I recently read a blog post that was eye-opening for me. In the post “Seeing Dyslexia Through Three Sets of Lenses,” author Chris Murray writes that he didn’t realize that he was dyslexic until his son was diagnosed with dyslexia in kindergarten. He quotes a shocking statistic from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity that estimates that “20 percent of the population is dyslexic, representing 80-90 percent of all those with learning disabilities; and almost 50% of prison inmates have dyslexia!” Mr. Murray goes on to say how important it is to spot the signs and to use that knowledge to empower students to self-advocate and succeed.
What is dyslexia?
My colleagues at ReadTheory wrote an article entitled “The Importance of Dyslexia Screening in K-12 Education.” It helps to define dyslexia as so much more than “flipping letters.” Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the way language is processed by the brain. For Mr. Murray, once his son was diagnosed with dyslexia, it was easy to see that his grandfather passed it on to his father who then passed it on to him.
Dyslexia has no connection to intelligence, and it is important for students who are diagnosed with dyslexia to understand that they are not stupid or lazy. The Yale Center has a great open letter to people who are diagnosed with dyslexia. I love that it points out that dyslexics may not be able to win the spelling bee but will often be the ones to solve problems because they don’t think like everyone else!
Early Identification of Dyslexia
There are 9 signs of dyslexia. They range from difficulty recognizing letters and words to limited fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. Dyslexia not only affects reading skills but dyslexics also struggle with written expression that presents as poor grammar and incoherent sentences. Screening can help identify students.
Another interesting screening tool can be found on the Made by Dyslexia website. I took the test and found that I am not likely to be dyslexic, but I did find out which dyslexic thinking skills are my strengths. The test measures six thinking skills: exploring, imagining, communicating, reasoning, visualizing, and connecting. This is such a powerful tool to use with older students to help them see what they are good at!
In fact, the website is chock full of resources for all things dyslexic! It offers free training for teachers, and it has a great kid-friendly page for students to identify their “xtraordinary superpowers!”
Reading Comprehension and Dyslexics
Dyslexics struggle with reading comprehension. Because they spend so much time deciphering words they are reading, they often are unable to spend the time necessary to understand what the words actually mean.
Before I go into ways to help dyslexic students (or really any student who is struggling with reading) here are some things NOT to do: Do not ask students to read aloud. Do not ask students to copy things from the board. Do not stress them out by stressing fluency. That said, here are some ways to help improve comprehension skills.
Tips for Teaching Sight Words
Here are 12 tips for learning sight words. I love the suggestions to connect the words with a visual image or using other senses by tracing the word in the air or writing it in the sand. Author Kelli Johnson also encourages teachers to use word search puzzles to build students’ awareness of how often sight words are used. This site has over 150 free sight word worksheets.
The article “Five Tips for Teaching Sight Words” also has excellent strategies that are easy to implement. The first strategy is to point sight words out in books as you read them. Other ideas include creating a word wall and using online typing courses with students. Typing improves muscle memory and adds the tactile element as well. Did you know that there is actually a font called “dyslexie”? Read on to learn more about this!
Encourage Free Reading
Find high-interest age-appropriate books that students will want to read. Simple Word Books offers decodable chapter books. Their website also offers a free phonics workbook. The books are paperback and come with comprehension and phonics workbooks.
For older students, you can find books at or below students’ Lexile level (as measured by ReadTheory). Go to Lexile.com and select “Lexile Tools” and “Find a Book.” You can search by grade, Lexile level, and interest. Well-loved books and stories that are read and reread are beneficial to a dyslexic student to build fluency and confidence.
Accommodations and Strategies for Content Learning
The International Dyslexia Association prepared a fact sheet for accommodations to use with dyslexic students. You are probably already using many of these accommodations with other struggling readers: simplifying directions, chunking material, and providing a glossary and focused reading guides.
However, there are some things on the list that you may not have tried before such as: breaking down instructions into clear step-by-step directions and simultaneously combining verbal and visual information. A simple idea that I hadn’t thought of is to have students turn lined paper vertically for math to keep the numbers lined up. Try it out!
What about older students?
As Mr. Murray says in his blog post, “Dyslexia can’t be “cured” – it is lifelong.” As educators, we need to help our students find ways to lead thriving lives regardless of the challenges they face.
Yale offers several wonderful “Tips from Students” to do just that. Students provide tips to use time wisely as well provide examples of tools to mitigate challenges surrounding dyslexia. They also encourage their peers to use technology and provide a link to dictation software. Reading their written work aloud, recording it, and listening to it later make it easier for students to spot their errors.
While you’re visiting the site, find the success stories of others with dyslexia. You can find the stories of entertainers, sports personalities, and even a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist! The stories are very inspiring and will help the students realize they are not alone.
One more inspiring story!
Christian Boer has been challenged by dyslexia his entire life. For his graduation project in Graphic Design at the University of Arts Utrecht, he developed the Dyslexie font. Christian researched how the shape of letters can increase readability and decrease word turning and letter swapping. The Dyslexie font has 9 unique features that help to solve these problems. A variety of products are available for purchase, but there are also free products and the opportunity to be a “lifetime” member!
The website also has a PDF entitled “37 Symptoms of Dyslexia” written in dyslexie font, of course! This is a great resource to get students diagnosed as early as possible. As Mr. Murray wrote in his blog post, it is important to spot the signs and get students the support they need. Then, use that knowledge to empower students to self-advocate and succeed.