My child is bilingual and has dyslexia. I am getting conflicted information about helping him to read- help me please!


I recently received this email.  I edited the names and some details to address confidentiality.  See response below.

My daughter needs to success successfully and she is having reading difficulties.  Maria is a 9-year-old multi lingual (Spanish) 4th-grader.  She was evaluated in 2nd grade and 3rd grade at school and was identified with a learning disability.  We also had a neurodevelopmental psychologist evaluate her outside of school and she diagnosed dyslexia. Maria is behind grade level and needs help with reading and math

I was told to have her learn one system of reading versus another but the school suggested that I only stick to the one used by the school.  I am very worried because of the summer between 1st to 2nd grade, Maria’s reading level dropped after participating in the summer reading program at school. 

How do I go about finding amazing teachers specialized with her learning challenges and experience with multi language students that may be able to help?  

How can I find out what learning system is best for her?

I am so sorry to hear that your daughter reading skills decreased with the summer program.  I have several questions and some recommendations.   I also want to let you know that there is not one program over another reading program that will address dyslexia for every child.  Because of this, the are hundreds of readings programs that approach teaching reading in a variety of ways and different scope and sequences in the introduction of letters and sounds.  I would also like to highlight that for bilingual learners, Spanish in particular or other romance languages, learning to read is similar in that about 40% of the words have a cognate in English (eg. importante — important) but reading may be taught differently.  For example, teaching reading in Spanish is taught by using syllables that connect to each other to create words and all vowels have just 1 sound, while in English we focus on letter and sounds independently connected and there are 14 vowel sounds represented in the 5 vowels.  Below is my answer to this mother:

  1. Is your child taken out during the regular reading/ELA class in school to received special education supports under a learning disability?  If so, the first thing you need to do is to request a change that so that she receives the general education instruction and then supplemental support in special education.  Taking the child of the richness of the general education curriculum will impact peer learning, vocabulary, and comprehension practice.  The National Reading Panel is clear in establishing evidence that students must be taught all five areas of reading: phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The National Literacy Panel supported this view and added oral language development– a critical component for students learning English as well.  As a result, if a child is taken out of the general curriculum to get specialized services for decoding or phonemic awareness they are missing on the other components of reading instruction and this will set them back even further.
  2. Is the school implementing a Multi-tier system of Support (MTSS or RTI)?  If so, she should also be receiving General education ELA (also known as Tier 1), Tier 2 strategic intervention in a small group instruction with like peers, and Tier 3 intensive intervention which more likely be the special education supports.  The school must guarantee access to the general curriculum or Tier 1 so please ensure that before all.
  3. Although it makes sense that you don’t introduce different programs not provided in school, you want to make sure the intervention is evidenced-based such as Lindamood Bell Learning Process (not very common across public schools) or a kinesthetic or hands on program like Orton Gillingham Reading.  These programs are in English.  If the school can provide intervention in Spanish and English, consider requesting interventions in both as learning to read in Spanish is by syllables and learning to read in English is by sounds/letters.  Here is a review of many other evidenced-based reading programs that the school may be using  (you can look by grade level and subject)
  4. I would also recommend that the teachers complete a curriculum-based measurement (CBM) check or progress monitoring check or oral reading probe (ORF) (all the same thing) weekly to show the ongoing growth.  They should share the results with you weekly so that you and your child can also keep track.  Basically, this assessment counts the number of letters, phonemes, or words read correctly in the text she is provided.  All children grow on average (give and take – 1 word per week with general education) you want to make sure that she is increasing more than that and chart it with her so that she sees the growth and feels successful.  Since she is receiving intervention/special education you would expect larger growth per week.  You can also do this at home.  Here is a good video and from there you can see much more –
  5. I would also recommend that you consider reading at least 7-10 minutes in whatever language, Spanish preferably, every day.  Pick or consider books that would be easy for her and that she likes.  Start by reading to her using your fingers to follow the words, then ask her to read together with you and then have her try it by herself and give lots of positive reinforcement.  Use a timer.  If she misses any words you can put them in index cards and practice them a few minutes after or in the car or during bath time, etc.

These are some starting steps to bring to your IEP team or teachers.


Claudia Rinaldi View All →

Professor Claudia Rinaldi is the Chair of the Education Program at Lasell University. Her areas of research are the implementation of the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) framework in urban settings with English learners, teacher education in bilingual special education, and diversifying the teacher pipeline. Claudia has authored peer-reviewed publications and a book for educators called Practical Ways to Engage All Struggling Readers. She lead and developed a graduate certificate program in Teaching Bilingual Students with Disabilities for general, ESL and special education teachers geared towards applying research-informed practices to the questions and processes of identifying whether it is a language difference or a learning disability. Claudia developed a college mentoring program called Pathways to Teacher Diversity for districts and teacher education programs to partner in identifying and supporting underrepresented high school students interested in teaching careers to successfully access and persist in college. She serves in various boards including the National Center for Learning Disabilities and serves as an expert for and the National Center for Intensive Interventions.

Professor Claudia Rinaldi believes that it is critical to prepare teacher leaders who may serve as advocates and allies and who will respond to the belief that all students can learn and succeed beyond barriers like culture, language, disability poverty, and marginalization in our country and globally.

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