Structured Word Inquiry: It’s Not Either/Or…It’s Also!
NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND EDITION OF THIS BLOG POST. I HAVE BEEN INFORMED BY EXPERTS IN THE SWI FIELD THAT I HAD PROVIDED ERRONEOUS INFORMATION IN MY EARLIER VERSION. I ALSO MADE CHANGES TO INFORMATION ABOUT EMILY O’CONNOR’S BIO. THE COMMENTS IN THIS BLOG ARE MY OWN AND ARE NOT MEANT TO REFLECT THE THOUGHTS OR BELIEFS OF EMILY O’CONNOR.
In the dyslexia world, the introduction of SWI as an instructional approach for dyslexia has been met with a fair amount of misunderstanding.
What is SWI? Is it like Orton Gillingham (OG)?
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of inteviewing Emily O’Connor, a brilliant, delightful learning specialist in Portland, Oregon. She works with dyslexic kids in both math and reading and, in the last several years, has developed a passion and expertise in what’s called Structured Word Inquiry (SWI).
In our video, Emily does a wonderful job telling us about SWI, how it works AND gives us a real-time example of a mini-lesson.
Perhaps most importantly she talks about what led her to explore SWI. About two years ago, she was working with a student who was really struggling with building his reading skills even though Emily had been faithfully following her Orton Gillingham training. Her student was frustrated. Emily was at her wit’s end. What to do?
While searching the web for “something else” she found a post on Facebook from the Dyslexia Training Institute that led her to Gina Cooke and her website https://linguisteducatorexchange.com/about/
SWI is now her core intervention approach when working with dyslexic kids in her practice and she no longer uses OG.
My understanding from expert in the SWI field is that SWI and phonics instructional approaches are incompatible. Proponents of SWI do not believe that OG is an appropriate or the most effective approach for teaching dyslexic kids. I know very little about SWI (much of what I learned is from Emily’s video) so I really can’t comment in any depth.
I’m actually trying to reconcile what I know from the neuroscience and clinical research and (largely) OG studies and the effectiveness the phonics-based instruction has shown with the assertions by the SWI folks.
To be clear, there is a large multi-decade database of research that confirms the efficacy of multisensory, structured, systematic and intensive instructional approaches (e.g., Orton Gillingham) for teaching dyslexics to read. And in the last 20 years, the fMRI results confirm the connection between reading development and neurobiological functioning.
Is it the best approach? I don’t think we know yet. OG certainly has it’s limitations which, frankly, is what drove me to interview Emily. I think the SWI folks have a really powerful model. I don’t know enough about it yet but I respect the results that folks like Kelli Sandman Hurley and Emily O’Connor are reporting. I’m looking forward to fMRI and clinical studies.
My concern is that there has been some emerging conflict about OG vs. SWI. It would be a huge disservice to our dyslexic kids if we engage in an us-versus-them battle. Please let’s not repeat The Reading Wars! Much of the conflict derives from misunderstanding. Some of it is that we don’t have the same size database of research for SWI like we do for OG approaches.
There are always going to be fierce defenders of any one approach, model, inquiry, etc. But there are also tens of thousands of hard working, well-meaning people who want to learn as much as they can to help our kids. Let’s not let them get caught in the middle. Let’s engage them in a way that captures their hearts and souls versus telling them what they put their heart and soul in is stupid or wrong. Teach them!
We should listen and learn…while also expanding our research base.
I love how Emily explained it at the end of our video interview. Here’s what she said:
“Language is not static. Learning is not static. I invite my colleagues to embrace the responsibility of always learning and growing.”
I couldn’t agree more.
For more on SWI, we’ve included several links for your review on the watch page.
For the kids,