Supporting students with reading difficulties

One of the primary goals of education in the early elementary grades is learning to read fluently and with good comprehension. This outcome can be elusive for some students with specific learning disabilities (SLD), especially those with SLD/dyslexia.

When a student is experiencing difficulty acquiring early reading skills, Connecticut educators frequently ask SERC and Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) consultants how to “dig deeper” into reading data. To address this question, SERC and the CSDE designed a webinar that featured a wealth of resources on this topic, including Connecticut’s new SLD/Dyslexia Assessment Resource Guide (2016).

Approximately 300 Connecticut educators joined the live webinar, “Using Literacy Screening Data to Support Students with Reading Difficulties,” hosted by SERC on January 10. Dr. Donna Merritt, SERC education consultant and lead author of the resource guide, moderated the webinar.

Dr. Margie Gillis, president of Literacy How and research affiliate at Fairfield University and Haskins Labs, was the primary presenter of the content. Dr. Patricia Anderson and Joanne White, CSDE education consultants, assisted in fielding questions throughout the webinar.

Dr. Gillis reviewed CSDE’s approved menu of K-3 universal screening assessments and explained certain patterns of reading difficulties students may encounter. She presented a variety of assessment sources that could provide additional information about each component of reading (e.g., phonological awareness, phonics, etc.), including informal and formal “diagnostic” measures that can be administered by either general or special education professionals.

The resource guide was created in response to requests from educators and administrators seeking appropriate assessments for identifying SLD/Dyslexia and other learning disabilities related to reading. Educators will find it informational about an array of assessment tools for deeper examination of any component reading skill—particularly skills that have been challenging for a student in either general or special education.

Dr. Anderson, Dr. Gillis, Ms. White, and Dr. Louise Spear-Swerling of Southern Connecticut State University all served as consultants for Dr. Merritt in developing the guide. It is available online at

On March 22, SERC will host a related webinar, on “Remediating and Accommodating Students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)/Dyslexia at the Secondary Level.” For more information, go to

For general information on SLD/dyslexia supports at SERC, including future webinar archives, go to

Debut of AT loans from SERC Library

On February 3, the SERC Library launched a first-of-its-kind loan program for assistive technology (AT) resources and devices.

The Library’s AT collection includes more than 75 low-tech to mid-tech resources, including a number of new iPads and Chromebooks available for borrowing. Library patrons can now bring certain devices home to try out various AT apps in areas such as literacy, math skills, and early childhood education.

The process for developing the loan program included creating a patron survey, with input from Arlene Lugo of the CT Tech Act Project; purchasing and configuring the iPads and Chromebooks, and installing the apps; creating catalog records for each new circulating item, including those previously intended only for demonstration and that are now incorporated into the Library’s collection; and creating a borrower’s agreement and policy for circulating the iPads and Chromebooks. These devices are available for a loan period of two weeks, versus three weeks for other Library resources.

Patrons can also receive an informal preview of AT resources available for loan or schedule a formal demonstration of AT devices with SERC Consultant Dr. Smita Worah. These services and the new loan program are designed to help families, educators, and others determine the potential usefulness of a device for anyone with a disability or a variety of needs.

For more information, contact the SERC Library at (860) 632-1485, option 4. To sign up for a demonstration, contact Linda Adorno, project specialist for the SERC Technology in Education Initiative, at extension 241. General Library information is online at

Study group on culturally responsive teaching

What is culturally responsive teaching, and how can it make a difference in the classroom? On January 23, SERC began hosting a book study on Zaretta Hammond’s “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.” The small group of educators will explore innovative approaches to designing and implementing brain-compatible culturally responsive instruction that creates inclusive learning for students of all colors, genders, ethnicity, and abilities.

The study group is beginning and ending with a face-to-face meeting, with an online discussion forum in between for a flexible and engaging way to explore cutting-edge neuroscience research. Participants will have the opportunity to apply principles and techniques in their classrooms and share results with this community of fellow practitioners over the course of 12 weeks.