In our new series, “Ask an expert,” we talk to the professionals who devote their lives to making the world a better place for children and adults with dyslexia: the educators, tutors, occupational therapists, psychologists, academics, writers, scientists and more, who inform, educate and advocate.
Our first expert is Nancy Young, a Canadian author and educator who specializes in reading, writing and spelling.
We asked her:
- Why do some children struggle to read and others don’t?
- What inspired you to become an expert and advocate?
- How can schools best support dyslexic children?
- What advice do you have for children and their parents?
- Do you like to read?
Make your favourite beverage (I’m sipping a coffee – strong!), sit back, and let’s chat about reading.
DL: Why do some children struggle to read more than others, and why aren’t they learning to read in school?
NY: Few adults – including many educators – realize how hard it is for most children to learn to read. Human brains are just not naturally wired to read and write; every brain must be rewired to perform these complex tasks.
A small percentage of children inherit genes that make learning to read (rewiring the brain) seemingly easy an environment which includes lots of exposure to language and written text.
Most children require code-based instruction to learn to read. For children with dyslexia, many steps and repetitions are needed to learn the code, even if a child is very bright and has grown up in an environment with lots of exposure to language and written text.
Environment can undoubtedly vary, but we know that instruction is the key.
Unfortunately, at present, very few Canadian teachers are trained in how to effectively deliver this instruction to children whose genetics have made it harder to learn to read or whose background has deprived them of exposure to text. Even fewer teachers understand how to optimize their instruction for the 10 to 15% of learners with dyslexia (some research puts it as high as 20%) who may be the brightest in the class despite their greater difficulty in learning to read.
DL: How did you become so passionate about literacy and ensuring that children learn to read?
NY: It was in my children’s classrooms that I first began to learn that reading can be a difficult skill for some children to master. When I went back to university to become a teacher, I wanted to learn more about this.
Sadly, my education degree taught me little about how children learn to read. I had to search for the answers myself. The more I found out, the more determined I became to share my knowledge with parents and teachers. It shocked me that there was such strong science showing how the reading brain is developed yet this information was not reaching the classroom (and not reaching university teacher training programs).
My work with many struggling readers in my own private practice gave me first-hand experience not only in how badly so many children had been let down, and the social and emotional consequences, but how quickly they could learn to read (turning their life around) with the right instruction!
My learning about reading instruction and my work with families and teachers (who have been let down by their training – or lack of) continues every day, and my passion gets stronger and stronger!
DL: If you could wave a magic wand and make the world (and school, in particular) a perfect place for children and adults with dyslexia, what would that world look like?
NY: Every child would be screened K through 3, and evidence-based instruction would effectively address their reading and writing needs (from weak to advanced). Instruction on the fascinating English language would carry on after Grade 3, with trained teachers continuing to build skills in ways that the research shows can be done to strengthen both written and spoken language (higher level word analysis).
All children would then become strong enough readers and spellers be able to read, process, evaluate and expand the written word to build knowledge, think critically, solve issues and enjoy life at home, at school, and in the community without feeling like their reading/spelling or writing skills were holding them back.
DL: What is the main piece of advice would you give parents with a child that is struggling to read, or newly diagnosed as having dyslexia?
NY: Act now if you know (or suspect) there is a problem. Time is of the essence!
DL: What main piece of advice would you give to a child with dyslexia?
NY: You need to know that you are an amazing person with many strengths. It is the job of the adults in your life to help you learn to do something that is not easy for you – to learn to read. Your job is to believe in your ability to soar!
DL: Do you like to read? If so, what kinds of literature do you like? What is your favourite book?
NY: I am an avid reader! When not reading about learning to read, I read history books (fiction and non-fiction). My favourite book is Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, which I read more than once long before it became a movie.