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How to help students with dyslexia in the classroom

Learn to spot the signs of dyslexia in the classroom, and how to help a child with dyslexia. Discover classroom strategies for students with dyslexia.

In this section:

Thinking differently

Teaching students with dyslexia

Spotting the signs of dyslexia

Creating a dyslexia friendly classroom

What is Dyslexia?

Understanding and being understood is vital for all of us. Whether at school or work, when we understand, we are more confident. Opportunities open up, and we can achieve more than we thought. It means we’re more likely to succeed.

But everyone’s brain works differently. We don’t all read, write and think in the same way. The average reading age is lower than you’d expect. In the UK it’s nine, and in the US it’s around thirteen. Millions of us have dyslexia – around 10% of us in the UK, one in eight Australians, and between 5 and 15% in the US, likely more. Huge numbers struggle with text in some way.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is, “a specific learning disability...It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Thinking differently

Here at Texthelp, we like to think of dyslexia as “thinking differently.” That’s why you’ll never hear us use language like “overcome” because we don’t think dyslexia is something that needs to be hidden, or overcome. We want your students to use their unique learning styles and out of the box thinking to thrive and excel throughout their educational journey and beyond. We’re here to help you and your students by arming you with lots of tools, strategies and resources to support you in teaching your students with dyslexia. Much like you would equip yourself with extra resources and teaching materials if you had students in your class whose first language isn't English.

To kick us off, here’s a great classroom resource to show your students that thinking differently doesn’t disadvantage them, whatever career they might be interested in.

In this short TED-Ed video Kelli Sandman-Hurley urges us to think again about dyslexic brain function and to celebrate the neurodiversity of the human brain.

Invisible Dyslexia

In this short video, Kate Griggs from Made by Dyslexia, helps us to reshape our approach to learning differences in day-to-day life. She does this by helping us to understand what Dyslexia really is, as well as the power of Dyslexic Thinking Skills. There’s also a powerful performance poem by Asma Elbadawi, Made by Dyslexia’s newest ambassador. Kate also gives us a run down of the 10 facts that everyone should know about dyslexia. By the end of the video we’ll be able to reframe perceptions of Dyslexia and be ready to unlock the potential of our students.

How to teach students with dyslexia

Knowing which students in our classrooms have dyslexia is the first step to ensuring the learning environment is conducive to learning. Next, it’s important that we begin to design teaching strategies with our dyslexic students in mind. Below we’ve collated some of the most tried and tested classroom strategies for dyslexia. Remember, every learner is unique and won’t process information or learn in the same way as the next, so a collection of strategies is the best way forward.

Use a structured approach to learning

Allowing our students to build their mastery is recommended for every learner, but for students with dyslexia, it’s often the best way to accommodate their learning styles. Equipping students with new vocabulary before beginning a topic, then beginning with the basic concepts, and building to more difficult ideas is a strategy known as a Structured Literacy Approach. It allows students to gradually build upon the skills they’ve learned and gives them confidence in their own ability to learn a new skill or topic. The approach also asks that we, the teachers, are continually interacting with our students, making sure that students are understanding the topic, and we’re continually adapting our lessons and teaching methods to meet the needs of the students in our classroom.

Creating inclusive classrooms

Whether we have students in our classrooms with dyslexia, or other differences, creating an inclusive learning environment promotes a better learning environment for everyone. Multisensory lessons and the addition of assistive technologies can enhance the learning experience for students with dyslexia. In an inclusive classroom, it’s important that all activities and tasks are not centered around reading and taking instructions. Consider the many other ways to grow knowledge, skills, and confidence. There’s lots more to learn about inclusive education in our dedicated area.

Getting the right tools

Making our learning environments more inclusive is a great starting point in supporting the learners with dyslexia in our classrooms. But now, more than ever, there’s a whole host of tools and assistive technologies that can really transform education for our dyslexic students. Having a variety of classroom accommodations to hand means that each student can choose which tool and features suit their needs and learning styles best. There’s lots more information about choosing the right tools over on our How to pick the right tools for special education students page.

Personalised learning

Identifying students in our classrooms with dyslexia means that we can start to alter our teaching strategies, classroom activities, and even the homework that we set to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of each and every student. A personalised learning experience means that we might place students with dyslexia closer to us, to allow them to ask questions easily. It might also mean that we give instructions in multiple ways, verbally, written down, and perhaps drawn. Change doesn’t have to be monumental either, small adjustments to our already great strategies and lessons can help to promote positive learning experiences, and make sure everyone in the class has a voice.

