Kristi Kafka

Nationally Certified School Psychologist


Reading Interventions


Key Elements of Effective Early Intervention

 - Systematic and direct instruction in:

            Phonemic awareness

          Explicit phonics

 - Practice in applying skills to reading/writing

 - Fluency training - smooth readers generally have better comprehension skills

 - Enriched language experiences - talk to the child, ask questions, read to him/her



State Technical Assistance Guide -

What is dyslexia?  Dyslexia is a type of learning disability. Specifically, it is a language-based disorder characterized by problems learning to read, write, spell, and decode single-words.  A person with dyslexia has reading skills significantly below what is expected given his/her intelligence and educational experiences.  (National Institute for Literacy)

What are the warning signs?  Children with dyslexia may have difficulty:

·         Learning to speak

·         Learning letters and their sounds - Difficulty learning letter sounds is ultimately what dyslexia boils down to - the brain's difficulty translating letter names into corresponding sounds.

·         Organizing written and spoken language

·         Memorizing number facts

·         Reading quickly enough to comprehend

·         Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments

·         Spelling

Not all students who have difficulties with these skills are dyslexic. Formal testing is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia.(International Dyslexia Association)


My child can’t read; now what?  When a child exhibits many warning signs or is having an unexpected difficulty reading, gather a team (teachers, parents, and related services) to discuss skill strengths and deficits, background information, and previous evaluations.  (School psychologists often review files and work samples, conduct observations and interviews, and may administer informal assessments.)  Next, the team implements an intensive, research-based intervention.  If the child’s skills do not improve after about 8-10 weeks, the team reconvenes to reevaluate the intervention. 


When should you evaluate?  After several well-implemented research-based interventions fail, evaluations are generally conducted.


Who should evaluate?  Trained professionals with completed coursework in educational test administration and interpretation.  No single test should be used to diagnose dyslexia.  Evaluations are a process.


What do you evaluate?

Kindergarten-1st grade:  language skills, phonological awareness, and memory. 

Second grade on:  decoding, reading comprehension, spelling, and writing. 

Additionally, assess oral language, word recognition, phonological processing, automaticity/fluency, and vocabulary. Intelligence tests may not be necessary, but observations, interviews, file reviews, and a review of previous evaluations are suggested. 

(International Dyslexia Association and Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia)


My child has dyslexia; now what? 

In South Dakota, your child may qualify for special education services if the following conditions are met:

1.      Your child has a disability

2.      The disability has an adverse effect on educational performance AND

3.      Given the disability and adverse effect, your child requires specialized instruction

Many schools monitor basic reading skills and have intervention groups for struggling readers.  Depending on your child’s district, he/she may participate in a reading intervention group.  If the intervention works, then special education may not be necessary (or appropriate).   

South Dakota’s special education eligibility criteria are aligned with federal guidelines, which are periodically reauthorized.  Presently, SD recognizes 14 categories.  Dyslexia is referred to under the specific learning disability category.  Most likely students with dyslexia will qualify due to basic reading skill or reading fluency deficits.  The SD Eligibility Guide can be accessed at:

If a child does not qualify for special education (based on the three criteria listed above) a school district can still implement interventions.  Research has shown early interventions using an effective reading program (explicit and systematic phonological instruction) can improve reading skills (S. Shaywitz, 2003).


What can parents/schools do?


·         Be aware, informed, and involved

·         Teach young children to listen for letter sounds (i.e.,: same first letter: pig and pen)

·         Play rhyming games

·         Help your child identify an interest or hobby

·         Encourage involvement in extra curricula

·         Read and talk to your child

·         Help your child understand his/her reading problem and long-term implications

·         Monitor for emotional difficulties (anxiety, depression); consult a psychologist or family doctor



·         Screen students for language difficulties, especially phonemic awareness skills

·         Provide engaging, systematic, and explicit reading instruction in all areas of literacy development (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing)

·         Provide intensive, highly structured interventions for struggling learners

·         Monitor progress and review data

·         Involve parents and offer suggestions

·         Allow extra time and a quiet work area

·         Use recorded texts

Online Resources

Parents and Educators:

· (great fact sheets)

· (super website)




· (interview with Sally Shaywitz)




Educators and Professionals

·  (300+ student activities)







·  (boy’s journal entries on dyslexia)

· (famous people with dyslexia)



Book/Reading List

·         Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia.

