Jordan Lefler is a Dyslexia Specialist at the Louisiana Key Academy in Baton Rouge. Dedicated exclusively to educating students with dyslexia, the tuition-free, public charter school serves the diverse community living in and around Baton Rouge, as well as many families, who moved from out-of-state, to enroll their children. The curriculum is designed to support the specific learning needs of dyslexic students. Grades one through five are focused on helping students build their reading skills and fluency. In grades six through eight, the focus shifts to supporting students and helping them learn to advocate for their own needs and accommodations to be successful.
Bookshare is an Everyday Reading Tool
Jordan teaches fourth and fifth-grade English. At the start of each class, Jordan logs into Bookshare, a free ebook library funded by the US Department of Education, and projects the passage of the day on the whiteboard. To make it easier for everyone to read aloud, Jordan increases the font size, changes it to open dyslexic, one of many features that make reading with Bookshare easier and sets it apart from other ebook providers. The students have their own Bookshare accounts and follow along on their Chromebooks. They have fun with the customization options, like changing fonts, highlighting, and background colors.
Access to Grade-Level Texts Matters – Even If It’s a Struggle
Louisiana Key Academy places an emphasis on using grade-level texts with their students. “It’s important for my students to know that they are reading the same books that other fifth graders are reading,” says Jordan. “It may be a struggle to read the books, and we may need to provide additional supports, but they can read at grade level.”
Jordan’s fifth-grade class is currently reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler , a mystery about two children, Claudia and Jamie, who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “They are invested,” says Jordan. “They’re all about the mystery in the museum and having fun making different voices as Jamie and Claudia.”
One strategy that Jordan uses to make the reading grade-level text easier for their students is breaking it down into manageable chunks that their class actively discusses and reviews together. They discuss vocabulary words and then use the search function (another advantage of using digital books) to find the word in the chapter.
Fostering a Culture of Agency
Jordan recommends always trying to make reading a positive experience, but that doesn’t mean that students have to love what they are reading all the time: “My students don’t have to like the book. They don’t even have to like reading. That’s ok. I focus on reminding students that they have agency in the classroom. They are allowed to feel how they feel about reading, but we still have to do what we can. And if they need help, or there is a part that they are really struggling with, we’ll take some time and work on it together.”
They also stress the importance of classroom tools that give students more independence. “Any tools that give students agency help dyslexic students. Being able to say I can do this by myself is so important for student self-esteem and motivation.”
Video: Our Story – Dyslexia and Louisiana Key Academy
If You Are Willing, You Will Succeed
No matter where students start, Jordan wants them to know that they can make progress in reading.
“I had one student who struggled with every single word. By the end of last school year, the student had sight words memorized and was working on words that are more difficult. And, the student was starting to show enthusiasm about reading.”
This turnaround in enthusiasm is incredibly important, notes Jordan. “The biggest struggle is whether or not students are willing. Because if they are willing to work and try, they are going to succeed, but it’s about students making that choice.”
Advice to Other Teachers
Jordan reminds teachers to have compassion for themselves. “It’s been a tough year. If you can take care of yourself, and do what you can in the classroom that’s not overwhelming to you, that’s important for the students because students can tell when you are overwhelmed.”
Tools that empower learning, agency and independence in the classroom, grade-level texts, and a healthy dose of compassion for self and for students are the keys to unlocking reading success.
Do you know a student who struggles with reading and can benefit from books in alternate formats? Learn how Bookshare can help.
People who are interested in learning more about the Louisiana Key Academy and exploring their dyslexia resources can visit: https://www.lakeyacademy.com/