The British Dyslexia Association states that 10% of the population are dyslexic. That’s at least three students in your classroom. Dyslexia can be a significant barrier to learning and can leave students feeling marginalised by peers who are academically high-achieving. However, with the right support and opportunities, dyslexia need not be such an obstacle in a student’s school life.
Recently I was speaking with a friend who was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in school twenty years ago. She did not have extra support and was just seen as less bright than the other pupils. This massively impacted her self-esteem, knocked her confidence and led to her leaving school having not got much out of it. Thankfully, attitudes and understanding of dyslexia have massively changed since then though many teachers can still find themselves at a loss when a student with dyslexia is struggling and needs some support.
using dyslexia- friendly techniques can benefit the whole class
Many students with dyslexia will already be receiving alternative support from your school’s SEN team so you should always check in with them when looking for tips and tricks that might help engage your student. If you suspect one of your students might have dyslexia but haven’t got a diagnosis then there’s no harm in flagging it up and getting them the support they might need. It could literally change their life. In fact, using dyslexia- friendly techniques can often benefit the whole class and encourage other students under your radar who are struggling.
Here’s some teaching strategies to provide support for students with dyslexia that you can put in place in your lessons, including student-specific approaches, as well as general classroom resources and lesson strategies.
The first thing you need to do when approaching any student with learning difficulties is take away the learning difficulty and look at the students themselves. What are their personal interests, strengths and weaknesses and how can you use that to their advantage? Be perceptive of their personality and try to figure out what makes them tick and how you can spark their engagement in your lessons.
- Understand the difference between laziness and difficulty concentrating. In fact, what can come across as laziness can actually be resignation to the task after coming to the conclusion that they will fail and therefore not trying due to fear of failure.
- Remove fear of failure if you can, let them know that you would prefer a wrong answer than no attempt at the task at all. Never make a student feel bad for trying.
- Praise for effort, not just achievement. Recognise the students who may not be getting the top results but are putting their all in and showing perseverance.
- Look at behaviour- is a student acting out or refusing to work because they are struggling to understand tasks but don’t want to appear “stupid” in front of classmates?
- Check certain students understand what to do before undertaking longer, written tasks.
- Recognise their skills and give them the chance to demonstrate these skills in class tasks- are they skilled orally, visually or artistically?
- Ask them what they want- check in with them to get to grips with the kind of tasks they prefer. Ask them whether there is anything they would like you to do that could help them.
There are many dyslexia teaching resources online and surprisingly simple ways of altering your lesson resources to be more dyslexia-friendly. There are also a number of visual aids you can use to ease reading-heavy classwork that could be holding some students back from accessing the work. Providing support for students with dyslexia is becoming easier with the development of new learning tools.
- Find a new font. Some fonts are more accessible to those with dyslexia, including increasing the size and spacing between words. You can even find specifically-designed dyslexia-friendly fonts, like ‘Open-Dyslexic’, that could help with how your student processes the words they read on the page.
- Highlight key words on worksheets and minimise busyness on the page.
- Consider colours. Certain background and text colour combinations may help with visual processing when reading. Use dark grey text rather than black to reduce glare and set a cream background.
- Visual aids like illustrations and diagrams can often work better than paragraphs of text when trying to get the student to understand concepts.
- Reader pens can sometimes be provided by schools or from your SEN team which can greatly help students with lower reading capabilities than their classmates.
- Prepare print-outs of key notes to stick in rather than making them copy long paragraphs from the board. A fill-in the blanks sheet can work if you are concerned they may not be reading and taking in what is on the sheet.
The saying goes “If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still doesn’t understand, then it is not the child that is the slow learner.” Sometimes when a student really isn’t getting it, you need to adapt your approach. Going over what you’ve already taught in a different way isn’t time-wasting as it will help those understand who didn’t before and consolidate the knowledge of those who did.
- Value your teaching assistant, (if you have one), not only can they provide extra support to pupils who need help but they can also help identify struggling pupils
- Break down information in to bite-size pieces.
- Allow extra-time where it’s needed.
- Encourage class computer work and homework completed on the computer.
- Try verbal answering/ discussion tasks. Often you will find that a student with dyslexia does understand the topic but just isn’t putting it across in their writing.
- Try game-based activities rather than simple writing tasks and encourage team activities.
Wider School Initiatives
If you’re inspired by new techniques in the classroom that are working, why not spread awareness throughout the school? Whole-school approaches to SEND helps promote awareness, understanding and sharing of tips and strategies.
- Online homework programmes like ‘Show My Homework’ have been widely adopted by schools and are fantastic for pupils who may struggle with organization and don’t remember to do homework because they didn’t write it down from the board on time.
- Encourage typed homework which makes it easier for dyslexic pupils and allows them to take more pride in their work.
- Organise paired reading schemes with your school library where older students can assist with the reading ability of younger students who need literacy support.
- Study buddies are another great way to get pupils to help each other, making strategic pairings of students who can effectively support each other when they may not feel confident putting their hand up to ask for help.
- Always work with your SEN team to develop personal strategies and targets for particular pupils.
Why not read our tips for supporting students with autism in the classroom.