Dyslexia is a problem experienced by children and adults where it is difficult to read printed text. Teaching students who may be undiagnosed with this condition requires some basic understanding of what dyslexia is, as well as an awareness of the local points for referral within your own schooling system that will allow young people with dyslexia to be appropriately diagnosed.
The signs of dyslexia a teacher may notice include:
- Trouble with automatic word recognition – a sight vocabulary is not easy for the child to build up or maintain
- Hard to blend letters together
- Cannot always find the beginning and end of words
- Skips words when reading aloud
- Loses the meaning of what is being read
- Words may be spelled several ways in a single piece of writing
- Uses an unusual ordering of letters within a word
- Can often remember complex or unusual words easily eg. spaghetti, dinosaur
Text is often read at a very slow rate, and so comprehension is impaired. This has implications for older students where there is increasing demand for fast, fluent and effective reading in line with a general increase in learning requirements across curriculum areas.
People with dyslexia have average or above average intelligence. Dyslexia affects people from all cultural backgrounds, although there is some suggestion there is a tendency for it to run in families. It is a condition which lasts for life, but with effective management and the use of practical strategies, a person with dyslexia can become an effective, successful lifelong learner and achiever.
Remember that teaching students with dyslexia is your role as a teaching professional. Diagnosing students with dyslexia is the role of a professional such as an educational psychologist, who is specifically trained in assessment and diagnosis of specific learning disabilities.
Many older students with dyselxia become extremely frustrated with their learning, and with school in general. By the secondary years, they are very aware that their learning skills and style is quite different to that of other students. The gap between a dyslexic student and their peers often widens over time, and they become less able to take in sufficient information through other senses to manage their workload effectively.
This frustration can be shown in many ways:
- Reluctance to participate in class reading or writing tasks, or literacy based activities in general
- Acting out and behavioural outbursts
- Refusal and anger at teacher requests for participation
- Decreasing attendance rate
- Increasing interest in non-literacy based activities
Some students with dyslexia may choose to leave school early, believing that the workplace will be an easier option for them. However, that is not always the case. Often those students’ experience will be that workplaces are simply another location where there is a high demand for literacy skills which they do not yet possess. Other students remain at school and continue to persist with their secondary education with varying degrees of success.
As a teacher, it is important to take action if you believe a child in your class has dyslexia. Take notes over a period of time about what you observe with their learning. Discuss your concerns with other teaching staff, the student and family members as appropriate. Find out if any learning assessments have been done in the past, and by whom. It is important that a diagnosis of dyslexia is made by a qualified person, as it involves extensive testing, including an assessment of the IQ of the child.
For a student who you know has dyslexia, focus on targeted, specific help and support for their learning. Talk to the student about their learning goals, and endeavour to find support within the school to help them reach those goals. If possible, establish a regular reading program which includes frequent intervention and specific goals. Aim for reading text which can be read aloud with an accuracy of around 95%, and encourage an increase in reading speed until the student can read at around 30-60 words per minute. This will ensure fluency and comprehension of the text can be obtained.
There are a range of programs which can help in teaching students with dyslexia. Investigate some of the following:
- Jolly Phonics
- Senior Sound Way
- Word Wizard
Remember though that for some students with dyslexia, there are likely to be compounding problems such as visual processing problems or an auditory processing disorder which may complicate the picture somewhat when it comes to selecting appropriate intervention and teaching methods.