Helping all children become happy learners
The nature of the support required will depend on the specific nature of the difficulties experienced by the dyslexic child. For example, a child with poor sight vocabulary can be helped by regular opportunities to do activities which help them to learn high frequency words: matching pairs; Precision Teaching; specialist software like WordShark; mnemonics; word webs; loci method etc.
It is therefore important to carefully assess the exact difficulties of the child so that gaps in their knowledge, abilities and skills can be mapped out. Completing a Pupil Learning Profile (see assessment resources) can help to identify the student's needs so that effective interventions and support can be put in to place.
Strategies for supporting dyslexia in school
The exact nature of support for a dyslexic student should ideally be informed by any assessment information. However the following strategies have been found to be useful in supporting dyslexic students generally.
dyslexic friendly fonts
'Word blindness' is a problem for many dyslexic who may describe their experience of the 'letters dancing' on the page. The degree of difficulty often depends on the choice of font used. Avoid serif fonts such as Times New Roman which have flourishing tails to make them generally more ornate. Instead always use a san serif font such as Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, Verdana etc. when making up learning resources. Ask your dyslexic students which fonts they find easiest.
There are also 'weighted' fonts designed specifically for dyslexia. These fonts appear heavier (more emboldened) at the bottom of each character. For some dyslexics this helps to anchor the letters to the line and makes the text easier to read. However, not all dyslexic students find them useful.
Many dyslexic students struggle with learning new vocabulary, particularly subject-based technical vocabulary. This makes it very difficult for dyslexics to understand explanations and instructions in class. By pre-teaching the vocabulary they are better able to keep pace with their peers. Try to send home new vocabulary needed for lessons a few days earlier. The focus in on learning the meaning rather than being able to spell it accurately. This could be additional work or an alternative to homework set for peers.
A diagnosis of dyslexia means that the student has difficulty with language processing and working memory deficits. Listening to explanations and instructions often overloads their capacity to remember and engage with the task as compared to their peers. It is therefore crucial to provide additional scaffolding and support for memory failure. A task board provides a breakdown of the task stages which means that the student is able to recover when they forget and so is able to continue independently.
Dyslexic students are often entitled to extra time in public examinations. This is because it is recognised that dyslexics are generally slower at reading, processing language and writing. They can produce the same quality and quantity of work as their comparative peers if given the extra time they need to work at their processing speed. However, though schools are often good at applying for this extra time in formal examinations they are generally very poor at providing this at other times. This can lead many dyslexics, who struggle to complete tasks, feel inferior in their learning to their peers. It also means they don't practice using the extra time effectively. This is particularly important as many dyslexics also struggle with time management.
Scaffold writing tasks
Another way of supporting dyslexic students with their slow processing and writing speed is to provide additional structure to the writing task. Use of writing frames with pre-drawn boxes to guide the writer on the layout and structure expected can make it easier for the student to complete the task. This can be particularly useful when introducing a new writing genre.
Differentiate homework tasks
Many dyslexic students spend much more time than their peers completing homework assignments. It is important to discuss with parents how much time a student is taking to complete tasks. It is important that these students understand and accept a need to put in the extra effort above that of their peers. However, it is also important to strike a healthy balance to avoid the student becoming over tired and allow time for them to persue other interests. It may therefore be appropriate to differentiate tasks to ensure completion within a reasonable time-frame. Alternatively, the student can be given additional time to complete the task, such as over a weekend.
There is some evidence that many dyslexic students organise and store their learning in a way that is different to non-dyslexics. This often means that they struggle to recall information from one lesson to another. On the other hand, dyslexics often make unusual links in the learning and can often excel in creative thinking tasks. However, dyslexic students can often benefit from support in organising links their learning and this is often best achieved through mind maps and other visual tools. These make specific connections in learning explicit which in turn helps to anchor memories for better recall.
It is important to boost the self-esteem of dyslexic students who can often feel dispirited by their struggles with learning. A reward system can be useful in motivating and celebrating their efforts.
Additional use of ICT
Dyslexic can benefit from using word processors to create written work. This can help them quickly edit and rewrite as they compose their writing. Spell checkers can also help eliminate many of the simple errors that dyslexics often make.
Dyslexic student can benefit from access to audio books. This can help them explore a wider range of fiction and help with receptive language and vocabulary acquisition. Opportunities to listen to audio books with access to the written text can be an effective way to help develop sight vocabulary and reading fluency.
Dyslexics, like many other students, are more likely to understand new concepts and make new learning connection when multi-sensory approaches are used. Where possible try to build in opportunities for the students to 'see, hear and do' the concept being explored.
Dyslexic students can struggle to recall previous learning. They may benefit from overlearning opportunities that help to strengthen memory pathways. Ideally try to revisit learning concepts within 24 hours to help anchor memories.