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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103 comments

  • Kay

    Hi, my 8 years old son is dyslexic and with some attention problems. His behaviors and difficulties entitles all the description above. He attends a private Montessori school and is under Dyslexia tutoring. Of course all this is been a lot pricey and now we are considering a switch to public school. Our main concern is the teacher’s tolerance to this type of kids, the volume of the class, and the high pressure to handle. In a Montessori school they do not bring home home work until fourth grade, they are very kind and patient, kids do not experience too much pressure and they are in a truly peaceful environment. The problem…. it is expensive. Any recommendation in how to approach public school ?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Can you visit the public school and meet the teacher he would have there, and also make arrangements to observe the classroom before making your decision? You might also want to find out whether the public school will give him an IEP or accommodations based on his dyslexia, or if they would require further documentation.

    • Joy

      My son is in a public school and I am going to remove him, even if it means home schooling. You will have to have an IEP ( Individual Education Plan) in place and dyslexia is not something the majority of public schools are equipped to deal with in an ” inclusion classroom”. Many standardized testings and the curriculum is difficult to grasp. Fundings are limited and though it may be stated that your child will receive assistance, it’s not feasible and yes, it’s quite a battle and challenge for all. Most public schools are simply not equipped with the means to assist or even understand students with dyslexia/dyscalculia. Classrooms are much larger and the curriculum is ‘ standardized’ along with the many requirements of testing scores that must be passed above the regular assignments and tests. These are federal and state mandates. I have been fighting and struggling with public education and it has become a nightmare for my child. It becomes worse in middle and high school years. I understand the financial aspects. If you can possibly manage somehow, I would try to stay with the Montessori School. Check for scholarship programs that might be available in your state for children with learning challenges. Dislexia isn’t even considered a ” primary learning disorder” in public education! The accommodations are, quite frankly, minimal and pathetic. This is a national problem, not just statewide. Also, if you have charter schools in your area, check into them. They offer a smaller classroom size and often more individualized instruction. Homeschooling is challenging, especially if you are working parent (s). It is doable, however. This has been a struggle for myself and moreso for my child. His self esteem has been affected, as well. I wish you and your child all the best. He deserves it!

  • chioma

    please how can you identify children with reading problems?
    is there any test for it and the instrument is it available in nigeria.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      We have a free online screening survey at http://www.testdyslexia.com

    • Yvonne P

      A child that suffers with difficulties in reading, is when they can not pronounce or sound out the words. Do fun things with the child. Create a vocabulary list, write the same words on index cards, scramble them up on the table and let them pick a card. Then let them match it to the vocabulary list and sound out the word. Have the child to write the words down three times each but you need to study with them repeatedly until it lock in. Study with them and keep it fresh in their minds. Help them to study to show themselves approved. Have fun with the children so that they will not be cheated but successful.

  • lena t

    I am in constant battle with teachers as my son who is extremely bright but has short term memory and auditory processing part of dyslexia is not helped in classroom by some teachers. I have worked lexia, cogmed and the best of all a little red book called toe by toe. My son hit well over the 100 mark on says and its only his English that stops him being in the higher sets. Any tips on how to handle school

  • N.Bala

    Hi,
    I went to a Govt School yesterday in Rural India.
    There was a Dyslexic Child who is extremely good at Drawing.
    What can I gift him.
    Is a Caligraphy pen set a good gift.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      How wonderful that you are thinking of a gift for this child. I think the pen set is a great idea for a gift.

  • Tonya

    I was wondering if you would be able to mail me each category as far as reading, math, spelling ,handwriting, marking, homework, Integrations, and conclusions with the steps to take in each one . As well any other information, work books , that a
    I could purchase… to help my child she has many strength, artistic abilities , and wanting to write stories, …. I don’t want her to loose her fascination of learning and having to know how everything works.

  • Lisa F

    We have just figured out that our son who is 7 has Dyslexia. We have him in a program at his school and we have him going to a dyslexia tutor. So, we have him covered when it comes to his school work. The issues we are trying to figure out how to help him, is just his daily things; like completing task such as brushing his teeth the first time he is told or staying focused to clean his room. He is easily distracted between the living room and the bathroom. So its a daily struggle to keep him focused. He doesn’t have ADHD. They say its just the way he is wired. Do you have any suggestions or links that could help with this? Everything I find is about school and reading, but there is more to it than just reading. It effects them in other ways as well. Thanks

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Lisa, your post really provides a good example of the difference between a tutoring program focused on reading skills, and the Davis approach to full dyslexia correction. Davis programs always begin with teaching of mental skills that improve focus, because we know disorientation is at the root of many dyslexia symptoms, and that disorientation also affects perception, including perception of time. I would encourage you to read the book The Gift of Dyslexia to learn more; the book has instructions that you can use to try to give your son these mental tools on your own.

  • Suzanne Arena

    Your article is an excellent resource with Comprehensive information. I look forward to sharing with teachers and parents. Thank you.

    Suzanne Arena,
    DECODING DYSLEXIA RI

  • Dottie S

    I have a soon to be 4th grader who is dyslexic. His writing is slow and his spelling is pretty poor. He reads slowly. Luckily he is a very auditory learner. I am looking for technology thay can help him take science and social studies notes. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!

  • PETER

    I first learned I had a form of dyslexia in 9th grade taking Japanese at Fairview High in Boulder Colorado in 1998. I then enlisted in the military to be a paratrooper, where I learned to adapt and over come by any means nessary. People with this condition that succede have really learned to work harder and develop coping strategies for success. I have finally graduated from a 4 year university with the help of caring professors. School was hard, but employment has always been extremely easy because of the work ethic developed to finish school. Go Bulls!

  • dan

    Hello,

    I know I have dyslexia but I loved your article and help it gave me. but I am now searching for a behavior intervention plan integration for me to for my school. can you link me to some like this post that are organized and are free?

    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Dan, you are welcome to explore the articles on our website and blog, but I think you will need to do your own research beyond that. But perhaps others who see your post may be able to share some suggestions. (We would not ordinarily allow users to post links to commercial sites, but if others know of free or nonprofit resources, they can post a reply to your comment).

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