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2020's Learning Landscape: A Retrospective on Dyslexia

Presidential Address, 71st IDA Annual Conference; Beijing, 2020

by David Rose and Ge Vue

The following article, written by David Rose and Ge Vue in 2010, imagines the future by “pre-creating” the Presidential Address at the IDA Annual Conference in 2020. This article was first published in the International Dyslexia Association, Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Winter 2010. One notable difference between the printed text version and this digital version is the UDL learning supports embedded throughout. To see descriptions of the UDL features and how they support learning, click on "Show UDL Information" located in the upper right hand corner of the page. This will display UDL icons (UDL icon) that highlight the added learning supports. Clicking UDL iconwill provide a brief explanation of how that feature supports teaching or learning. A more comprehensive explanation of how the UDL principles of design were applied to the creation of learning supports can be found on Page 4.

This article is also available in PDF and as a NIMAS fileset.

Image of a head with a maze as the brain

It is with great pleasure that I address you today. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, IDA is a stronger, better positioned organization than ever before. We are also a very different organization. Although our mission has remained the same since our founding, over the last decade our approaches have changed radically.

At this celebratory moment, it seems timely to reflect on our history and on how we got here. First, I want us to remember how education—and dyslexia—looked at the time of our founding.

If any of us were transported back in time to the founding of IDA—or to any time during the 20th century—we would be struck by how closely most classrooms resembled those of the 19th century. Certainly, the lack of modern media would be obvious, and it would be hard to miss the remarkable isolation of teachers and their students from the rest of the world.

But what would be most striking would be how low the general level of literacy was. Despite enormous federal investments in early reading programs, a visitor to almost any middle or high school classroom would find that many students were essentially non-readers. In many schools, most students would be reading below grade-level expectations.

Even more striking than the low level of literacy would be the narrowness of its scope. Only one aspect of literacy was valued or seriously addressed: the literacy of reading and writing printed text. Learning to read and reading to learn dominated the curriculum. While classroom literacy focused almost exclusively on written text, the overall culture already was progressing toward the much richer media mix of modern literacy. Students at that time often brought new media to school—primitive versions of modern communication devices—but these rarely penetrated the core of instruction. Teachers (and parents) usually saw them as invasive distractions rather than as critical aspects of emerging literacy. A modern visitor also would notice that the pedagogy of the late 20th century or early 21st century classroom was linked more to the industrial age than to the knowledge age. We would be struck by how uniform, mass-produced, and "standardized” the curriculum and methods of teaching were. Students would be sitting in the same seat every day doing the same activity at the same time and in the same way.

Today we assume that the role of
high-stakes assessments is to evaluate
the abilities and disabilities of the
curriculum, not just the students.

It is not surprising that students with dyslexia faced daunting difficulties in such classrooms. However, the modern visitor might be surprised by the response to those difficulties: For the most part, the focus of intervention was on the student. Despite the obvious barriers and impediments in the classroom (what we now recognize as injustices), remediation centered on fixing students not curricula. Students were blamed subtly for the failures they experienced. They were called “learning disabled.”

By 2010, important changes were emerging at IDA. We did not abandon the successful approaches of the past: Dyslexic students still desperately needed effective remediation and intervention, but there was growing recognition that schools were only addressing the student side. The curriculum also needed remediation. From that point on, intervention focused on both the student and the curriculum. Highlights follow of some of the changes emerging around 2010 that led to today’s IDA.

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