If you could ask your teachers to do one thing to help you, what would it be?
This was my final question in a number of interviews with children and teenagers who had dyslexia.
What was cheering about their answers was that what they needed was simple to provide. What was very dispiriting was that these simple strategies were very often ignored, forgotten or not communicated to new and supply staff.
So, if we listened to what dyslexic pupils think they most need, what would be doing differently?
1. Give enough time
Enough time to think about the question you have asked. Enough time to read the text two or even three times (remembering that generally the first read-through will be to decode the words, the second time to retrieve information and the third time to support recall). And enough time for the writing task. If this is difficult, given the amount of information you want to impart to the whole class, try reading text out loud to the group or giving dyslexic pupils less to read or suggesting a shorter writing task. If you have time to create some simplified text, even better.
2. Give visual support
Every single interviewee smiled enthusiastically and agreed strongly when I asked if they found diagrams, mind maps, pictures and so on helpful. Include them whenever you can – even if it means drawing stick men on the board to illustrate your teaching. Supporting learning visually can be as simple as making sure that they have a textbook of their own and are not trying to peer across to the far side of a double-page spread. If you produce worksheets, make sure the font is big enough (size 12-14). All the young people spoke warmly of teachers who printed off Powerpoint slides so they could follow the words with their finger, take as long as they needed to read them and could focus on something on their desk rather than trying to locate text on the screen.
3. Arrange for discreet help
Most of the children and young people disliked constantly putting up their hand to ask for help to understand the task instructions or the meaning of a word. Several said they would rather sit quietly and pretend to work rather than experience the embarrassment of constantly asking for help. Some pupils really liked having a prearranged learning buddy next to them. Others liked the system of red and green cards on the desk to let the teacher know whether they needed help or not. All of them liked it when an adult briefly checked with them at the beginning of a task – this could be as simple as a questioning look across the room and a thumb up or down in response. I asked one girl what would be the one thing she would like teachers to do to help her. Her answer was simple. "I would love a two-minute conversation where someone asked me what I would find helpful in this lesson." Listening to the learner – let’s do it.
Ann Clucas taught for nearly 40 years as a class teacher, head of department and Sendco. She is the author of How to Teach Everybody: strategies for effective differentiation