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Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Report: Bodine School

Wednesday, March 30, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Now in its fourth decade of serving Mid-South children with dyslexia and their families, Bodine School in Germantown, TN, is leveraging its experience and resources to dramatically increase literacy throughout the Memphis area by addressing the unique needs of functionally dyslexic young people in our public schools.

Check out Bodine School's video presentation at the 2015 SAIS Annual Conference

Bodine School understands reading difficulties better than any institution in our region – its causes, its affects, and how teaching and learning can be effectively achieved despite these challenges. A growing body of research demonstrates a clear and troubling link between the toxic stresses of poverty and the prevalence of functional dyslexia, which occurs when language and literacy skills of individuals who were not exposed to early language skills mirror the characteristics of dyslexia.

Given the extraordinary high rates of poverty in our metropolitan area, particularly in communities of color and among children under the age of 18, Memphis faces a literacy crisis that has deeply troubling implications for our social, cultural, and economic development if we fail to identify and address instances of functional dyslexia in our public schools. At the conclusion of the 2014-2015 school year, less than 30% of Shelby County Schools 3rd-8th graders were reading at grade level. In many schools with high concentrations of poverty, proficiency levels are below 10%.

Bodine School is helping reverse this frightening trend by piloting a research-based, sustainable, teaching training program for public school teachers working primarily in Title 1 Schools. This training program will combine Bodine School’s 43 years of experience using the Orton-Gillingham approach with the realities of a public school classroom.

The training is being developed and managed by the Erika Center, a program within Bodine School that serves as a bridge between the life-changing work of Bodine School’s Germantown campus and the tens of thousands of young people in Shelby County desperate for its help.

Long-term Regional Economic Impact Causes of Reading Difficulties and Societal Consequences

Neurological Dyslexia

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability (LD), comprising 80% of all LD diagnoses and affecting 20% of the population.

   There are over 40,000 neurologically dyslexic young people in Shelby County.

   In Tennessee public schools, learning disabled students comprise 37% of all special education diagnoses, by the far the single largest category.

   Nationally, 65% of families with a learning disabled student have a household income below $25,000 as compared with 38% of the general population.

   An African American male with a learning disability is 4 times as likely to be incarcerated compared with the rest of the population.

   In Shelby County Schools, if a child is suspected of having a learning disability, they must complete at least 20 weeks of Response to Intervention before qualifying for a diagnostic assessment.

Functional Dyslexia

Tens of thousands of more young people in Shelby County qualify as functionally dyslexic. These individuals were not exposed to early language skills in the first five years of life and therefore their language and literacy skills mirror the characteristics of dyslexia.

Children from low-income families often lack early interactions that foster linguistic development, including verbal interactions with their parents, being read to, and access to books in their home.

Between 18 months and 24 months, affluent children have learned 30% more words than the children from low-income homes. Children from affluent homes hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households.

Researchers have found that while there are more than a dozen books per child in middle- income neighborhoods, in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is closer to 1 book for every 300 children. By the time children from low-income families enter kindergarten, they are typically 12–14 months below national norms in language and pre-reading skills.

The stress of poverty is shown to inhibit the development of working memory. Working memory is vital to the reading process.Working memory is also proportionately low in dyslexic learners.

Teacher Training

The majority of teacher training programs do not adequately prepare teachers to work with students who have a difficult time learning to read.

   78% of undergraduate teacher preparation programs do not adequately address strategies for struggling readers.

   Three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers, from 30% to under 10%.

   The University of Memphis teacher training program had a significantly negative impact on teachers’ effectiveness in Reading & Language Arts.

Evidence of Orton-Gillingham Effectiveness

Helemano Elementary School in Hawaii implemented Mr. Ron Yoshimoto’s Multi-sensory Learning Orton-Gillingham (MSL O-G) in 2009.This is the same iteration of Orton-Gillingham being used through Bodine’s teacher training pilot. At Helena Elementary School, 60% of the student body was classified as economically disadvantaged. Only 30% of incoming kindergartners attended pre-school.

Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) Scores

Special Education Referrals


2008 - 09

2009 - 10

2010 - 11

2011 - 12

All Students










Asian / Pacific





School Year

2009 - 10

2010 - 11

2011 - 12






Teacher Training Pilot Explanation

Bodine School is partnering with Teach for America (TFA) and two KIPP charter schools to provide training in research-based, clinical, Common Core-aligned literacy and language instruction that is scalable and sustainable.

Currently in year of the pilot, 30 Teach for America corp members participated in 32 hours of Orton-Gillingham (OG) coursework at Bodine School. 6 of these participants are classroom teachers and instructional coaches at KIPP Collegiate Elementary School in North Memphis.Through this program, two Bodine staff members visit the KIPP campus twice a week for observations and support sessions. In addition to guidance and feedback, participating teachers received additional resources designed to address the unique reading needs of their students. In addition, the students receiving the the OG approach along with a separate control group completed a battery of pre-assessments in early September. These same measures will be used for post-testing in late April or early May.

In exchange for this support, participants are providing Bodine School with transparent feedback on how to improve and refine the training process and better taylor it to the unique needs of their student population. Based on this feedback, Bodine School is developing additional materials and resources and revising their training approach. As an example, Bodine School trainers discovered that they underestimated the difficulties some students would have with letter recognition. Many students began kindergarten at KIPP with seemingly no prior exposure to print. Therefore they had a difficult time identifying letters and were even further behind in letter-sound correspondence.

In year two of the pilot, up to 60 TFA participants will participate, and we plan to include more teachers from KIPP Collegiate representing varying grade levels.



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