Making sense

11th May 2007 at 01:00
Being dyslexic is a challenge in itself, but handling the condition at school can place additional pressure on pupils. Gill Moore reveals how to make learning easier and enjoyable

Spotted a dyslexic pupil in your class? It can be hard to tell, because there is a huge range of symptoms, from mild to severe. You can expect difficulties with reading and spelling, and sometimes poor organisational skills. Learners with mild symptoms will sometimes reverse letters and complain of eye strain, while pupils with severe problems will find it hard to read, spell, copy and organise their ideas and time.

Dyslexic children may have other strengths - it is not uncommon for them to excel in art and design, for example. The condition can be associated with the full range of intelligence, and teachers may notice a mismatch between pupils' general intelligence and their literacy skills.

There are many approaches to helping dyslexic pupils, but there is no "magic bullet". Each pupil should be treated as an individual, and teachers should consider different approaches.

A good start is to find your pupil's preferred learning style (auditory, visual or kinaesthetic) and build work around it. Dyslexic pupils often like to get the whole picture before tackling the details. Try to work this way and explain carefully what they are being asked to do and why. If an approach isn't working, try a different way.

Provide opportunities for lots of practice and allow for tiredness. Find meaningful contexts for reading and writing. Encourage pupils with poor organisational skills to make use of diagrams, charts, timetables, diaries and files with section dividers and colour coding.

White paper can make the print appear to move about on the page. Try photocopying handouts on to different coloured papers to see which - if any - make a difference. Use sheets of coloured film as overlays for books.

Computers can be useful. Screen brightness can be adjusted, font sizes enlarged, line spaces opened up. Spell-checkers and automatic correction are invaluable. A copy holder with a bar will help pupils keep their place.

Help them to organise their folders and documents. Voice recognition software is being improved all the time - try Dragon and IBM for programs Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills and special needs governor

Symptoms of dyslexia

A dyslexic pupil may show all or some of the following:

* Difficulty in breaking up syllables.

* Inability to hear the difference between sounds or to hear rhymes.

* Poor memory for spelling.

* Difficulty in gaining automaticity (knows one day, but not the next).

* Muddling letters, such as B and D.

* Motor problems causing poor writing.

* Losing place when reading.

* Print appears unstable.

Teaching strategies for reading

* When preparing materials, use an unjustified right-hand margin, with well-spaced lines and spaces between paragraphs. This makes it easier for the pupil to keep their place.

* Text in boxes can help.

* Use large, clear type and ask your pupil which font they like.

* Select key words from the text, and teach them.

* Use audio tapes alongside written text.

* Use pictures and diagrams to provide pupils with clues.

Teaching strategies for writing

* Use looksaycoverwritecheck to teach spellings (alongside other methods which help the pupil).

* Use gapped handouts or writing frames to help children record work.

* Avoid asking pupils to copy from the board or from a textbook.

* Consider how much you can provide as handouts.

* If a pupil finds it really hard to put words into writing, try using a tape recorder.

Find out more

* The British Dyslexia Association provides information leaflets, contacts for local dyslexia associations and training courses. The Dyslexia Friendly Schools Pack, which helps schools become "dyslexia friendly" and gain an award, can be downloaded from its website:

* Dyslexia Action provides general information, information on testing, and specialist tuition. Go to

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