Spot dyslexia in the classroom & strategies to succeed in teaching
It is immensely gratifying as a teacher to see a child succeed. Dyslexia in the classroom, before it has been identified, can be a huge roadblock for children to find that path to success. Teachers and educators want all their students to reach and exceed their potential. But occasionally a child or teenager struggles – they are intelligent and creative, hardworking and attentive, but they consistently battle with fundamental skills in reading.
In the past, children with reading, spelling, and writing difficulties were often labelled lazy or below-average intelligence. Thankfully, today we recognise dyslexia as the most probable cause of these challenges.
Dyslexia is more than a reading difficulty. It is a neurological-based learning disability that affects language skills.
The International Dyslexia Association says the causes of dyslexia are still not clear, but research shows there are differences in the way the brain develops and works in a person with dyslexia. Dyslexia is not a marker of intelligence – did you know that Einstein had dyslexia, with an IQ of around 160? Nor is dyslexia linked with laziness or lack of creativity.
With the correct diagnosis, the right teaching materials and methods, and a positive, accepting environment, any child with dyslexia can learn and succeed in the classroom.
Here’s how to identify dyslexia in the classroom – at any age – and what strategies to use next.
How to spot dyslexia in the classroom
Dyslexia affects around 20 percent of the population, so it is likely that you have one or more dyslexic children in your classroom. Yet dyslexia symptoms in children are often missed. Students may be labelled as disruptive or slow. Children often cover-up their struggles and find ways to compensate for their difficulties.
Signs to observe that may indicate dyslexia
Key traits of dyslexia may be evident in the early or later stages of education (Primary school/ Elementary school), according to the British Dyslexia Association:
- A “spiky” profile – meaning that the child has distinctive strengths alongside areas of difficulty.
- Slow processing – they need more time to write and/or they may speak slowly.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Struggles with following instructions.
- Poor pencil grip/control.
- Weak standards of written work as compared to oral abilities.
- Word and letter confusion.
- Handwriting that is hard to read.
- Unusual letter/word sequencing.
- Slow reading.
- Poor comprehension and struggles to notice important points.
- Limited expression when reading.
- May display a marked dislike of reading/books.
- Difficulty blending letters.
- Doesn’t recognise familiar words.
- Misses out or adds new words.
Behaviour and interpersonal skills
- Difficulties learning to tell the time.
- Struggles with personal organisation.
- Memory problems.
- Appears to be in their own world.
- Easily distracted or acts inappropriately in class.
- Is often very tired.
Dyslexia in Secondary school/ High school
Dyslexia is most often spotted in the elementary school years but it may not be identified until high school or even later.
Dyslexia is marked by a mix of abilities and challenges. Students are often highly proficient in certain areas, such as sports, arts, or technology, but may have other obstacles. They may have a weak standard of written work, poor handwriting, messy work, and difficulties with spelling and grammar.
Other signs of dyslexia in older students include confusing upper and lower case letters, difficulty with notetaking, disorganised with assignments and homework, hesitant reading aloud, problems using dictionaries, and struggles with keeping their place when reading.
Students may have issues with numeracy, confuse left from right, have difficulties learning foreign languages, cannot process things at speed, be disorganised and forgetful, easily distracted, and overly tired.
The sooner these children get help ‒ the better
The sooner dyslexia is correctly detected, the better. Children who have their specific educational needs met are much more likely to succeed, now and in the future.
You can use key strategies in the classroom to address students’ needs – even if you are not a dyslexia specialist.
If you are picking up a combination of these issues in one of your students, discuss your observations with the parents/carers of the child. You can also speak to your school’s special educational needs team or teacher, to plan an appropriate next course of action.
If dyslexia is identified or suspected, put effective support in place before formal identification is confirmed, since a diagnosis may be a long process. A child doesn’t need a diagnostic assessment to receive appropriate support.
Teaching methods for dyslexia
Think about how to teach dyslexia students and what will work for the individuals in your classroom. Alter your expectations and change the way you approach learning. Teaching a child with dyslexia will be more successful when you take away the barriers that get in the way of education. For example, don’t expect them to read aloud in class (this puts pressure on a child and can significantly reduce self-esteem). Allow extra time for comprehension. Adapt your methods of delivering lessons, including the following:
Use phonics for reading
The phonics strategy is more appropriate for children with dyslexia as it allows them to code and decode words, and not have to rely on guesses and memory.
Practice, practice, practice
A teaching strategy for dyslexia involves repetition and what experts call “overlearning.” Be aware that dyslexic children may need much more instruction in a skill that others pick up after a few tries. Younger children can use games and instructional toys, while older students may benefit from computer software or additional worksheets.
Preparation and materials
Highlight and clarify the important points in teaching units or simplify the written instructions for a piece of work. You can present work in smaller pieces, such as one page at a time, to avoid overwhelm. Or cover sections of the page with blank paper, so attention doesn’t wander. Use line markers, larger font sizes, or different coloured text for helping students read and comprehend.
Use assistive technology
Tools like the ReaderPen from C-Pen scan words in written text and the device reads them aloud. Children learn more easily and can use the built-in dictionary to expand comprehension. You can also record lessons for older children to replay at home.
Make it interactive
Interactive lessons are more likely to be successful as teaching methods for dyslexia. Verbal and visual instruction and information are more effective when combined. And students gain more from lessons with a clear objective and sign-posting – dyslexic students may need flowcharts, outlines, or examples to get started.
Build self esteem
Help dyslexic children set appropriate and achievable goals to build self-belief and counter perfectionist tendencies. Use appropriate language to identify areas of weakness and always communicate with the child about the support needed and what areas you will be working on.
Teachers with experience in special needs education and learning support may immediately recognise dyslexia traits in a child. You may take a little more time to discover the source of your students’ challenges. But your daily interaction with your students and your knowledge of education provides the ideal base from which to spot dyslexia indicators.
Once identified, it is important to learn how to help a student with dyslexia as an individual. Every student is unique, and each student with dyslexia has their own strengths and challenges. Recognising a child’s talents and giving support where needed sets children up for success at school and later in life.