A Dyslexic Child in the Classroom

A Guide for Teachers and Parents

Author
Patricia Hodge, Dip.spld (dyslexia) © 2000

Image by Sophia via stock.xchngProficient reading is an essential tool for learning a large part of the subject matter taught at school. With an ever increasing emphasis on education and literacy, more and more children and adults are needing help in learning to read, spell, express their thoughts on paper and acquire adequate use of grammar.

A dyslexic child who finds the acquisition of these literacy skills difficult can also suffer a lot of anguish and trauma when they may feel mentally abused by their peers within the school environment, because they have a learning difficulty. Much can be done to alleviate this by integrating the child into the class environment (which is predominantly a learning environment) where he/she can feel comfortable and develop confidence and self esteem.

Class teachers may be particularly confused by the student whose consistent underachievement seems due to what may look like carelessness or lack of effort.

These children can be made to feel very different from their peers simply because they may be unable to follow simple instructions, which for others seem easy. It is a class teacher’s responsibility to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning for all pupils within their class.

Class teachers need to have an understanding of the problems that the dyslexic child may have within the classroom situation. Hopefully, with this knowledge, a great deal of misunderstanding of a child’s behaviour can be prevented. In a positive and encouraging environment, a dyslexic child will experience the feeling of success and self-value.

Of particular importance is an understanding of the problems that poor auditory short term memory can cause, in terms of retaining input from the teacher.

Examples of poor auditory short term memory can be a difficulty in remembering the sounds in spoken words long enough to match these, in sequence, with letters for spelling. Often children with poor auditory short term memory cannot remember even a short list of instructions.

The following items should provide useful guidelines for teachers and parents to follow and support :

 

