Katie Moylan discusses a number of strategies you can use to support those in your classroom who have dyslexia.
How do you currently accommodate the needs of children with dyslexia in your classroom? The British Dyslexia Association estimates that 10% of the population has dyslexia, meaning that in a mainstream public classroom, as many as 3 students may have needs relating to dyslexia. The most common dyslexia support in schools often includes using coloured background, overlays and reading interventions. However, is that really the best use of our time and resources to support, enable and empower students with dyslexia?
The Department of Education’s paper ‘Developing a Dyslexia Friendly Learning Environment’, states that teachers should, “Use coloured paper instead of white” (DoE, p7). Despite this guideline, Uccula et al (2014) researched the effectiveness of using coloured overlays for dyslexic students, and found that this helps only 46% of people with dyslexia. This implies that we as educators need to pay more attention to the needs of students with dyslexia in order to develop specific strategies for effective dyslexia support. Here are a few suggestions for developing skills surrounding the reading process.
Much of phonics teaching is based on teaching students to recognize spelling patterns, as advised by the BDA, “Draw attention to patterns in words” (BDA Dyslexia Checklist). But to be able to spot a pattern in sounds and spellings, we need to explicitly teach pattern spotting in the wider learning environment, to be able to apply this skill to letters and phonemes. Simple activities and games that involve replicating shape patterns or colour sequences should be integrated into the learning experience on a regular basis. Patterns should be brought to the forefront of the minds of the teachers, students and parents: this could be implemented through a ‘Pattern non-uniform day’, whereby students are allowed to wear their own clothes which have patterns. This can initiate discussions and activities based on pattern spotting, which then in turn can be extended to pattern spotting in spellings.
Visual tracking is often overlooked as a key sub-skill of reading. In order to read, we need to be able to follow a word or a line, and often refer backwards to look for context cues. Spot the difference is a great way to teach and practice this skill as it involves tracking and referring back to the previous picture. If used as a starter or baseline introduction to a reading activity this is also an effective way to encourage motivation in children with dyslexia to then lead into reading.
It is a common practice when teaching phonics to teach using a range of sensory activities, such as writing the letter or phoneme in sand or foam. As children get older though, they may need a wider range of kinaesthetic activities to continue their sensory learning of word sounds. Phoneme flip books can be an engaging activity for students to create their own phonics books. Using a piece of card, first write the letters of a phoneme or split digraph. Then on separate smaller pieces of paper, students can write a range of consonants. They then staple the consonants into place either side of the phonemes or digraphs, creating a flip book of rhyming words which all use the same sound. For example,the o-e digraph could have letters stapled on the create, ‘wrote’, ‘vote’, ‘hope’, etc. when the student flips through the pages. Using a hands-on activity such as this should hopefully stimulate different cognitive areas for the student creating a more profound learning experience.
Knowledge of the alphabet is fundamental to a vast array of further skills needed in life. Due to issues with sequencing as well as letter recognition, people with dyslexia often struggle greatly with the alphabet, developing many tricks to mask this difficulty. The alphabet arc is widely used as a teaching aid in primary schools. Learning the sequence in an arc helps to visualize the order more easily than if it is learned in a straight line. The arc often colour codes the sections of the alphabet to further help students to remember the alphabet without having to recite it from the beginning every time then need to know the order of a letter. This could be extended further in the classroom by using these colours for words in lessons. Kinaesthetic activities could also be employed. For example, students could create their own mini dictionaries of the first 100 highest frequency words, using a different coloured paper for each letter of the alphabet. This type of activity could be an effective support intervention for the teaching of the alphabet with older students as it is kinaesthetic as well as using the visual cues of colours, and auditory sense if the students then read their colour coded dictionaries aloud.
Miscue analysis as formative assessment
Goodman (1969) first coined the term ‘miscue’. This is when reading a text, a person says a word which is different from the word on the page. This is common in younger children as they are constantly growing their vocabulary and so sometimes ‘misread’ words. The interesting thing about this as an intervention strategy is the importance placed on the positivity of miscues. Goodman explained how to see mistakes made by the student as a formative tool: what the child reads aloud can tell us an awful lot about their current reading and phonetic level. We can then use this to formulate effective and specific next steps, tailored to the understanding and needs of the individual. When a student misreads ‘move’, for, ‘more’, we can see that they have a firm grasp of the split digraph ‘o-e’ yet need more support with differentiating between consonant sounds. This transforms ‘mistakes’ into an inherent and positive aspect of the learning process. If we can transmute this positivity surrounding mistakes to our students, then we can hopefully begin to build self-esteem and confidence in their reading too.
British Dyslexia Association (Undated) Dyslexia [online] Available at: https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/dyslexia [Accessed on 28th November 2019]
DfES (2015) Miscue Analysis [Online] Available at: https://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/content/etf1257 [Accessed on 2nd December 2018]
Department of Education (2007), Developing a Dyslexia Friendly Learning Environment [Online] Available at: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/de/dyslexia-friendly-learning-environment.pdf [Accessed on 17th June 2019]
Norwich B., and Lewis A. (2007) How Specialized is Teaching Children with Disabilities and Difficulties? Curriculum Studies [Online] , 39(2), pp 127-150 Available at: https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.nottingham.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1080/00220270601161667?scroll=top&needAccess=true [Accessed on 26th April 2019]
Uccula A. Enna M., Mulatti C., (2014) Colors, colored overlays, and reading skills.
Frontiers in Psychology [Online] 5. Available at: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833 [Accessed on 7th June 2019]