How to create a dyslexia
1. Set realistic, achievable targets for each lesson
The academic content does not need be ‘dumbed down’ but the expectation in terms of writing and volume of work needs to thought about carefully.
There is nothing wrong with having high expectations, but remember that dyslexic children are often working twice as hard to process instructions and carry out a sequence of steps within a task. Aspects of a task that may seem routine can often drain all the child’s energy leaving little energy for creativity or thinking. Consider which skills you actually want the child to use or develop within a task and provide scaffolding for the other skills needed.
Very often teachers ‘rob’ dyslexic children of a sense of achievement by just accepting whatever they complete in a lesson. The child knows that they haven’t completed the task and so feel like a failure. Simply reducing the number of questions to be answered from 5 to 10 will make a huge difference. As can asking the child to write one paragraph rather than a whole story. But remember it should not always be the beginning of the story. Use a teaching assistant to scribe the first paragraph and ask the child to write the middle of the story. Use a dictaphone or ipad for the child to verbally record the beginning and middle and then write the end. Shared writing where the adult and child take turns to write a sentence can make recording ideas less laborious.
2. Give positive, constructive feedback
Children with dyslexia already know that their spelling may not be correct and that their handwriting is messy. Mentioning this in every lesson is not helpful and will not lead to improvement. These skills need to be worked on in a structured way outside the classroom. Remember what the learning objective for the lesson is and focus your comments on this.
3. Understand how spellings are learnt
Correcting numerous words within a child’s piece of writing will not help them spell them correctly next time. Nor will writing each word out 3 times at the bottom of the page. Dyslexic children need to use multisensory methods to learn new spellings, they also need to have spelling rules explicitly taught in a systematic way. They will need numerous repetitions and practise of using words in sentences before they will remember a word automatically.
They can also only take on spelling rules that they are developmentally ready for. For example: if a child is learning initial blends in their support lessons, there is little point correcting words with common suffixes like ‘station’ or ‘terrible’.
4. Keep verbal instructions short and provide visual checklists
One of the most common difficulties for dyslexics is weak working memory. This means that very often they find it hard to recall more than one instruction at a time. If you give a lot of verbal information at once a dyslexic child may find it hard to process what you say and if their working memory overloaded they will not remember what was said at all. Breaking a longer instruction into 3 shorter instructions can help. Encourage the child to count each instruction with their fingers and recall what it is. Provide a visual checklist that can be referred to during the task so that they child can remind themselves of the steps.
5. Consider font, layout and size of print of worksheets and resources
Many dyslexics have difficulty processing visual information. Certain fonts are easier for dyslexics to read these include Times New Roman, Comic Sans and Century Gothic. Busy worksheets can be very daunting for a dyslexic child and they may not be able to successfully access the information needed to complete a task. You could consider splitting one worksheet into several worksheets and enlarging the text.
6. Avoid copying from the board
Although supposedly this practise doesn’t happen anymore, I have observed enough lessons to know that there are still things that have to copied from the board. It may be the date and learning objective for the lesson, sentence starters or headings for each paragraph. Many teachers still think copying from the board is a simple task, but for the dyslexic child it is not. Many have visual difficulties that make switching focus between near and far difficult. They may find it hard to keep track of the lines and the words within the lines. I have watched dyslexic children spend a whole lesson copying just the date and the learning objective. Even having to refer to the board for word list or instructions can be difficult. Providing photocopied notes or information on an individual white board is the most helpful solution. If the information has to be displayed on the board then numbering the lines and using different colours for each line can also help.
7. Provide a study buddy
Having to constantly ask the teacher for clarification or not being able to read the questions on a worksheet can be embarrassing. Seating the dyslexic child with a supportive capable child is a good strategy. This means that the child can discretely ask for help when needed and be more independent.
8. Organise the classroom so that scaffolds, checklists, word banks and concrete resources are assessable to all pupils. Resources that help dyslexic students are helpful to all students. Making it normal to use prompts and tools for learning benefits everyone. Dyslexic children find it hard to keep all the information needed to carry out a task in their head and so checklists are vital. Also many dyslexics learn best with concrete materials particularly in maths and spelling.
9. Try to highlight the pupil’s strengths both personally and publicly.
Self esteem is a big issue for dyslexic pupils. Although they have genuine strengths very little time or acknowledgement is often given to these at school. They have to face day after day of class work that challenges them to their limits. They are often painfully aware of their shortcomings compared to their peers. Receiving praise for something they know they are good at can be a real confidence boost. It also helps other children see the child in a more balanced light and not just as the child who is slow at reading and writing.
10. Allow time for skills to develop
Dyslexic children are not lazy, they are overloaded by much of everyday life and are working twice as hard to deal with many tasks that others consider simple or routine. Fatigue plays a huge part in their performance, leading to good days and bad days.
