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Evidence-Aligned Instructional Approaches for Dyslexia

Updated on
Modified on November 2, 2023

I have experienced a multitude of approaches and methods for teaching reading during the course of my 32 years in education. My training began with whole language and progressed to Structured Literacy out of desperation and necessity for the struggling readers in my classroom. In the context of this blog post, I use the term “evidence-aligned” strictly from personal experience teaching hundreds of students with dyslexia to read, write, and spell.

Evidence-aligned practices are methods that have been demonstrated to be effective and lend themselves to replication to other groups, organizations, and contexts. There is a vast, interdisciplinary body of scientifically based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing (The Reading League, 2022). I earned my initial Structured Literacy certification in 1999, which changed the trajectory of my career and made a positive impact on student outcomes. Structured Literacy emphasizes systematic and explicit language instruction inclusive of foundational and advanced concepts associated with reading and writing. Empirical science proves its effectiveness with most children (National Reading Panel, 2000).

Most students benefit from Structured Literacy. However, it is essential for students with dyslexia. I taught students with dyslexia to read, spell, and write after methods within the school setting failed. The Structured Literacy approach explicitly teaches phonology, sound-symbol association, syllable instruction, morphology, syntax, and semantics.  Structured Literacy is effective due to its direct, explicit teaching methods and diagnostic approach.  The explicit teaching characteristics of Structured Literacy also benefit students at risk in literacy for various reasons including low-income backgrounds and English learners (Denton et al., 2010; Rivera, Moughamian, Lesaux, & Francis, 2008).

Following are strategies and activities to help students with dyslexia succeed in their language learning.

  • Systematic Phonics: Structured Literacy places a strong emphasis on teaching phonics, which involves teaching students how letters and letter combinations correspond to specific sounds which map to specific letters and letter combinations.
  • Direct Instruction: Teachers using Structured Literacy provide explicit instruction, modeling, and practice for each skill, ensuring students understand the rules and concepts being taught.
  • Sequential Progression: Skills are taught in a specific order, building on each other in a logical progression. This ensures students have a solid foundation before moving on to more advanced skills by ensuring mastery learning through progress monitoring.
  • Multisensory Approach: Structured Literacy often incorporates multisensory techniques, where students engage with materials using multiple senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic/tactile) to enhance learning and memory.

Supporting students with dyslexia requires a multifaceted approach considering their individual needs and strengths. I used data to drive my instruction, being diagnostic and prescriptive after each lesson with a student. Students with dyslexia benefit from assistive technology supporting access to the curriculum and information needed to be successful during their academic years and beyond.

Assistive technology provides equity and empowerment to succeed and gain access to information necessary to not only survive but also thrive within an academic setting. Self-advocacy skills teach students to recognize their strengths and challenges related to dyslexia and help them communicate their needs to teachers and ask for appropriate accommodations. It is essential for teachers and caregivers to provide positive reinforcement and praise for effort and progress, as well as celebrate successes and improvements to boost confidence. I am comforted with the memories of all the students I taught to read, write, and spell. I am burdened knowing how many others continue to struggle. I am encouraged by the scientific evidence providing vehicles to literacy for students with learning differences such as dyslexia.

I am honored to be the guest in November for the EDVIEW360 podcast “Evidence-Aligned Instructional Approaches for Dyslexia.” I hope you’ll join the conversation!

Listen to the podcast


Infographic: Dyslexia and Student Success


Denton, C. A., Nimon, K., Mathes, P. G., Swanson, E. A., Kethley, C., Kurz, T. B., & Shih, M. (2010). Effectiveness of a supplemental early reading intervention scaled up in multiple schools. Exceptional Children, 76, 394–416. doi:10.1177/001440291007600402 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/001440291007600402

Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., & Wisel, S. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (NCEE 2016-4008).  Washington, DC:  National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.  https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/practiceGuide/wwc_foundationalreading_040717.pdf

National Reading Panel (U.S.), & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read:  An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction:  Reports of the subgroups.  Washington, DC:  National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/nrp/findings

Rivera, M. O., Moughamian, A. C., Lesaux, N. K., & Francis, D. J. (2008). Language and reading interventions for English language learners and English language learners with disabilities. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

The Reading League. (2022). Science of Reading: Defining Guide.


About the Author
Dr. Rebecca Tolson
Dr. Rebecca Tolson
Walsh University

Rebecca Tolson has a Ph.D. in curriculum & instruction from the University of Akron and is a member of Academic Therapy Association at the level of qualified instructor and certified academic language therapist and a certified dyslexia therapist through the International Dyslexia Association®.

Tolson began her career in education as a fifth-grade teacher and later transitioned to teaching both children and adults with learning disabilities. She specializes in using Structured Literacy techniques as intervention for dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Tolson is a literacy/dyslexia consultant and teaches as an adjunct professor for Walsh University in the masters of dyslexia therapy program and serves as the chair of the Ohio Dyslexia Committee.

Learn more about Dr. Rebecca Tolson