There have been significant advances in research in dyslexia over the last twenty years. This has aided explanations of dyslexia and supported policy and practice. The impact has been considerable, but yet there is still no clear explanation that is universally accepted of what exactly constitutes dyslexia. Identification is still riddled with controversies despite the emergence of a number of new tests to identify dyslexia, or sub-components of dyslexia. Indeed, there is still an ongoing debate on the value of dyslexia as an identifiable syndrome.

You can see the full copy of the report here.

9 tips for supporting learning

  1. Identify the students’ preferred learning style.
  2. Present new information in small steps.
  3. Utilise over-learning – use as wide a range of materials and strategies as possible.
  4. Relate new information to previous knowledge.
  5. Group, or chunk, information together that can help learning to become more efficient.
  6. Show connections between different pieces of information – the learner may not be able to do this him/herself.
  7. Help learners develop their own memory strategies such as mind-mapping, colour-coding and mnemonics.
  8. Help children identify the key points in new learning, or in a text.
  9. Assist the learner to acquire skills summarising information.

20 pointers for effective learning

  1. Small steps – it is important, especially since children with dyslexia may have short-term memory difficulties, to present tasks in small steps. In fact, one task at a time is probably sufficient. If multiple tasks are specified, then a checklist might be a useful way for the child to note and self-monitor his/her progress.
  2. Group work – It is important to plan for group work. The dynamics of the group is crucial and dyslexic children need to be in a group where at least one person in the group is able to impose some form of structure to the group tasks. This can act as a modelling experience for dyslexic children – it is also important that those in the group do not overpower the dyslexic child – so someone with the ability to facilitate the dyslexic child’s contribution to the group is also important. This would make the dyslexic child feel they are contributing to the group. Even though they may not have the reading ability of the others in the group, they will almost certainly have the comprehension ability, so will be able to contribute if provided with opportunities.
  3. Use of coloured paper – there is some evidence that different colours of background and font can enhance some children’s reading and attention.
  4. Layout – the page layout is very important and this should be visual but not overcrowded. Coloured background is also usually preferable. Font size can also be a key factor and this should not be too small. In relation to the actual font itself it has been suggested that sasoon font, comic sans and times new roman are the most dyslexia-friendly fonts.
  5. Allow additional time – some dyslexic children will require a substantial amount of additional time particularly for tasks like copying from the board and writing exercises.
  6. Produce a checklist to ensure instructions have been understood such as – what is actually being said/asked? What is required of me? How will I know if I am right? Often dyslexic children do not get the right answer because they have not fully understood the task. Take time to ensure the task is fully understood before allowing the child to work independently.
  7. Put different types of information under different headings. This can help with long-term memory and the organisation of information.
  8. Provide key words – this is crucial as often dyslexic children have difficulty in identifying key words. They may often go for the irrelevant aspects of a passage or provide too much information because they have this difficulty in identifying the key points.
  9. Use multi-sensory techniques – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile. This is important as it ensures that at least some of the activities will be tapping into the child’s strong modality.
  10. Use mnemonics to boost memory – this can be fun as well as an effective means of learning. It is best to personalise the mnemonic to encourage the child to develop his /her own mnemonic.
  11. Use of ICT to help with processing speed and learner independence. There are a vast number of excellent ICT programmes that can boost all aspects of learning. (See appendix). Computer programmes can also help with learner autonomy.
  12. Make sure group dynamics are right and constructive for the dyslexic student. This is important as group work can be very rewarding but only if the dyslexic child is in a constructive group. Try to ensure the group has not too many children who do a lot of talking – groups need listeners too.
  13. Use enquiry approaches – to promote thinking skills. Problem solving activities can be useful as often there is not too much reading before the problem can be tackled. Similarly with fact finding tasks these can also be motivating, but ensure there is clear guidance on how to find the information. A child with dyslexia can waste a lot of time looking for information on the internet or in the library and may gather irrelevant information. It is important therefore to provide a clear structure for this.
  14. Use tape recorders to allow them to record their thoughts. This can be good for helping with metacognition (that is being aware of how one learns). By recording their thoughts on a tape it promotes self-thinking. They need to be aware of how they are actually tackling a task to be able to record their thoughts and this process helps with metacognitive awareness.
  15. Look for ways of boosting the learner’s self-esteem. It is important that children’s self-esteem is continually being boosted as it will encourage them to take risks with learning where otherwise they may have given up. It is crucial therefore that tasks are designed to ensure the child will experience some success. It is through success that self-esteem is boosted and success comes if the task that is presented is achievable. That is why it is so important that the planning of tasks is given a high priority.
  16. Try to develop their ability to question and to ask the right kind of questions about the task. This is important because it helps the child to understand the task if they know the right kind of questions to ask. This can be quite difficult and it is important that this is practiced through pre-task discussion.
  17. Highlight photocopied text and use dyslexia-friendly type face. There are a number of different type faces that can be seen as dyslexia friendly. Comic Sans is one such font, but it may not be best for all dyslexic children, so it is best to try a few different fonts and let the child decide what is the best.
  18. Ensure instructions are short and clear. It is best to provide a series of short tasks rather than one long one. This also makes it easier for the child to monitor their own progress.
  19. Use games to consolidate vocabulary – game activities can be excellent for motivating students with dyslexia. Crossbow education have an excellent range of games (www.crossboweducation.com). These include digital phonics, spingoes phonics activities, magic e spin it, knockout, and vowel digraph triplets.
  20. Try to develop creativity and thinking and problem solving skills. This is vitally important and is an area that is often overlooked when teaching dyslexic children because there is inclined to be a preoccupation with teaching literacy skills. It is crucial that the higher order thinking skills are not overlooked and these need to be given a high priority.

