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struggling reader

A Letter From a Girl With a Language Based Learning Disability (LBLD)

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, December 7, 2016 Byline:  By Brooke Williams

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Being dyslexic is part of who I am. I don't hide it or neglect it. I embrace it.

The academic life people with language-based learning disabilities endure and how we fight back.

In second grade, I started to realize I was a pretty bad reader. I watched my friends breeze through chapter books, while I was still struggling with picture books. I felt so discouraged and dumb. It was the absolute worst feeling I have ever felt. Knowing this, my mom would help out in class and we would practice my reading, but I wasn't getting better. Why wasn't I reading just as well as my friends? Why did I struggle so much with understanding the story? Why was I taken out of class three times a week to work on my reading? What was making me different from everyone else?

I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was third grade. For those who don't know, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability (LBLD). It can be different for everyone. And no, I don't read upside down or backwards. Here is an example of my dyslexia. When reading, I tend mix up similar looking letters such as d, b, and p. Also when reading or writing, I tend to mix up words that look and sound similar, such as their, there, and they're. Luckily for me, my parents knew I needed help academically in order to conquer and accept this disability. They fought for me, harder than anyone I know.

I am so fortunate that I got to go to one of the best private schools for children who have language-based learning disabilities. Landmark School is one of the best LBLD schools in the United States. Kids from all around the world try to go to that school. The teachers and programs are incredible. This school did more than just get me through high school. It made me the hard working, determined student I am today.

Landmark gave me confidence in myself and confidence in my difference. At the end of the day, that's what it is. It's a learning difference. I'm not getting a leg up in class, I'm leveling the playing field. Being dyslexic is part of who I am. I don't hide it or neglect it. I embrace it. Don't let anyone ever tell you that you are stupid. Because you aren't. You actually are highly intelligent.

Going into third grade, my teachers were saying "this girl will never make it to college". Well here I am in my sophomore year at a university. And ready for this: your girl is dyslexic, majoring in English.

About the Author:

Brooke WilliamsBrooke Williams is a graduate of Landmark School. She's currently majoring in English at Salem State University.
This post previously appeared in


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Tags:  confidence determination dyslexia English Landmark School LBLD mixing up letters struggling reader

Prevent Summer Learning Loss Before It Happens

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, May 30, 2017 Byline:  By Joanna A. Christodoulou

boy reading

"Reading must be integrated into summer activities."

Reading activities during the summer can play an important role in helping students maintain their reading skills. Summer slump, or the potential for academic skills to regress during school vacation, is a concern for many students.

Children with language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, may be at a higher risk of summer slump than their peers (Christodoulou et al., 2017). More generally, children who may also be more vulnerable to summer slump are those who take a vacation not just from school, but also from engaging with text during the summer months. These reduced reading experiences may be because students don’t enjoy reading; they may not feel good about their reading skills; or they have limited access to the library or books at home. In addition to options to enroll students in summer reading instruction, camps, or related activities, other programs are available to families at little to no financial burden.

Parents can help by considering three goals

First, parents and children can set a reading intention together about what to achieve during the summer. A reading intention can describe what to do and how it will be done. The focus does not have to be on the total number of books read, but can also be on what each child wants to learn about (e.g., the solar system, gardening, etc.). Creating a certificate or written agreement that both parents and children sign can offer a fun way to support this commitment. This goal can also be achieved through summer reading programs offered locally in libraries or community centers.

Second, identify the correct reading level for your child. To do so, you may seek assistance from your school or library staff. One rule of thumb for texts appropriate for a child to read independently is that they read five or fewer words incorrectly for every 100 words in the text. Independent level texts can be read by the student on his/her own, or students can read these texts aloud to others. Keep in mind that texts that are more challenging should not be excluded from summer reading lists as these may be great candidates for parents and children to read together. Identifying your child’s reading level for books she or he can read independently and those she or he can read with a partner is an important goal to aim for before the end of the school year.

Third, parents can identify their child’s areas of interest. Collecting topics that are intriguing, exciting, informative, and of interest will be key to selecting high interest reading material that children are motivated to read (Kim, 2007). More importantly, the motivation to learn about high-interest topics by reading can help struggling readers overcome some barriers; this is a common trait shared among successful adults with dyslexia (Fink, 1998).

Several organizations offer online texts for students with dyslexia. TextProject offers free books across a wide range of reading levels. Bookshare is a free online library that offers ebooks for students who have challenges accessing print. The Perkins Library offers free reading resources (e.g., audio, large print books, playback equipment) for Massachusetts residents with reading disabilities. Learning Ally offers audiobooks that can be useful for pairing with texts (i.e., listen and read at the same time) that students may otherwise have some difficulty reading independently.

In addition to supporting positive reading experiences during the summer months, families may consider contributing to research efforts aiming to improve outcomes for struggling readers. Supporting area researchers is a way to empower families and children with reading disabilities or difficulties, advance the science of reading, and meet other community members invested in supporting reading development. These opportunities range in their time commitment, gift card and prize offerings, and location. More information can be found on the website of the Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

For children with language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, in particular, summer vacation provides an opportunity for positive reading outcomes, but to achieve this, reading must be integrated into summer activities. To access appropriate texts, families can visit the local library, enjoy book swaps with neighbors, or explore online reading opportunities.

