The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as, “difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”
The Gow School in South Wales, N.Y. specializes in remediating dyslexic young men in grades 7-12. The school’s unique and effective curriculum is based primarily on the Reconstructive Language™ program. Every year 100 percent of Gow graduates are accepted to college or university.
Elements of the program are included in every subject, and students spend at least one hour per day in dedicated Reconstructive Language tutoring with three to five classmates. The course is comprised of phonic flash card decks that students write and then repeatedly recite, ample spelling practice at the chalk board and on paper, and time in class breaking words down into their smallest parts.
Teachers instruct on various aspects of language from phonics to syllables to vocabulary in a direct manner that involves visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands-on) learning. Word lists are built and read to develop word attack skills. Roots, prefixes and suffixes are focal points of instruction. Students read aloud in class almost daily and take time to build comprehension skills.
The phonics card deck is a staple in the Reconstructive Language program, consisting of 116 cards depicting simple and complex letter-sound combinations (phonograms). Every year, students memorize, review, and seek to master the letter combinations and their respective sounds, guide words, and sometimes a corresponding spelling rule.
Combinations on the cards can range from single consonants such as ‘g’ or ‘x’, to vowel pairs such as ‘oa’ or ‘ai’, to more complex groups like ‘phys-’ and ‘eigh’. New cards are introduced and hand-made by students during Reconstructive Language class time. Opportunities for practice and drill are provided in class and during tutorial sessions. Daily homework assignments serve to reinforce students’ knowledge of the cards. Both application to reading and spelling are important steps toward mastery.
Several methods of spelling instruction are employed over time and teachers are careful to begin at a level that is appropriate for students. In auditory drill, students learn that the application of the phonics cards and guidewords is an effective way to improve spelling. The instruction, review and practice of spelling rules such as the ‘y’ rule, the doubling rule, and ‘i’ before ‘e’ are taught every year. Common one-syllable words that are especially difficult for a particular student become part of a personal spelling list that is practiced throughout the year.
Students are required to memorize “medicine sentences,” silly sentences or phrases that help them learn to spell words with similar patterns. Reconstructive Language instructors also try to have students memorize five to 10 sets of homophones each year, those tricky sound-alikes (sight, cite, site) that are the scourge of spellcheckers.
Oral reading is done on a daily basis in Reconstructive Language classes. Students read novels, short stories, essays and magazine articles out loud with the teacher taking a turn for modeling purposes. Pupils are taught to follow along when it is not their turn and are encouraged to use a card or finger to keep the eye from wandering and not skip lines. When a student struggles with a word while reading out loud he is encouraged to apply his knowledge of the phonetic, root and prefix cards to the challenging word. Oral reading allows a teacher to constantly monitor student progress in Reconstructive Language.
To build reading comprehension skills, students are taught Pearson’s Taxonomy of Questions as a model to increase understanding. By identifying or classifying questions that may be asked in class or on a typical homework assignment, they learn to find the answers within the reading and to write an answer of appropriate length.
The students also begin to separate the basic facts from more complex concepts and to develop and improve their own thoughts on a particular topic. Students are also encouraged to formulate their own questions and use inferential reasoning when reading expository text and to make predictions when working with narrative text structure. Models such as Know-What-Learn (KWL); Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review (SQ3R); Project Read’s Story Report Form; and Read, Ask, Paraphrase (RAP) are also employed. The aforementioned reading comprehension strategies intentionally mirror the Reconstructive Language approach to oral reading fluency and phonics.
This basic language and skills course helps students to learn and write better in several ways. First, the highly structured curriculum and schedule allow learning to be predictable and provides the necessary repetition for mastery to occur. Second, a perspective that involves the sound/symbol relationship within words gets at the heart of the primary neurological difference that causes reading problems for dyslexic students. Third, it is not unusual for students who have competent verbal language skills to struggle when it comes to breaking down the “whole” concept of language into its finer parts. Working with students to consciously analyze words, sentences, and text helps to reveal the logical structure of our language. A multi-sensory approach teaching to eyes, ears, and hands drives the lessons home for dyslexic of learners.
For more information on Reconstructive Language, the authors and The Gow School visit www.Gow.org.
Mari Jo is the director of research & assessment at The Gow School in South Wales, N.Y. Founded in 1926, the school is home to 137 boys, grades 7-12 with dyslexia and similar language based learning differences. This year, students come from 22 countries and 25 states. With a low 4:1 student to faculty ratio, strong academic and arts programs, competitive athletics and individualized attention, Gow students succeed. Each year, 100 percent of graduates are accepted to college.
Co-Authors of this article include:
Daniel Kelley, M.S.; David Mendlewski, M. Ed.; Mark Szafnicki M.Ed.; and Kathleen Rose, M.A.