Maryanne Wolf is a “neuroscience of reading” researcher at Tufts who herself has a son who is “dyslexic”. She is comfortable with using that term as a sort of umbrella term for learning-reading difficulties. (The estimates I see seem to be that roughly 5% of people are dyslexic.)
To me that makes her uniquely qualified to speak on the subject of learning to read and I was pleased to hear that she agrees with what I have been reading on the subject which is that “dyslexia” is a brain difference that has both advantages and disadvantages, and one disadvantage is that learning to read is more difficult.
An interesting interview:
Anyway, my take-away as the parent of kids attending a Sudbury school is that it isn’t useful to believe that all kids will magically “get” reading and that reading difficulties are due solely to traditional school instructional problems. Certainly “almost automatic” reading does happen with most kids (Let’s call it 95%.) But with one of our kids (yes, surrounded by people reading and huge amounts of social conversation at home and at school) that isn’t what is happening. So reading is something that they have to explicitly work on (and want to work on!) And so we do. That’s what everything I have been reading and what Maryanne Wolf says in the video… explicit instruction and practice with decoding, etc.
I guess that is the obvious problem with traditional schooling and reading. The kids with certain brains will be just fine (or very bored) with the pace/timing of the reading instruction in class. And the kids who are “dyslexic” to varying degrees (since the researchers understand that there are different issues involved depending on the person) then run the risk of the labels/frustration/falling-behind cycle if they aren’t able to get enough extra help. I mean, 95% of school is reading, so if you are not ready to read yet (“cerebral diversity” I’ve heard it called) then you are going to have a problem.
If kids had more individualized attention (tiny classes, or homeschooling) or given the freedom to do and learn what they want (Sudbury schools) then it wouldn’t be an issue.
It certainly hasn’t been for us. Our dyslexic kid went from not being able to get through very simple books because he would get stuck too often, to being able to read at “grade level” (roughly 5th or 6th grade — Sudbury schools don’t have grades but that’s what he would be in based on his age) in less than a year of 2-hours-a-week tutoring (which he LOVES, btw). Again, your mileage may vary — our dyslexic kid is probably mildy dyslexic — but just wanted people to know what a joy it has been for him to learn to read on his own terms.