What can I do to support the dyslexic students in my primary class?

Published in SPELD SA Newsletter, Autumn 2003

Students with dyslexia at this age may lose the motivation to try in response to repeated failure. They may be unjustly labeled as lazy or stupid. The challenge for their teachers is to adapt their work tasks so that they can manage them independently and achieve success.

Classroom Strategies and Accommodations

Improving listening skills

  • Gain student's attention eg, use name, touch shoulder, gain eye contact, keep still
  • Teach student to "stop, look and listen" when teacher speaks
  • Give one instruction at a time and allow time to process meaning
  • Keep instructions short and simple. Accompany verbal information with visuals, demonstrations, headings on the board. 

Engaging students with different learning styles

  • Design lessons to involve:
    • The visual channel eg, colour-coding, writing key points on the board, demonstrations
    • The auditory channel eg, explanations, have students repeat, use drama, discussion
    • The kinaesthetic channel eg, writing, making things, doing things
    • The thinking channel eg, analysing, organising, proof-reading, evaluating, summarising, asking themselves questions
  • Encourage responses which reflect different learning styles
    • Visual: picture, chart, diagram
    • Auditory: oral, cassette, play
    • Kinaesthetic: model, movement

Individual Support Accommodations

Getting on with the task

  • Sit student near a helpful "buddy"
  • Ensure worksheets are written simply, in large print (Sasson or Comic Sans, font 12 or 14pts) with clear spacing
  • Have emergency supply of equipment: pen, pencil, ruler, eraser

Improving organisation

  • Model, explain and provide a system for routine tasks eg, setting up science experiments, clearing up, giving out homework instructions, collecting parent notices
  • Help student to devise checklists to tick off eg, for homework requirements, sports gear, managing complex tasks like research work, setting priorities for assignments
  • Teach students a system for completing tasks, eg, tidying their desk/drawer, getting changed for PE, looking for something they've lost, and encourage them to use it as part of a regular routine

Show understanding

  • Acknowledge that students with dyslexia have to work harder than most of their peers and even then the results may be disappointing (both to the teacher and the student)
  • Appreciate that dyslexics have good days and bad days
  • Accept that progress will be slow and praise small achievements
  • Recognise signs of fatigue and give a break or change activity
  • Appreciate dyslexics' difficulty learning facts by heart
  • Don't ask a dyslexic to read to the class unless they want to
  • They may lose and forget things however hard they try
  • They may be very sensitive to their difficulties and go to extreme lingths to hide them
  • Be patient. If one approach doesn't work, try something different, work on one step at a time, go back to a stage they can manage and build from there.

Modifying the task

  • Be prepared to modify tasks, eg, accept dot points instead of sentences
  • Don't ask dyslexics to copy from the board; they find it very difficult and may miss words/lines/whole chunks of information
  • Don't ask students to finish work at recess and lunch or take it home; instead reduce the amount or modify the task
  • Accept that progress will be slow and praise small achievements\

Building confidence and self-esteem

  • Reward effort
  • Captialise on special interests and talents
  • Give opportunities to shine
  • Help students set manageable goals and work out strategies to attain them
  • Look for opportunities to give descriptive praise

Explicit teaching strategies and accommodations

Developing phonic skills and word family knowledge

  • Revise knowledge of names and sounds of the letters of the alphabet
  • Lead students through a structured phonics program
  • Work with word families (eg, cat, bat, fat etc) so student can "hear" and "see" how groups of words share a particular sound/letter pattern
  • Practice breaking words into syllables, eg, win/dow
  • Practice reading word endings as a whole unit eg, /i/n/g/ as "ing"
  • Highlight syllables and word endings so a student sees them as a unit
  • Teach students to "sound out" words they want to spell and identify the number of sounds in the word. Ask them to check that they have a letter or letter combination for each sound. Ensure pronunciation is correct.
  • Engage as many senses as possible. For example, a student may:
    • Hear and say a word containing a new sound
    • See the word in print and study the distinguishing features or "tricky bits"
    • Trace over the word while saying it
    • Write the word from memory
    • Think of words which contain the sound being learned
    • Draw a picture and write a cue word on the back of a card with the sound on the front, eg, "ow" with "cow" and a picture.
    • Engage in games and activites based around the sound
    • Practice reading and spelling words with the nominated sound until the knowledge becomes automatic

