Key understandings

​This section outlines key understandings related to reading difficulties and dyslexia that provide a context for this resource. This includes information on:

Describing dyslexia

Dyslexia is generally described as a language-based difficulty of neurological origin that primarily affects the skills involved in the accurate and fluent reading of words.

Characteristic features of dyslexia include immature phonological knowledge, verbal memory, and processing speeds. Dyslexia may affect a student’s reading comprehension, vocabulary development, writing and spelling. Additional co-occurring behaviours may include aspects of numeracy, concentration and motor coordination.

Current research suggests that dyslexia may be caused by a genetic predisposition. It is a persistent, life-long condition and affects students across the range of intellectual abilities.

Understanding reading difficulties

The term reading difficulties may be used to describe a variety of difficulties that affect the ability to learn to read; one of the most commonly described reading difficulties is dyslexia.

There are different types of reading difficulties including:

  • difficulties in accurate and automatic word reading - students can comprehend spoken text but have difficulty comprehending its written form and decoding words
  • difficulties in the language processes associated with listening comprehension - these students can read words accurately but have difficulty comprehending what they read
  • difficulties in both accurate and automatic word reading and in the language processes associated with oral or spoken comprehension; these students are sometimes referred to as having a mixed reading difficulty.

Reading difficulties are frequently linked with oral language difficulties including:

  • difficulties in accurate and automatic word reading are linked with how well a student manipulates sound patterns in words
  • difficulties in reading comprehension are linked with oral language processes such as limited vocabulary and syntactic knowledge
  • difficulties in both word reading and comprehension are linked with phonological processing and oral language difficulties.

Aspects of reading

Reading difficulties can be understood from the perspective of how reading is usually learnt. Reading competence develops from the integration of a number of aspects of knowledge including:

  • a student’s oral language knowledge and the ability to speak and listen. This includes a student’s vocabulary, their knowledge of how ideas are expressed and organised in sentences and how language is used to communicate with others in a range of ways.
  • a student’s experiential or episodic knowledge. This includes a student’s bank of stored experiences such as their knowledge of self in relation to others and their knowledge of how to think and learn.
  • a student’s knowledge and use of a range of symbols. This includes how a student learns to use a range of symbols to think about objects and events such as alphanumeric symbols.
  • a student’s ability to think about ideas in a range of ways and manage and direct their thinking activity. This includes thinking skills such as retaining and manipulating knowledge in short-term working memory; sequencing and categorising; visualising; framing goals and intentions; learning in everyday contexts; directing and maintaining attention and persisting to complete tasks; and using corrective feedback adaptively.
  • a student’s attitude to themselves as literacy users and learners. This includes a student’s awareness of themselves as learners of literacy and their disposition towards literacy, such as their motivation to learn and engage in literacy.

As students move through the years of schooling, these related aspects of knowledge continue to develop and influence literacy learning. A reciprocal relationship exists between these areas of literacy knowledge; for example a student’s oral language knowledge influences how well they read and comprehend texts; similarly what a student comprehends during reading can extend their oral language knowledge.

Identifying reading difficulties

A reading difficulty is indicated when there is a discrepancy between a student’s actual reading ability and what they might be expected to achieve comparative to their age-cohort peers. This discrepancy may indicate a reading difficulty when a student’s achievement level in the English domain of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) is more than one year below that of their peers.

Students are seen as having a reading difficulty when causal features cannot be explained by the following factors: visual or auditory perceptual difficulties, emotional adjustment problems, severe attentional issues, behavioural difficulties, neurological disorders such as acquired brain injury, autism, childhood schizophrenia, physical or motor problems, ongoing ill health, or school attendance.

An indication of the severity and persistence of reading difficulties can be gained by examining how the student responds or has responded to well-founded intervention.

Identifying the aspects of a student’s reading difficulty

It is important to provide multiple opportunities for the student to demonstrate their skills and understandings in reading within a range of contexts.

Systematically collecting and analysing data from a range of sources on multiple occasions provides regular opportunities to identify, monitor and respond to a student’s individual learning needs. This process supports the identification of persistent areas of difficulty in reading that a student may have.

For example, schools have access to a range of resources to support them in collecting evidence of a student’s reading behaviours. This includes assessment tools such as the English Online Interview for students from Years Prep to 2 and VCAA On Demand Testing for students from Years 3 to 8.