Developing effective memory

  • Chunking – Place all similar pieces of information into one group – for example, if the student is studying the geography of a country get him/her to make a chunk of all the facts relating to climate. Students should be able to chunk at least four items together so they need to find at least four items that have a strong connection.
  • Visualise – Remembering information will be easier if they can use all their senses when learning. This means using the visual modality and for some learners this is very important. A graphic or a symbol can help to strengthen the memory.
  • Make connections – It is important that dyslexic students make connections when learning. This makes learning meaningful and aids understanding and the development of concepts. An effective learner is one who is able to make these connections. The main connection is between previous learning and new learning. Questions the learner needs to consider are – is there anything about the new learning that is familiar? What is familiar and why? This will help learners connect between the previous and new learning and make learning more effective.
  • Imagination – It is a good idea to get them to use imaginative images or connections as these can stamp a personal identity on the information to be remembered. By using their own images students can make it personal and this can aid memory.
  • Repetition – It is unusual to remember information first time around. But rote repetition is not always effective. When getting students to repeat information try to suggest a range of different ways. They can do this by using memory cards, visuals, headings, summaries, notes and discussion. All these can be used for repeating the same information. Students with dyslexia need a lot of over-learning before they can consolidate new material.
  • Understanding – Understanding is vitally important for memory. Time taken to ensure the information is understood is very worthwhile. The teaching assistant can check understanding by asking questions about the information that is being learnt such as why? What? When? How and so what? If they can answer these types of questions then it is likely they will have some understanding of the topic
  • Discussion – For some learners with dyslexia, discussion is the only way in which they can retain and understand information. Discussion can make the information more meaningful and can help the learner experiment with ideas and views. It is this experimentation that helps the learner extend their thinking and learning. For some learners discussion can be like thinking aloud and this should be encouraged.

Teaching strategies for reading

  • Paired reading and peer tutoring. These strategies can be useful because the child obtains feedback and support from either an adult or from peers.
  • Allow time to re-read – this is essential as often children with dyslexia have to read once for accuracy and a second time for comprehension.
  • Teach reading in a multi-sensory manner using visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile stimulation.
  • Provide opportunities for over-learning so that the child can use the word he/she is learning in as many different ways as possible.
  • It is important that the child has at least foundation skills in phonics and letter sounds but this should not be taught to the exclusion of meaning and language experience in context. This is particularly important as the child progresses through school. Most phonic programmes are aimed at younger children. Students who have only mastered the fundamentals of phonics can learn to read through language experience through what is known as top down approaches. This involves the use of meaning and context as the starting point rather than the individual decoding of words.
  • It is best to utilise a range of reading materials and programmes and not focus exclusively on one approach.
  • Taped books can be useful but they do need teacher input to ensure the child has appropriate understanding of the narrative.
  • It is best to use books that the child has selected and are based on his/her interests.
  • When providing written notes or instructions it is a good idea to intersperse these with visuals.
  • Larger print can be useful and the use of coloured backgrounds.

