On Feb 28, 2022, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released the Right to Read inquiry report on human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities, highlighting the ongoing struggle to provide Ontario students with evidence-based reading instruction. The inquiry concluded that the current Ontario curriculum—and Ontario teacher-education faculties—are using a whole language philosophy and do not promote evidence-based word-reading instruction based on the science of reading.
Dyslexia, or a reading disability in word reading, is a specific learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word reading, and poor decoding and spelling abilities. These word-reading difficulties may also result in challenges with reading comprehension, and they can limit a student’s ability to learn vocabulary and background knowledge through reading. Although it is assumed to be neurobiological in origin, there is evidence that most students with dyslexia can learn to read words proficiently with effective, science-based, systematic, and explicit instruction in foundational reading skills.
Reading is necessary for many aspects of learning in school, and initial difficulties can increase over time and impede a student’s ability to access the curriculum in other subjects. Students with reading disabilities often underachieve academically. When a student expresses frustration or difficulty with reading, or avoids the task, it is often a sign of a deficit that requires intervention. When students have difficulty learning to read, it can affect their confidence in their academic abilities and self-esteem, and lead to significant mental health concerns. When a student does not develop a strong foundation in word reading, it can set them up for further academic struggles. Reading is not natural, it is a skill that must be taught, and a reading disability has nothing to do with intelligence.
There is an enormous body of scientific research on how students learn to read and the most effective way to teach them. All struggling readers require explicit, systematic, direct, and comprehensive interventions delivered with sufficient intensity. At Evoke Learning, we offer reading remediation programs for at-risk students that address reading deficits and facilitate reading acquisition in both French and English.
Based on the Simple View of Reading (SVR), Evoke’s reading remediation program is designed to assist students who are challenged by the acquisition of early reading skills or older students with continued reading difficulties. Our curriculum and instruction reflect the scientific research on the best approaches to teach the foundational skills that lead to efficient word reading.
When students are explicitly taught and practice the skills involved in decoding words, the process becomes quicker and, with practice, supports automatic word reading.Poor decoding skills are a barrier to good reading comprehension. When a student must put a lot of time, effort, and attention into reading words, it uses up mental resources (working memory space), making it harder to understand what is read. Vocabulary and background knowledge, the ability to understand spoken language, and the use of reading comprehension strategies are all also critical aspects of reading development.
"Poor readers, in the beginning stages of learning to read, most commonly have a language-based learning problem that is interfering with progress in word recognition (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2019; Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003)."
Neurocognitive research shows that the brain changes in response to interventions for struggling readers and that those changes extend into young adulthood. At Evoke, using standardized assessments, we begin remediation by identifying the weak component(s) of the student’s reading so that intervention is strategic and targeted. Intervention efforts are directed toward removing the hurdles that are preventing the student from reading. Initial problems in reading persist without intensive intervention.
To read effectively, students need both the ability to recognize words easily (decoding) and strong language comprehension (assembling information accurately). If there is impairment in just one of these skills, reading will be affected. Reading comprehension strategies cannot compensate for an inability to decode words accurately and instantaneously. The ability to understand letter-sound combinations frees the brain to move from foundational reading skills to higher-order reading processes, such as pulling meaning from text and learning new vocabulary.
"For weak readers to close the gap, they have to accelerate their progress to a rate of growth that is faster than their typically developing peers. Fortunately, research has demonstrated that this is possible (Torgesen at al. 2003)."
For elementary age students, reading skills must be adequate for the next level of instruction. Proficient reading fluency is critical for older students because of its association with comprehension. Students who lag their peers in reading proficiency and do not receive adequate remediation begin to dislike reading, read less than their classmates, and continue to fall behind. Slow, stilted reading is difficult and frustrating. Weak readers are less likely to practice reading and so do not improve their skills or build fluency and automaticity.
"Research has shown that even students with some of the most severe reading disabilities can make substantial progress in their word-level reading skills, with a considerable proportion developing word-reading skills to an average level (Kilpatrick, 2015)."
At Evoke, we use effective research-validated reading intervention approaches based on the science of reading. Evoke’s reading remediation program can make significant improvements through direct instruction and training to correct a student’s deficits and undo inefficient word recognition habits. Using proven instructional principles, Evoke’s intervention approaches directly address word-level reading difficulties, train the skills that promote orthographic mapping (the process students use to become fluent readers), and ensure that the student’s learning transfers to the general application of skills. Student progress is measured using standardized assessments administered by a professional speech-language pathologist to determine the success of the interventions.
"Successful reading comprehension requires the orchestration of a number of different abilities and processes for its success (Oakhill, Cain, & Elbro, 2019)."
A three-year longitudinal study of the overlap and stability of English and French word-reading difficulties in French-immersion students published in July 2022 by researchers at several leading Canadian universities suggests that English-French bilingual children with reading impairments have “significant and persistent deficits in both languages” (Shakory, Krenca, Marinova-Todd et al). Students who have academic difficulties in their first language appear to have similar challenges when trying to learn a second language, and parents are often advised to pull their children out of language classes to avoid the added stress and possible failure. Instead of discouraging those students from trying learning to speak and read a new language, the solution may be simply to address their English language deficits.