In the class
  • Of value to all children in the class is an outline of what is going to be taught in the lesson, ending the lesson with a resume of what has been taught. In this way information is more likely to go from short term memory to long term memory.
  • When homework is set, it is important to check that the child correctly writes down exactly what is required. Try to ensure that the appropriate worksheets and books are with the child to take home.
  • In the front of the pupils’ homework book get them to write down the telephone numbers of a couple of friends. Then, if there is any doubt over homework, they can ring up and check, rather than worry or spend time doing the wrong work.
  • Make sure that messages and day to day classroom activities are written down, and never sent verbally. i.e. music, P. E. swimming etc.
  • Make a daily check list for the pupil to refer to each evening. Encourage a daily routine to help develop the child’s own self-reliance and responsibilities.
  • Encourage good organizational skills by the use of folders and dividers to keep work easily accessible and in an orderly fashion.
  • Break tasks down into small easily remembered pieces of information.
  • If visual memory is poor, copying must be kept to a minimum. Notes or handouts are far more useful.
  • Seat the child fairly near the class teacher so that the teacher is available to help if necessary, or he can be supported by a well-motivated and sympathetic classmate.
Copying from the blackboard
  • Use different colour chalks for each line if there is a lot of written information on the board, or underline every second line with a different coloured chalk.
  • Ensure that the writing is well spaced.
  • Leave the writing on the blackboard long enough to ensure the child doesn’t rush, or that the work is not erased from the board before the child has finished copying.
Reading
  • A structured reading scheme that involves repetition and introduces new words slowly is extremely important. This allows the child to develop confidence and self esteem when reading.
  • Don’t ask pupils to read a book at a level beyond their current skills, this will instantly demotivate them. Motivation is far better when demands are not too high, and the child can actually enjoy the book. If he has to labour over every word he will forget the meaning of what he is reading.
  • Save the dyslexic child the ordeal of having to ‘read aloud in class’. Reserve this for a quiet time with the class teacher. Alternatively, perhaps give the child advanced time to read pre-selected reading material, to be practiced at home the day before. This will help ensure that the child is seen to be able to read out loud, along with other children
  • Real books should also be available for paired reading with an adult, which will often generate enthusiasm for books. Story tapes can be of great benefit for the enjoyment and enhancement of vocabulary. No child should be denied the pleasure of gaining access to the meaning of print even if he cannot decode it fully.
  • Remember reading should be fun.
Spelling
  • Many of the normal classroom techniques used to teach spellings do not help the dyslexic child. All pupils in the class can benefit from structured and systematic exposure to rules and patterns that underpin a language.
  • Spelling rules can be given to the whole class. Words for class spelling tests are often topic based rather than grouped for structure. If there are one or two dyslexics in the class, a short list of structure-based words for their weekly spelling test, will be far more helpful than random words. Three or four irregular words can be included each week, eventually this should be seen to improve their free-writing skills.
  • All children should be encouraged to proof read, which can be useful for initial correction of spellings. Dyslexics seem to be unable to correct their spellings spontaneously as they write, but they can be trained to look out for errors that are particular to them.
  • Remember, poor spelling is not an indication of low intelligence.
Maths
  • Maths has its own language, and this can be the root of many problems. Whilst some dyslexic students are good at maths, it has been estimated that around 90% of dyslexic children have problems in at least some areas of maths. General mathematical terminology words need to be clearly understood before they can be used in calculations, e.g. add, plus, sum of, increase and total, all describe a single mathematical process. Other related difficulties could be with visual/perceptual skills, directional confusion, sequencing, word skills and memory. Dyslexic students may have special difficulties with aspects of maths that require many steps or place a heavy load on the short-term memory, e.g. long division or algebra.
  • The value of learning the skills of estimation cannot be too strongly stressed for the dyslexic child. Use and encourage the use of estimation. The child should be taught to form the habit of checking his answers against the question when he has finished the calculation, i.e. is the answer possible, sensible or ludicrous?
  • When using mental arithmetic allow the dyslexic child to jot down the key number and the appropriate mathematical sign from the question.
  • Encourage pupils to verbalize and to talk their way through each step of the problem. Many children find this very helpful.
  • Teach the pupil how to use the times table square and encourage him to say his workings out as he uses it.
  • Encourage a dyslexic child to use a calculator. Make sure he fully understand how to use it. Ensure that he has been taught to estimate to check his calculations. This is a way of ‘proof reading’ what he does.
  • Put key words on a card index system or on the inside cover of the pupils maths book so it can be used for reference and revision.
  • Rehearse mathematical vocabulary constantly, using multi sensory/kinesthetic methods.
  • Put the decimal point in red ink. It helps visual perception with the dyslexic child.
Handwriting
  • Reasons for poor handwriting at any age can be poor motor control, tension, badly formed letters, speed etc. A cursive joined style is most helpful to children with dyslexic problems. Encourage the children to study their writing and be self-critical. Get them to decide for themselves where faults lie and what improvements can be made, so that no resentment is built up at yet another person complaining about their written work.
  • Discuss the advantages of good handwriting and the goals to be achieved with the class. Analyze common faults in writing, by writing a few well chosen words on the board for class comment.
  • Make sure a small reference chart is available to serve as a constant reminder for the cursive script in upper and lower case.
  • If handwriting practice is needed it is essential to use words that present no problem to the dyslexic child in terms of meaning or spelling.
  • Improvement in handwriting skills can improve self confidence, which in turn reflects favorably throughout a pupil’s work.
Marking
  • Credit for effort as well as achievement are both essential. This gives the pupil a better chance of getting a balanced mark. Creative writing should be marked on context.
  • Spelling mistakes pinpointed should be those appropriate to the child’s level of spelling. Marking should be done in pencil and have positive comments.
  • Try not to use red pens to mark the dyslexic child’s work. There’s nothing more disheartening for the child than to have work returned covered in red ink, when they’ve inevitably tried harder than their peers to produce the work.
  • Only ask a pupil to rewrite a piece of work that is going to be displayed. Rewriting pages for no reason at all is soul destroying as usually much effort will have already been put into the original piece of work.
Homework
  • By the end of a school day a dyslexic child is generally more tired than his peers because everything requires more thought, tasks take longer and nothing comes easily. More errors are likely to be made. Only set homework that will be of real benefit to the child.
  • In allocating homework and exercises that may be a little different or less demanding, it is important to use tact. Self-esteem is rapidly undermined if a teacher is underlining the differences between those with difficulties and their peers. However, it should also be remembered that far more effort may be needed for a dyslexic child to complete the assignment than for their peers.
  • Set a limit on time spent on homework, as often a dyslexic child will take a lot longer to produce the same work that another child with good literacy skills may produce easily.
Integration
  • A dyslexic child’s ability to write down thoughts and ideas will be quite different from the level of information the child can give verbally. For successful integration, the pupil must be able to demonstrate to the teacher that he knows the information and where he is in each subject. Be prepared to accept verbal descriptions as an alternative to written descriptions if appropriate.Alternative ways of recording should be looked at, such as :
    • The use of computers for word processing.
    • Audio tapes for recording lessons that can then be written up at a later stage.
    • Written record of the pupil’s verbal account, or voice activated software can be used.
  • More time should be allocated for completion of work because of the extra time a dyslexic child needs for reading, planning, rewriting and proofreading their work.
  • For a dyslexic child the feeling of being ‘different’ can be acute when faced with the obvious and very important need of ‘specialist’ help for his literacy and possibly mathematical skills. Some specialist methods can be incorporated into the classroom so all children can benefit from them, thus reducing the feeling of ‘difference’.

Conclusion:

In order to be able to teach, as far as possible, according to each child’s educational needs, it is essential to see him or her as a whole person, complete with individual strengths and weaknesses.

An understanding of the pupil’s specific difficulties, and how they may affect the student’s classroom performance, can enable the teacher to adopt teaching methods and strategies to help the dyslexic child to be successfully integrated into the classroom environment.

