Dyslexia… 5 things a teacher needs to know about working with pupils with dyslexia…
I have recently been doing some workshops with parents, they have been really successful and I am really starting to raise the profile of dyslexia and its hidden difficulties in the area where I live. After each workshop I have been asking parents for anonymous feedback on various aspects of the workshop but also on what they feel their biggest barriers with school are. This weeks workshop, where 21 parents attended, saw 21 forms all with similar answers for this question. Every single parent felt there was a lack of knowledge and understanding of how dyslexia impacts their child on a daily basis in the classroom. Those forms were the inspiration for this post. As a dyslexic myself and as a specialist teacher of dyslexia this post outlines 5 things that a teacher needs to know, and that if aware of could really make a difference to a dyslexics life…
1.) What you see is not what you get…
You might see an outwardly confident talkative child who appears to ask a million and one questions about the smallest of details. They are seeking reassurance because they don’t really understand and they are not really confident. They need you to tell them they can do it, that they are great and that you believe they can do it.
You might see a child task avoiding, looking out of the window appearing disengaged.
They are overwhelmed and unable to process any more information. This is not intentional but a way of managing the amount of information they take in. When something is full, it must be emptied or it spills out and is wasted. A dyslexic switches off to try to regulate the overflow and to try and be in control of the spillage!
You may see confrontational, short tempered or point blank refusal. This behaviour is not to annoy you or something they can control… They are scared of failing, so are simply protecting themselves from further disappointment by not engaging in something they believe they will fail at.
2.) Dyslexics are their own hardest critics…
Never tell a pupil with dyslexia to work harder or that they have not worked hard enough.
We don’t need you to tell us that because we always know when something isn’t good enough or when we have done something wrong. In fact even when we complete work which is near perfect we can only see the flaws. This is because when you are experiencing dyslexia you are intelligent and are constantly aware of what others are doing around them, constantly watching to check they are not falling behind. When dyslexis don’t understand, they are often too ashamed to ask for help, because they are confused as to why they are finding it difficult or why they can’t understand or complete the given task.
Praise the positive, tell them which bits you like, ask what bits they feel need improving. Only then gently question and coach them on how they could improve. If you push too hard you will break them not because they are weak but because they are too strong for their own good, creating barriers to protect themselves, that will eventually become their downfall.
3.) A 20 minute intervention a day will not fix it…
Part of minimising the impact of dyslexia is to provide good quality remedial teaching and intervention. Pupils with Dyslexia are not only dyslexic during this intervention time. Pupils with Dyslexia are dyslexic ALL the time. This picture illustrates beautifully what is really going on with a person experiencing dyslexia.
(Right resources 2013 J Beetham)
These things affect every moment of everyday. Realistically not every lesson can be adapted or delivered to meet the needs of 30 individual children. However by simply being aware of the difficulties a pupil with dyslexia faces Teachers can manage situations to stop them from escalating and simple questions, reassurance and a smile will go further than you may realise!
4.) pupils with Dyslexia are often scared to take risks in the classroom…
Not many of us like to feel uneasy or unsure. Not many of us like to feel anxious about getting something wrong or could cope with continuous failure. Continuous failure, and up hill climbing would get to all of us eventually. Pupils with dyslexia will always or often play it safe. This will be particularly apparent when writing. You may notice it in the vocabulary they use. When a person with dyslexia talks they generally use varied, expressive vocabulary which is rich and interesting. When looking at their writing you may see simple vocabulary and basic sentences. This is because if you have dyslexia you find it difficult to spell… Even with remediation this will always be an area of difficulty but we won’t waste working memory capacity on spelling a complex word if they can quickly find a simpler replacement.Pupile. With Dyslexia are also often reluctant to try anything new for fear of making themselves look stupid or being able to do it immediately perfectly! In order to be a successful independent learner we need to be able to take calculated risks and make mistakes. This is a fact and the only way we learn. Employing growth mindset and a positive ethos around mistake making and embedding a culture of mistakes as starting points and the key to learning will see a dyslexic thrive. A dyslexics strength is their ability to think outside the box and find the seemingly impossible argument or answers to questions. If you can build their confidence and self belief they will take you places you never even dreamed were possible… You do this by believing, nurturing, respecting and enlisting your trust in them. They need you to support them and coach them through then one day they will fly!
5.) pupils with Dyslexia will often never let on if they don’t understand!
I have worked with enough people and pupils with dyslexia now to know how they work! (Plus I’m dyslexic too so know ALL the tricks!) You explain a new concept, you check their understanding and they smile and tell you they have it… But behind that smile is panic, desperation and disappointment, you know it but just can’t fix it! That’s not to say they can’t learn new concepts, they are very capable but if it is not presented in the right way they can find it difficult to make sense of it.
Panic because they have to go and do a piece of work in a moment and they have no idea what they are supposed to do! Desperation because you have explained it to them 3 times and they still don’t get it and they are really not understanding why and are frantically flicking through prior knowledge in their brain, trying to link new learning to it hoping they might be able to make some sense of it. Disappointment because once again they feel slow to understand and once again they are last to get the concept and once again they just don’t seem to be getting it!
When you notice this simply stop talking at them… Ask them to show you what they understand… No matter how small… This allows them to show you what they know, but also allows you to coach them through the problem so that hopefully they can make sense of it themselves and make the connections needed.
These things that a teacher needs to know are not difficult to fit into a school day. They are not asking a teacher to plan an entirely different curriculum or activity. More importantly a person with dyslexia does not need entirely different curriculum coverage or activity, they need quality intervention alongside understanding, empathy and reassurance and their confidence will grow and once their confidence has grown they can often do the rest themselves. As a person with dyslexia they may not need you to make a million adaptations they just need you to smile at them, tell them how hard you can see they are working and acknowledge its not always easy for them. Dyslexia should not be an excuse for low attainment or slow progress. Creating the right environment will see people with dyslexia thrive and drive the learning of others forward, Pupils with dyslexia are your greatest assets as a class teacher let them show you what they are capable of!
Author of ‘Don’t forget to Smile, A memoir uncovering the hidden difficulties of dyslexia.’
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