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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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:
By following these confidence-building rules, the pupil with dyslexia will feel more included, and avoid disengagement.
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:
British Dyslexia Association – https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/
NHS Dyslexia – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dyslexia
Dyslexie Font Plugin – https://www.dyslexiefont.com/
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