Underlying Common Cognitive Processes Hypothesis- "The brain simultaneously engages in a variety of basic cognitive processes in order to read. These cognitive abilities are required for reading in all languages, and deficits in any one of these complex mental operations will impact reading in any language (Geva & Ryan, 1993)."
Cross-linguistic transfer occurs when students learning another language have access to and use linguistic resources from their first. A general level of phonological ability is required for word reading skills to develop in both French and English. Phonological awareness skills transfer between languages; if a student has strong phonological awareness in one language, they are likely to have strong phonological awareness skills in their second language (Durgunoglu, 1998). Because of this cross-language transfer, it is possible to assess reading difficulties and subsequently provide phonological awareness training in English for students enrolled in French immersion programs.
Students who struggle with learning a second language are similarly challenged in their native language. Despite these roadblocks, decades of evidence show that second languages can be successfully taught to students with learning disabilities. French immersion students who struggle with reading would also have difficulty with reading in an English program. The interventions that are appropriate and effective for students learning to read in their first language are effective for students learning to read French as a second language.
Prior to the commencement of the remediation program, students undergo a few standardized assessments (administered by a licensed speech-language pathologist) to identify the specific gaps in their reading skills and determine if they are candidates for the intervention program. Students recommended for enrollment in the reading remediation program work with trained Evoke practitioners in a one-to-one format. Evoke does not offer group programming. Sessions are delivered online, which allows students to work from a quiet place with fewer disruptions and distractions and for them to proceed, in privacy, at their own pace. Student sessions can be scheduled for optimal learning time and lessons are interactive to engage the learner. Remediation sessions are 30 minutes long.
"No combination of assessment and curriculum adaptations and modifications in isolation will help a child struggling with reading learn to read—the student will require instruction; differentiated, explicit instruction in reading and reading-related skills is the only evidence-based treatment for reading disabilities (Miciak & Fletcher, 2019)."
Evoke uses the Simple View of Reading model to help identify and remediate reading difficulties. SVR helps to highlight weak learning components so that appropriate instructional procedures and intervention can be provided. To determine whether your child is a candidate for Evoke’s reading remediation program, please contact us.
Grounded in the most current research on successful reading interventions, Evoke’s reading remediation program focuses on developing the skills that close the gap for struggling students.
The components of effective reading instruction are the same whether the focus is on prevention or intervention. Evoke’s programming is informed by the science of reading and our efforts are grounded in an understanding of typical reading development and on the factors that disrupt this process. Our interventions are scientific, strategic, and based on a student’s assessment data, which provides an explanation for why the student is struggling.
Research demonstrates that students with severe and persistent learning challenges require multiple opportunities to practice a skill or strategy. Evoke’s program is composed of proven interventions to remediate the reading-related skills that support reading development. Intervention efforts are directed toward removing the hurdles that are preventing the student from making typical reading progress. Students learn reading skills and are provided with an opportunity to practice them.
All Evoke’s services are individualized and one-to-one (we do not offer group programming). Our practitioners have experience working with exceptional learners and use interactive tools and resources to engage them. Most of our clients struggle with self-regulation and our practitioners are experts in meeting their needs. The reading program is offered in short but intensive 30-minute sessions. This is the ideal length of time for fostering student progress; it is long enough for the intervention to be effective and short enough that the student remains engaged and focused.
Our work is student-focused but data-driven. Evoke integrates ongoing assessment and evaluation into the reading remediation program using standardized, proven assessment tools. Parents receive regular monthly written progress updates, documenting the skills that have been mastered and the focus of current instruction.
Reading progress is visible, and usually begins with a student’s obvious increased reading confidence and willingness to read. Most students avoid reading— and procrastinate around academic work that involves a lot of reading— simply because it’s hard. The change will begin at home and eventually your child’s teacher will also be able to notice the progress they are making.
Cognitive science research shows that while strategy instruction improves comprehension, it does not positively impact the skills required for reading. To make reading gains, students must be able to decode words fluently. In addition, it’s difficult to understand the meaning of a sentence if you don’t understand the words you are reading. Background knowledge and vocabulary play a much stronger role in reading comprehension than strategies that give readers a one-time boost. Reading comprehension is built through read-aloud experiences until students can read proficiently and independently and reading comprehension strategies can be directly taught.
Research has consistently demonstrated the need for and importance of early identification and intervention for students who may be at risk for later reading difficulties (Early Reading Expert Panel, 2003). Vaughn et al. (2003) have suggested that “because students who do not learn to read in the first and second grades are likely to struggle with reading throughout their lives, effective reading interventions for students early in their educational careers are critical” (p. 301). If they do not have the underlying skills required, students do not get better at reading by reading.
Reading is a skill that is required for all academic subjects. Learning to read is critical for student success. Quite often, the reading deficits of older struggling readers go unaddressed, and those students must use accommodations to access the curriculum. Research tells us, however, that it is possible to normalize the reading skills of a large percentage of weak readers (Forman & Al Otaiba, 2009) and that large gains are possible for students of all ages and levels of severity (e.g., Simos et al, 2002; Torgensen et al, 2001). The components of effective reading instruction are the same whether the focus is on prevention or intervention (Foorman and Torgensen, 2001). At Evoke, our experience is that reading deficits create substantial cognitive overload for students and in many cases can impact their motivation to start and complete academic work. A combination of reading intervention and assistive technology can help lighten this load and pave the way for academic success.
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