Friday, 27 August 2010

Supporting Learners with Dyslexia

It doesn’t matter what age our learners are, there is always a chance that as trainers we will be working with a learner who has dyslexia. This is nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, we should relish the opportunity and learn from the experience as a way of developing our own skills as trainers. Of course, it’s always useful to have some strategies and training methods in place before hand and this article will help to prepare for that occasion.

What is Dyslexia?
Before trying to support learners with dyslexia, it will help to understand a little about it. The word dyslexia is a Greek word meaning “difficulty with words.” It is a learning disability characterised by problems in expressive or receptive, oral and written language. Problems may emerge in reading, spelling, writing or listening.

Dyslexics are right brain dominant, which means they take a global approach, looking at the whole thing. People who do not suffer from dyslexia are left brain dominant and use linear progression being able to deal with things one at a time.

Dyslexia is not a sign of low intelligence. The problem is not behavioural, psychological, motivational or social, and it is not a problem with vision. Dyslexics do not, as is commonly believed, “see backwards.”

Dyslexia results from differences in the structure and function of the brain. People with dyslexia are unique; each having individual strengths and weaknesses. There are more than 40 different types of dyslexia.

The following list includes some of the problems a dyslexic learner might experience:
  • Problems with oral language
  • Problems with symbols, numbers and sequences
  • Problems with time and organisation
  • Problems with written language
  • Poor short-term auditory memory
  • Visual and/or auditory difficulties
  • Problems with expression
  • Phonological (sound) processing deficit
  • Inaccurate self-image (lazy, stupid, careless, etc)
Supporting Dyslexic Learners
Adopting the following methods will greatly aid dyslexic learners as well as being a benefit to others with learning difficulties.

  • Simplify your instructions – be specific/be clear
  • Provide instructions in different formats (written, visual)
  • Encourage diary use
  • Give new information more than once
  • Work on one problem at a time
  • Work to the individual’s strengths
  • Give plenty of time
  • Ask for verbal clarification to ensure understanding
  • Provide visual directions to new places/venues, using references (church on the corner, etc)
  • Explain relevance and purpose of instructions
  • Use analogy/real experiences
  • Use real things to explain concepts
  • Use coloured paper for all handouts (pastel shade paper reduces the contrast between background and text, making it much easier to read)
  • Provide learners with boiled sweets or similar while working as this is a great concentration aid
  • Offer a variety of different pens and pencils to encourage learners to find the type that suits them best (thin pens, thick pens, pens with rubber grips, etc)
Strategies for Developing Reading Skills
The following strategies will help all learners who have difficulties with reading. Always use relevant materials and try to incorporate reading into as many activities as possible. Make sure you always define key words you might be using. Get your learners to read in pairs and encourage the use of newspapers and magazines. Encourage dictionary/thesaurus use to increase the understanding of words (an electronic dictionary/thesaurus is a great tool for this) and never assume a poor reader can decode a new word. Tell them the word first, then look at how it can be decoded.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in numeracy. Learners with dyslexia and learners with dyscalculia share the same characteristics. Many dyslexics are also below average in numeracy due to confusions with the terminology and poor reading skills. Therefore, many of the strategies mentioned earlier will work in this situation.

Technology for Dyslexics
Dyslexic learners find they are more able to spell and write freely when using a keyboard; being able to see what they are writing and then edit in private is very useful and supports self esteem. But do not assume that a dyslexic learner will learn mouse control and keyboard skills easily; patience will be needed.

Using word processing software such as Microsoft Word, you can alter the colour of the background and font as well as the font style. Spend some time with the learner getting them to choose the best combination of colours. It will also benefit all learners if the red (spelling) and green (grammar) lines are turned off in Microsoft Word. This stems the flow of thought when learners are writing because they spend more time concentrating on their spelling and grammar rather than getting words on the page. You will, of course, need to ensure learners use the Spellchecker after they have finished to any correct errors.

There are also software programs available that will read back what is written on the screen and this is an excellent aid for dyslexic learners.

Suitable Fonts
Many people with dyslexia find that the readability of a piece of text varies greatly depending upon the font used. Serif fonts (such as Times New Roman) with their “ticks” and “tails” tend to obscure the shapes of letters, so sans-serif fonts, which are much cleaner in appearance, are generally preferred. Verdana, which was commissioned by Microsoft with the aim of making on-screen reading of web pages easier, is a good font to use. The only problem with this font is that the line spacing is very tight. Trebuchet is ideal because it has short descenders, but reasonably long ascenders, a small body size and generous spacing. Arial is a common font and readily available on most computers, while Comic Sans has become somewhat of a preferred font among dyslexic people.

Useful Websites
You can obtain a host of useful information from the following websites:

British Dyslexia Association

Dyslexia Scotland

Dyslexia Institute

Dyslexia Action

Being Dyslexic


Crossbow Education

I hope this article has been of some use to and that you will consider putting some of these strategies in place to assist your dyslexic learners. If you would like more advice on supporting all learners with additional needs you might consider attending our 2-day Train the Trainer course.

Visit Gary Bedingfield Training Services website at