Over one million UK pupils are dyslexic, so it pays for anyone considering teaching in the UK to understand more about this disability and how to support pupils to achieve their full potential.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a print disability, meaning that pupils have difficulty in reading and interpreting the meaning from text. To a dyslexic, words may seem to move around the page, making them difficult to read and decode. This can have a big impact on a child's ability to learn, without the right support from teachers and other education professionals.
Dyslexia is a ‘specific learning disability’, which means that only certain skills are affected. Although pupils may struggle to read or spell, their ability to learn is not impaired, as long as they are supported to work around the issues that the disability gives them.
How can you help?
Giving a verbal outline of any task that you give to the class benefits the whole class, not just the dyslexic but it will also give them a head start in getting on with their work once they’re back at the table. The same is true of homework; talk your dyslexic pupils through the task and make sure that they've understood it. If they need to copy a task into their homework diary or similar, run through it to make sure they've done so correctly. It may also be worth setting the child up with a ‘homework buddy’ who they can get in touch with if they get into difficulty when they are at home.
Give the dyslexic pupil a different version of the worksheet you prepare for the rest of the class. Keep it clean and simple and remove any unnecessary text or graphics so there is less for the pupil to read. Keep sentences short and clear, and the layout of the piece clean and uncluttered.
A well-placed graphic, diagram or table can help simplify the material into a form that is easier for the dyslexic pupil to understand. For younger pupils this could be, for example, a cartoon which explains the meaning of the word, while older pupils would benefit from diagrams which present the information in a concise manner.
There are a number of fonts especially designed for use by dyslexic pupils. Download one of these, such as OpenDyslexic, (which is free) and install for use with Microsoft Word or other software. The OpenDyslexic font is heavier at the bottom, and has proved to be useful for pupils who find text swims on the page.
There is increasing evidence that using tinted glasses, coloured overlays or coloured paper can help dyslexics immensely. The theory behind this is that the colours help mitigate the symptoms of Meares-Irlen Syndrome, a collection of visual perceptual problems that are common in dyslexic people. Finding the right colour for an individual can make text clearer and more comfortable to read.
If the pupil receives support from a TA or similar, then having them read out the work is helpful. If they don’t, or for older pupils, there are several ‘text reader’ applications available. Giving a student access to headphones and a text reader fosters their independence, giving them the ability to work around their disability and get on with their work as other pupils do.
If you're using a blackboard or electronic whiteboard, then change colours at the end of each line. This can help a dyslexic pupil orient themselves in the text when they are copying from the board.
Poor spelling in dyslexics is not a sign of low intelligence. If you are giving spellings to dyslexic pupils then give them a short list of structured words, for example based around a particular spelling rule. Dyslexics are usually unable to correct their spelling while writing, but they can be helped to spot errors in the editing process.
There are many sites online where you can download free material to help support dyslexic pupils more effectively. If you begin building your own resource library, you will be better placed to support any other pupils with the disability that you might come across during your teaching career.
If you compile resources in your classroom for supply teachers, make sure that they are made aware of any pupils with additional needs. If they are aware of which pupils need these resources it will help smooth the process for you supply teacher and avoid the pupil feeling anxious about having to make a new staff member aware of their needs.
Supporting dyslexic pupils is a complex subject, and worthy of extra study. We hope that this guide will get you started on the right path to teaching in the UK.