...it was the first day of school and I was hired as a special education teacher to teach 4th/5th grade students with learning disabilities. A 5th-grade boy walks in the door, but instead of looking for his seat, he makes a beeline straight for me. Drew was tall with bright red curly hair. He had hair that didn’t grow so much in length as it did in volume. I could see immediately that Drew was out-going and charismatic. He proceeded to stop right in front of me and introduced himself with a hearty handshake. Drew shared with me that he was dyslexic and that I wouldn’t be able to teach him how to read, but that I shouldn’t worry because his private tutor would. To say he got my attention would be an understatement. I didn’t know what to say. We hadn’t worked together in previous years, so I didn’t have a track record of letting him down. I guess you could say he had my curiosity.
I Knew Nothing about Dyslexia
I began to wonder if I’d had other students with dyslexia but hadn’t realized it. Having a degree in special education and a National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist, I was surprised that I knew nothing about dyslexia. What I did know was this - I had noticed peculiar reading and spelling errors among many of my students with reading disabilities. I also knew that I was frustrated. Most of my students did not catch up to grade level despite hard work, having qualified teachers, and caring parents.
With Drew’s introduction, everything changed. I immersed myself in reading research and turned into a sponge. I learned that dyslexia affects a surprising 20% of our population and a whopping 80% of special populations (learning disabled students). The year I met Drew was the same year my daughters started kindergarten. Yes, the plot is about to thicken - especially with twins! Everything started to fall into perspective. You see, my daughters went into kindergarten and already had learning difficulties and speech delays. Kindergarten should be fun and games, right? Kids love kindergarten because they learn through playing. This wasn’t exactly the case. My girls weren’t connecting letters with sounds or identifying letters, they weren’t spelling their names correctly or reading sight words, they were guessing at words (word calling) and they couldn’t consistently rote count or rhyme. The list goes on and on. They were struggling and frustrated and they were only 5 years old. It didn’t take long for me to realize that both my daughters were dyslexic. What a whirlwind of a year!
Reading and Spelling Began to Make Sense
They had two different teachers and neither had any idea why they weren’t learning like their peers. They both told me to practice more at home with school materials, to use more learning games and watch more educational cartoons like the LeapFrog Letter Factory, etc. None of this helped so I took matters into my own hands. I pursued Orton Gillingham (Structured Literacy) training so I could teach all students to read, not just those who learned to read naturally using more traditional approaches. Teaching reading and spelling using a Structured Literacy approach made all the difference. Reading and spelling began to make sense for my daughters and for my students. I had multiple students make several years gain in reading level in only one school year. We were truly closing the gap between student reading level and grade level expectations! I often reflect on the fact that my daughters and students didn’t change anything to bring their reading levels up; my knowledge base and my techniques are what changed.
Inspired to Create Silver Moon Spelling Rules
I was so inspired by all of the measurable growth I saw after shifting my teaching approach that I went on to create my own Orton Gilingham based multisensory spelling curriculum, Silver Moon Spelling Rules. Some might wonder why I did this when what I had was clearly working. Truth is, that as I continued taking trainings to deepen my knowledge base in Orton methods I felt spelling rules were really boring and difficult to remember. I decided they could use some sprucing up to make them more memorable and fun. I created Silver Moon Spelling Rules so teachers, specialists and parents would have a fun and engaging way to make spelling rules more sensical, memorable, motivating and relevant for students. For struggling learners, it’s not sheer effort alone that builds understanding, but a combination of effort and the right teaching methods. Having engaging tools to support your teaching methods is definitely an exciting bonus!
~Written by, Kelly Steinke, Creator of Silver Moon Spelling Rules