What you must know about structured literacy programs

Literacy skills are the key to success for students and adults. Now more than ever, readers must be able to comprehend information from a variety of sources. When combined with vocabulary acquisition and fluency, decoding and encoding skills produce comprehension.

Students who struggle to read are often labeled as behavior problems. They get frustrated easily because they can’t figure out the code that unlocks words and produces meaning. Whole language and guided reading approaches to reading instruction make their problems worse.

As many as fifteen out of every one hundred Americans have been identified with dyslexia, a condition that makes reading, writing, and spelling a challenge. Even more students and adults have dyslexia-like symptoms that prevent them from reading successfully.

Struggling readers can learn how to read when introduced to the right approach for teaching reading. They must have a structured literacy program.

The origins of structured literacy

Structured literacy isn’t new. Developed by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), effective reading instruction must be diagnostic, explicit, and systematic and cumulative. Instruction must show how phonology, sound-symbol recognition, syllables, morphology, syntax, and semantics work together.

Not surprisingly, the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading set the foundation for structured literacy. Dr. Samual Orton partnered with reading teacher Anna Gillingham to created a brain-based reading system based on phonics. The multisensory techniques and highly structured approach became Structured Literacy.

In structured literacy reading programs, students learn phonemes, which are the smallest units. They build up to learning large words. Struggling readers need decoding skills to achieve reading success. How quickly they go through the program depends on their success. Students must master the current level before moving on.

The term structured literacy encompasses reading programs that focus on decoding words in a systematic approach. Many variations of structured literacy programs are available today.

What your structured literacy program should look like

Structured literacy isn’t just for students with dyslexia. Anyone having difficulties learning how to decode words and develop reading comprehension skills needs a structured literacy program.

Look for programs that:

  • Require decoding
  • Are well-structured
  • Incorporate multisensory techniques
  • Rely on diagnostics
  • Insist on mastery before moving ahead

In addition to the Orton-Gillingham Method, consider these other structured reading programs:

Most structured literacy programs provide specific recommendations on how quickly to intervene on behalf of struggling readers. Many experts recommend starting as early as Kindergarten. The programs also indicate lesson length and focus, and how many students can be accommodated in an instructional group. Finally, teachers need training in the system chosen.

Most struggling readers diagnosed with dyslexia or dyslexia-like symptoms can learn to read when taught with a structured literacy approach. Teachers need the tools to diagnose reading challenges in their students and intervene early.

Helping learners with reading difficulties takes finding the right brain-based program and following its structured steps.

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