By Dr. Shawn Anthony Robinson, PhD
During dyslexia awareness month every October, I get on my bicycle BIKE. as a time to self-reflect, build community, and raise awareness of both literacy and mental health disparities. Last year, in partnership with my local bicycle shop and cycling group, Wheel and Sprocket, we biked 175 miles. This October we biked 120 miles in one day. These are both amazing accomplishments! Our mental health is important, and it is even more critical for students with dyslexia who are not exposed to evidence-based reading interventions.
When I am on my bike, I reflect on the situation students with dyslexia encounter when they are being denied services by the educational system. What does it mean for me to be a husband, father, scholar, author, and advocate? What does it mean for me to have been one of those dyslexic students who did not receive evidence-based reading in instruction? On the ride this month, I thought about being vulnerable and having the courage to share my thoughts about how I see BIKE – bookish, ingenuity, kinesthetic, engagement – as a process similar to teaching and learning.
Bookish: High Quality Reading Instruction Liberates
The letter B in BIKE refers to Bookish. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “bookish” is defined as a student who is devoted to reading, studying, and relying on book knowledge. As someone with dyslexia and as a reading instructor, the Word Analysis course that I launched at Madison College relies heavily on the dictionary, which helps students learn about linguistics, word knowledge, and sound structure of the American English language. It also helps the students learn spelling patterns and parts of speech. Learning how to use the dictionary and having access to high quality instruction based on the science of reading can liberate students from the limits imposed through years of missed opportunities in education. More importantly, students can become academically independent and motivated to access learning through book knowledge.
Ingenuity: Diversify Perspectives to Recognize Ingenuity in all Students
The I in BIKE refers to Ingenuity, defined as a student exhibiting any of the following traits: cleverness, originality, and inventiveness. We live in a world that is a melting pot of students of many social and cultural backgrounds who are inventive and creative, bringing unique life experiences and perspectives to their community. As educators, we need to expand the cultural perspectives on learners in general, and on dyslexia specifically. We limit ourselves drastically when we perpetuate a predominately White, elitist perspective. Our creativity and inventiveness will expand exponentially when we include a wide range of social, ethnic, and gender perspectives. We can stop framing special education from a deficit perspective by including the individual, cultural, and social differences each student brings to the table. Ingenuity is for everyone and can come from anyone.
Kinesthetic: Getting the Right Fit Helps Students Move Forward
The K in BIKE refers to Kinesthetic and is defined as having an awareness of the position and movement of one’s body. I think of a particular analogy between biking and being a practitioner in the field of reading. Three years ago, I purchased a new road bike, but I was struggling with it and couldn’t figure out why I was having such a difficult time. I was not making any progress. After a while, I decided to get fitted on the bike so I could maximize my full potential, and after the appropriate fitting, my movement was more fluent. This experience made me think about students with dyslexia who struggle with reading and could benefit from a good fit. Their fit could be: (1) early identification, (2) multisensory approaches, and (3) evidence-based instruction that is grounded in the science of reading that teaches both learning to read and reading to learn. Without these good fits, students will continue to struggle. However, once they receive a proper fit, students could become fluent in specific skills needed to decode and encode allowing them to move forward gracefully on their path toward reading.
Engagement: Continued Reading Leads to Lifelong Cycle of Learning
The E in BIKE refers to Engagement and is described as something that involves a person’s emotional commitment. Every push of the bike pedal engages me in movement, forward progress, and continued engagement. I recognize how important it is to find ways to keep students engaged in learning through reading. The first level of engagement for readers comes in the early years, ideally through gifted teachers knowledgeable about the science of reading. Later, the reader becomes more independent, morphing into a lifelong learner who engages in reading every day. Now, the reader has merged engagement with reading and engagement with life into one harmonious experience.
As I reflect on dyslexia awareness month and what it means to me on my journey, I will continue to BIKE and think of ways to help students read, study, and enjoy book knowledge. I am committed to helping students learn the sound structure of the American English language as well as reading strategies that help them make sense of print. Through this, I hope to help students find their voice and creativity, and I appreciate the opportunity of actively engaging on the road to learning.
Shawn Anthony Robinson PhD
Doctor Dyslexia Dude
Shawn Anthony Robinson, PhD, is a noted educational scholar, author, and entrepreneur. Currently, he serves in the following capacities: full-time reading instructor at Madison College; Senior Research Associate in Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; cofounder of Doctor Dyslexia Dude; and a former board member with the International Dyslexia Association. Robinson, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO), DePaul University, and Cardinal Stritch University, has published over forty peer-reviewed publications and three children’s books. His research focuses on dyslexia, adult education, and edtech. Robinson has received several distinguished honors such as: 2017 Alumni Achievement Award/New Trier High School Alumni Hall of Honor, 2016 Outstanding Young Alumni Award from UWO, and 2005 “Educator of the Year” from All State Insurance. Robinson is also a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and has been involved with Special Olympics for over twenty years.
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Keep Students Engaged with Bookshare
Everyone has the ability to read. Some students just need more support. With Bookshare ebooks, teachers and parents can empower students with technology that make reading easy and fun. Bookshare is a FREE, federally funded tool for students with dyslexia and other reading barriers. Students read in ways that work for them with ebooks in audio, audio + highlighted text, large font, and other customizable formats. From textbooks and school materials to culturally relevant titles that can engage and increase reading interest, you will find virtually any book for school or leisure reading. Learn more and sign up your student.