Help Dyslexic Students with These Teaching Strategies

We most closely associate dyslexia with difficulty learning to read and with other language and reading skills like writing and spelling. Dyslexia, however, goes beyond letters, spelling, and learning to read and write. Dyslexic students are more likely to have difficulty comprehending what they read, and even what they remember. It can also cause students to have difficulty following directions.

Somewhere between 60 and 100% of people with dyslexia experience difficulty learning math. Dyslexic students often struggle with math because they have problems following directions, remembering steps, keeping things neat and ordered, and recognizing the meanings of symbols — all required aspects when learning math. For example, a dyslexic student may have trouble completing a crowded and busy math worksheet. The student may not remember the complicated steps to solve a mathematical equation or geometric proof.

Challenges in learning are just the beginning, however. Dyslexic students are often teased and bullied — partly because they’re viewed as different from the other students, and partly because their learning differences can single them out for special attention from teachers. Bullying is a significant problem for all students with special needs, as their differences make them easy targets for bullies. Low self-esteem from simply living with a disability adds to the problem.

Dyslexic studentsThere are also certain positives for dyslexic students, however. Studies at Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere have proven that adults and children with dyslexia better understand visual information, such as spotting differences and gaining a broader, more inclusive view. In the words of one researcher, “While typical readers may tend to miss the forest because its view is blocked by all the trees, people with dyslexia may…miss the trees, but see the forest.” Students with dyslexia can often detect softer sounds than those without, or hear a single voice in a crowded, noisy room and even excel at musical abilities. While it may be more challenging to teach dyslexic students to read or spell, they may have surprising other talents those without dyslexia don’t have.

It’s impossible to discuss strategies for dyslexic students without mentioning the Orton-Gillingham approach. While it’s specifically geared towards helping students learn to read — from letters to phonics to independent learning with proficient reading skills — the method introduces aspects that can help you teach any child any subject.

The Orton-Gillingham approach stresses teaching methods that are:

  • Multisensory — since dyslexia affects the way the brain processes visual information, engaging the other senses like touch and sound works around this deficit
  • Direct — it’s helpful for the students to know what they are to learn, why they need to understand it, and how it will be taught
  • Systematic and sequential — step by step, building upon the skills already mastered
  • Positive and reinforcing — focus on the successes, the work that was done well, and the individual skill strength, rather than overall performance
  • Emotionally sound — focusing on the positive and on each child’s success concerning their prior skillsets creates a learning environment that fosters positive mental attitudes and self-esteem

There are many ways to implement these strategies into teaching, no matter the subject or age. From Scrabble tiles and magnetic letters for teaching spelling, to math manipulatives at any grade level, to hands-on science, art, and music lessons — this approach’s multi-sensory aspect benefits all students. Whether it’s a lesson on how to spell three-letter words or Einstein’s theory of relativity — knowing what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will learn it gives all students a sense of the goal and the structure of their learning.

Now for some ways you can help dyslexic students in a more personalized manner. Firstly, let’s look at what NOT to do with dyslexic students.

1. Don’t ask them to read aloud. It can lead to embarrassment and a sense of failure.
2. Don’t ask them to copy things from a board or text.
3. Don’t expect them to complete assignments as quickly as the rest of the class.

Here is what you SHOULD do instead for dyslexic students.

1. Set up a study carrel or individual space with noise-canceling headphones to help eliminate distractions.

2. Allow the use of headphones and text-to-speech screen readers for any in-class lessons on a computer. The software will “read” the text on the screen, so the student doesn’t have to. Encourage them to set one up at home, too.

3. Provide an Aline reader to help with written text and create templates that highlight just one math worksheet problem at a time.

4. Provide copies of the text and highlighter markers when you are covering textbook material. Guide the student on what to highlight for future reference.

5. Work with the student’s parents so they can help their child at home in an appropriate manner, using some of your tips and tools. Simple awareness of dyslexia might not equate to proper management of the learning disability at home.

6. Ensure parents follow through with their child practicing the non-academic skills they’ll need to succeed throughout life — like following instructions, breaking tasks into smaller parts, “everything in its place,” etc.

Does your child have a learning disability? Boston Tutoring Services can help. Please click here to see what services we offer.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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