Essentials of a Successful Reading Intervention.

Shaywitz has identified four steps for successful intervention.

Early intervention

Diagnosing early is the key first step. Poor readers receive the least amount of reading practice although they need the most. A dyslexic child at eight who has not been identified is already thousands of unlearned words behind. His vocabulary has suffered and he is not learning new concepts. A child needs help before he fails.

Intense instruction

Reading instruction for the dyslexic reader must be delivered with great intensity. This reflects the dyslexic child’s requirement for more instruction; he must make a leap as he is already behind his classmates.

Optimally, a child who is struggling to read should be in a group of three and certainly no larger than four students and he should receive this specialized reading instruction at least four and preferably five times a week.

High quality Instruction

‘Teaching reading is rocket science’! Recent studies highlight the difference that a teacher can make in the overall success or failure of a reading programme. In one study where experienced teachers were pitted against inexperienced ones using the same instructional methods, the results were overwhelmingly one sided. Shaywitz concludes: the primary job of teaching dyslexic children to read should not be left to classroom aids, peer tutors, or teachers who do not possess the necessary knowledge or experience.

Sufficient duration

One of the most common errors in teaching a dyslexic child to read is to withdraw prematurely when the instruction appears to be working. A child who is reading accurately but not fluently still requires intensive reading instruction. A child with a reading disability may require as much as 150 to 300 hours of intensive instruction if he is going to close the gap between himself and his reading peers.

What Happens in the Absence of Intervention?

The young dyslexic adolescent is probably reading less than his peers- he is certainly expending a great deal more energy on the text as he focuses on decoding word after word. He will use his higher powers to fill in word gaps. Curiously, he will find some of the little words more difficult than the big ones – is that ‘in’ or ‘on’? If young readers can’t penetrate the words easily, comprehension becomes extremely difficult. By adolescence, good readers are reading thousands of words instantly. They are devoting their energy to thinking about what they read. By contrast, people who have not mastered the phonetic code must devote their energy to decoding and often they rely on just memory. This memory has to serve them not just for reading words, but also for writing the spellings. It can drive some people to adopt the line of least resistance and not read and not learn new subjects. Relying on just hard copy books, highly motivated, dyslexic adolescents and young adults have to work incredibly hard to persevere with the volume of material dealt with routinely by good readers.

If reading and writing are slow and laborious tasks, help is at hand in the form of electronic intervention. With Dolphin Tutor, this reading and writing tool uses a speech synthesiser to read back highlighted text and has helpful word predictors and homophone databases to help with writing assignments. If you wish to dictate your work, Dolphin Tutor, with an add-on from Dragon Dictate, can accommodate this also. For larger blocks of material, such as course notes or handouts Dolphin Producer can be used to convert the content into a digital talking book that can be read back using either EasyReader (playback software for a PC or laptop) or a mainstream MP 3 player. The multi-sensory output from the digital talking book producer has been designed to help dyslexic users, by synchronizing the highlighted text to the audio playback. The user can also navigate the material by paragraph, page or chapter and search on specific words within the content.


This article has not dealt with many of the wonderful talents and abilities bestowed on people who also happen to have dyslexia. We haven’t questioned whether Muhammad Ali would have been the greatest sportsman ever to live or if Winston Churchill would have been as uncompromising, or Richard Branson as entrepreneurial if they didn't have dyslexia. Instead, we have simply looked at the problems it brings and looked at how these might be overcome. There is no doubt it makes life tougher, especially for people who aren't diagnosed early. For people who enjoy a timely and effective intervention, life is smoother. For those for whom intervention is too late, hope is not lost. Slow reading does not have to lead to a less interesting role in life. Electronic tools can help dyslexic readers gain speedy access to content ensuring ongoing learning at the same pace as unaffected readers.

Read the first part of this article.