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Are Children in Your Class Suffering Needlessly?
I want to talk about what we can do, as teachers, to improve the school experience for our students with reading and/or spelling difficulties.
We know, from our experience with children attending our Dyslexia Centre in the UK, that unhappiness and stress is caused to many children with dyslexic difficulties by our school system. I’d like to provide some ideas for how we can try to reduce this stress.
Before I begin, it’s important to acknowledge that, however effective we may become in making learning environments more accessible for these children, many of them will still need specialist support to bring up their reading and spelling levels.
Specialist teachers and programs can be expensive and hard to find. To help fill this gap, we’ve developed our lovely new iPad app “Spell Trekking.” Spell Trekking is based on highly effective, specialist, multisensory teaching methods and will provide a superb intervention tool for children in grades K-7.
Spell Trekking Free Download at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spell-trekking/id547625622?mt=8
Do We Know Enough?
As a grade school teacher, I became aware that in every one of my classes, there were children struggling with literacy. At the end of each year, I felt frustrated and guilty that I hadn’t found a way to help them as effectively as I wished to.
Later, teaching adults with learning difficulties and teenagers who hadn’t achieved their potential in school, I found the same problems arising. Gaining a specialist teaching qualification in dyslexia and working with multisensory, structured literacy programs led to a fuller understanding of why these problems are so widespread.
One of the most helpful things we can do, as educators, is to understand why children are struggling – so here’s a quick summary of causes and effects of dyslexia:
What is Dyslexia?
A biological condition, thought to be based in structural differences in the brain, which can affect:
short term memory
visual and auditory information processing
phonological processing: especially in hearing the smallest sounds in words
speed of processing information
organisation and sequencing
It is unrelated to cognitive ability/intelligence
It is different in every individual: in both effects and severity
It is often combined with other Specific Learning Difficulties, such as: ADHD, dyspraxia, dyscalculia.
10% or more of the population may be affected: e.g. potentially 3 in every class
It need not be a barrier to achievement, if appropriate support is given early enough
We might take particular notice of point 6: this seems to me to be one of the many interesting aspects of working with people with dyslexic difficulties. They may very often be highly intelligent, highly talented individuals, frustrated by our current education system because it doesn’t teach them in the way they can learn.
How Do I Spot Dyslexia In My Students?
We’re not talking about assessments or diagnoses here – simply being aware of the types of difficulties which could indicate dyslexic learning needs. We simply want teachers to be able to identify a child who may need this type of support and empower them to begin effective intervention as early as possible.
Do you teach some children who:
Forget instructions, belongings; information given verbally?
Learn, then forget, words for reading and spelling?
Skip words or sentences when reading?
Struggle with copying from the board; write very slowly?
Struggle with sequencing, telling time, mastering days of the week and times tables?
May be labeled lazy, not bothered, inattentive?
Spell phonetically, reverse letter or number order, confuse b/d/p?
May feel frustration, low self-esteem, stress of failing at school; behaviour problems may ensue?
May have high ability in areas not reliant on literacy skills?
If students in your class show several of these issues, it could be dyslexia you’re dealing with – if so, standard teaching methods could be ineffective for them.
How Can I Be Sure It’s Dyslexia?
Without a diagnostic assessment, you can’t. But, the great thing about having a multisensory, structured literacy program available – e.g. our new iPad app – is that, whether or not a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, these methods will be effective.
“Dyslexia-Friendly = Learning-Friendly”
In short: programs proved effective for dyslexia are quite simply effective, for most learners, period. In other words, if you teach in the way a child with dyslexia can learn, ALL your students will benefit.
So, How Can My Classroom Be More “Dyslexia-Friendly”?
As briefly as I can, here are some things to be aware of and to try:
Don’t wait for diagnosis: intervene with support – use our lovely new app! – as early as possible if you suspect dyslexic difficulties
Adapt all your teaching activities to be as multi-sensory as possible: use eyes, ears, hands and voice to support each other and improve retention of information
“Taught is NOT Caught” – just because we’ve “covered” a learning aim, doesn’t mean they’ve learnt and retained it
Children with dyslexia need lots – and lots – of repetition, ‘over-learning’ and revision opportunities. Remember the ‘Square Rule’: if it takes 5 times to learn a new skill, it may take 25 times for a child with dyslexia
An effective remediation lesson for dyslexia needs to be 80% revision, with only 20% new learning – don’t go too fast: it won’t be retained!
Teach all your students to record their learning in different ways: mind-maps, story-boards, lists, videos – so they can all demonstrate knowledge and understanding, even if they can’t write well yet. Then allow them to choose their media
Use colored background on interactive boards, computer screens and paper – this reduces visual stress
Use colored, not black, pens on whiteboards; use alternating colors for each line of writing for tracking. Avoid red text though – this can be very difficult to see!
Avoid asking the child to copy from the board: print it out on colored paper instead – don’t squander their vulnerable short term memory and mental energy with non-essential tasks
Avoid enforced reading aloud: give the option for everyone to ‘pass’, so you’re not singling out the dyslexic child. Give them opportunities to present to the class but with plenty of practice time ahead
Find opportunities for them to excel; give plenty of praise and encouragement. These children may be working very hard indeed to try to keep up…perhaps using 10 times as much effort as their peers…
Understand that school, where there is so much emphasis on literacy skills, can be a very stressful and tiring experience for a child with dyslexia
Talk to the student’s parents about ways you can all support the child – extra notes or reminders going both ways in the home/school diary, for example – remember they may struggle with organization!
Many individuals will need multisensory, structured support with a specialist program such as our new iPad app ‘Spell Trekking’.
Using the Spell Trekking app for 10 minutes a day – about an hour a week – can make superb improvements to reading and spelling. Using the program it’s based on has been so rewarding: seeing children’s confidence rise being one of the best outcomes!
Spell Trekking gives only positive feedback!
Spell Trekking is out now – free download at:
Ros Hynes is trained as an Early Years teacher and has taught children aged 4-11 in the South East of England, before moving to the North West of the UK with her husband and two daughters in 1996. Teaching Literacy and Drama to young people and adults with special needs in Further Education led to an interest in dyslexia. Ros gained a specialist dyslexia teaching qualification and took up the post of Dyslexia Manager for an education charity, Centra, opening a new dyslexia centre in Lancashire, UK in 2007.
The Centra Dyslexia Centre currently supports 50 child and adult students with dyslexic difficulties every year on a Big Lottery funded project, along with providing dyslexia training and support to 40 schools in the area. The Centre uses the specialist, highly effective, multi-sensory program IDL (Indirect Dyslexia Learning) to raise reading and spelling levels. IDL has now been developed as an iPad app: Spell Trekking www.spelltrekking.com