Update on Dyslexia

Friday July 6th - 3:24pm

Filed Under: Learning Disabilities
Dyslexic kids who memorized Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's lengthy poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." were able to build reading skills. ADDitude magazine

When a first-grader struggles with reading, she's usually given the simplest material, books with one or two words per page. But what would happen if teachers upped the level of difficulty, rather than simplified it? One team of researchers wanted to find out, so it had a group of six-year-olds with dyslexia memorize Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's lengthy poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." The results were astounding: The children made progress in both reading comprehension and fluency after reciting the poem daily for several weeks.

The findings, reported by reading expert Frank Wood, Ph.D., at a recent lecture on dyslexia and neurogenetics at New York University's Child Study Center, offer clues to parents and teachers for helping the estimated 10 percent of all children who are dyslexic. Wood, a neurologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said that learning to "decode," or sound out, words is not enough. Unless a child's vocabulary and fluency, or the speed at which he recognizes words and reads, also improve, he may fall behind his peers by the time he reaches middle school.

Memorizing and reciting the lines of this famous poem, while reading along, accomplished all these tasks. It built vocabulary and comprehension by introducing kids to words they didn't know. And it built fluency through repetition.

As Wood notes, brain scans have revealed that people with dyslexia have a different organization of the brain, which can be rewired, but it takes time and patience. "It's like building muscles: You can strengthen them with repeated exercise," he said. Exercises to build reading strength, including reciting poetry that challenges the child, should continue in the upper elementary school years, long after most schools have stopped teaching reading, Wood adds.

SOURCE: Reporting by Clara Hemphill for ADDitude

Poetry That Can Build Reading Skills

Want to help your child improve his vocabulary and reading fluency by memorizing and reciting poems? ADDitude picks the following read-aloud poetry anthologies for kids, as well as an illustrated version of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

  • A Child's Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry, ed. by Michael Driscoll (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)

Clara Hemphill reports and writes about education and learning. She founded and edits insideschools.org, a comprehensive, independent guide to New York City public schools.
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