Higher Education and Teacher Curricula in Reading: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Why can't we be friends
Why can’t we be friends?

Reading wars, structured literacy programs, early screening, multi-sensory interventions delivered with fidelity, IEP, IEE, assistive technology. When I began to get my arms around what I define as the “dyslexia space” I had no idea how complex the underlying issues were, and all of the controversies! Good heavens.

Many years ago, when we were told that our daughter had a reading difference we had one goal in mind. Teach my kid to read. That is what I call this site, and that has always been our goal. All we have ever wanted is for our daughter to read. What we didn’t know then is how complicated that would be. Sadly, our story is not unique. There are millions of kids like our daughter, and some are not so lucky as to have our life-wrenching choices that at least offer some solutions.

I have written in other blogs about the immense improvement our daughter demonstrated after she received services with fidelity at Camp Dunnabeck. As a friend often says, we peeled away a layer of the onion. Our daughter was happy, she was learning, and she was reading! Did we solve our challenges or come to the end of our story? Hardly. The journey never ends, even into adulthood where workplace challenges for dyslexic adults are starting to garner some attention. And, just because our daughter can decode or pronounce a word does not mean that she can understand what she is reading.

What Is Reading?

Being able to read is really, really complicated, and it’s not something that happens naturally. As reading specialists and other professionals know, reading comprises several different skills that are all very important for someone to be considered “a reader.” The National Reading Panel essentially defines the components of reading instruction as follows:

Phonemic awareness

The structured reading programs that are scientifically proven to help people who are dyslexic, and everyone for that matter, include these components. You may be surprised to learn that K-12 teachers responsible for teaching young children to read may not understand or have training in this area. The reason is mainly that many colleges and universities do not include dyslexia training or structured reading programs as part of the teaching curricula (you can Google the reading wars to get more in-depth information on this long-standing- battle). Matter of fact, there are very few college programs accredited to offer multi-sensory language education. I have no idea how many unaccredited programs integrate dyslexia awareness and a phonics-based reading program into the curricula.

reading wars
The reading wars. (Photo retrieved from psychologytoday.com)

So, What Do We Do About All This?

I say this in every post. I am not an expert. I’m a Mom navigating a complicated landscape, and an educational publisher trained tried and true to identify gaps and find learning solutions. I believe in higher education, and I am encouraged by some of the best practices that are simmering. It’s not enough, though, and the fact is that higher education is still more part of the problem than the solution.

So, here’s how I see it:

1. Higher education-Higher education teacher education and training programs do not prepare enough teachers to address dyslexia and reading differences adequately.
2. K-12-Many K-12 teachers responsible for teaching reading are not equipped to understand and teach kids with reading differences.
3. Policy-Each state has its own set of unique laws related to dyslexia. Some states have no laws on the books. There is wild inconsistency in how states, school districts, and schools deliver services.

What Can We Do?

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Dr. Seuss

It’s the holiday season so I’ll end with a partial wish list of solutions for 2018:

• Curricula reform in colleges and universities-including a focus on assistive technology.
• More teacher training partnerships between colleges and universities.
• Affordable options to train teachers or potential tutors.
• Fundraisers to send more kids to specialized camps for services and summer activities.
• More specialized schools for kids who need a curricular solution to thrive.
• Increase and pass more state laws that ensure that kids with learning differences are identified early, and have access to a proper education.

I hope that Teach My Kid to Read can be part of these solutions, and welcome your feedback on this article. Happy Holidays, and here’s to 2018!


Gray, P. (2013). The Reading Wars: Why Natural Learning Fails in Classrooms. Retrieved on December 15, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201311/the-reading-wars-why-natural-learning-fails-in-classrooms.

The National Reading Panel https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/Pages/nrp.aspx



What about school for next year? We had an awesome day at Kildonan. What’s not to like? The curriculum is structured around intense Orton-Gillingham tutoring, they have a state-of-the art assistive technology lab, strong academics, wonderful arts options, a great sports program, and the kids seem to be thriving. All of the teachers are trained to teach kids with reading and learning differences. Matter of fact, all kids with intense reading differences who need more than multi-sensory tutoring should have access to a school like this; an end goal of solving one of the major issues of reading differences as it makes all the difference and can be a lifesaver-really!


So why isn’t Kildonan our definite choice at this point? It simply comes down to the fact that it’s not around the corner and it’s not free. We have never given up hope that there must be a way to make it work for us here, and as it turned out, we had the infamous IEP (individualized education program) meeting shortly after our visit to Kildonan. The IEP meetings are when you set goals for the following school year and learn what services your kid can receive through the school district. There are blogs, webinars, and workshops on preparing for IEP meetings and those of us in this complicated world know that IEP meetings are usually the pinnacle of our many stressors. These are the meetings that when we’re through, we go home, have a drink or two, or in my case go for a run, and then have a drink. Fortunately, our IEP meeting went really well because the district surprised us with an option of a reading program called Read 180 at the public middle school and then bussing our daughter back to her regular Montessori school for the rest of her day. This is definitely the most comfortable or least disruptive route for us, but is there one-on-one self-paced tutoring? Probably not. Do we think she will succeed or progress with this type of program with a sprinkling of tutoring? Sigh. I want to be optimistic. I really do.

Let’s just figure out what to do this summer. We were on information overload. Our options for the school year seemed so overwhelming, but then there was the summer. What if we tried Camp Dunnabeck at The Kildonan School for the summer? Previously, when we had researched sending our daughter there it seemed scary expensive, but after looking at private school tuitions it no longer phased us. Besides, this was a way to test the waters and see if Kildonan’s approach was a fit for her.

• What would it be like for our daughter being around other kids with similar learning profiles?
• Would she finally progress with intense, one-on-one Orton-Gillingham tutoring?
• Could she finally have a real summer instead of an occasional camp workshop scheduled around reading services?

We’re going to Camp Dunnabeck. We completed the paperwork, received the acceptance letter with a small grant to boot, and off we went to the where the states of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts meet. Someone asked me if I was going to camp too. The short answer is no, but I was there, which gave me a taste of what life would be like if it were just my daughter, dog and I living by ourselves in a rural area where she could get an education that fits her learning style, but where we would otherwise be separated as a family.

Our daughter is off to Camp Dunnabeck where we have high hopes for her academic and emotional growth. Stay tuned to see how she likes camp, and how the parents, notably me, survived six weeks in a lonely paradise.

the barn in Hillsdale, New York
The restored barn down the road from our rental house in Hillsdale, New York.