In any classroom across the country there are children with many different learning styles, and sometimes, different learning needs. It can be a challenge to meet those needs, and differentiate for each child that may need additional support. This is particularly true when supporting neurodiverse children with a diagnosed learning need such as dyslexia.
Dyslexia is defined as a learning difficulty that affects literacy skills, such as writing, reading, and spelling and according to the Equality Act 2010, it is identified as a disability, because both adults and children suffering from this are unable to fulfill their potential. Dyslexia affects 10% of children across the country, and with a spectrum of needs that may vary from basic spelling and word retrieval issues, right through to short-term working memory problems and huge difficulties engaging with reading and writing on any level. Sometimes, dyslexic children can have other problems such as colour-blindness or hypermobility. Because each child’s experience of dyslexia is so different, there is no one-size-fits all approach, but there are things you can be aware of when supporting dyslexic learners in the classroom.
Creating teaching resources with accessibility in mind will help engage the whole class in learning activities. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) suggests that adopting best practice for dyslexic readers has the advantage of making all written communication easier on the eye for everyone . This includes using specific fonts, styles and background colours to enable dyslexic readers to ‘read’ more easily. The BDA advise using sans serif fonts, such as Arial and Comic Sans, as letters can appear less crowded; font size should be 12-14 point or equivalent; larger character and line spacing helps with readability. In addition, avoiding underlining and italicising is helpful as this can make the text appear to run together; instead, use bold for emphasis. Sentence case is best, as use of capital letters and small caps can be less familiar to and harder to read. The BDA also suggest using single colour backgrounds, avoiding patterns or pictures or surrounds and in particular, consider alternatives to white backgrounds for paper, computer and visual aids such as whiteboards as white can appear too dazzling; cream or a soft pastel colour works best. Other considerations include using images to support text; pictograms and graphics can help to locate and support information in the text.
Making small adjustments to how you create content may go unnoticed, but will make an enormous difference to dyslexic children, helping them engage more effectively with lessons and activities.
There are other adjustments that can be made that will support dyslexic children to engage with learning in the classroom. Place children near the front of the class so they can clearly see the teacher, the whiteboard and easily access help if they need it. Break down instructions and repeat as necessary, with visual and written prompts to support, alongside a glossary of words and phrases that may be needed for a particular activity. Recognising that whilst the written output from a child with dyslexia may not match that of his classmates or meet requirements, this does not mean they lack ability. Far from it! Removing the stress of writing things down can be a great way of helping a dyslexic learner get their ideas out of their heads. If time permits, scribe their ideas for them, or even record them on an audio device – and encourage their parents or carers to do the same at home. You can also invite children to tell stories through illustrations instead. You’ll find you have budding storytellers in the classroom you didn’t know were there – and you’ll restore the joy of creative writing to a child who had previously found it too hard.
For children with dyslexia, reading can become a frustrating experience, with little joy to be found as they struggle to engage with the words on the page. Giving children with dyslexia time to process and read at their own pace will greatly help, as will not asking them to read aloud when they lack confidence and the ability to do so. Dyslexic children often do not want to draw attention to their struggles or ask for help, so giving them opportunities to have 1:1 practice with a reading volunteer will be of great value. Encourage them to read at their own level, regardless of their classmates’ reading ability. Tap into their interests through all forms of reading materials including chapter books, picture books, non- fiction, magazines and comics to help remind them of the joy to be found in reading. And don’t forget reading stories aloud and listening via audiobooks offers a wonderful route into reading for dyslexic learners, democratizing the reading process so they can access stories even when they may be beyond their physical reading ability.