Christodoulou, J.A., Cyr, A., Murtagh, J., Chang, P., Lin, J., Guarino, A.J., Hook, P., & Gabrieli, J.D.E. (2015). Impact of intensive summer reading intervention for early elementary school children with dyslexia. Journal of Learning Disabilities.

Fink, R. (1998). Literacy development in successful men and women with dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 48, 311–346.

Kim, J.S. (2007). The Effects of a Voluntary Summer Reading Intervention on Reading Activities and Reading Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 505-515.

About the Author:

Joanna A. Christodoulou Joanna A. Christodoulou, Ed.D. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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Tags:  dyslexia language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning disabilities reading struggling reader summer summer reading summer regression summer slide summer slump

Moving Beyond “Struggling Reader” Labels

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Wednesday, March 6, 2019

boy reading

By Katherine K. Frankel

In a recent interview with Education Week, author Jacqueline Woodson, the Library of Congress's 2018­–2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, discussed her concerns about labels like “struggling reader.” She argued that these kinds of labels are harmful because they perpetuate the mistaken idea that a reader’s abilities are static rather than dynamic. Drawing on her own experiences, Woodson explained:

“I know if I was raised in this day and age, I would have been labeled a struggling reader. But what I know now is I was actually reading like a writer…What gets translated is ‘you are not as good,’ and that gets translated into our whole bodies. That’s where the danger lies” (Iasevoli, 2018, para. 5).

Woodson’s words of caution resonate with me on multiple levels. In elementary school, I too would have been labeled a “struggling reader” if the term had existed at the time. As a high school teacher, many of my students considered themselves to be “struggling readers” based on years of hearing this and similar terms applied to them. In my research, I have documented the negative impact of labels as experienced by adolescent readers. For example, I have seen how labels contribute to deficit thinking by focusing on what a reader cannot do. I have seen how labels locate reading difficulty as an individual problem that lies within the reader, rather than as an instructional- or societal-level problem that may be understood and addressed collectively by students, teachers, and parents working together. And, like Woodson, I have seen how labels oversimplify the act of reading by implying the existence of a static “good reader” / “poor reader” dichotomy that does not accurately reflect the complexity of reading.

Moving Beyond Labels 

As an alternative to labeling readers, we can instead engage in conversations and practices that reflect current understandings of reading as a dynamic process. Below, I offer three recommendations for how to do this, accompanied by guiding questions. My hope is that these questions will serve as starting points for students, parents, and teachers to engage in more robust conversations about reading that move beyond labels.

Focus on understanding the conditions under which readers are most successful.

  • What kinds of texts, broadly defined, do we read (for example: novels, graphic novels, magazines, song lyrics, maps, recipes, emails, text messages, social media posts)?
  • What kinds of texts do we most enjoy reading?
  • Why do we read these texts? What makes them so enjoyable?
  • What do we do when we encounter difficulties while reading them?

Be precise about when and why readers might require additional support with particular texts and tasks.  

  • What are the specific combinations of texts, tasks, and contexts that give rise to reading difficulties for particular readers? For example, the reading processes and challenges that a reader might encounter while comparing and contrasting multiple historical documents in preparation for writing a timed essay in school likely differ from those that same reader encounters while reading a young adult novel for pleasure at home and then texting or talking about it with friends.
  • What happens when these text/task/context combinations change? For example, does a reader gain more understanding of those same historical documents when she has opportunities to reread and discuss key concepts and vocabulary with her teacher and classmates? Does she communicate that understanding differently when she has opportunities to articulate and debate her arguments prior to writing an essay?

Emphasize that all readers experience reading challenges under certain conditions.

  • What text/task/context combinations give rise to reading difficulties for more experienced readers (for example: parents, teachers, siblings)?
  • What do experienced readers do when they encounter difficulties (for example: reread, look for key vocabulary, combine information from images and words, write down questions, talk with another reader, etc.)?

Finally, I urge students, parents, and teachers to advocate for policies and practices that take a more nuanced perspective on reading, a perspective that allows us to recognize and build from readers’ strengths and that reflects the complex and dynamic nature of reading.


Iasevoli, B. (2018, February 5). Stop using the label ‘struggling reader,’ author Jacqueline Woodson advises [Web log post]. Retrieved from


Thank you to the graduate student literacy educators enrolled in my Spring 2019 adolescent literacy course for their thoughtful feedback on an earlier draft of this post. For a more extended discussion of alternatives to labels and labelling, please see Frankel, K.K., & Brooks, M.D. (2018). Why the “struggling reader” label is harmful (and what educators can do about it). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 62(1), 111-114.

About the Author

Katherine K. Frankel

Katherine K. Frankel, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy education in the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Formerly a Landmark High School teacher, she now teaches graduate-level courses in reading/literacy and conducts research in classrooms and one-on-one tutoring contexts in partnership with middle and high school students and their teachers.

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