First and foremost, it’s all about relationships: Fostering positive relationships is key to working with any student. Our students with dyslexia may need some additional support to help guide them to academic success. This is where you come in
You might have experienced it: Excited to start your year off right, you walk into your classroom and see 23 sweet faces looking back at you, excited just as well to start a new year. Some of your students may have already been identified as a student with dyslexia. Some may have difficulties that have yet to be identified. What can you do to support these students?
Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!
Educate yourself about what the student is doing when he leaves your room for additional services relating to his dyslexia. Understand that dyslexia is real. It is not a made-up diagnosis nor a “catch-all” term for reading difficulties. The student identified with dyslexia doesn’t attend dyslexia remediation classes as a time to work on homework, nor is it a time to play games. Dyslexia education is multisensory, sequential language education, starting with the most commonly used grapheme/phonemes, spiraling in new and reinforcing existing concepts for reading and spelling each day, and each one consistently builds on the other.
Don’t ask the dyslexia specialist if you can keep the students during their scheduled dyslexia session, or, even worse, schedule a fun event like a science experiment or extra recess during his session. The students will start to view their time in their dyslexia class as a punishment that could hinder their success through a curriculum. Be aware of the times they are scheduled to attend their dyslexia session.
The student identified with dyslexia exists on a continuum, meaning no two dyslexic students present their difficulties in exactly the same way.
Things to know:
- Dyslexia is inherited and can present a familiar trend
- Dyslexia is neurological, not vision-based
- Dyslexia can present itself in students by appearing from very mild to very severe cases
- Dyslexia can exist in gifted students
- Dyslexia can not be cured, but dyslexia sessions can help reduce the gap between cognition and performance
- Dyslexia can cause difficulties in areas like single-word decoding, fluency, reading comprehension, writing, handwriting, and even math.
A great resource to read is Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz. This text provides readers with an overview of dyslexia and other areas, such as bilingual education, adult dyslexia, and more.
Design an equity-based classroom to ensure that they have access to all resources that address academic and emotional impacts. Some of these resources could include:
- Have both a digital and analog clock posted
- Remove round-robin or popcorn reading from your setting
- Have a variety of graphic organizers and allow the student to choose the one that works best for him to aid in organizing his thoughts
- Post high-frequency words in the room for ease of writing
- Post an alphabet (print, cursive or both), either in the room or on the students’ desks
- Post the class schedule (preferably under the digital and analog clocks)
- Provide a quiet area in the classroom where the student can go to think, or finish assignments
Dyslexia education is multisensory, sequential language education, starting with the most commonly used grapheme/phonemes, spiraling in new and reinforcing existing concepts for reading and spelling each day, and each one consistently builds on the other
Additionally, provide books to all of your students about dyslexia on your bookshelves. These could inform both the student identified with dyslexia and his non-dyslexic peers, as well as help to create empathy for their peers. The following books feature main characters who all have dyslexia. Some are humorous, others are serious. But all personalize the difficulties with an endearing main character that students can relate to. This list could include, but is not limited to:
- Fish In a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Thank You Mr. Faulkner, by Patricia Polacco
- Niagara Falls, Or Does It, by Henry Winkler
- My Name is Brian, by Jeanne Betancourt
- Counting to D, by Kate Scott
Always give positive feedback whenever possible. Praise the good you see, and redirect any inconsistent or wrong behaviors. Try not to say “no” or “that is wrong” when a student gets an incorrect answer. This can discourage the student identified with dyslexia and may put a roadblock to learning. Say something like, “almost” or “you are so close” to promote further thinking and planning for the student.
In addition to physical books, be sure the student identified with dyslexia has adequate access to audiobooks. Such companies as Learning Ally, Bookshare, and Audible are great resources for students identified with dyslexia. Students who struggle with reading have access to a broader range of literature and subject matter using audiobooks, regardless of their reading levels. Within each of these audiobooks apps, students have the ability to:
- Listen to books in audio and enjoy stories beyond their reading levels which builds listening comprehension
- Accessibility through a variety of devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones at school and at home
- Customize voices and reading speeds
- Follow along with text using highlighting tools
- Adjust font sizes and types
- Change text color and background color
Speech-to-text is also a great assistive technology tool to help students get their thoughts down on paper. Many speech-to-text apps are available on Chromebooks or iPads. It also allows the student to vary their word content and provide more vivid stories/writing.
Depending on your student’s route of identification, they will have either a Section 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). There will be a list of accommodations that are specific to that student’s learning needs, for classroom equity. They could include, but are not limited to:
- Sit near the teacher
- Allow a variety of ways to demonstrate understanding of a project beyond a written report
- Avoid penalizing for spelling errors on daily assignments and tests
- Orally assess
- Check often for understanding
Understanding what the students’ needs are to facilitate learning can help the student identified with dyslexia blossom and come to love school. You are instrumental in helping to create what the student may need in his accommodations and modifications, so pay close attention to strategies that do/do not work for his individual educational needs.
Students identified with dyslexia have specific needs that are essential for learning and growing skills. Understanding their educational needs and growing an empathic classroom will help foster a love of learning in the dyslexic student. However, it all starts with you and the relationship with the student that demonstrates that care.