Dyslexics have many strengths: oral skills, comprehension, good visual spatial awareness/artistic abilities. More and more dyslexic children could become talented and gifted members of our schools if we worked not only with their specific areas of difficulty, but also their specific areas of strengths from an early age. To do this we have to let go of outmoded viewpoints that a dyslexic child must first fail, in order to be identified.

These are the children of our future and they have a right to help and support before they develop the dreadful sense of failure which is so insidious.

Class teachers dealing with dyslexic children need to be flexible in their approach, so that they can, as far as possible, find a method that suits the pupil, rather than expecting that all pupils will learn in the same way.

Above all, there must be an understanding from all who teach them, that they may have many talents and skills. Their abilities must not be measured purely on the basis of their difficulties in acquiring literacy skills. Dyslexic children, like all children, thrive on challenges and success.

 

Citation Information

Hodge, Patricia Lynn. (200) A Dyslexic Child in the Classroom. Davis Dyslexia Association International, www.dyslexia.com

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118 comments

  • Susan M

    Can a student with dyslexia be expected to gain three GE in one IEP year? These are the expectations of the family, psychological and advocate. It is documented that the student is also diagnosed with ADHD, has high levels of anxiety, low levels of self-esteem and confidence. When she comes home the parents said she is exhausted from being at school. They also take her to additional reading programs not in the school setting, two times a week. The Team would like to set the goal to read she will gain a minimum of at least one. No to say she can progress further. and at the same time let her feel the success of what she can do to increase her levels of self-confidence. The argument this is not acceptable based on scientific research based evidence that they need an intense rigorous approach, therefore she should be at grade level on one IEP year. Would appreciate advice.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Susan, we can’t tell you what is reasonable or not for a given student — but if the student already has an IEP, then the teachers working with the student need to do their best to comply with it. We agree that a student’s self-esteem is important, but I think the bigger problem is simply that most dyslexic kids need help beyond the sort of teaching or tutoring typically provided by the school. With a Davis program, it would not be unusual at all for us to to see an increase of 3 or more grade levels for reading ability within the course of 5-day program week for a student beyond primary level — but we wouldn’t be able to guarantee a particular result in advance. But the Davis program is effective because it addresses underlying perceptual and attention-focus problems.

  • Mauricio

    What is very important in this article is that it gives some excellent teaching steps for classroom teachers to follow in order to be more flexible and reach in a more efficient way students with dyslexia

  • Nadera A

    This is a very useful article with excellent advice.
    I would appreciate if we are all more careful with the language we use. We need to present the child first and then the disability by always saying a child with dyslexia rather than a dyslexic child. They are our children first with many characteristics, talents and abilities and dyslexia is just a condition that needs to be addressed to make it possible for them to read and learn.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Nadera, thank you for your comment –but I don’t agree with your viewpoint. I think that “child with _____” language has exactly the opposite effect of what you intend. It conveys a subtle and insidious message that the child has some sort of undesirable and unfortunate disease.

      No one hesitates to use positive words like gifted, capable, talented, intelligent, smart as direct adjectives, or to use “is” rather than “with” in describing those traits. No one hesitates to call their child an “athlete” or an “artist” or “scholar” — or a “reader.”

      Even neutral adjectives like “tall” or “brown-eyed” are used without hesitation.

      It is only when the adults have a negative view of the trait that the message is conveyed that the so-called “disability” must somehow be separated.

      Dyslexia is only a “disability” because of educational methods and practice that fail to recognize and support the child’s differences.

      We view dyslexia as a gift in part because we are able to provide children and adults with the tools they need to use their strengths to succeed.

      And so we say “dyslexic” — a dyslexic child; the child is dyslexic. And we say “difference” and not “disability” — because like all differences, the neurodiversity that dyslexia represents is something to be respected and learned from. (I don’t hear adults using “with” language to describe cultural, ethnic, or racial differences).

      So that is why I will say dyslexic person or autistic person, and am very proud to call my high achieving son dyslexic. And why I personally avoid prefacing dyslexia with “with” or “has” — because again, it is not a disease but something that we are happy to embrace.

      We do think that it is counter-productive to be overly critical or to castigate word choice. I don’t expect to change your mind. I just hope that you can understand that those of us who deliberately use the language you disapprove of have valid reasons for our choices — and part of that is because we have a much broader view of dyslexia and want to recognize, nourish and cultivate the inherent gifts and talents that go along with the differing academic needs.

      • Sujata P

        Wow I love how you have explained your reasoning and it makes sense too. I have been using the context of not labelling…. thank you for sharing and your validation is refreshing and so helpful. The system has always been the issue and our 16 year old son has not had a great school experience and teachers have not understood enough to help. I have tried to work with the system and even a psycologist report has not helped his journey and at times you feel like giving up. But our children are too important to give up on! your perspective was helpful!

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