Research shows greater improvement from strength-based teaching

young girl with pencil

A recently published study from Canada shows that dyslexic students improve with spelling at a significantly higher rate when taught with a strength-based rather than remedial approach.

Traditional teaching approaches for dyslexia are generally aimed at areas of weakness. These strategies are described as “remedial.” Typically they are aimed at building phonetic knowledge, because connecting sounds with letters is a primary area of difficulty for many dyslexic learners.

Alternative strategies are described as “compensatory” when they are targeted to areas of strength, so that the learner can use their strengths to overcome (or “compensate”) for the areas of weakness.

In the recent study, severely dyslexic French-speaking children aged 10-12 were given two types of spelling intervention, in separate time frames. All Their progress was tracked with each. One was remedial, targeted at teaching conventions tied to phoneme/grapheme correspondence — that is, the ways that sounds connect to letters.

The other intervention was compensatory, based on teaching morphological information and strategies. As the researchers explained, “previous studies have shown that young dyslexics are sensitive to morphological information.” This analytical, meaning-based approach is geared to an area of capability for dyslexic students. (See Morphemes, Meaning & Dyslexia)

In general, the students showed improvement with each approach — but the improvement was substantially greater and more consistent with the strength-based strategies. The researchers reported:

charts showing progress
Chart adapted from Figure 1 & 2 in research study

“[M]ost participants in this study benefited from both approaches. However… two participants had negative percentage changes for trained words in the remedial approach, which means that they did not maintain their learning after cessation of intervention. Moreover, percentage improvements were generally smaller for the remedial approach than for the compensatory approach. In contrast, the compensatory interventions enabled all participants to improve their spelling performance. For some participants, the improvement was considerable, which demonstrated their ability to develop knowledge related to the morphemic strategy. Even the spelling of untrained words showed substantial gains….”

The children selected for this study had particularly severe difficulties with spelling. All were formally diagnosed with dyslexia, were at least two years behind in their writing abilities, and had been required to repeat a grade in school. Given this history, the high level of improvement is all the more remarkable, and suggests that these children might have fared better if given interventions focused on word structure, derivation, and meaning earlier on.

Like English, the French language has an opaque orthography — that is, the correspondences between letters and sounds are often inconsistent, and often vary depending on morphological elements. Thus it is likely that these findings would carry over to English, and it would be interesting to see this experiment repeated for English-speaking students.

This study is valuable because of the comparison of two differing interventions with the same set of students. Although the study group was small (only 12 students), the consistency of results and the marked difference in level of of improvement indicates that these results are likely to be replicated in future studies.

Citation: Nathalie Chapleau, Kathy Beaupré-Boivin, Interventions to Support the Development of Spelling Knowledge and Strategies for Children with DyslexiaEducation, Vol. 9 No. 1, 2019, pp. 1-8. doi: 10.5923/