode. Using books that contain many words children cannot
decode may lead to frustration and guessing, which is counterproductive.
- Teach for automaticity. As basic decoding skills are mastered, regularly expose children
to decodable words so that these words become automatically accessible. As a core sight
vocabulary is acquired, expose children to more irregular words to increase reading accuracy.
Reading-while-listening and repeated reading are useful techniques for developing fluency.
- Teach for comprehension. Try introducing conceptually important vocabulary prior to
initial reading and have children retell the story and answer questions regarding implicit and
explicit content. Teach children the main components of most stories (i.e., character, setting,
etc.) and how to identify and use these components to help them remember the story.
- Teach reading and spelling in conjunction. Teach children the relationship between
spelling and reading and how to correctly spell the words they read.
- Provide positive explicit and corrective feedback. Reinforce attempts as well as successes.
Direct instruction and teacher-child interactions should be emphasized.
Resources for Teachers
Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning reading instruction in the United States. ERIC Digest. Reston,
VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. ED321250
Bradey, S., & Shankweller, D. (Eds.) (1991). Phonological processes in literacy. Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lyon, G. R., Gray, D. B., Kavanagh, J. F., & Krasnegor, N. A. (Eds.) (1995). Better
understanding learning disabilities: New views from research and their implications for
education and public policies. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
Stahl, S. A. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print: A summary.
Cambridge, MA: University of Illinois Center for the Study of Reading. ED315740
Wong, B. Y. L. (1991). Learning about learning disabilities. San Diego: Academic Press.
Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD)
The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Learning Disabilities Association (LDA)
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
National Adult Literacy & Learning Disabilities (ALLD) Center
Academy for Educational
1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)
99 Park Avenue, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10016
International Dyslexia Society
724 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21204
Digests published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education are available
for downloading or online reading on the AskERIC Virtual Library .
The following Internet sites provide additional information on students with disabilities:
St. John's University
Electronic Rehabilitation Resource Center
University of Washington
Learning disability information exchange
Post to: email@example.com
Special education students list
Post to: firstname.lastname@example.org
From Frost, J. A., & Emery, M. J. (1995). Academic interventions for dyslexic children with phonological core deficits: Handout for teachers. Communique, 23(6). National Association of
School Psychologists, Silver Spring, MD. Adapted by permission.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated,
but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with funding from
the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education,
under Contract No. RR93002005. The opinions expressed in this report do not
necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
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