What is Structured Literacy/Dyslexia Therapy

June 25, 2021

The science of reading brings together a variety of fields – education, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and more – to determine how the brain learns to read. Structured literacy is a method that takes this body of knowledge into how we learn to read and write and turns it into a practical teaching and therapy model.

While all students will learn best in structured literacy environments, it is essential for students with dyslexia or struggling readers to receive this type of direct instruction and the opportunity to practice the concepts to automaticity.

It All Starts with Sounds
All expert readers and spellers have at their core the ability to determine the sounds, or phonemes, that make up the words they hear. English has 43 sounds – 25 consonants and 18 vowels. Struggling readers have difficulty hearing these individual sounds in words and need direct instruction and practice in phonemic awareness: taking apart words into their individual sounds, blending sounds to create words, and then manipulating words by deleting or adding sounds to create new words.

Sounds Map to Letters
Next, students have to learn the graphemes, or the written letter(s), that belong to those sounds. Since English has many sounds to letter correspondences that are more complex than a single sound to a single letter, struggling readers again must learn these phonics patterns in a sequential, multisensory, direct instruction model.

Patterns of Spelling (Orthography)
Along with basic sound-to-letter mapping, students learn common spelling patterns and the basic six-syllable types in English: Closed, Open, Vowel Teams, R-Controlled, Silent e, Consonant – le or Final Stable Syllables. Practicing spelling and syllable patterns to mastery helps unlock multi-syllable words and understand patterns like the doubling rules or the use of digraphs/trigraph patterns.

Morphology is the study of prefixes, suffixes, roots/basewords. English has many morphemes, or letter(s) that grouped together have meaning. These units of meaning make up a large part of our written language code, and direct instruction and practice helps students to unlock multi-syllable words for decoding and spelling, and also build vocabulary skills.

Syntax is studying basic parts of speech and grammar conventions to help students understand how our language is constructed into sentences that convey meaning.

Semantics is understanding the vocabulary, sentence structure, organization, and meaning of oral and written language.

Principals of Instruction and Practice
Students with dyslexia need lessons that are direct and explicit, presented using multisensory methods that engage visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses, and present concepts in a sequence from simple to complex. Most importantly, students must have plenty of opportunities to develop automatic recognition of the basic patterns before moving on to more complex layers through repetition and mastery practice. Mastery must be determined by progress monitoring so that instruction can be tailored for each student’s unique profile and progress.