According to the American Psychiatric Association, 5-15% of school-aged students and nearly 50% of incarcerated adults in the United States struggle with dyslexia. Associate Professor for Special Education Troy Mariage and his team are developing a hybrid-model educational resource that could change the narrative.
Three fiction-based books with 72 lessons have been written and piloted to engage middle school, high school and incarcerated populations through in-person and virtual settings. Both books and lessons can be accessed around the clock both in-person and virtually for learners. The MSU research team is partnered with Noah Text, LLC and New Century Education Foundation (NCEF), a nonprofit dedicated to improving reading skills for persons with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.
The books and accompanying online materials, which are not yet fully available for public use, can be used by educators on learners who struggle with reading.
Utilizing phonological, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and other components, the evidence-based approach is designed to “reengage the disengaged,” said Mariage. “We know how to identify students very early and provide intervention,” he added.
Since piloting the curriculum in 2021, the results have been promising.
When tested in a middle school summer reading camp in Rhode Island, seven out of eight dyslexic learners improved their fluency and vocabulary knowledge. Similarly, 12 of the 14 incarcerated individuals tested in Louisiana showed substantial improvements in fluency. In vocabulary, 13 of 14 inmates made gains from pre- to post-test.
“The cost of lower literacy to society is great,” explained Mariage. “When you have higher incarceration, you get greater unemployment and less tax base. The return on investment for educational programs is very high.”
The course material has also been rated highly by research participants. Not only is course material said to be engaging, Mariage noted its availability in a digital platform has played a huge role in protecting the privacy and dignity of participants. The lessons were designed to provide students with multiple types of scaffolded supports, including audio, video and visual components, so that students can gain fuller access to decoding and then understanding what they are reading.
“They [research participants] across all groups enjoyed the stories, found value in the lessons and enjoyed the reading,” he said, which was reflected in a post-study social validity survey completed by participants.
MAPPING OUT THE FUTURE
In August 2022, Jim Griffin and his wife, Joan, moved the needle toward better literacy at MSU’s College of Education by establishing the Griffin Fellowship for Dyslexia, which will fund additional research and staffing for the project.
It is hoped that the Griffins’ generous support will play a pivotal role in providing hope for the approximately 780 million people across the globe who are affected by dyslexia.
“This is Jim’s life work,” said Joan. “He’s devoted the last 20-plus years of his life to this, mostly not making a salary.”
Now that Mariage and his team have a deeper understanding of how the intervention is working, his team is looking to expand the program’s curriculum, audience and interactivity between learners and educators.