Students with dyslexia may have difficult academic experiences due to the nature of their abilities to perform in a traditional classroom environment, such as problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor spelling, and reduced decoding proficiency.
Although the signs of dyslexia vary, providing general support and making accommodations in a classroom setting will benefit a majority of children with learning differences and improve their academic experience significantly.
Appropriate accommodations include modifications in how educational material is taught, how knowledge is tested, and how the physical and emotional environment is aligned with the needs of the students.
As important, if not more so, is an educator who supports all students regardless of their learning styles and empathizes with them as they confront their academic and emotional challenges.
The following principles are important for educators to remember, as they can be instrumental in successfully working with students who have learning disabilities:
- Respect the students’ Most students with reading difficulties do not want to read, write, or spell in front of their peers. Recognize the needs and concerns of the students and do not call on them unless they volunteer. If a student must read in front of the class, offer plenty of opportunities to practice. When memorizing is a challenge, allow the student to read from notes.
- Encourage hard work. Dyslexic students often put a lot of effort into their academic work even if the result may not meet the expectations of their teachers. Acknowledge their hard work. Do not criticize them for not paying attention or being lazy. Instead, recognize that they are often trying their best.
- Promote love of learning. Allowing students to make mistakes and take risks in the learning process enables students with or without dyslexia to build perseverance, confidence, and a growth mindset.
- Modify test taking. Extended time on testing will be needed to balance the exhausting and time-consuming handwriting process for dyslexic students. They may also benefit from taking tests in an environment without distractions.
- Clarify instructions. Dyslexia often affects the ability to process, prioritize, and remember long lists of directions at one time, so directions given in a paragraph form can be difficult to handle. Underlining or highlighting the significant parts of the directions or, even better, presenting them in steps or using bullet points will simplify the process significantly. Once instructions are given, having the student to repeat them can be beneficial. Remembering a series of instructions may also be difficult. Visual cues such as images, color coding, and numbered checklists can help students recall the steps and directions throughout the school day.
- Eliminate or limit homework. Teachers are advised to limit or eliminate homework where appropriate and to focus on the key subjects or areas that require additional support.
- Preferential seating in the classroom. Students with attention problems will benefit from being seated in an area without distractions as well as being seated close to the teacher or the board during group instruction. This will also help students who struggle with being independent while completing the classroom work.
- Allow physical activity. All students, not only dyslexic students, should be given the opportunity to take mental and physical activity breaks, such as bringing a book to the teacher or taking the attendance to the office. They should not be prohibited from going on recess and be forced instead to catch up on homework or complete a classroom project.
Students officially diagnosed with a learning disability have a right to be provided with accommodations that help level the playing field and increase the chance of success during their academic journey. By implementing appropriate accommodations in the classroom, teachers will be able to assess the students’ actual knowledge rather than be misled by their difficulties in performing in a traditional learning environment.
Cigdem Knebel is the founder of Simple Words Books, a parent of a dyslexic child, and author of Sam Is Stuck, a chapter book for young dyslexics. She believes that all children love to read—they just need to find that right book for them.
Her mission is to help young dyslexics, and reluctant and early readers with fluency, comprehension and, most importantly, self-confidence. She accomplishes this by publishing fiction books, and reading and phonics practice resources with the skills of young dyslexics in mind.