Taken from the South Dakota Association of School Psychologists' Understanding Dyslexia brochure)


Common signs: Preschool

The following difficulties may be associated with dyslexia if they are unexpected for the individual's age, educational level, or cognitive abilities. To verify that an individual is dyslexic, he/she should be tested by a qualified testing examiner.

  • May talk later than most children
  • May have difficulty pronouncing words, i.e., busgetti for spaghetti, mawn lower for lawn mower
  • May be slow to add new vocabulary words
  • May be unable to recall the right word
  • May have difficulty with rhyming
  • May have trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, colors, shapes, how to spell and write his or her name
  • May have trouble interacting with peers
  • May be unable to follow multi-step directions or routines
  • Fine motor skills may develop more slowly than in other children
  • May have difficulty telling and/or retelling a story in the correct sequence
  • Often has difficulty separating sounds in words and blending sounds to make words

Common signs: Kindergarten through fourth grade

The following difficulties may be associated with dyslexia if they are unexpected for the individual's age, educational level, or cognitive abilities. To verify that an individual is dyslexic, he/she should be tested by a qualified testing examiner.

  • Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation)
  • May be slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • May confuse small words – at/to, said/and, does/goes
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including:
    • Letter reversals – d for b as in, dog for bog
    • Word reversals – tip for pit
    • Inversions – m and w, u and n
    • Transpositions – felt and left
    • Substitutions – house and home
  • May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+ - x / =)
  • May have trouble remembering facts
  • May be slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding
  • May be impulsive and prone to accidents
  • May have difficulty planning
  • Often uses an awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.)
  • May have trouble learning to tell time
  • May have poor fine motor coordination

For full article:


Parents: Did you Know?

 - The more you talk to your child, the more likely your child will develop adequate language skills.

 - Interacting with children is crucial - dancing, cuddling, playing, talking, bathing, walking, feeding, rocking... it all counts.

 - Talking while your young child (especially infants) is around is the greatest factor in increasing pre-reading skills - they need to hear language, any language.  Just talk!

 - If you give everyday experiences like cooking, shopping, and cleaning words it will improve your child's language.  Describe what you are doing, simply explain it out loud.  It might feel weird, but your young child will benefit from your extra words.

Text Box: When your child grunts and points, say, "Use your words."  or "Tell me."

 - Teaching basic sign language to infants is a useful way to help them communicate before they acquire spoken language and can decrease tantrums.  (for pictures of real children using sign language go to


Additional Resource

Learning to Read and Write (Brief article) -

Fluency (Reading speed) Intervention

Students who would benefit from methods to increase reading speed are often described by their teachers as slow, laborious readers who read word-by-word with limited expression. These types of techniques are most useful with students who have acquired some proficiency in decoding skill but whose level of decoding skill is lower than their oral language abilities. Methods for increasing reading rate have several common features:

1) students listen to text as they follow along with the book

2) students follow the print using their fingers as guides

3) reading materials are used that students would be unable to read independently

Chard and Osborn (1999a) suggested that a beginning reading program should provide opportunities for

  • partner reading
  • practice reading difficult words prior to reading the text
  • timings for accuracy and rate
  • opportunities to hear books read
  • opportunities to read to others.

The following methods are easy to use.

Speed drills

For reading lists of words with a speed drill and a 1-minute timing, Fischer (1999) suggested using the following general guidelines: 30 correct wpm for first- and second-grade children; 40 correct wpm for third- grade children; 60 correct wpm for mid-third-grade; and 80 wpm for students in fourth grade and higher. To conduct a speed drill, have the student read a list of words for 1 minute as you record the number of errors. You may use a high-frequency word list or the sample speed drills provided in Fischer's program Concept Phonics (see Additional Resources). These drills are designed to develop automatic sight recognition of words.

Rapid word recognition chart

A way to improve speed of recognition for words with an irregular element is the use of a rapid word recognition chart (Carreker, 1999). The chart is similar to a rapid serial-naming task. It is a matrix that contains five rows of six exception words (e.g., who and said), with each row containing the same six words in a different order. After a brief review of the words, students are timed for 1 minute as they read the words in the squares aloud. Students can then count and record the number of words read correctly. This type of procedure can help students who struggle to memorize words with irregular orthographic patterns.



Reading Instruction for Secondary Students with Disabilities

Strategies  for secondary students with reading difficulties -