Reading Academy Online to help people with dyslexia

Reading Academy Online is tackling dyslexia and other reading problems, writes Ruth Doris

One in 10 people is affected by dyslexia, but despite the prevalence of the learning difficulty, which makes it harder for some people to learn to read, write, and spell, many teachers report that their training is inadequate.

Two teachers have now provided a solution: The Reading Academy Online, a course tailored for parents, caregivers, and teachers of struggling readers.

As teachers at St Oliver Plunkett National School in Co Dublin, one of four special reading schools nationally, Sarah Dieck Mc Guire and Sarah Lumsden Watchorn recognised the unmet demand for specialist teaching services for children with reading difficulties and dyslexia.

They decided to offer services outside of school, setting up The Reading Academy in 2015. They currently operate three centres running small classes at Greystones in Co Wicklow, Monkstown, Co Dublin, and Belmullet in Co Mayo.

While the Department of Education provides a number of specialist units within national schools and four designated schools for children with dyslexia, many students with reading difficulties are still struggling in mainstream classrooms.

In a class of 30, three will struggle with reading, while the other 27 will be fine, says Ms Mc Guire. So when the Government is looking at funding, they see it as a small percentage.

However, she points out that there are varying degrees of severity, and while a child with mild dyslexia will develop coping mechanisms, he or she will struggle to reach their full academic potential.

The Reading Academy has received very encouraging feedback. Parents have seen significant improvements in their child’s attitude to reading and to their self-esteem. Resource teachers noticing their students’ progress have contacted the academy, asking about the methods they use, and whether they offer summer courses.

However, the founders realised that because of the scale of the demand and shortage of specially-trained teachers, another solution was needed. So they devised an online course based on the programme used in the centres. The course material is highly-structured and is suitable for parents, grandparents, caregivers, or resource teachers, regardless of experience, to teach a struggling reader.

The instructor doesn’t need to take a course, but they learn as they teach. The course is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach.

“Students are taught to understand the relationship between sounds and letters, and the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind reading.

The programme is presented using a multi-sensory approach, so when students are writing words, they’re also saying them. and they’re tapping the letters. Sound-tapping is one of the most effective methods that students use to isolate each of these sounds,” Ms Mc Guire explains.

Lessons use a variety of tools: Video, whiteboard animation, PowerPoint presentations, quizzes, and detailed lesson plans. There is also a fully-supported private Facebook group for questions and feedback.

The programme is led by the learner. “Many teachers are driven by a curriculum — they teach the lesson and move on. This approach is the complete opposite; the learner moves on once they’ve mastered the lesson.”

Ms Mc Guire says the programme has no age bias and is also suitable for secondary school students and adult learners. However, she recommends waiting until children reach second class because of potential conflict with the phonics-based teaching in the mainstream school setting. Launched last month, the course costs €99 for a home licence for one to two learners; school licences are priced at €250 for one teacher and €360 for three or more teachers.

Ms Mc Guire is confident of the course’s results.

By the time they’ve completed the programme, we would be looking for them to be reading novels to work on their fluency and their vocabulary,” she says.

While other programmes are available, she says the materials are costly. The business has received no outside funding to date. The founders have received business advice and mentoring through the Empower programme for female entrepreneurs.

The next step is to spread awareness of the online programme in Ireland, before looking to the UK. Ms Mc Guire says they are passionate about giving everyone the chance to learn to read.

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