By Scott Sterling
This is the second in a series of posts about actionable strategies that any teacher can use to reach students with varying exceptionalities. This week: students with dyslexia.
Until recent years, dyslexia has often been treated as almost a death sentence to a student’s academic career. The truth is that, with the right accommodations and some understanding, a dyslexic student can be just as productive as their non-dyslexic peers.
Although severely dyslexic students would benefit from the attention of a trained special education teacher, teachers in all subject areas can enact these easy tips to make their classes more dyslexia-friendly. They even benefit non-dyslexic students.
The primary place of frustration for dyslexic students is when they have to work from the black/white/SMART board. Reading from a board is much different, and more public, than reading from paper.
First, when writing a group of text on the board, try to make it look as neat as possible. Think of your writing on the board as what would appear if you printed something out for your computer. Would the person you want to read your work on the computer be able to if it looked like your board?
This can go as far as to start using headings, underlining, bulleting, and all the other tricks we use in word processors to get our points across. Even color coding can greatly help the dyslexic student make sense of the writing.
Although note taking is an important skill, think about the information students really need to copy manually and what can be shared online or printed out. You will decrease the stress on dyslexic students and help the environment at the same time.
Obviously, dyslexic students dread reading, especially in front of the class. There is a simple solution—let your dyslexic student(s) pre read the material for the next day’s class. The alternative is to never call on the student(s) to read aloud, which will quickly be noticed by the other students in the class.
Also, make audio books available, not only of the texts you are studying in class, but also as selections for your classroom library. The goal of the library is to get students to love reading, and dyslexics already have a barrier toward that goal. Meet them halfway and be amazed at what they start picking up next.
Spelling is also a central challenge for dyslexic students, but they seem to do better with it if their spelling words have some sort of context to what is currently being studied. They particularly struggle when spelling words are random. Make sure your spelling curriculum takes that into account.
Work with your dyslexic students to help them recognize their common mistakes, which seem to repeat themselves. They may not spell a lot of words right the first time, but with practice they will be able to edit their work effectively just by looking for the signs.
In general, being able to talk out their math problems has been shown to help understanding among dyslexic students. They should also be allowed to jot down notes and organize their thoughts. Doing math problems “in their head” is particularly challenging. If a curriculum calls for that skill, without any aid, consider an official accommodation in a child’s IEP.
Dyslexics spend more effort to succeed during the school day than their non-dyslexic peers, which leaves them with less energy for homework. Consider the amount of homework you are assigning and whether it is appropriate, considering the abilities of all your students.
If there is important minutia for a student to remember (homework assignments, due dates, school events, etc.), provide it to them on paper. If you have students write these “to-do” items down, check a dyslexic’s writing before they put it away to make sure it gets the point across. If things like that are coming home on a regular basis, ongoing communication with the parents can make sure the student is being supported in both places.
Next week: Reaching students on the autism spectrum