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A swedish librarian about dyslexia in elementary school

This is the second article of three in the series “Dyslexia in school”, where we take a deeper dive into what it is like to grow up with dyslexia, as well as what parents and other relatives can do to help and support. We also invite parents, teachers, librarians and others to hear their thoughts and experiences. girl using assistive technology for dyslexia

10 to 13 year olds with reading and writing disabilities reads approximately 100 000 words a year. While their classmates reads about 10 to 50 million words. Therefore, the right kind of support and help from school is crucial. Without it the dyslexic children puts so much effort on decoding a text that there is almost no energy left to understand what the text is about. The same problem affects a range of other things, lik school test results and the children’s ability to show their full knowledge. 

Maria Hagelsjö is a swedish school librarian. She works at two different swedish schools – preschool and elementary school combined. Every day she meets students with dyslexia or other reading disabilities. And she thinks there has been some big changes to the better. There is an increasing understanding of dyslexia – and not the same stigma as before. 

– Further back in time dyslexia was associated with shame. Many felt stupid. And sure, it is still hard to have reading and writing disabilities but it is infinitely easier than before.

books in a library

Collaboration, inspiration and kind of a detective’s work

Maria Hagelsjö meets almost every student in each of the two schools – about a 1 000 children. Many of them with different levels of reading problems. It often happens that a teacher or a child itself tells her that he or she has dyslexia. 

– However, Maria says, a dyslexia diagnosis is not required for lots to happen anyway! Like, if an educator informs me that there is a reading barrier then I do the exact same thing: give the child books for reading practice, a Legimus login and tips for listening. 

Legimus is a digital library for MTM, Myndigheten för tillgängliga medier. Roughly translated The Authority for Available Media. And MTM in turn is a swedish government agency that gives people with reading disabilities access to the media they need, in the way that suits them. Maria thinks that Legimus is fantastic. 

– A wonderful opportunity for children with different reading disabilities to be flushed with words, so that the vocabulary can be developed equally – when reading with the eyes isn’t doing the trick.

Maria is one of them who, in her profession, is able to discover something “new” with the student’s reading that the teacher might have missed. If so, she always talks to the teacher to investigate if the student is entitled to Legimus and then arrange a login as quickly as possible.

A large part of her job though is to create a safe and nice relationship with the children. It is both easier for everyone and really rewarding when the children dare to ask for help. Dare to say if the book she is recommending is too difficult, too easy or just not good. 

– Sometimes, when standing among the shelves looking for books at a reasonable level, the student himself or herself talks about how they find it difficult to keep track of the characters in a book – then I look up books with few characters. Or if the student thinks that there are very difficult words – then I look up books that are easier to read. Some students experience that the words are “jumping” over the pages, then maybe I give him or her a reading ruler. 

In order to find out what a particular student likes, Maria asks a lot of questions. She usually opens up books to show the student, saying “is it too little, too much or just enough text?” and in that way avoid the question “is this too easy?” and the risk of making the child giving up. At the same time Maria tries to find something the child is really interested in to inspire the reading. 

– For example, if the reading is at a very basic level but the interest and vocabulary at a much higher level, it can be a “boring” reading practice book and then also an exciting nonfiction book that is perhaps too difficult. But which may be tempting to trudge through, like reading a caption, just because it is so exciting.

dyslexia in school

New technology and solution-oriented people

One of the things that are helping children with dyslexia or other reading and writing disabilities is all the new technology. When starting as a school librarian, Maria and her colleagues burned the audio books on CD’s and lent them out. 

– Now the kids listen through digital tools, Maria says, or their own phones, if they have one. It is great to have students coming in for their Legimus-registration and see them shine up when listening to the same book as the whole class is reading. Already on the way out of the library! Then you really love the new technology.

Lately Maria also started a Youtube-channel with book tips. Sometimes she send a QR code or link to the teacher of a certain student if there is something special she thinks the child would like. 

– At my schools all students have a reading service. Which is for everyone and not regulated by a law that requires a reading disability, like Legimus. The reading service helps many students, as there are many textbooks in digital form among other things. In addition, everyone having access to the reading service is something that I think has been very good for many dyslexics. It becomes less stigmatizing that they need to listen to the books and teaching material, since everyone can do it if they want/need.

Maria find that her colleagues are working very consciously and solution-oriented. There is a close collaboration between teachers, special teachers and libraries. But of course, it can always be more done.

– It is very important never to “settle” and think that this is “good enough”. It is good enough only when dyslexics not even feel for a second that they don’t have the same conditions as their classmates without dyslexia.

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