Teaching Strategies for Students with Dyslexia

Dyslexia presents itself in various ways, but a student’s age strongly factors into the symptoms teachers may observe. Students with dyslexia in grades K-5 struggle to remember letter names and sounds. Recognizing sight words also poses a problem. When reading aloud, these students may substitute words and confuse letters with similar appearances or sounds. For example, students commonly mix up the letters b and d. Students in grades 6-12 may have a hard time recalling common abbreviations and acronyms such as approx. and ASAP. These students may need much more time to read assignments than their peers. When speaking, they may struggle to find the right words and use substitutes instead. For example, they may substitute the word gate for fence. These students can benefit from teaching strategies designed specifically for their learning needs.

Dyslexia can significantly affect students in classroom environments, especially when educators don’t use inclusive teaching strategies for students with dyslexia to help address its related challenges. For starters, dyslexia can impede a student’s academic progress, and students with dyslexia may struggle to keep up with their peers. Their basic skills, such as word reading, can fall below grade level, as do their reading comprehension and analysis skills. While students with dyslexia face challenges, they can still thrive in school if given the right support. Teaching strategies for students with dyslexia can help these learners compensate for the different ways that their brains process information, giving them a chance to succeed academically.

1. Incorporate multi-sensory learning. In many classrooms, students rely almost entirely on their sight and hearing to learn. Multi-sensory learning aims to incorporate tactile and kinesthetic activities into the learning process as well. This gives students with dyslexia more ways to understand, remember, and recall new information. Multi-sensory learning engages students in movements and activities that involve touch. This, coupled with the use of visual and auditory materials, creates multiple opportunities for students with dyslexia to absorb and retain information. It also helps take abstract ideas and turn them into something more concrete. Teaching strategies for multi-sensory activities may include:

  • Sand Writing: students receive paper plates with sand. The teacher calls out a sound and students repeat it. Students then trace a letter in the sand corresponding to that sound as they verbalize the letter’s name and sound. This kinesthetic activity stimulates the brain in many different ways, giving students a greater chance of successful retention.
  • Blending Boards: teachers use large cards printed with individual letters; digraphs, such as ph and ck; or blends, such as sh and st, to form a CVC word: a word consisting of a consonant, a vowel, and a consonant. To help students read the word, the teacher covers up the letters and reveals them one by one. Students produce the sound of each letter individually and then blend them together to read the word in its entirety.
  • Arm Tapping: teachers display a card with a word written on it. Using their dominant hand, students say the letters of the word. As they say each letter, they simultaneously tap their arms, starting from their shoulder down to their wrist. Next, students say the whole word and sweep their hands down their arms as if underlining the word.

2. Use assistive technology. Assistive technology empowers students with dyslexia to overcome some of the challenges that hold them back. These tools help students save time and give them a chance to showcase their abilities and knowledge in ways not possible before. Assistive technologies range from recording devices that allow students to take notes to voice recognition tools that transform speech into text on a screen. Assistive technologies that can help students keep pace with their classmates include:

  • Pocket Spellcheckers: these devices contain dictionaries that recognize phonetically misspelled words. Students type in a word to the best of their ability and the spellchecker provides the word’s correct spelling through text or audio. Students with dyslexia can use this tool to build their confidence when writing and get instant feedback on their spelling.
  • Line Readers: some students with dyslexia struggle to see words accurately on the page. Letters may appear to be moving or students may see them in the wrong order. Line readers can help eliminate some of these distractions. The tool highlights a single line of text at a time and blocks the surrounding areas. This helps students keep their place and stay focused.
  • Digital Scanning Pens: digital scanning pens can capture both handwritten and digital text and transmit it to a mobile device or a computer. Some versions of the tool read text out loud as a user scans it.

3. Provide appropriate accommodations. Students with dyslexia often have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that lay out accommodations appropriate to their needs. Educators are responsible for familiarizing themselves with these accommodations, which may include the following:

  • Extended time to take tests
  • The option to provide oral answers rather than written ones
  • Exemption from reading out loud in class
  • A quiet study space
  • Preteaching vocabulary and unfamiliar ideas
  • Providing outlines of the lesson with space for student to add notes
  • Giving students a glossary of terms used in the lesson

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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