Last fall, Gimpy, a blogger in the U.K., wrote a scathing diatribe against learning disability profiteers, and a second post blasting the Davis Dyslexia Method. A woman Abigail Marshall, who is the Davis Dyslexia Association's webmistress in the U.S., responded to Gimpy's second post.
A civil conversation ensued in A response to Abigail Marshall and the Davis Dyslexia Association International.
I have two distinct objections to the Davis Method:
To summarize: The Davis Method has no basis in what we now know about the neurocognitive nature of reading, and has no evidence of efficacy. Any educator or educational therapist recommending the Davis Method for remediation of dyslexia is behaving unethically.
However, it seems to me that failing to make clear statements about the tenability of erroneous ideas is, in itself, a failure to serve as a provider of useful information. In the the absence of clear evidence that Treatment X is beneficial and presence of substantial evidence that Treatment X is actually harmful, I consider it important to advocate that parents, educators, and clinicians not use Treatment X. Indeed, as an advocate for kids and their families, isn’t it my duty to call “Bologna” when I’m confronted with unsubstantiated and disconfirmed hypotheses?
I don't think the Davis Method is "actively harmful" -- except to the parents' wallet, and the child's time and expectations. But there is another sense in which it is damaging -- the totally unfounded "explanation" of dyslexia gets in the way of a more sophisticated and nuanced view of each dyslexic child's strengths and weaknesses.
What We Know About Dyslexia
Specific learning disability -- reading is has at least the following roots (we may discover more):
These difficulties are brain-based--functional magnetic imaging studies of dyslexic students' brains show that unremediated dyslexics use different parts of the brain for reading tasks. Effective remediation "rewires" the brain (even in adults).
The proceeding is what most mainstream researchers now believe to be true about dyslexia.
Ronald Davis has a different (and unproven) approach. He believes that dyslexics are prone to disorientation, and that they must be taught to control the mental state that leads to disorientation (
Davis Orientation Counseling®). Mr. Davis also believes that all dyslexics "think in pictures" and are "triggered" into disorientation by reading words that cannot be pictured (such as "the" "at" or "and). The remedy is to model the words in clay (Davis Symbol Mastery®).
Unfortunately, Davis's assertions are not backed with the same scientific weight as the mainstream views, as no studies have been done to back his assertions, and no rigorous, independent evaluation of the efficacy of his approach have been undertaken, either.
Effective Teaching to Remediate Dyslexia--These steps must be mastered in order!
Phonemic Awareness is the first step. You must teach someone how to listen to a single word or syllable and break it into individual phonemes--the individual sounds. The person may also have to have awareness raised--that /pin/ SHOULD sound a little different than /pen/. The learner also has to be able to take individual sounds and blend them into a word, change sounds, delete sounds, and compare sounds --all in their head. (Non dyslexic children learn these before the reading task begins. These skills are easiest to learn before someone brings in printed letters.)
Phoneme/Grapheme Correspondence is the next step. Here you teach which sounds are represented by which letter(s), and how to blend those letters into single-syllable words.
The Six Types of Syllables that compose English words are taught next. If students know what type of syllable they're looking at, they'll know what sound the vowel will make. Conversely, when they hear a vowel sound, they'll know how the syllable must be spelled to make that sound.
Probabilities and Rules are then taught. The English language provides several ways to spell the same sounds. For example, the sound /SHUN/ can be spelled either TION, SION, or CION. The sound of /J/ at the end of a word can be spelled GE or DGE. Dyslexic students need to be taught these rules and probabilities.
Roots and Affixes as well as Morphology are then taught to expand a student's vocabulary and ability to comprehend (and spell) unfamiliar words. For instance, once a student has been taught that the Latin root TRACT means pull, and a student knows the various Latin affixes, the student can figure out that retract means pull again, contract means pull together, subtract means pull away (or pull under), while tractor means a machine that pulls.
How it is taught
Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction: Sometimes we rattle this off and don't really explain what it means or why it is important
This can be confusing to parents
Sight or seeing, using the eyes = VISUAL
Hearing or listening, using the ears = AUDITORY
Feeling or touching, using the skin = TACTILE
Moving through space and time, using the whole body = KINESTHETIC
Reading and writing go together; writing is a kinestethic task--(can you feel how all the muscles in your hand and arm work to form letters as you write a sentence?).
Research has shown that dyslexic people who use all of their senses when they learn (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) are better able to store and retrieve the information. So a beginning dyslexic student might see the letter A, say its name and sound, and write it in the air -- all at the same time.
Intense Instruction with Ample Practice: The dyslexic brain benefits from overlearning--having a very precise focus with lots and lots of correct practice.
Direct, Explicit Instruction: dyslexic students do not automatically "get" anything about the reading task, and may not generalize well. Therefore, each detail of every rule that governs written language needs to be taught directly, one rule at a time. Then the rule needs to be practices until the student has demonstrated that she has mastered the rule in both receptive (reading) and productive (writing and spelling) aspects. Only then should the instructor introduce the next rule.
Systematic and Cumulative Many dyslexic students are not identified until later in their academic careers. They have developed mental "structures" of how English works that are completely wrong. To develop good written language skills--reading and writing--the tutor must go back to the very beginning and rebuild the student's mastery with a solid foundation that has no holes or cracks. The student must learn the the logic behind our language, by encountering one rule at a time and practicing it until the use of the rule is automatic and fluent when both reading and writing (spelling). The student must learn to connect previously learned rules into current challenges.
Synthetic and Analytic: dyslexic students must be taught both how to take the individual letters or sounds and put them together to form a word (synthetic), as well as how to look at a long word and break it into smaller pieces (analytic). Both synthetic and analytic phonics must be taught all the time.
Diagnostic Teaching the teacher must continuously assess their student's understanding of, and ability to apply, the rules. The teacher must ensure the student isn't simply recognizing a pattern and blindly applying it. And when confusion of a previously-taught rule is discovered, it must be retaught.