A dyslexic student can learn to read and write competently, it just takes time and the right teaching and support. Just because a child cannot read in grade 2 does not mean that they will not read at an age appropriate level in grade 5. However, it is important to remember that they are not on the same timeline as the rest of the class. As a learning support teacher, I track children all through school and I know how much progress a child needs to make each year to reach the goal of adequate literacy skills at the end of primary school. There is enough time for these skills to develop at a more natural pace for dyslexic students. Many teachers feel they are doing a disservice to child if they do not put pressure on them to ‘keep up’ with year group expectations. This is a false economy, it is like building on sand. The learning is not secure and is quickly forgotten and lost. This leads to a sense of failure and low self esteem. It is better to accept the level the child is working at and find ways to help them develop age appropriate skills and concepts in other areas without focusing on reading and writing skills. With high quality specialist interventions outside the classroom these skills will develop over time.
Supporting Working Memory Difficulties
Working memory difficulties are probably one of the most overlooked aspects of many learning difficulties, including dyslexia. It is one of the "hidden difficulties" which many students experience, it makes classroom life exhausting. It is the reason very often children miss instructions, forget previous learning and struggle with multi-step tasks.
Overcoming working memory difficulties can seem daunting at first and it certainly takes time and persistence to make any progress.
For the open minded teacher there is a lot that can be done within their lesson delivery to help and support children who have working memory difficulties
1. One key thing is to make it acceptable to ask for instructions to be repeated. Working memory is limited and when it is overloaded the information is lost and can not be retrieved. If we get cross with a child for not listening we do not help the problem, we only force then to develop unhelpful strategies like copying or work avoidance.
2. Making information available as an individual paper copy using visuals, notes or bullet points is extremely helpful. This will give the child something to help them to focus and keep track of what is being said. Many teachers think it is enough to have the information on the white board but this can be just as inaccessible to a dyslexic child as the verbal information.
3. The teacher can prompt the child prior to the lesson about what to listen out for or ask them a specific question. For example 'Today I am going to be talking about mammals, listen out for one of their characteristics" This encourages both active listening and encourages the child to listen out and filter what it said for key words rather trying listen to everything and becoming overloaded.
4. Pre-teaching of some concepts with concrete materials, using discovery learning or visuals may then give a child a chance to tune in and participate rather than swimming in a sea of words. We know from our own experiences it is much easier to follow a conversation when we already know the subject matter. If we join a conversation where people are talking about something unfamiliar it can take some time to tune in and we may even misunderstand initially.
Most teachers love to talk but often don't appreciate how much they say with out using visuals or resources to illustrate what they are saying.
5. Repeating instructions with a reduction of words increases the chance children with poor working memory retaining the whole instruction. The teacher can encourage the whole class to count and repeat the key words on their fingers and ask some children to repeat back what has been said.
6. Setting up class routines reduces the number of instructions that a child has to listen to and process. This leaves more energy for actual learning.
For the child there are ways of training themselves to remember more of any information given verbally.
1. One of the most effective methods is encouraging children to verbalise what has been said out loud, it can be under their breath or in a quiet voice. As the child says it they have an addition chance to process the words and pick out the key words. Research has also found that we remember things said with our own voice more readily.
2. Children can be taught to visualise what is being said, again this needs training outside the classroom. If the child actively listens and creates a mental picture of what is being said it becomes more memorable. Exaggerating the picture or making it funny can also help.
Mnemonics for spellings and number facts can make use of both verbalising and visualising.
Some children need a structured programme, a speech therapist may be key in this delivering this. There is a well established programme called 'Visualizing and Verbalizing'
see http://lindamoodbell.com/program/visualizing-and-verbalizing-program for more information.
Older children can be trained to make notes and pick out key words, but this does need adult modeling first and practice outside the classroom. Contrary to common belief, note taking is not an easy skill to master and it does need teaching. It also needs to taught a step at a time, first children need to work on listening to a sentence and picking out the key word or idea. They may need to discuss with an adult what makes a key word. It will take practice to filter out the extra words and focus in on the key word. Then they need to practice saying the key word to themselves and only writing this down. Dyslexic children can find it very hard to listen and write at the same time, drawings and diagrams can be a way round this. It may take several months to learn effective note taking.
At home, encouraging eye contact when speaking can help. Children often find it hard to divide their attention, if they are involved in other activities they may not actually be listening at all. This is often the cause of parental frustration and the need to repeat instructions again and again. Asking your child to immediately repeat back what you have said can also be helpful in ensuring what you said has been heard and understood.
Again establishing routines and checklists can help. Sometimes parents can be reluctant to use checklists at home as they want to be more relaxed and different from school. But as adults most of us rely to diaries, lists and written instructions so that we do not forget steps in a task or a series of jobs that need to be done. Children need to be introduced strategies which will encourage them to be independent rather than needing adult prompting to remember.
All in all plenty of PATIENCE is needed as it takes time, encouragement and training to overcome working memory difficulties.