What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills; The core difficulty is with word recognition and reading fluency, spelling, and writing. People with dyslexia can be very bright, they are often gifted in areas such as art, computer science, design, drama, electronics, math, mechanics, music, physics, sales, and sports. Dyslexia is not always easy to diagnose.
How many people does it affect?
15–20% of the population have some of the symptoms. Dyslexia occurs in people of all backgrounds and intellectual levels and runs in families.
When working with neuro-diverse students, I usually try to find the most effective methods and to create the best learning environment possible in terms of materials, contents and interactions, making sure they don’t struggle or feel demotivated in any way, but rather, included.
Students with dyslexia have different needs so when teaching a mixed-ability class, differentiation – of tasks, expectations, support and material – is crucial. They may need to learn at a slower pace in order to process the language effectively while at the same time having problems in maintaining concentration for sufficient time to decode and comprehend it. Short-term memory difficulties can pose a problem too, requiring us to use mnemonic techniques and structured approaches to ease the learning process. Techniques for developing phonological and orthographic awareness are also necessary and extremely valuable.
From this perspective it may seem challenging both for students and teachers, but the good news is: we can help them!
How can we really help them?
There are many effective ways to support dyslexic students: starting from simply creating a safe and peaceful environment without distractions, to breaking down difficult tasks into smaller chunks, to engaging them in frequent and effective revision activities. And then, there is multisensory teaching.
How can multisensory teaching help dyslexic students in language acquisition?
Multisensory structured learning (MSL) approach teaches elements of the language system through auditory, visual, tactile and kinaesthetic channels. This means that dyslexic students learn how to read and spell words by hearing, seeing, saying, and writing them. The use of the 5 senses can make learning fun, productive and along with the use of repetition, they’re more likely to reinforce the new piece of information and move it from short term to stay in the long term memory.
What I’ve found with my students is that they respond particularly well to the use of musical activities, visual stimulations and tactile approach.
About musical activities
Not only this helps them to absorb and consolidate new parts of the language easily, but by the developing ther sense of rhythm we’re helping them with their phonological processing as well, even clapping is a good way to help learners to count number of syllables or sounds in words.
About visual stimulations
Modelling sounds using attractive flashcards or pictures is a good way of applying specific memory techniques. (an example of mnemonics a the end of this article)
About tactile approaces
Nothing says “wooden” like holding a rough stick in your hands, or “bubble” like blowing soap bubbles. (I find this to be one of the most effective techniques).
What makes a lesson plan “dyslexia-friendly”?
Now, let’s say you are to plan a reading lesson, what factors should you consider?
- The text should have an appropriate length, organised into short paragraphs written with an appropriate font and size.
- The text should be accompanied with clear illustrative pictures and, if possible, audio recording.
- The text should awaken learners’ curiosity and be enjoyable, interesting and motivating.
- Task instructions should be comprehensible.
- You should allocate enough time for every activity.
- The activities should be achievable and suitable for students with SpLDs
Would you be interested in getting technological support?
Nowadays the digital world comes to our aid with games, hints and interactive activities, click here to download for free the “iPad Apps for Learners with Dyslexia/ Reading and Writing Difficulties” by The University of Edinburgh.
Build their self-esteem, motivate and stimulate them, make them believe that anything is possible because, as for all students, believing in themselves can really make the difference between success and failure.
Kormos, J., & Smith, A. M. (2012). Teaching languages to learners with specific learning difficulties.