How Can Teachers Help Students with Dyslexia?
According to the International Dyslexia Association® (IDA), dyslexia is fairly common, with around 15%-20% of the population displaying symptoms of the learning disability. That means potentially one in every five students in a classroom will show signs of dyslexia. So, it is important for teachers to feel prepared and have resources on hand to help support these students.
All students have been put at a disadvantage due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but students with learning disabilities have been especially impacted. As we’re transitioning from remote to in-person learning, how can teachers help students with dyslexia find success in learning to read?
Using the Science of Reading to Support Students with Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a learning disability that primarily affects one’s ability to read and write, but it does not affect general intelligence. The key to ensuring reading success for students with dyslexia is not just early intervention, but making sure early interventions are effective and research-backed. Research has shown that students with dyslexia learn best when their reading instruction is explicit and systematic. This is referred to as Structured Literacy, which is a teaching method backed by evidence from the science of reading.
How Does Structured Literacy Help Students with Dyslexia?
According to the IDA, “The majority of students learn to read better with structured teaching of basic language skills, and that the components and methods of Structured Literacy are critical for students with reading disabilities including dyslexia.” Structured Literacy (SL) has incredibly strong evidence to support it, and plenty of studies have shown this teaching method is a top-tier way to support all types of students on their journey toward literacy. Below, we’ve listed the main instructional components that make SL such a great resource for students with dyslexia.
When taking an SL approach, teachers explain each concept directly and clearly, while also providing guided practice. According to the IDA, lessons should “embody instructional routines, for example, quick practice drills to build fluency, or the use of fingers to tap out sounds before spelling words.” Students are not expected to intuitively understand language concepts simply through exposure to language or reading; instead, teachers should help them apply their knowledge of new concepts to reading and writing, and provide them with direct feedback and guidance throughout the learning process.
Systematic and Cumulative
In an SL approach, the teacher introduces language concepts in a systematic way, showing students how each element fits into the whole. Each new concept builds upon the previously learned ones and exercises progress from easier to more difficult as students get more comfortable with the concepts. The ultimate goal of this form of teaching is for students to develop an automatic and fluent application of language knowledge to reading for meaning.
Hands-on, Engaging, and Multimodal
By providing students with hands-on learning activities like using hand gestures, participating in word identification games, or using tiles to build words, they are able to get a better grasp on new concepts. SL should be made multimodal by combining listening, reading, writing, and speaking.
Diagnostic and Responsive
By taking an SL approach, teachers are able to closely monitor students’ progress and determine the pacing, presentation, and amount of practice activities given within the lesson framework. Throughout the learning process, teachers can assess students through activities and determine what areas need more or less attention.
Students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities have language processing weaknesses. By taking a Structured Literacy approach, teachers are able to break lessons down into manageable chunks, and students are able to build upon their knowledge over time. Along with this, there are the five pillars of literacy that should be focused on when teaching students how to read. The five pillars are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. In SL lessons, students can (and should) practice each of these pillars in tandem, allowing knowledge to compound over time.
Classroom Accommodations for Students with Dyslexia
How else can teachers help students with dyslexia? We’ve compiled a list from the IDA of actionable steps and in-class accommodations teachers can make for students with dyslexia. A common misconception is that accommodations make classes easier, but this isn’t true. Accommodations are a way to make sure learning is accessible for everyone, especially those who have learning disabilities.
It’s important to note that students with accommodations should have access to those accommodations at all times—during instruction as well as assessments. According to the IDA, there are four main forms of accommodations: Presentation, Response, Setting, and Time/Scheduling.
Presentation accommodations allow students to access instructional materials in ways that do not require them to read print presented in a standard visual format. Presentation accommodations might include:
- Instructional accommodations like verbal instructions, repetition of instructions, offering instructions in audio format, using larger print materials, or limiting each page to only a few items.
- Alternative answer sheets
- Visual prompts or cues, like highlighted text or arrows on the page
- Assessment accommodations like calculators, speech-to-text software, text-to-speech software, electronic dictionaries, spell check, or grammar check
Response accommodations provide students with alternative methods to complete activities, assignments, and tests. They could be allowed to demonstrate their knowledge in an alternative way, or to organize their work using an electronic device. Some examples of response accommodations are:
- Have students mark answers in their test book instead of on a separate answer sheet
- Dictate to scribe or record oral responses to tests
- Record oral responses on a Livescribe pen
- Point to response choices
- Type their responses
Setting accommodations simply refer to changing the location in which the student takes their assessment. Some examples of this include:
- Individual or small-group assessments
- Reducing visual or auditory distractions in the classroom
- Having the student complete the assessment in a separate room
Timing or scheduling accommodations make adjustments to the length of time students have to complete their test, project, or assignment. They might also change the way time is organized. For example, by allowing breaks during a test. Some examples include:
- Flexible scheduling (multiple sessions vs. one)
- Extended time
- Allowing for more frequent breaks (as appropriate)
- Changing the order of tasks or subtests
It can be difficult to determine the best approach to supporting students with dyslexia, but Lexia’s LETRS® Suite is designed to empower teachers by providing them with knowledge and resources about how to best help students with dyslexia learn to read. You can learn more about dyslexia and how to identify students with dyslexia at every grade level here.
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