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Neuro-Myth Busting with Dr. Molly Ness: Interrogating Misinformation and Redirecting on Dyslexia

Categories: dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Educators, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Teacher Best Practices

It was late October when Dr. Molly Ness, a reading researcher and Vice President of Academic Content at Learning Ally, received a greeting card that inspired a new path for her research. The card depicted two dyslexic ghosts who exclaimed “OOB” instead of “BOO”. 

As an expert on dyslexia and reading education, Dr. Ness immediately noticed the common misconception being portrayed in the card. While many people believe that Dyslexia is a primarily visual disability, it’s much more nuanced than just seeing letters backward. “It’s actually phonological” explains Dr. Ness. “It has to do with the sound structure.”

While awareness of Molly Nessthe dyslexic experiences has increased dramatically in recent years, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Stereotypes, like backward letters in the greeting card, perpetuate confusion about dyslexia and make it more challenging for young readers to get the resources they need.

In an effort to stop this spread of misinformation, Dr. Ness teamed up with Professor of Education, Dr. Susan Chambre, to find out where these myths were coming from, and how they can be corrected. The two presentedSusan J. Chambre some of their findings to an eager audience of educators at Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia 2022 (SPOD22). 

In order to interrogate these Neuro-Myths, Ness and Chambre needed to find out what educators actually knew about dyslexia. In a 2010 study of pre-service teachers (PST), they found that 75% of participants labeled Dyslexia as “seeing letters backward,” while only 2% could identify it as a phonological disability. Then, in 2013, a majority of PST in the US and UK erroneously responded that dyslexia is caused by visual perception deficits. Later, a similar study in 2017 confirmed that novice teachers were failing to understand the neurobiological components of the condition. 

“All around me, I started seeing these misconceptions” explains Dr. Ness. “Unfortunately these misconceptions have often led to people making money off of parents and educators who are eager to do the right thing… but too many of these products are snake oil”. 

Thankfully, Ness and Chambre are sharing their findings with education communities. “[The research] shows the work we still have to do to better prepare teachers to recognize, to provide instruction, and to be knowledgeable about what dyslexia is and what it isn’t”. With a special focus on the content being taught in education masters programs, Dr. Ness and Dr. Chambre are working to improve teacher knowledge. “Are we creating experiences for early career teachers to shadow psychologists?” asks Chambre. 

Meanwhile, programming like Learning Ally’s SPOD22 plays a major role in bringing this information to experienced teachers and school leaders who are already active members of the industry. “As dismal as those numbers were… we’re at an exciting time,” Ness admits. “We’re choosing to embrace the changing culture… where teachers are saying ‘we want more’... The landscape is shifting”. As evidence, Ness references the Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College Facebook group which has over 160 thousand members. “There’s no shame,” Ness explains. Members of the group discuss what they wish they knew. Then, they comfort each other noting, “When you know better, you do better”.

To watch Dr. Ness and Dr. Chambre’s full presentation register for Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia on Demand (SPOD22).

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