Davis Dyslexia and Phonics Instruction

Ron Davis, author of The Gift of Dyslexia, has brought to light how the learning disability of dyslexia is caused by the successful use of visual thinking skills at an early age. This "gift" works well for recognizing real life objects, but not printed symbols such as alphabet letters and words. Those with dyslexia are disoriented and confused and although they often find alternate ways to appear that they are learning, they are very frustrated and their self esteem suffers.

In his book, Davis addresses these issues and offers insights into a dyslexic's gifts and their struggles. He explains that "multi-dimensional thinking (using all the senses) takes place much faster than verbal thinking. Dyslexics also tend to be more curious, creative, and intuitive than average. They tend to be highly aware of the environment, inventive, and good at real world tasks. Their special mode of thought also produces the gift of mastery: once they have learned something experientially, they understand it on such a deep level that they know how to do things intuitively without thinking about how", (taken from www.dyslexia.com/bookstore/giftbook.htm).

The Gift of Dyslexia, by Ron Davis Ron Davis then presents what can be done to help. First, he offers orientation counseling to help them learn to turn off disorientation to focus the perceptions through mental exercise. Second, he has the students learn the basics of the language through modeling symbols and word concepts in clay, which allows for their 3-dimensional perception and express their creativity. Third, the work on spelling and reading is done through training the student in left to right eye movement and to look for groupings and patterns within words. He helps them attach visual representations and use mental pictures to learn words, which is definitely one of dyslexic’s strengths.

Every aspect of his program is so helpful to these dyslexics and allows them to take pride in their "gift" and find a clear way to perceive not only print, but much of the world around them. He does not offer, however, in his program an explicit, phonics component. Research has shown how multi-sensory phonics instruction can open up new neurological pathways and rewire a dyslexic's brain to be able to access the automatic language center in their left occipital lobe (information taken from Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz).

This can open up an entire world for them so that they have other strategies to apply when dealing with unfamiliar words. There is solid evidence found in studies done at Yale University by Dr. Sally Shaywitz and at Harvard by Dr. Jean Chall that supports the need for this type of phonics instruction to help at the decoding level and allow those with dyslexia to have a system to deal with the two-dimensional printed word.

Davis suggests in his book to use the symbols found in the dictionary for pronunciation purposes, and then emphasizes the importance of attaching meaning to the words studied to help deepen and further embed the learning. He also says in his book, "...it is important that the student also be coached through all the speech sounds".  (Davis, Ron. The Gift of Dyslexia. Pedigree, 1997. p. 209)

Discover Intensive Phonics takes the learner through all 42 sounds and does employ a marking system that uses the diacritical markings for sound representations to help the students see what is happening within a word. Discover Intensive Phonics also attaches meaning to each word used in skill instruction, which deepens and further embeds the learning. Davis also teaches the importance of training the student’s brain and eyes to scan from left to right in the proper sequence (The Gift of Dyslexia, pg. 213-218). Discover Intensive Phonics also addresses this issue by always instructing the letters and syllable sounds working left to right and by having the student work in a consistent pattern within the word to help with proper sequencing.

There has been great success with the Davis Dyslexic program and great success with explicit, multi-sensory phonics instruction. Although they are different approaches, there are many areas in which they overlap and are remediating in the same way. Discover Intensive Supports many of Davis' suggestions and provides the important component he states is necessary, and that is sound instruction. One compliments the other and both can be another piece in the puzzle of dyslexia and allows for individual needs and preferences.


Shantell Berrett has a B.A. in English specializing in reading and dyslexia.  She has three wonderful kids ages 13, 11, and 7.  Her 11 year old son has dyslexia and is the reason she works in this field in writing, research and educating in schools and at home. Visit her website at ReadingHorizonsAtHome.com.

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