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SEND• 6 Min read

29th September 2019

Supporting Dyslexia In Schools: 10 Teaching Strategies | Engage

How To Support a Pupil With Dyslexia 

As a teacher, aiding the growth of 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.

What causes dyslexia in children?

Whilst the exact cause of dyslexia isn’t known, it often runs in families. Genes inherited from parents can cause dyslexia to appear in children. People of all intellectual abilities can develop dyslexia and it’s no indication of a child’s intelligence.

Is dyslexia a disability?

Dyslexia is classified as a disability according to the Equality Act 2010 as it’s a lifelong condition that affects normal day-to-day activities. However, many people refer to dyslexia as a common learning difficulty. As dyslexia is officially classified as a disability, it means that “reasonable adjustments” must be made for dyslexics in schools and workplaces. It’s important to understand that dyslexia isn’t a learning disability though as a person’s intelligence isn’t affected.

How does dyslexia affect learning? 

Dyslexia mainly impacts reading, writing and spelling. As a result, children with dyslexia may take longer to do written work and take notes. Motor learning can also be affected meaning children with dyslexia might struggle to distinguish left from right. Tying shoelaces and getting dressed can also be impacted by dyslexia.

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. A 2021 study found that dyslexics may struggle more with phonological working memory. 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 can teachers identify students 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.

What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

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

How does dyslexia affect 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?

What does dyslexia look like in 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

How can you help dyslexic students? 

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.

Teaching strategies for dyslexia in schools 

Dyslexic students can still thrive in a classroom environment with the right support from teachers. Understanding the limitations dyslexia can cause is a great way of creating strategies that give dyslexics the confidence they need to grow and learn in school.

  • Teach in 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.
  • Use fonts for dyslexics – Technology offers numerous innovative tools to help those who live with dyslexia. For reading strategies for dyslexia, font add-ons make words more legible. One of these fonts is Dyslexie. This font can be used for word processors or can be used as a browser plugin
  • Encourage computer use 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.
  • Boost confidence – Children with dyslexia can lack confidence as they struggle with different things from other students. As a teacher, you can build this confidence by praising their hard work, not asking them to read aloud or copy the text on the board and never criticising their difficulties.
  • Create a supportive classroom culture – encourage your students to collaborate and get to know each other. This will ensure dyslexic students feel comfortable when asking questions.
  • Multisensory activities – flashcards, puppets, videos and objects in the classroom help dyslexics engage and learn rather than through traditional methods.
  • Teach exam strategies – it’s important for dyslexics to know exactly what to expect when sitting an exam. Break down exams into a series of simple steps in order to avoid overwhelming students.
  • Dyslexia writing strategies – there are several tools you can use to help dyslexic students with writing. From line readers, coloured keyboards, pocket spell checkers and text-to-speech software, these tools are invaluable to dyslexics.
  • Mark work based on effort and ideas – whilst dyslexic students may struggle with spelling and grammar, their thinking and creativity deserve to be recognised. Make sure you praise their work and avoid using a red pen to point out spelling mistakes.
  • Work with parents – meet regularly with parents to discuss how their child is doing in school and ask about any strategies that are working well at home. Every dyslexic child is different and some strategies may work better for others.

How can teachers make classrooms dyslexia-friendly?

Making your classroom more accessible to dyslexics is a great way to ensure that they thrive and feel comfortable in a learning environment. Here are some top tips for your classroom:

  • Post visual schedules on walls and read them aloud
  • Offer coloured bookmarks so students can focus on a line of text
  • Provide letter and number guides so students know how to write correctly
  • Use large text print for handouts
  • Use audiobooks and videos in lesson plans
  • Use text-to-speech software
  • Provide a laptop/computer for typing up work
  • Give students with dyslexia extra time on tasks/homework
  • Give students extra time to read text in class
  • Provide study buddies to help dyslexic students with reading and writing
  • Have multisensory tools in your classroom such as flashcards and puppets to help teach

What is Dyslexia Awareness Week? 

The British Dyslexia Association is holding Dyslexia Awareness Week. Here are some ways schools can help empower students with dyslexia:

  • Sharing information about dyslexia using their Dyslexia Awareness Week packs 
  • 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 to more information on dyslexia in schools

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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