Many of a dyslexic learner’s needs can be met within their usual learning situation, with or without specialist support. Indeed, non-dyslexics may well benefit from the range of methods used to teach dyslexics.
More detailed advice for teachers of literacy and numeracy will be found in Access for All, Broadening Access and Making the Curriculum Work for Learners with Dyslexia, which relate to the adult literacy and numeracy core curricula. This Framework draws from Access for All, but does not duplicate the detailed information to be found there.
General principles of good practice
The following are some general principles to follow when providing teaching or support to dyslexic learners:
- Be explicit – dyslexic learners are often very literal.
- Explain the reason for suggesting any approach and encourage learners to evaluate whether or not it works for them – they may not yet know how they learn best.
- Create an environment where making mistakes is seen as part of the learning process.
- Teach (choose activities, prepare materials, set tasks) to the level of difficulty the learner has, but interact with the learner at their level of intelligence.
- Tell learners in advance what the structure of any learning session will be.
- Explain the conventions; dyslexic learners need to know when a requirement is simply a convention, such as the layout of an essay or a newspaper article, or spelling patterns that do not seem logical.
Involve learners in their learning
- Listen carefully to what dyslexic learners tell you about their learning. How they describe the processes of reading and writing will tell you a lot about their different approaches.
- Help learners to understand dyslexia by exploring their strengths and the strategies they use.
- Explore their typical difficulties (many of which will be common with other learners) and what has and has not worked in the past.
- Promote self-confidence by giving learners the experience of success and positive feedback.
- Use approaches that encourage self-directed and independent learning so that learners feel in control of their learning.
Develop ways of supporting dyslexic learners
- Do not focus exclusively on literacy deficits. Consider the learner’s personality, motivation, cognitive strengths and successful learning experience as well as their particular dyslexic characteristics.
- Make sure you are using a range of multisensory methods.
- Learn different ways to present information and make it accessible.
- Offer supportive, staged help when requiring learners to read or produce written work.
Allow more time
- Give plenty of opportunities for overlearning, practice in meaningful contexts and revision.
- Allow time for discussion and reflection.
- Plan ahead and be flexible in your deadlines.
How can you help with reading?
- Listen to the learner describing their experience of reading in order to understand their individual experience.
- Review the reading load and guide learners to the most important sections that need to be read.
- Avoid the use of text-dense material where possible; space helps understanding for all learners.
- Include graphics such as pictures, diagrams and cartoons in handouts to provide reference points and visual clues.
- Print handouts on paper of the colour your dyslexic learners prefer.
- Be aware that some fonts are more difficult to read than others. This varies from learner to learner, but Arial, Comic Sans and Tahoma are generally the clearest.
- Enlarge text where appropriate – never reduce the size of print.
- Identify, explain and discuss new vocabulary when it arises. Give word lists with clear definitions.
- Encourage learners to note specialist vocabulary and its meaning in a personal dictionary.
- Avoid requiring learners to copy from the board or OHT. Use black/white boards only to give examples, elaborate a point, or provide key words or names. Avoid using a cursive script on the board – make sure your writing is legible, large and clear, and read out what you have written.
- Where possible, guide the learner towards audio-visual sources such as learndirect or Open University programmes, television documentaries, videos and the Internet.
- Use DARTs to focus on specific, difficult aspects of text.
- If appropriate, provide or encourage the use of a reader or scribe/note-taker either in class or in preparation work.
- Give handouts prior to the lesson so that dyslexic learners can familiarise themselves with the text.
How can you help learners to make notes?
- Explicitly discuss the process and purpose of note-taking with the learners. Make sure they know the different ways of making notes.
- Remind learners regularly of the importance of labelling and dating their notes.
- Provide skeleton notes in advance, giving the headings of the content you plan to cover. Do not present too much information on one sheet.
- Read extracts of text to the group, encouraging learners to highlight key points and underline unfamiliar vocabulary. Learners should be encouraged to highlight and underline the text, and to make notes in the margin when reading.
- Use mind maps and simplified diagrams in handouts and on the board.
- Offer a back-up, such as a separate handout, cards summarising key points, or a ‘study buddy’ system where a fellow learner allows access to their notes.
- Write specific terminology and key points on the board.
- Allow the use of a tape/MiniDisc recorder if the student feels this is useful.
How can you help learners with their writing?
- Demonstrate and explain what is expected when doing an assignment or learning activity. Offer models of written work (essays, reports, letters).
- Offer help with how to plan, structure and organise work. Find ways to free learners to compose without constraint – using tape-recorders, computers, or writing their ideas down for them. Use writing frames and other scaffolding techniques.
- Teach learners how to edit their work.
- Offer explicit direction on how to proofread and provide opportunities to practise. Dyslexics should be encouraged to separate the process of writing from that of proofreading. Allow time between the two; if possible do something else in between. Encourage proofreading three times: once for content and organisation; once for grammar, expression, sentence structure, etc.; and once for spelling. Proofreading each other’s work can be beneficial, but ensure that there is no risk of humiliation.
- Make sure that dyslexic learners have enough space to write so that their motor movements are not hindered. Check that the lighting is sufficient for the learner and offer them a choice of position where possible.
- Some dyslexic learners prefer to work from the back to the front of files and exercise books.