Dyslexia and information processing

  • Identify the student’s preferred learning style, particularly visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile preferences as these can be crucial in how information is presented. It is important to present new information to the learner’s preferred modality.
  • Present new information in small steps – this will ensure that the short-term memory does not become overloaded with information before it is fully consolidated.
  • New material will need to be repeatedly presented through over-learning. This does not mean that the repetition should be in the same form – rather it is important that it should be varied using as wide a range of materials and strategies as possible.
  • It is a good idea to present the key points at the initial stage of learning new material. This helps to provide a framework for the new material and can help to relate new information to previous knowledge.
  • Cognition.
  • Information should be related to previous knowledge. This ensures that concepts are developed and the information can be placed into a learning framework, or schema by the learner. Successful learning is often due to efficient organisation of information. It is important therefore to group information together and to show the connection between the two. For example, if the topic to be covered was the Harry Potter series of books, then concepts such as witchcraft and magic, and the words associated with these would need to be explained and some of the related ideas discussed. This should be done prior to reading the text.
  • Some specific memory strategies, such as mind mapping and mnemonics can be used to help the learner remember some of the key words or more challenging ideas. This can be done visually through mind mapping.
  • Output.
  • Often children with dyslexia have difficulty identifying the key points in new learning or in a text. This can be overcome by providing the child with these key points or words at the beginning stage of learning the new material. Additionally, the learner can acquire skills in this by practising using summaries. Each period of new learning should be summarised by the learner – this in itself helps to identify the key points.
  • It may also be beneficial to measure progress orally rather than written, particularly in-class continuous assessment. It is not unusual for children with dyslexia to be much more proficient orally than in written form. Oral presentation of information can therefore help to instil confidence. By contrast, often a written exercise can be damaging in terms of confidence, unless considerable preparation and planning have helped to ensure that some of the points indicated above are put into place.

Observing in the classroom

Attention

  • What is the length of attention span?
  • Under what conditions is attention enhanced?
  • What are the factors contributing to distractibility?
  • What is the level of attention or distractibility under different learning conditions?

Organisation

  • What are the organisational preferences?
  • What degree of structure is required?
  • How good is the organisation of work, desk, self?
  • What are the reactions to imposed organisation?

Sequencing

  • Is there the ability to follow sequences without aid?
  • Is there a general difficulty with sequencing (e.g. with work, carrying out instructions, words when reading, individual letters in written work)?

Interaction

  • What degree of interaction is there with peers, adults?
  • What is the preferred interaction: one-to-one, small groups or whole class?
  • How is the interaction sustained?

Language

  • Is language expressive?
  • Is the meaning accurately conveyed?
  • Is language spontaneous or prompted?
  • Is there appropriate use of natural breaks in speech?
  • Is there expressive language in different contexts (e.g. one-to-one, small group or class group)?
  • Are there errors, omissions and difficulties in conversation and responses (e.g. mispronunciations, questions have to be repeated or clarified)?

Comprehension

  • How does the child comprehend information?
  • What type of cues most readily facilitate comprehension?
  • Are schemas used?
  • What type of instructions are most easily understood: written, oral or visual?
  • How readily can knowledge be transferred to other areas?

Reading

  • What are the reading preferences: aloud, silent?
  • What type of errors crop up?

Visual

  • Is there the ability to discriminate between letters that look the same?
  • Is there inability to appreciate that the same letter may look different (e.g. ‘G’ or ‘g’?
  • Does omission or transposition of parts of a word occur (this could indicate a visual segmentation difficulty)?

Auditory

  • Are there difficulties in auditory discrimination?
  • Is there inability to hear consonant sounds in initial, medial or final position?
  • Is there auditory sequencing?
  • Is there auditory blending?
  • Is there an auditory segmentation?

Motivation/Initiative

  • What is the interest level of the child?
  • How is motivation increased, what kind of prompting and cueing is necessary?
  • To what extent does the child take responsibility for his or her own learning?
  • What kind of help is required?

Self-concept

  • What tasks are more likely to be tackled with confidence?
  • When is confidence low?
  • What is the level of self-concept and confidence in different contexts?

Relaxation

  • Is the child relaxed when learning?
  • Is there evidence of tension or relaxation?

Learning preferences

  • The following learning preferences need to be ascertained:
    • auditory
    • visual
    • oral
    • kinaesthetic
    • tactile
    • global
    • analytic