Understanding Dyslexia & 9 Tips to Help Dyslexic Students
Updated: Jan 18
It is estimated that 1 in 5 children has dyslexia and the up to 90% of children with learning difficulties also have dyslexia. Many children go un-diagnosed as struggles in school are incorrectly attributed to intelligence, level of effort or environmental factors. Children with dyslexia can often struggle in school which can lead to low self-esteem and further mental health difficulties, so by understanding simple adaptations that can be made for these students, you can make the world of difference.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is most commonly associated with a difficulty with reading, however, dyslexia actually affects a child’s ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds in language. Children with dyslexia have a hard time decoding new words, or breaking them down into manageable chunks they can then sound out. This therefore causes difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and punctuation.
Dyslexia is not a reflection of intelligence. Some students are able to keep up with their peers by putting in a lot of extra effort, but often by age 6 or 7, when children need to be able to read fluently to keep up with work, they can start to fall behind. With help and strategies for compensating for their difficulties in decoding, students with dyslexia can learn to read and thrive academically. But dyslexia is not something one grows out of.
Signs of Dyslexia
Children with dyslexia may;
Struggle with learning or remembering rhymes
Trouble following directions
Lack fluency in speech
Reverse letters and numbers when reading
Finding it hard to take notes or copy from the board/textbook
Difficulty spelling even basic or frequently used words
Become tired or frustrated from reading
Dyslexia affects children outside of school as well. They may;
Find it difficult to identify logos
Struggle to learn rules of games
Struggle with learning to tell the time
Can become easily frustrated which impacts their mood and well-being
Strategies to Help Dyslexic Students
Create a Supportive Classroom Environment
The challenges that children with dyslexia face varies from individual to individual so creating an inclusive and supportive environment for all is important. Take the time to get to know each individual child and their specific needs and challenges, but also encourage children to get to know each other as well. This will help build a classroom community and build on children's ability to ask for help from others.
You can use adaptive resources like coloured page overlays, finger focus highlighters and duo reading rulers to aid reading.
Using mutli-sensory teaching methods and activities allows children to make connections and learn concepts in a variety of ways, some of which will be far more accessible than others. When learners use more than one sense at a time, their brain is stimulated in a variety of ways. Multi-sensory activities may involve a combination of reading, listening, viewing, touching an object, moving physically around the space, or using gestures.
Offer Choices and Alternatives
If you can adapt an activity whereby a student with dyslexia won't need to read or write as much, try to do so as often as you can. An easy swap may be drawing examples rather than writing out stories or explanations. Another one may be giving verbal answers instead of writing them.
Introduce Language in Small Chunks
Don't overload children with lots of new language all at once. Instead, introduce new language in small, manageable chunks and focus on key language from the topic word lists.
Concept Checking Questions
Use Concept Checking Questions to ensure you understand a child's understanding of new concepts, words or grammatical items. Rather than asking, 'Do you understand?', expand your question and be specific. Let's say you've been teaching adjectives, specifically the word 'slow', you could ask, 'What else do you know that is slow?', 'What's the opposite of slow?' or 'Are cheetah's quick or slow?'. You could also use pictures to help with assessing understanding, especially for younger children.
Provide Lots of Opportunities for Recap and Review
Offer as many opportunities as you can for recapping and reviewing language, especially when it comes to exam season. Use varied techniques to help learners memorise new words, including drawing, music or rhythm, movement, gesture and visualisation techniques.
Different Feedback Options
Marking work in red pen and writing comments may not work for students who are dyslexic. Instead you may want to use colour coded highlighters (e.g. green for meeting learning objective, orange for spelling error, blue for grammar error etc). Remember too that hearing a teacher’s voice can feel more personal and supportive than receiving written feedback, so try making a short video or voice recording with your comments.
There are some things that children with dyslexic students will struggle with and you should consider exemptions for them if necessary. For example, learning a foreign language or reading aloud in front of the class.
Remember that assessment should be ongoing and isn’t the end of the learning process. If you give something back to a learner to correct, make sure you check the next version and then give them feedback on this too. The challenges that learners with dyslexia experience often lead to low levels of confidence, so remember to include positive feedback to encourage learners and build self-esteem.