The one message that really stood out for me from the opening chapter was the emphasis on the struggling reader as a unique individual not bound to the common stereotypes that currently pervade our education system. Nobody fits into a box, neatly labeled with terms like “dyslexic” or “ELL.” Instead, we educators should view every child as brilliant diamond with infinite facets that cannot be ordered or determined by our own limited terms. The book summarizes this succinctly on page 7: “Being unique, individual students have and always will vary in their reading and writing abilities, just as they vary in running, playing basketball, singing or solving math problems” (Gunning, 2010).
This is one of the reasons it is imperative to treat the individual child and not just the symptom(s) of their learning disability. Everybody learns differently. Even those 70% of our classroom that are considered “average” have their own unique methods of learning—the multiple intelligences, as Gardner called them. If we use differentiation for our average students, why wouldn’t we allow it for those who are cognitively impaired or reading disabled? Why would we assume one type of supplementary tutoring would work well for all our struggling readers? Why would we toss every single one of them into an after school program without first determining the cause of their issues? The answer is: we wouldn’t. And if there are teachers who are lumping every type of reading and writing struggle together, they shouldn’t be.
This is one of the issues that I have with the discrepancy method of assessment: it assumes that everyone fits perfectly into one niche. The discrepancy method assumes that students all learn the same, and if we look at their age and grade we can determine how above or below average they are. Using this method, a teacher could infer that a student who is on level in all aspects but reading, obviously has a reading disability, which is completely unfair and unjust to assume unless the teacher has also looked at all of the other factors. Gunning writes on page 12 that “understanding a student’s reading difficulty….means finding out how it affects and is affected by the significant aspects of his life: family, school and friends.”
Every child learns differently, including (or maybe, especially) those who have reading difficulties. As educators, we have an obligation to reach as many students as possible, and if that means we have to do extra work for those in our class that are struggling, then that’s what we will do. Every child is a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be refined and polished, but these children with special needs will never shine brightly if we don’t have the right tools to help them.
Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 3-12.