How to support a pupil with dyslexia

lisawhelan

As a teacher, aiding the growth of a dyslexic learning is a great opportunity to help improve the attainment of one of your pupils and a chance to implement your teaching skills to the max. However, without the right tools it can be a challenging task for you, and a frustrating one for the pupil. This Dyslexia Awareness Week, we’re helping teachers everywhere support their dyslexic pupils.

What is dyslexia?

To understand how to help a pupil with dyslexia, it’s helpful to know what dyslexia is, and what it means for the person living with it. It’s important to remember that a dyslexic pupil’s struggles are not related to a lack of intelligence or willfulness.

Dyslexia is a neurological learning difficulty (or learning difference) which is commonly known for how it affects reading and writing skills. However, dyslexia is actually more about information processing, as dyslexic people have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which then goes on to affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. Dyslexia exists on a spectrum, and dyslexic people’s symptoms range from mild to severe.

Children with dyslexia often have difficulty with short-term and working memory, meaning they struggle to hold more than one or two points in their head at one time. They may also have problems in other areas, such as reading maps, or organisational skills. However, many dyslexic people show strengths in other areas such as reasoning, and in visual and creative fields.

How do I identify a pupil with dyslexia?

One in ten pupils have some form of dyslexia, spanning every ability level and every culture, so you will undoubtedly encounter dyslexia at some point in your career as a teacher.

Although some children are diagnosed with dyslexia before they start school, the symptoms usually become more obvious once school starts and the focus on learning to read and write begins.

Some symptoms of dyslexia in school-age pupils are:

  • Unpredictable and inconsistent poor spelling
  • Putting letters and figures the wrong way round
  • Reading slowly or making errors when reading aloud
  • Visual disturbances when reading such as letters and words moving around or appearing blurred
  • Answering questions well verbally, but having difficulty when writing the answers down
  • Struggling to learn sequences, such as the days of the week or the order of the alphabet

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that words are made up of smaller units of sound, and that changing those sounds can create new words with new meanings. This is a key symptom of dyslexia, and helps to identify whether a pupil has dyslexia (a special need which requires reasonable adjustments to be made) or is struggling academically for another reason.

A child with poor phonological awareness may not be able to correctly answer the following questions:

  • What sounds make up the word “hot”, and are these different from the sounds that make up the word “hat”?
  • What word would you have if you changed the “p” sound in “pot” to a “h” sound?
  • How many words can you think of that rhyme with the word cat?

Teenagers and adults

Sometimes, dyslexia goes undiagnosed in a pupil until secondary school or even into adulthood. Some of the symptoms of dyslexia in older children and adults can include:

  • Poorly organised written work that lacks expression (for example, even though they may be very knowledgeable about a certain subject, they may have problems expressing that knowledge in writing)
  • Difficulty planning and writing essays, letters or reports
  • Difficulties revising for examinations
  • Trying to avoid reading and writing whenever possible
  • Difficulty taking notes or copying
  • Poor spelling
  • Struggling to remember things such as a PIN or telephone number
  • Struggling to meet deadlines

Getting help

If you suspect that a pupil has undiagnosed dyslexia, there are a number of things you can do to make sure the child gets the assistance they need. You can either speak to the senior leaders at your school, another teacher who has experience with dyslexic children, or the pupil’s parents – if you feel comfortable to do so.

Whether or not a pupil has a diagnosis, the below strategies can help any school child who struggles with reading and writing.

Strategies for supporting a child with dyslexia

Small steps

Due to the problems with short term memory that dyslexia can create, pupils can struggle with tasks if the instructions are too long and complex, as they may have difficulty retaining all the information. Therefore, tasks should be broken down into small and manageable steps, with each step clearly written down and placed into a sequence for the pupil to refer to. This framework will help with organisation.

The following activity is taken from 100 Ideas for Supporting Pupils with Dyslexia by Gavin Reid and Shannon Green, it involves a task in which the pupil is required to summarise the main idea of a chapter or section of a book, which the class has read together:

“The small steps provide a structure that can help the reader sequence the chapter. Ask the pupil to:

  • Write down the names of the main characters
  • Identify the country(ies) where the story takes place
  • Identify which part of the country – the area
  • Write down four words that are important to the story. (For example, in a story about warfare, the words may be ‘war, jet fighters, parachutes, gunfire’)
  • Describe one event that happened in the chapter (you could develop this to describe one event from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end, making it easier for the child to sequence the details of the story)
  • Write down why that event was important

          Breaking the task down in this way will help the dyslexic pupil to focus on the information that is required and to provide a more relevant and detailed response.

          The structure provided can also help to minimise the possibility of the pupil digressing from the key points.”

          Make us of helpful technological tools

          In the digital age that we live in, people often need to work their way through an enormous amount of reading every day – both in school and in life beyond education. Technology offers numerous innovative tools to help those who live with dyslexia, from text-to-speech software, to font add-ons that make words more legible.

          One of these such fonts is Dyslexie. This font can be used for word processors, or can be used as a browser plugin to make every website on the internet easier to read for those with dyslexia.

          The Dyslexie font is designed to make letters easier to distinguish, which can help a pupil with dyslexia to navigate their “letter jungle”, and prevent them from feeling demotivated. Dyslexie works with schools to print exercise materials and exam papers in their unique font – you can also install the font on a student’s computer to use for word processing and internet browsing.

          Letting a pupil with dyslexia submit work on a computer for every lesson is advised, as handwriting can be torturous for pupils. A computer lets the pupil use spellchecker and helps with grammar and punctuation, while you can still see the quality of the content outside of dyslexia.

          Confidence building

          Pupils with dyslexia who attend a mainstream school may be acutely aware of the different struggles they experience compared to those of their peers, and feeling accepted is a huge contributor to remaining motivated at school.

          As a teacher, be aware of the experiences of your pupils who have dyslexia, who likely need a boost to their self-confidence in the classroom and may deep down even feel like they are incapable of learning. Praise these pupils for the progress they make, and don’t criticise or shame (especially in front of the class) them when they cannot overcome their difficulties.

          You can also help your pupils with dyslexia by:

          • Not calling them to read aloud to the class – they are likely to misread or skip words, which might cause embarrassment, or even bullying
          • Not asking them to copy text from a board or a book – give them print-outs instead
          • Expecting them to produce less written work – remember even if a pupil is verbally bright, they may struggle to put their ideas into writing and will have to work harder to produce a smaller amount
          • Allowing the pupils to respond verbally instead of producing written answers – this way they can still demonstrate their understanding of the lesson

          By following these confidence-building rules, the pupil with dyslexia will feel more included, and avoid disengagement.

          Dyslexia Awareness Week

          The British Dyslexia Association is heading Dyslexia Awareness Week this year from 7th-13th October. They are asking schools and workplaces to put aside half an hour to explore how to empower dyslexia in the organisation by:

          • Sharing information about dyslexia using their Dyslexia Awareness Week packs (find the school version here, and a poster to advertise your participation here).
          • Inviting relevant people to share their thoughts on and experiences with dyslexia, such as a dyslexic former pupil or a member of staff, a senior dyslexic member of the faculty, a member of the SEND team, or someone from the community who has dyslexia.
          • Setting some time aside to invite questions and comments from everyone who is participating.

          Helpful links:

          British Dyslexia Association – https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

          NHS Dyslexia – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dyslexia

          Dyslexie Font Plugin – https://www.dyslexiefont.com/ 

          SEND Careers with Engage

          If you would like a new role teaching in a SEND setting on a permanent, long-term, or short-term basis, full or part-time, our expert SEND team will be able to find the perfect role for you at one of our fantastic partner schools. You can register with the SEND team here.

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