Monday, March 31, 2014

Teaching Kids with Dyslexia

When you go to school to become a special education teacher, you learn so much about the laws, IEP's, teaching reading, and generally ways to accommodate students with special needs. There is one slight problem with this system. Teachers are rarely taught specific strategies for specific disabilities.

With a change in schools, my students are now a mix of high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder and students with dyslexia. Having a strong background in ASD, I've spent this year focusing on my skills for teaching with dyslexia in mind. It's made me realize just how little I was taught about dyslexia in my teacher training. I'd like to take some time to show you the things that have helped me to most when teaching kids with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is more than b's and d's
People often think of mixing b and d as a sign of dyslexia, but it's so much more than that. It's mixing p, q, g too. It's making 5's and 3's backward. It's writing "51" instead of "15" on a math test. It's writing a completely wrong sight word, but spelling it perfectly. It's switching one sight word for another when reading a story such as "on" for "or."

Dyslexia is Neurological
It's all in the brain! Did you know kids with dyslexia use the right side of their brain to read? Typically developing brains use the front and back of the left brain when reading. People with dyslexia use the front of the left brain, but not the back. They compensate by using the right side of the brain. 

The often see words as shapes or ideas. They may switch "house" for "home" because they mean the same thing and start with the same initial letters. Kids with dyslexia are often very visual learners. Some of my most severely dyslexic kids are the most artistic! Their drawings are unbelievable! Plus this makes it easier for them to memorize things by sight. 

The RULES of Reading
Students with dyslexia need to learn the explicit rules for reading and what causes letters to make different sounds. The English language is very confusing, and students with reading disabilities need to know exactly what causes letters to make so many sounds. Think of it as phonics instruction on steroids! I teach rules such as when to double l, s, f, and z at the end of words. I also teach my kids to scoop sentences into phrases to help them see the pausing and tone within stories. We mark up words to show their spelling patterns such as closed syllables and vowel-consonant-e. Three of the best programs are Wilson FUNdations, Wilson Reading System, and Slingerland. They all teach the rules, letter formation, and use multi-sensory strategies for reading instruction. 

Give Them Strategies
The best thing for a kid with dyslexia is to KNOW they have dyslexia. I know due to confidentiality this isn't always possible, but you can always tell a kid they learn differently. You can also make them very aware of their struggles and teach them strategies to overcome them. My kids all know they switch up their letters and I always cue kids to "check your letters!" or "check your b's and d's!!" during assignments and tests. This visual from Come Together Kids is by far my favorite!! The best thing is the kids can use it anywhere because they always have their hands, and they may not always have a letter chart. The kids use their fists to make a "bed" and a "pig" in the middle of class almost every day.

I've also developed this set of number and letter charts to help my kids know the difference between letters that go to the left and those that go toward the right.
Alphabet & Number Lines for Students with Dyslexia

What Can I do?? Where do I learn more?
1) READ! Overcoming Dyslexia is one of the most highly recommended books about dyslexia and is a must read! 

2) Change your font! There was a very smart set of researchers who discovered some fonts are easier to read for kids with dyslexia and he developed a font specifically for people with dyslexia called Dyslexie. I've had 2 adult friends with dyslexia test out the same paragraph with a traditional font versus Dyslexie and they told me there was a noticeable difference!

3) Change the paper! Students with dyslexia often struggle with visual-spacial awareness. Writing on the lines is exceptionally difficult. Brightlines makes paper with both color and raised lines. Students stay in the blue area for lower case letters, plus the lines are raised so they can feel when it's time to stop and not drop below the line. It comes in yellow too. 

4) Block out sound! Kids with dyslexia often have auditory processing struggles as well. Blocking out additional sounds can help kids focus during concentration tasks. My students know they can pull out headphones any time, as long as I'm not in the middle of direct instruction.

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