About one in 10 students have dyslexia with more boys affected than girls. Students with dyslexia may have difficulty reading and interpreting meaning and though words are visible, they may “swim” or “dance” on the page.
This can have a massive impact on their attainment but with the right support they can equal and surpass those without a learning difficulty. Here are some tips for teachers to help dyslexic students in the classroom.
Ensure that worksheets have a clear layout, short sentences, and an uncomplicated structure without any unnecessary detail that they may find distracting. Changing the font or background colour in Microsoft Word for example can make a big difference to reading ability. “OpenDyslexic”, pictured above, is a free font that teachers can download which adds gravity and weight to the text as shown in the image. Students that find characters invert or swim should try using this font.
This may not work for everyone but you can experiment with others such as Verdana, ClearType or Arial to see which works best.
Many students find studying and homework difficult and stressful – a task that is even more taxing for dyslexic students. It is important for teachers to encourage students to plan and organise their time early to help relieve the pressure.
Creating and sticking to a study plan is always a useful coping strategy, allocating time for each topic and helping students to stay focused. This plan should be visible and easy to access. The study areas should be as quiet as possible, with a cleared space for work and required materials such as notes, PC or Mac.
Identify the time of day when that student works best and organise the timetable around that. For example, first thing in the morning may be the time they have the most energy after a good night’s sleep.
Encourage students to keep their school notes and work together in folders so they do not get lost or damaged. Check that students are writing down their required tasks accurately or provide them with written instructions.
If possible, check that students are completing tasks correctly with parents or guardians. You can help build independence by asking the student to think about several different ways they could complete a task when faced with a problem and letting them know who they can contact for help once they have tried other strategies.
Organise study notes
Teachers should also encourage their students to organise their study materials. One way to make them more manageable is to colour-code any paper notes.
I encourage my students to use the coloured highlighting feature in their assistive technology software which allows them to gather information using coloured highlighters, from multiple sources, such as Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word. This text can then be collated into a single Microsoft Word document, with a bibliography automatically created.
Memorising study notes
Many dyslexic students enjoy using mind-mapping tools when studying to help with remembering key words and ideas. These tools are perfect when brainstorming and mapping out ideas for revision. They allow students to build their own visual mind-map, adding elements, sticky notes and imagery (which is great for visual learners).
Reduce the workload
Reading is a fundamental part of studying, but dyslexic students typically need to read and re-read text to decode it. This increases the typical workload for a dyslexic student, for example when preparing for tests, and can significantly increase their levels of stress.
Many dyslexic students are multi-sensory learners and benefit from listening to their study notes rather than reading them. Text-to-speech features in assistive software can be used to read any text aloud on a PC or Mac, for example in Microsoft Word, on the internet or in pdf documents, and allows the student to listen to their notes rather than having to keep re-reading them.
Concentration and visual stress
If a student has trouble with reading, it may be because of visual discomfort and distortion of print on the page or screen. A white page may glare, causing eye-strain or headaches; words may appear to move, to jumble or to blur. All these things interfere with reading and affect attention and concentration. Coloured overlays can be used with any handwritten notes and students can experiment to see which colour works best for them.
Screen-masking features in some literacy support software allows the student to tint the entire screen on a PC or Mac. This reduces glare and visual discomfort and enables those with Irlen Syndrome, for example (a form of visual stress which leads to difficulties with fine vision tasks such as reading) to be able to concentrate on their notes for longer.
Encouragement and coping strategies
Encouragement and support from tutors, friends and family is invaluable, enabling students to blossom academically and to achieve their goals. It is also important for teachers to help dyslexic students recognise and build on their coping strategies in order for them to progress and do well in their classes and beyond.
David Imrie is a biology teacher and SENCO at Ashcraig School in Glasgow and uses Read&Write Gold literacy support software from Texthelp.