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The following passage is about dyslexia. I want you to assume that I will be asking you a comprehension question or two when you are done. You have one minute. Go!

The bottob line it thit it doet exitt, no bitter whit nibe teotle give it (i.e. ttecific leirning ditibility, etc). In fict, iccording to Tilly Thiywitz (2003) itt trevilence it ictuilly one in five children, which it twenty tercent.

How was that? Did you stumble on some words? Did you skip words and or substitute with "whatever" or "something?" Based on experience, I am going to guess this was not easy for you. I will guess that if I asked you to read this in front of your peers, who are prone to judgment, you would feel anxious. I am also going to guess that if I asked you to tell me what you learned from the passage, you wouldn't be able to recall any important information.

You just experienced dyslexia for one minute. During that minute, the passage slowed you down and forced you to pronounce words that didn't seem to make any sense and weren't familiar. You knew they were wrong, but you read them anyway. And how about that time factor? Did you feel pressed for time? If you were in a classroom full of your peers and I asked you to read this aloud and then asked comprehension questions, would your heart rate go up? Would you suddenly have to use the restroom? Or perhaps you'd need to go to the nurse with a stomachache? This is dyslexia.

What can a general education teacher do to help?

Understand Dyslexia

Let's debunk a few of the myths and misconceptions right now. Dyslexia is not:

  • Seeing letters or words backward (In fact, reversing letters and words is developmentally normal through the first grade.)
  • Outgrown
  • A result of laziness or lack of motivation
  • A visual issue.

It is often said that dyslexia is an "umbrella term" when, in fact, it has a very specific definition. The International Dyslexia Organization says:

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. Most students with dyslexia will receive the reading and writing help they need outside of the general education classroom, but there are many things a general education teacher can do to help students with dyslexia not only avoid situations, but thrive in your classroom.

Here is a short video from TED-Ed that explains dyslexia in just four minutes:

Understand the Role of Accommodations

Now that you have a better understanding of what dyslexia is and is not, it is important to know how you can help a student with dyslexia in the general education classroom. The best way, aside from the actual intervention, is to provide and understand the accommodations that he or she needs to be successful. Remember, these students are capable of learning, and many are intellectually gifted -- their academic struggles are unexpected in relation to their innate ability to learn.

It cannot be overstated that students with dyslexia are capable of learning to read and write when given the appropriate intervention. This intervention should be structured and multisensory. It should be an explicit instruction of the underlying structure of English, and it should be informed by linguistics.

For many of these students, accommodations in the classroom can be the difference between academic success and academic failure and frustration. Below is a list of common and helpful accommodations:

  • Books on audio: These should be introduced as soon as a reading deficit is suspected, and implemented as early as kindergarten. The idea is to make sure that the intellectually capable student is not missing the chance to read good literature and the grade-level content he or she is capable of understanding in a format other than reading. Learning Ally and Bookshare are reputable resources.
  • Do not require the student to read aloud, unless he or she volunteers or had the opportunity to practice.
  • Provide notes ahead of time or allow the student to record the lecture. The Livescribe Pen is a fantastic tool.
  • Allow the student to verbally respond to short-answer and essay questions as well as dictate longer passages. Dyslexia affects writing as much, if not more, than reading. Their struggle with writing can often mask their actual thoughts.
  • Do not mark off for spelling -- grade written assignments based on content only.
  • Remove time limits from testing and other timed situations.
  • Give multiple opportunities for success. If students who struggle in reading and writing are better at science, math, artistic, or physical activities, you can motivate them by showcasing their talents in other areas. It may the one thing a teacher does to save those students' interest in school.

Dyslexia is real, occurring in up to 20 percent of the population. That means there is a student in every classroom, in every neighborhood, and in every U.S. school. It also means that every classroom teacher has the opportunity to positively change the life of a student with dyslexia by taking the time to understand what it is and provide accommodations for accessing information that student is capable of learning through alternate formats.

Do you know that teacher? Are you that teacher?

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Madfire12's picture

Ok i have dislexsea and i now how this is and feels i spell like that all the time.

Madfire12's picture

Ok i have savear dislexsea,ADHD, aditory prossesing and nirilogical probles. I have always been told that i would never go any where in life or that im stupid. I have learned to self improvise everything from. Im now 16 and at Mast@Fiu getting a highschool degree and college at the same time.