How to spot the signs of dyslexia in the classroom

Not every student with dyslexia will display the same signs. In fact, if we’re teaching older students, chances are they’ve gotten very good at masking signs of their dyslexia, so we might have to dig a little deeper to uncover what’s going on for them. We’ve listed out some of the most common signs that a student might be dyslexic but remember, no two students will display the exact same signs.

Reading

Slow reading speed and a reluctance to read aloud in class are both classic signs of dyslexia. Here’s some others to look out for with students’ reading:

  • Getting sounds and letters in words mixed up. For example ephelant instead of elephant.
  • Change words when reading out loud, such as substituting ‘car’ for ‘bus’.
  • Skip words or lines, or lose their place on the page easily.
  • Struggle to recognise sounds like ‘ph’ and remembering how they sound within a word.
  • Tire reading quickly - this can be because words may ‘move’ around the page as they try to read them.
  • Lower comprehension of what they’ve just read as the effort of decoding the words is a significant challenge.

Writing

Spelling, grammar, and handwriting can be particularly challenging for students with dyslexia.

Some telltale areas in writing are:

  • Needing help spelling their own name.
  • Making phonological mistakes in spelling like ‘f’ for ‘ph’.
  • Having continued challenges with usually common or basic words.
  • Reversing words like ‘was’ and ‘saw’.
  • Leaving out vowels.
  • Writing tasks may take significantly longer than it would for their peers.
  • Handwriting can be untidy or illegible.
  • Writing may climb up or down the page - not sticking to the horizontal lines.
  • Verbal and written skills don’t match. A student might have great ideas, but they’re not getting them down on paper.

Processing and memory

Processing information, as well as both short and long term memory difficulties might indicate that a student has dyslexia.

The student may:

  • Have a hard time remembering lists of information such as dates, times, etc.
  • Not remember to bring their homework is due, what day of the week it is, or when school clubs happen.
  • Not be able to follow spoken instructions.
  • Take longer to answer oral questions.
  • Find it hard to remember names of everyday items.
  • Not be able to retain information from one lesson to the next.

Organisation

Planning and organising their school day can throw up some challenges for students with dyslexia.

  • Keeping their desk/workstation tidy.
  • Losing pens, pencils, other resources.
  • Forgetting homework, sports kits, or permission slips.
  • Moving between classes and losing their way.
  • Keeping their locker or schoolbag tidy.

Concentration

Students with dyslexia put some much time and effort into completing simple tasks and processing information that concentration on activities is often challenging.

This might cause them to:

  • Fidget.
  • Find it hard to sit still.
  • Come across as lazy or bored.

Other signs of dyslexia include:

  • Difficulty in tying shoelaces.
  • Tripping, falling, bumping into and dropping things.
  • Finding it hard to tell right from left.
  • Difficulty in telling the time.
  • Finding it hard to use a map.
  • Having trouble clapping a rhythm.
  • Finding rote-learning challenging
  • Struggling to get motivated to work.
  • Displaying challenging behavior through frustration.

Create a dyslexia friendly classroom

  • Organise your classroom environment with clear routines to minimize movement and noise.
  • Use a good mix of visual, auditory and kinesthetic activities within each lesson to suit all learning styles.
  • Set inclusive homework. Try to avoid setting homework that relies solely on written work, this can turn into a long, hard task for students with dyslexia.
  • Assess and mark work based on the content, not spelling and grammar skills. Comprehension of your topics and activities should be the important factor. Spelling and grammar can be assessed separately.
  • Give instructions in simple sentences. For students with dyslexia, listening to and processing verbal instructions at speed can be very difficult, especially if they need to remember what’s being said.
  • Have resource boxes with lots of visual and hands-on support. Have these on each table or dotted around your classroom. Include things like visual cue cards, word banks specific to the topic you’re teaching, counting equipment, Dictaphone, colored overlays, etc.
  • Keep a variety of writing implements to hand. Including different colored pens and pencils, tablets, and laptops.
  • Avoid activities which force students to read aloud in front of the class. A top source of stress for any student with dyslexia is having to read aloud in front of their peers.
  • A selection of high interest/ low reading age texts available.
  • Use a variety of planning activities like mind maps, storyboards, flowcharts, video, diagrams, oral presentation.
  • Offer technology as a multi-sensory method of working.
  • Give students brainstorming, thinking, and talking time.
  • Have a ‘buddy’ or ‘peer mentor’ scheme in place to help with classwork, homework, or organization.

Five ways technology can help students with dyslexia

In this short blog, discover five simple ways that introducing technology into our classrooms can help our students with dyslexia.

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