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Going Beyond Coding with Morphology…Meeting the Needs of Students with Dyslexia in Middle and High School

Categories: Brain Based Learning, Curriculum & Access, Education & Teaching, Educators, English Language Learners, Professional Development, Reading Strategies for K-12, Teacher Best Practices

Developing skilled readers is an ongoing process. Of vital importance is teaching young children how to learn to decode, enhance their vocabulary, and develop language comprehension skills. If students have not learned decoding skills by fourth grade, they expend a lot of unnecessary energy trying to understand what they read. As text becomes increasingly more complex, struggling readers will display more frustration and angst. This is a red herring for educators. Explicit reading instruction may still be necessary for many middle and upper grade learners. 

In this blog, we recap a 2023 Spotlight on Dyslexia session with Mallary Lattanze and Missy Purcell, two educators who help us develop a roadmap to effective reading instruction based on the science of reading. Their session goes well beyond decoding and phonological awareness, and includes morphology, the study of the structure of words within our language. 

Morphology refers to "the knowledge of meaningful word parts in a language (typically the knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and/or roots and base words)" (Foorman et al., 2016). 

In Lattanze and Purcell's session, they drill down on differentiated instruction to ensure more students become skilled readers and writers through linguistic comprehension, written expression (including spelling), and automaticity, i.e., the more a new idea is reinforced, the easier it is for our brain to read fluently.  

Common Risk Factors – The Red Herring

When middle and high school students aren’t reading well, we must look back at early reading instruction to determine what foundational skills are lacking and begin to identify common risk factors associated with not learning a specific skill set. 
Common Risk Factors of Struggling Readers in Middle and High School

Risk factors may include differences in students’ social and emotional state, lack of learning confidence, differences in instructional and intervention approaches, and difficulties with transitional approaches from middle to high school. 

Lattanze says, “A common error in teaching students with dyslexia is premature withdrawal from a specific skill set when the instruction ‘seems’ to be working. As an example, a student who is reading accurately but not fluently still requires explicit reading instruction using the concepts found in the Simple View of Reading.”

The Simple View of Reading

The Simple View of Reading is a formula based on the widely-accepted view that reading has two basic components: word recognition (decoding) and language comprehension. 

  • Word recognition includes phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding, and sight recognition.

  • Language comprehension includes  background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge. 

According to the Simple View of Reading, an individual's reading comprehension is the product of his or her decoding skills and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). If any of these important concepts are missed, a student’s ability to comprehend what they read will suffer, leaving them to struggle long after students transition to middle and high school where “reading to gain knowledge’ is the primary goal.  

The Benefits of Learning Morphology

As early as first and second grade, students should be introduced to morphology, focusing on the use of morphemes: meaningful units of language which cannot be further divided. Morphological awareness provides a powerful tool for improving many areas of literacy: vocabulary comprehension, reading aloud, spelling, phonological awareness, and the all-important reading comprehension. It can help older students decode multisyllabic words that cannot merely be interpreted with phonics. No matter where students are in their reading process, teaching morphology with explicit and direct instruction is beneficial. 

Distinct Differences Between Listening and Reading Comprehension

Regarding multimodal learning, Purcell credits the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution for helping students with dyslexia read on grade level, and keep anxiety at bay. She says, “There are distinct differences between listening and reading comprehension skills,” and students with dyslexia benefit from using multiple modalities in the learning process. Listening comprehension helps to build metacognitive and foundational comprehension skills. From that point, students must move into monitoring their comprehension which further develops advanced comprehension of material.

The Importance of Teaching Self-Advocacy and Accommodations

These educators also emphasize that students must clearly understand the characteristics of dyslexia, and how it affects their brain processing skills. Purcell says, “Students must know how they are individually wired to learn. Engaging students with dyslexia in middle and high school to decode, spell with morphology, analyze vocabulary, and advance reading comprehension is paramount to reading mastery. Empower them to self-advocate for appropriate accommodations. Give them extended time, and continue to reinforce that they can be successful readers and learners at any age.”

Session On-Demand

You can listen to the full presentation on-demand in the 2023 Spotlight on Dyslexia platform until the end of the year, and earn CE Certificates.

About Presenters

Missy Purcell is a former teacher, a wife and mother. She is a convert from a  balanced literacy approach, and now works to encourage educators across the country to embrace the science of reading. 





Mallary Lattanze is a former K-2 classroom teacher, dyslexia interventionist, Orton-Gillingham trainer, a Certified Academic Language Therapist and Licensed Dyslexia Therapist. She began her mission to find the best literacy instruction to help students with learning differences after struggling as a diagnosed dyslexic in public schools. Mallary is also a Texas regional chair with the Academic Language Therapy Association, and sits on the board of directors for the Houston Branch International Dyslexia Association. 

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