A recent contribution on a literacy thread, Spelltalk, reported that one in five American students are dyslexic; they are students with reading, spelling, and written expression difficulties due to the way their brains are wired. This created a great deal of controversy with many people claiming that the number was way too high. I wonder whether it matters.
I think the best way to think of the teaching of reading is that all kids learn to read with differing amounts of personal effort and with differing amounts of explicit instruction required. Kids on one end of the reading continuum have neurological wiring issues between areas of the brain that, for whatever reason, do not work efficiently. This wiring impacts specific areas of the brain’s ability to communicate with one another, and this impacts their ability to read fluently; kids with wiring issues themselves fall on a continuum. You can have real significant wiring issues or you can have minimally impacted wiring issues. The wiring issues help determine (but don’t solely determine) how quickly kids learn to read fluently and proficiently. I believe that Shaywitz in Overcoming Dyslexia states that these kids make up almost one in five of kids who are not reading at the basic or proficient reading levels. For 20% of our students, there is a brain-based reason for their struggles with reading.