Dyslexia Teaching FAQs
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is classified as a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) which means that a student might have normal or above average intelligence but have difficulties with acquiring specific skills. It is often described as an unusual balance of skills which is caused by specific cognitive processing difficulties.
Coming from the Greek word for "difficulty with words", Dyslexia is a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. It is a persistent condition. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of:
- speed of processing
- short term memory
- spoken language and motor skills.
There may also be difficulties with auditory and/or visual perception. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.
Dyslexia can occur despite normal intellectual ability and teaching. It is constitutional in origin, part of one's make-up and independent of socio-economic or language background.
Some students have very well developed creative skills and/or interpersonal skills, others have strong oral skills. Some have no outstanding talents. All have strengths.
- phonetic spellings
- surprising lapses in literacy and lack of confidence with the written or printed word
- lack of coherence in writing
- inappropriate choice of words
- evidence of stress where reading and writing are needed under pressure
- difficulty in meeting deadlines
- short term memory problems which might affect note-taking, reading, writing and organisation
- difficulties with sequencing information
- misreading and misunderstanding of questions
- handwriting which is often difficult to read
- an erratic standard of writing
- lapses in punctuation
- evidence that proof reading skills are not working well
- letter transpositions
- endings/plurals, past tense '-ed' tense endings omitted
- difficulties with note-taking, essay planning and general organisation and time-keeping.
Most often ignored are the difficulties with planning and personal organisation. Because of this dyslexic students are sometimes judged as being lazy, unmotivated, sloppy or careless. In fact nothing could be further from the truth; the final product (usually word processed work for assessment) is very unlikely to reflect the amount of time and effort that has gone into it.
How can a student be formally declared Dyslexic?
First of all students will need an assessment by an Educational Psychologist and following that they are likely to need an Access Centre report which will identify their technological and other study needs. The National Federation of Access Centres (external link) can provide information on all their centres.
Recommendations for extra time in examinations and course work and other reasonable adjustments usually form part of the Educational Psychologist's report.
What adjustments should I make when assessing a dyslexic student's work?
Deciding what adjustments are made when assessing dyslexic students is best addressed within individual departments. It is very difficult for support staff to give subject specific guidance on these matters. It is likely that if a piece of work is full of mistakes (spelling, grammar, organisation) which are persistent then the student may be dyslexic. It is not usually the case that mistakes in the work of a dyslexic person are the result of carelessness. They may not be able to spot spelling errors which the spell checker has not picked up.
It may be that some adjustments will need to be made when the assessment is being designed. General guidance from a number of institutions suggests the following:
- agree with the student at the outset if any adjustments need to be made and then agree a contract for drafting and submitting the work
- mark for content and ideas
- ignore spelling, punctuation and grammar so long as meaning is not totally obscured. Students should be made aware that this will happen
- always inform students beforehand if spelling, punctuation and grammar are to be taken into account
- allow some extra time for proof-reading; a draft can be handed in by the deadline date
- if possible, allow the student an opportunity to explain any lack of clarity in the writing
- for a student to make any improvement specific feedback should be given. It is best if this is positive with plenty of practical examples.
How can I help a dyslexic student prepare for coursework?
Opportunities for students to discuss their anxieties and confusions as well as their interest in coursework will be helpful. In addition, think about providing the following guidance:
- clear oral and written instructions with opportunities for students to check their understanding of the requirements of course work will be helpful
- go over key words in titles of assignments
- model answers which highlight key expectations of specific pieces of writing are useful
- shortened and annotated reading lists will be welcome - dyslexic students invariably find reading a slow, laborious process
- encourage students to talk to library staff to assist them in finding books and then allow them, where appropriate, to borrow books for a longer period of time
- marking guides can help students prioritise their time more successfully
- constructive feedback may enable students to make some improvement
- a draft of written work could be submitted where feedback on content will be given. It may be useful to check if there are any adjustments which may need to be made to the coursework brief for the student to be fairly assessed.
- provision of notes and reading resources in an alternative format of the student's own choice (types of altformats)
- provision of lecture notes in advance and any other essential information like maps and charts. Very often, students will prefer non-white paper, blue markers on white boards
- summary points are also helpful in notes
- overhead projection slides and PowerPoint presentation slides should be brief and clearly spaced with paper copies available. They should be left up long enough for students to write down and absorb the information
- key words, dates, names etc. should be said out loud
- lecturers should provide an overview, use signposts to indicate structure and pause for oral summary and note-taking
- the use of concrete examples, demonstration and analogy where appropriate is very helpful
- repeating things in different ways can also help.
Are computers useful?
Yes, computers can be very useful, there are also specialist software tools available to help with reading and writing. Dyslexic learners need to understand how word processing applications work (such as Microsoft 'Word'). When using computers and word processors it is useful to remember that:
- It is a page that can be moved up and down.
- It is not necessary to use 'line return'.
- Spell-check is helpful but not infallible.
- Grammar-check can be downright confusing.
- Terms such as 'icon', 'toolbar', 'dot' as in 'dot com' will need explaining.
- Presentation generally improves but basic keyboarding/mouse skills need to be taught.
- Show undo button and shortcuts: home, end, page up, page down, ...
- Student should use at least 14 point font to facilitate error correction.
Keyboard input can be a multi-sensory activity: look at the word, say the letters as your fingers do the typing. Tools such as Dolphin EasyTutor can help with this as text is read aloud from the screen as the user types.
What about Copyright Legislation, am I able to create alternative format information?
If your school or college only makes accessible copies for the use of its own staff and students, and doesn't lend or distribute them to others, you do not need a full CLA VIP Licence. The making of accessible copies for your staff and students will be covered by an extension to the existing CLA photocopying licence held by your school or local authority. Read more about the CLA and copyright guidelines.