(1)
Diane Piatz's picture

I agree. It is best for dyslexic students to study spelling words in a multip-sensory manner. I've had students in my spec. needs classes practice their spelling words by writing them on their arm and on their partner's arm. Also, I've had the students do jumping jacks doing one jumping jack for each letter of their assigned word.

Sasha Bernard's picture

Dyslexia has been an educational factor in many classes that has been classified as "the child who cannot read". Dyslexia as we have read is not the mistaking of the b for d's and turning around letters to form new words. However, we learn its more a challenge to recognize words, read, spell and decode words properly. This information was so helpful to me. If more teachers can use the tips that were given in this blog, more students would improve tremendously in their academic studies. More so, teachers need to stop picking on dyslexic students to read out loud and find other alternatives as mentioned by Kelli Sandman-Hurley.
I will definitely be sharing this with a few educators and parents.

(1)
RebekahAnne's picture

The topic of dyslexia has interested me a great deal as I have 2, possibly 3 family members that struggle with this. The video was very insightful and gives great explanation as to what exactly dyslexia is. I always thought that dyslexia was just mixing up letters and a visual only issue. It's good to know that there is so much more that defines what dyslexia is and the struggles that go along with it. I wish instead of forcing our students to do what "they are expected to do" we would meet them where they are and praise them for the work that they are able to do. This doesn't mean we shouldn't have expectations for our students, but we do need to be willing to work with them and teach them the way that they learn their best. All teachers should read this for sure. This was very helpful, thank you!

Sue Long's picture

Growing up, even though my grades were top-notch, I always felt rather stupid because I was a slow reader -- we used to have those exercises where reading passages would be flashed on a screen with a moving blackout section. To comprehend what I read, I often took notes, which of course, slowed me down. I also always sat with a dictionary next to me when writing essays. When we had "spell downs" in class and competed as teams, I was always the last to be chosen. (A little "bragging" rights here -- I graduated salutatorian.) Imagine everyone's surprise when I chose to become an English teacher!!! While in college, my roommate was a special ed major. She used to practice her test-giving on me. One particular test which she returned to her professor elicited a "Great! You actually found someone with dyslexia!" To which she replied, "But this is my roommate who is on the dean's list!" He made her run it again, finally asking me into his office to run the test himself. Yep, I have dyslexia -- a mild case. At that time, even the college professors were not recognizing the ability to be a talented student and yet have a learning disability. I used this to my -- and my students' -- advantage on becoming a teacher, explaining to the students that a disability was no excuse for not learning. You just have to learn differently. In class, I was able to make the "rules" of spelling much more meaningful to the students. We even had a challenge going -- they would bring in "mega" words to see if they could catch me up. I always explained the rule I would use to help me spell the word. Later, when I became a principal, and parents attempted to use the excuse that their child could not learn because he had a "learning disability," I would point out that, I, too, have a learning disability, but it never stopped me from accomplishing what I wanted to do! Of course, my staff also knew that they were expected to assist these young people in overcoming that "disability." This was in an alternative school for at-risk kids. Many did not want to leave when their time was up because the teachers had taken the time to help them learn!

Ayushma's picture

Thanks Kelli for such an insightful article. I teach social studies to secondary-level students in a school in Nepal. One of my students is dyslexic and has problems studies especially difficulties comprehending social studies concepts. I am definitely going to apply these interventions which you have presented here.
Coming from a country and a school setting where we usually do not provide much accommodation for special students in terms of removing time limits from testing, could you please suggest me ways I can help my student.
Thanks again.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Teacher/leader & techie at independent, alternative, therapeutic high school

Ayushma, it's awesome that you are trying new stuff to support your students! About the testing and time limits: who is "in charge" of the time limits? You? Your supervisor? The state? Depending who it is, I wonder if you could help educate them about the need for different time limits for different students, or advocate in particular for this certain student.

wildhare_IA's picture

I have printed alternate versions of my class materials and tests using the free font from http://opendyslexic.org/

I told students they were the same thing, just a different font. I did not mention "dyslexia". We do not have an identifier for these students at my school, and a lot of students that struggle with reading but aren't diagnosed, picked the dyslexia font as being easier for them to read. I saw an increase in test scores anywhere from 5-20% for the group using this font. Again, the font is the only thing that changed. To me, that's a win for students.

It doesn't work for all, but for many, they reported to me that the letters didn't "move" anymore. I think the heavier base helps "anchor" the letters for these students. Small and easy to implement, with a huge return on learning and decreased frustration for the students.

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