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Identifying and Helping Students with Dyslexia Soar

Visual, auditory, hands-on, the list goes on and on in terms of how students learn. In our classroom, there can be a large spectrum of learners. Some students need notes while others need modeling or hands-on learning. Digital centers will work for some while others will flounder if they don’t have the tangible pieces in front of them. Because we know there are multiple types of learners in our classroom, we need to be prepared for all types of learners through the use of training and research. This week and next week we are going to focus on helping students with dyslexia.

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I had the privilege to sit down and talk with a good friend of mine Trina Deboree from Teaching and Learning. Not only is Trina an educator, she is also a parent of a student with dyslexia. If that weren’t enough to make her expert, Trina lives with dyslexia every day. With all of her amazing experience, Trina blessed us with a wonderful conversation about students with dyslexia.

How to Identify Dyslexia

Helping students with dyslexia first starts with identifying it. We often think the main sign of dyslexia is reversals. Students who mistake their b’s and their d’s. However, it goes deeper than that. Trina shared five different “signs” that a student might be battling the effects of dyslexia in your classroom.

Helping Students with Dyslexia and Spelling Issues

One thing we might not think of when it comes to dyslexia is spelling issues in general. This academic hardship goes hand-in-hand with phonemic awareness. When students struggle with phonetics, they struggle with spelling especially when the words don’t follow the typical rules. In addition, most of the time we get our spelling words by looking up at the board. The disconnect from looking at the board to at the paper can be difficult. Instead, you can help students with dyslexia by providing side-by-side notes.

Difficulty Writing

Because dyslexia can sometimes look like ADD or ADHD, students might have a hard time writing down their thoughts. Trina describes being able to explain everything very well to her teachers. However, she always felt dumb because she couldn’t write it down. Students with dyslexia can struggle with taking the words out of their heads and writing it down. In this way, having alternative ways to convey ideas would be a great way to help students with dyslexia.

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Inconsistency in Performance

We all have “those” days. The days where nothing goes right and we can’t seem to do anything right. For students with dyslexia, “those” days might come more often. Soaring one day and then plummeting the next can be a big sign of dyslexia amongst students. Being aware of this can be incredibly important in identifying dyslexia.

Phonemic Awareness

Learning the sounds of letters and how they work together can be trying for students with dyslexia. Because the letters fit together somewhat like a complicated puzzle with several exceptions to the rules (whoever said su- makes the sh- sound?), it can be hard for students with dyslexia to put words together phonetically. In addition, this makes it hard for them to pull the sounds apart when trying to sound out a word.

Memorization Malfunction

Finally, another sign a student might be dyslexic comes from memorizing problems. Sight words, high frequency words, and basic math functions that are often used in classrooms don’t always click for students with dyslexia. Having a word wall might be somewhat helpful; however, it’s important to note these students might need to see the words and functions in action in order to totally understand them.

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Helping Students with Dyslexia

There are many ways that helping students with dyslexia will help not only the student but the teacher as well. Helping students with dyslexia will benefit the students in an obvious way. When we recognize dyslexia in a student and then utilize the tools to help them, we are giving them the resources they need to learn. Helping students with dyslexia helps the teacher because it provides an answer for probably some behavior or concentration issues the student might have been having. So, how do we help a student with dyslexia?

Provide Guided Notes

Helping students will dyslexia can start with simple guided notes. Remember when Trina said it was hard for her to look up at the board and then look down at her paper and take notes? Guided notes takes care of that. What else does it take care of? It takes care of the extra time it will take a student with dyslexia to write down all the notes. This, in turn, takes care of wait time for students who are a little bit faster.

Build Confidence

When people hear the word “dyslexia,” they usually don’t always think “I’m incredibly smart!” Trina talks about not only feeling like she was “dumb” herself, but also her own son and daughter and their struggles. As a family, they worked hard to talk about the different kinds of “smart” they are.

For example, Trina has the ability to picture how things are going to happen before they begin. Not everyone can do that! It’s important to find these super powers and build them up. This is also a big reason to get rid of any data wall you have in your classroom. While this can be helpful for students who are at the top or close to another student, it is not effective for those at the bottom. If you’re saying you don’t use names, believe me everyone still knows who is at the bottom.

Admit Your Mistakes

One of the biggest ways we can start helping students with dyslexia is by admitting when we make a mistake. Have you yelled at a student because they were fidgeting, making too much noise, or acting like they needed a break? We have ALL done this! It’s important to admit we were wrong if we find out the reason we couldn’t sit still was a learning thing or because something was bothering the student like their tag. Sensory issues can be big for students with dyslexia!

Constantly Evaluate

When you are working and helping a student with dyslexia, it’s important to constantly be learning and evaluating. As you learn more about the student’s superpowers, you’ll be able to help him/her a whole lot more! In addition, you’ll be able to help his/her next teacher and even his/her parents. It’s so important to always be adjusting and reflecting in your classroom.

Provide Appropriate Accommodations

Some students who have dyslexia need accommodations from your classroom expectations, center expectations, or any other expectation you have in your classroom. Sensory rooms and corners have become a hot topic right now for students. 

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What are sensory rooms for? They are there as a place for students to go as needed to calm down and get rid of some of the excess energy. You can also consider where the student is sitting if they need to stand up or move around. Another idea is to think about flexible seeing in your classroom. There are so many ways you can accommodate so you’re helping students with dyslexia jump some of the “normal” hurdles they struggle with like sitting still. This can be having a calm space or modeling calming techniques as well. 

Dyslexia can be difficult for students to cope with because of the “behaviors” and “struggles” those who have dyslexia might face. As their teachers, we need to make sure we are educating ourselves on dyslexia from an educator and parent perspective. Why? Because it is our job!

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Statistically, one in ten teachers have students who are dyslexic in their classroom and we need to make sure we are serving those students as well by helping them build confidence and meeting them where they are. If you want to know more about dyslexia, consider reading The Gift of Dyslexia which was highly recommended by Trina. And remember, while some may see dyslexia as a disability, it is actually a super power that a select few get to experience. 

Until Next Time…

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