It has been reported that as many as one in 10 people in the UK could have dyslexia; it does not take a maths teacher to figure out that this suggests that in each class there is likely to be at least one dyslexic learner.
According to The Rose Report (2009), dyslexia is “…a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are: difficulties in phonological (the sound structure of words) awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed”.
The report stresses that dyslexia occurs across all intellectual abilities, and points out that dyslexia is best thought of as a continuum, with no clear cut-off points.
The needs of dyslexic students
It is essential that the needs of dyslexic students are met in schools. The good news is that a big difference can be made with just some very small adjustments. I have made a note of these below:
Avoid putting too much information on a PowerPoint slide or worksheet and avoid asking students to unnecessarily copy copious amounts of information. Ensure that the font you use is dyslexia-friendly, such as Comic Sans, Sassoon or Arial. Avoid Times New Roman or other cursive scripts. Use a colour background on your PowerPoint slides and use off-white paper for hand-outs. Some students will respond well to particular colours; check their IEP. Also when writing a lot, avoid justifying the text as this makes it tricky to read. Use bullet points or number information. Visuals really help to secure ideas in the working-memory. Recapping key words also helps, as does checking the readability of texts used in lessons or for homework. Make sure that the text is sufficiently large and that the line spacing is set at 1.5.
As you have probably guessed, this is not way to do it – but I think it helps illustrate a point!
Just to make it a little clearer:
- Ensure that the font you use is dyslexia-friendly, such as Comic Sans, Sassoon or Arial. Avoid Times New Roman or other cursive scripts.
- Use a colour background on your PowerPoint slides and use off-white paper for handouts. Some students will respond well to particular colours; check their IEP.
- When writing a lot, avoid justifying the text as this makes it tricky to read.
- Use bullet points or number information.
- Visuals really help to secure ideas in the working-memory. Recapping key words also helps, as does checking the readability of texts used in lessons or for homework. Make sure that the text is sufficiently large and that the line spacing is set at 1.5.
At secondary school, it is easy to think that the English department is solely responsible for the development of learners' literacy skills. However, this is not the case. All teachers are teachers of literacy. Yes, that's right, even maths and PE teachers.
As educators, we all have a responsibility to promote the correct usage of English and to have fun with language.
Here are some strategies you could try in your lessons:
1. Explicitly teach key vocabulary – provide students with vocabulary lists at the start, or, even better, before commencing a new topic. An easy homework to set is vocabulary revision, followed by a quick test the following lesson.
2. Explore pronunciation, derivations and links with other words. For example, in geography when teaching students the word "confluence", you may wish to provide them with the words "conjoined", "converge" and "congregation" and see if they can work out the meaning of the words for themselves.
3. Model the correct usage of English – avoid any greengrocers' apostrophes – particularly on displays.
4. Explore different spelling techniques and try to make them memorable – eg, there's a "pie" in "piece of pie".
5. Set suitable reading tasks for homework. This is something that primary school colleagues are seemingly much better at, but unfortunately it appears to get overlooked at secondary school. Parents of young people with literacy difficulties have expressed disappointment that their children are reading less at secondary school than they were at primary. I find it useful to occasionally provide students with newspaper articles, relevant to what we are learning, with some comprehension questions. This is also an easy task to differentiate, by choosing articles of appropriate readability.
In my next blog, I will provide tips on making reading accessible to all learners, as well as some ideas on how to support students with extended writing tasks.
Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School, Norfolk. Her Sendco column for Tes runs every second Tuesday in term time
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