October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and our friends at Decoding Dyslexia Iowa are organizing events and leading the way in getting the word out about dyslexia. Check out this informational packet, which includes fact sheets, teacher tips, success stories, and library recommendations. Also, keep an eye on the Decoding Dyslexia Facebook page for awareness month updates and information throughout the month, including getting yourself ready for the annual educator conference (more below).
Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement Program Into Its Second Year
In addition to increasing dyslexia awareness among the general public, it is important to have more educators become dyslexia specialists in order to best meet the needs of students with this reading disability. For this reason, the Iowa Dyslexia Task Force recommended the Iowa Legislature establish a Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement for educators to become dyslexia experts and work in Iowa school districts or Area Education Agencies. In 2020, the legislature established the Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement and put the Iowa Reading Research Center in charge of coordinating the program to equip educators with the knowledge and skills they need to earn that endorsement and support students with dyslexia across the state.
The students in the first program cohort at the University of Iowa, who began the program in the fall of 2021, are currently doing their final instructional practicum assignments, working hands-on in Iowa classrooms. According to the program’s coordinator, IRRC Literacy Consultant Nina Lorimor-Easley, this experience working with students who need evidence-based interventions are one of the most robust elements of this endorsement.
“The opportunity for these educators to see their work pay off directly in one-to-one interventions is inspiring,” Lorimor-Easley said.
Meanwhile, this August, eight more Iowa educators comprising the second cohort of students began their journey with one online and one hybrid course taught by UI College of Education faculty. The program includes a year-and-a-half of virtual and in-person coursework, as well as a significant amount of hands-on intervention training. The endorsement is designed to equip participants with expertise in dyslexia, including evidence-based instructional and diagnostic methods for kindergarten–Grade 12 classrooms. The concepts taught in this program are closely aligned with the International Dyslexia Association's Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.
Lorimor-Easley also stresses the importance of the Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement program in equipping educators to identify and meet students’ needs early on in their education. Specialists will not only be better equipped to note when students are struggling, but also to analyze the underlying issues that may be leading to dysfluent reading and to implement direct and explicit individualized intervention methods.
“Too often we hear about dyslexia and think that it relates only to backwards ‘b’s and ‘d’s,” said Lorimor-Easley. “That fact is that dyslexia is a large contributing factor to our statewide literacy challenges, and those challenges have only been compounded by the pandemic.”
The UI’s Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement program and others like it will help to draw attention to the complexities of dyslexia interventions and provide students who have characteristics of dyslexia with the resources and support they deserve. The instructional strategies taught in this endorsement are not exclusive to dyslexia. They can also be implemented to better serve students with varying language-based learning disabilities as well as English learners.
Ideally, dyslexia specialists will be able to identify and address learning difficulties before they begin to impact higher-level literacy skills. This is a key step toward eliminating what dyslexia advocates call the “wait-to-fail system,” in which students must demonstrate significant reading difficulties over an extended period before issues are addressed. This antiquated system can have harmful effects on students’ future academic success and emotional well-being. When students struggling with reading fluency are supported appropriately very early in their learning, there is a great potential for a reduction of reading-related stress and an increase in feelings of self-efficacy in the classroom.
"We must proactively address the needs of our future readers. This will better set them and their teachers up for success and help to curtail the increasing load on our special education system.”
Applications for the endorsement program’s fall 2023 cohort are currently open. The program is available to licensed teachers with at least 3 years of teaching experience in a kindergarten–Grade 12 setting. Educators from outside of Iowa are eligible to enroll. However, Iowa educators will be given priority if space becomes limited.
For more information, including the answers to frequently asked questions, please visit the Dyslexia Specialist Endorsement program page on the Iowa Reading Research Center website.
The Decoding Dyslexia Iowa Educator Conference is taking place October 27–28 in Ankeny. The conference will feature several keynote speakers and breakout sessions with topics including technology and dyslexia, structured literacy in the classroom, vocabulary and morphology, and more! The IRRC will have a booth at the conference, and our Literacy Consultant Nina Lorimor-Easley will be delivering a keynote presentation on the social and emotional toll of dyslexia. There are still spots available, so consider signing up today to take part in supporting students with dyslexia in your classroom and hearing about literacy instructional techniques to benefit all students.
Instructors teaching literacy instruction courses at Iowa colleges and universities can now register their students for IRRC eLearning at no cost. These modules provide interactive ways to learn evidence-based instructional approaches in a variety of topics, including small-group instruction, interactive reading, Varied Practice Reading, and more. Please note, these modules were originally designed for experienced, in-service teachers. It is the responsibility of the course instructor to ensure that their students have a sufficient background in a topic before enrolling them in the course. For more information and to enroll your students, please visit the IRRC eLearning page on our website.
This month, the IRRC published another brand-new standalone resource for educators and families! This collection of fall-themed creative fiction and nonfiction writing prompts provides an opportunity for educators and caregivers to inspire students in kindergarten–Grade 12 to practice their writing skills in a fun and seasonal way. Prompts are available as printable lined documents or typable electronic PDFs. They are free to download from our website.
Thank you for reading!