Written by Frances Adlam
Each dyslexic student has their own relationship with dyslexia. However, what dyslexic students have in common is a gap between their general intelligence and their ability to move forward with their reading and writing skills. And, in general, that gap creates feelings such as shame, embarrassment and frustration.
Here I offer four tips for teachers to improve both the learning experience and the emotional response for dyslexic students.
Be aware that dyslexia is not about intelligence. Many intelligent people have dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning difference. Because of the way their brains are wired, dyslexic students find it tricky to pick up the connections between sounds in words and the letters that represent those sounds. In turn, this makes reading and spelling extremely difficult.
Students with dyslexia can learn to read and spell, but they need to put in more effort than their non-dyslexic peers. Being sensitive to the negative emotions that this process involves is the most significant support a teacher can offer.
So take a holistic approach when working with dyslexic students. It is not just about teaching them to read and write. Teaching dyslexic students is about nurturing and prioritising their self-worth and belief in themselves as learners.
Be creative and empathetic in your teaching approach to replace embarrassing and awkward learning contexts with supportive ones. Generally, dyslexic students put a lot of energy into hiding their struggle with reading and writing. They can feel a lot of shame. It is highly embarrassing for an 11-year-old, with a reading age of 7, to have to read ‘baby books’ due to their low reading level. It follows that this experience has a negative impact on their attempts at reading and writing, discouraging them from having a go.
The Story Seekers series specifically addresses this barrier by providing age-appropriate content written around a framework of words and sentences that students with a lower level of reading can access.
Establishing a supportive learning context includes offering your dyslexic students:
- age-appropriate, accessible books to read from the Story Seekers series
- information in a variety of forms, such as video, audio and visuals – an approach that your whole class can benefit from.
Approach assessments with sensitivity and a positive mindset towards learning diversity. Dyslexia is a learning difference. It is the result of a brain being wired in a certain way. Current thinking is that dyslexia may be hereditary.
All brains are wired in ways that find certain subjects and skills easier to learn than others. It is just that we live in a world, especially at school, where it is highly noticeable when a student’s brain is wired in a way where it struggles to learn to read and write.
Dyslexia is for life. Dyslexic students can learn to read and write, many to a high level. However, even professional writers with dyslexia find they need extra support (such as a fabulous editor) during certain parts of the writing process (as successful children’s author Sally Gardner has experienced).
Take these characteristics into consideration in any reading and writing assessments. Your assessments need to take account of the reality that the dyslexic student will not progress as quickly at reading and writing as their non-dyslexic peers.
Explicitly teach dyslexic students all the key methods of learning to read. Don’t assume they will pick up certain skills, processes or knowledge automatically as the dyslexic student’s brain is not wired to do so.
In practice, this means you need to teach:
- phonics in a highly explicit way – showing the patterns of sounds to letters and revisiting these many times
- sight words in multi-sensory ways
- how to differentiate phonics-based words from sight words
- the rules and patterns of grammar and punctuation explicitly – including the relationship between grammar, punctuation and prosody (reading with appropriate expression).
Essentially, teaching dyslexic students requires a high level of teaching skills that all students will benefit from. Among these skills are explicit teaching, multi-sensory teaching and teaching with a mindset that accepts all students learn differently.
The Story Seekers series is a resource that has been specifically designed to support students who struggle with reading. The books are a valuable addition to the teaching toolbox when working with students with dyslexia and other struggling readers.