Developing reading skills

Individually
  • Choose phonic-based books with controlled vocabulary at appropriate level
  • Preview vocabulary used in text
  • Read a page with the student, discuss meaning, and ask them to practice alone
  • Label objects and storage containers in the room
  • Set manageable goals for accuracy and speed
Whole class
  • Before reading to students, provide background so students can relate what they hear to something they know
  • When reading to the class, read reflectively
  • Discuss word meanings, content, relevance to real life
  • Discuss characters, problems and events
  • Invite students to suggest solutions to the problem, what will happen next
  • Provide brief review before continuing reading
  • Teach visualisation skills (creating a mental movie) to help with comprehension and visual imagination (see "Visualising and Verbalising" by Nanci Bell)
  • Teach skimming, scanning skills
  • Frequently model how you would:
    • Identify the main point
    • Recognise supporting detail
    • Note sequence

Reading and spelling high-frequency words

  • Start with words such as "the, and, me" and high-interest words such as the names of family members and things of personal interest
  • To help with reading, play matching games (using cards), Bingo, and the Memory game. A computer program, Dingo Bingo, covers the first 240 high-frequency words.
  • Work through a list of high-frequency words, eg, the Bedrock Sight Vocabulary
To help with spelling, try the following:
  • Hear, trace and say, imagine and say, look and say, write and say, check
  • Look and say, write and say the letter names, and look and say
  • Practice writing the words in as many different settings as possible, eg, sand, whiteboard, chalk, plastic letters, large crayons, big textas
  • Practice sky writing to reinforce spelling and writing patterns through motor memory
  • Identify and highlight the parts of the word which the student finds difficult
  • Develop mnemonics, eg, to remember the spelling of "said', refer to the first letter of each word in the sentence "Small Ants In Danger", and draw a pictureto go with the sentence.

 Developing written language skills

  • Provide a scribe when possible so student can concentrate on their ideas
  • Provide genre structures and model how to use them, eg, for narrrative, procedure
  • Brainstorm vocabulary and write on the board
  • Provide sentence starters, topic sentences for paragraphs
  • Encourage the use of a word processor

Developing handwriting skills

  • Teach correct sitting position, book/paper position, pencil grip; monitor and praise correct behaviours
  • Teach correct letter formation, monitor; provide one-to-one guidance if necessary
  • Teach cursive; because pen stays on the page, motor memory helps with memorisation of letter combinations
  • Practice writing patterns, letter formation in a range of settings, eg, sand, whiteboard, chalk, plastic letters, large crayons, big textas

Developing short-term memory skills

Intention
  • Students need to have a reason to remember
  • Establish an expectation to remember
Support
  • Give student time if struggling
  • Provide scaffolding/cues
  • Divide learning task into small, achievable steps
  • Teach each step explicitly
  • Make sure one step is learned before moving on to the next
Teach memory strategies
  • Rehearsal/repetition; simple recitation is useful for learning facts, eg, multiplication tables, lists; items at the beginning of a list are most likely to be recalled, so have several short lists rather than one long one.
  • Narrative chaining
  • Relate information to a theme or make up a story incorporating the information
  • Chunking
  • Group information into sub-units, eg, the phone number 82164532 (8 bits) might be reduced to 3 bits (821645 32); the word ending "e d" (2 bits) could be reduced to "ed" (1 bit)
  • Mental visualisation; create a mental picture of the content to be remembered, eg, details of a story, a process, directions. Close your eyes. Can you see it inside your eyes? For some students this may be difficult and require guided practice.
  • Mnemonics
    • Talk about the memory tricks you use, eg, to remember the spelling of stationary/stationery: cars are stationary, stationery paper
    • Make up a sentence using the letters of a word, eg, "because" - Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants
    • Make up a sentence with the order of the points of the compass - Never Eat Soggy Weetbix
    • Rhymes, eg, Thirty Days Hath September, April June and November
Practice
  • Students with memory difficulties may know something one day and have forgotten it the next
  • Provide many opportunities for practice - consider also the value of computer programs with their immediate feedback, infinite patience, and potential for variety
  • Review previous learning regularly, eg, spellings, maths concepts, routines
Memory aids
  • Encourage the use of the following tools:
    • Diaries
    • Illustrations
    • Charts
    • Calendars
    • Graphs
    • Cue cards
    • Concept maps
    • Notes
    • Flash cards
    • Summries
    • Post-it stickers with reminders
    • Copies of daily/weekly timetables
    • Checklists of tasks to complete
    • Calculators
    • Multiplication tables
    • Cards with correct letter formation
    • Indexed book with frequently mis-spelt words
    • Business cards with address, important telephone numbers, etc
Metamemory
  • Knowing how to remember
  • Ask student: how are you going to remember this information?
  • Model strategies they might use
  • Student chooses their preferred strategy and talks themselves through the task
  • Give constructive feedback
  • Picture/written cue cards can be used until the student can perform the task automatically

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