Connecting the Dyslexia Conversation to the SIPPS Program

In Part One of this blog series, Dr. Holly Lane shared the current definition of dyslexia, background information that sheds light on how it became a hot topic, and implications for instruction.

In Part Two of the series, Dr. Lane encouraged teachers to explore the core principles of best practice in dyslexia instruction. She advocated for powerful, evidence-based instruction in phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, and decoding, and explained the tenets of structured literacy.

In this third and final installment, I want to connect those blogs and other recent publications to the SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words) program, share my key takeaways, and leave you with new resources that will help you consider our work here at Collaborative Classroom in the context of current dyslexia conversations.

Shortly after the Collaborative Classroom published Dr. Lane’s dyslexia-focused blogs, the International Literacy Association (ILA) issued a Literacy Leader’s Brief titled Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction, in which the ILA promotes systematic and explicit phonics instruction as part of comprehensive literacy instruction. The brief raises many important issues, but the one that stands out most is “…phonics instruction is helpful for all students, harmful for none, and crucial for some” (p. 2).

This statement applies directly to the evidence-based instruction in phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, and decoding recommended by Dr. Lane as essential instructional elements for students with dyslexia. Moreover, the statement emphasizes the importance of effective instruction regardless of whether the student has a diagnosis.

The ILA brief prompted me to take a closer look at the Collaborative Classroom’s reading intervention program for grades K–12, SIPPS, and think about how it aligns with the essential instructional elements (phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, decoding, and encoding) that Dr. Lane described.

The Role of SIPPS and Structured Literacy

With the rise of conversations and legislation around dyslexia, we at Collaborative Classroom have reflected on our own work and how it supports students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. This work is set in the context of our mission, which is to provide a sustainable, scalable, and affordable way for schools and districts to implement research-based teaching practices that support teachers with helping students grow as readers, writers, and thinkers as they develop the social and emotional skills necessary to thrive.

The SIPPS program, based on the research of Dr. John Shefelbine, is designed to efficiently close gaps in foundational skills using systematic, explicit instructional routines. The structure and design of the SIPPS program are beneficial and effective for students with dyslexia, and the program aligns with the Structured Literacy framework, which the International Dyslexia Association recommends as best practice in teaching students with dyslexia.

You can find a detailed chart illustrating how SIPPS routines align directly with the framework in a document titled “Structured Literacy and the SIPPS Program.” Here, we’ll delve deeper into how these SIPPS routines support the critical instructional elements Dr. Lane discussed in her blog.

Phonological Awareness

In SIPPS, phonological awareness is taught and reviewed daily using explicit, systematic routines that do not involve print. The activities are sequenced so that they generally increase in difficulty. During this routine, the teacher visually represents units of sound with horizontal lines for phonemes and boxes for words, syllables, and rimes. These visual cues are used as students are prompted to practice oral blending and segmenting. The illustrations below show a routine for segmenting.


The Alphabetic Principle

In SIPPS, explicit and systematic instruction ensures that students thoroughly learn spelling-sound relationships. The teacher uses handheld cards to introduce new spelling-sound relationships and to review those taught previously. Students immediately practice new sounds by blending and reading decodable words. See this example for introducing the sound /s/.


Ample decoding instruction and practice is provided in the SIPPS program. First, students apply new sounds and review sounds as they blend and read decodable words. The Reading a Story routine in each lesson gives students the opportunity to apply what they have learned about sounds in the context of reading connected text. Each lesson includes a new story composed primarily of previously taught spelling-sounds and sight words. These two decoding routines ensure that students transfer discrete skills directly to reading.



The Guided Spelling routine in each SIPPS lesson provides spelling practice coordinated with decoding instruction. In this routine, students learn strategies they can apply to spelling many words phonetically. The teacher models spelling strategies and helps students write the words successfully. This ensures that from very early on, students understand the reciprocal relationship between the sounds they are learning to decode and their spelling.


SIPPS instruction is multisensory. Students listen to verbal prompts, follow visual cues, and respond chorally in most routines. Students also write during the Guided Spelling routine. When needed, teachers have the option to enhance the basic SIPPS routines using guidance from the Intensive Multisensory Instruction for SIPPS Handbook. This manual provides additional multisensory instruction ideas that can be smoothly incorporated into regular SIPPS lessons. In the example below, the teacher is prompted to use the Segmentation routine with the addition of a visual cue and markers. The enhanced routine includes a “Sound Lines” page and one marker in each circle on the page for each student.

The Orton-Gillingham Approach

Across the country, the term Orton-Gillingham in relation to dyslexia instruction is gaining currency. The OG approach was developed in the 1930s by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham as a solution for students with dyslexia and other reading challenges. The Orton-Gillingham approach is just that: an approach, not a curriculum. We compared the characteristics of the Orton-Gillingham approach and the SIPPS program. Our findings, documented in “The Orton-Gillingham Approach and the SIPPS Program,” identify the similarities between the OG Approach and Dr. Shefelbine’s approach.


Key Takeaways

Fully understanding dyslexia is challenging, and students who have difficulty learning how to read may or may not have an official diagnosis. For these children, internal or external factors have made the road to learning how to read painstakingly difficult. According to literacy expert Tim Shanahan, a dyslexia diagnosis does not suggest a particular instructional treatment. My takeaway is that the heated conversation around dyslexia is distracting us from focusing on what has happened and is happening instructionally to support students—whether they have a diagnosis, are waiting on one, or will never have one. We cannot, and should not, wait for a diagnosis. Instead, we should focus on our first line of defense: consistent, systematic, and explicit instruction. At the heart of our conversations are individual children who have unique needs and paths in reading development. We know that systematic and explicit instruction will benefit these children; and there is an urgency to ensure all students receive what we know will be “helpful for all, harmful for none, and crucial for some” (ILA, 2019, p.2) in an effort to grow readers who can read the words, understand them, and find joy in reading.


Dr. Lenora Forsythe is a Manager of Educational Partnerships at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. She earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Reading from the University of Central Florida (UCF). Her research emphasized professional learning for elementary school literacy coaches. She earned her Master’s degree in Reading Education from Nova Southeastern University, and her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from UCF. Lenora has ten years of teaching experience at the elementary school level that include literacy coaching, and teaching first and third grades. Additionally, Lenora spent five years teaching undergraduate elementary education courses that focus on literacy at UCF.