5 Strategies to Accommodate Students with Dyslexia

Dyslexia is one of the most common learning issues, but it can often be hard to pinpoint for a variety of reasons. First off, experts tend to define dyslexia differently so there is no singular definition that is clear to all parents, educators, and professionals. Second, dyslexia occurs on a spectrum, meaning that there can be extremely mild cases of it or very severe cases and everywhere in between. What appears to be disobedience during reading time may, in fact, be dyslexia, and in the same way, severe dyslexia may be thought of as learning disabilities or other intelligence-related problems.

Defining Dyslexia

It is estimated that somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of students have some level of dyslexia. Those with less severe cases may go unnoticed, while certain professionals may not consider particular reading struggles dyslexia while others do, hence the large range. Dyslexia is a brain-based language processing disorder, typically linked to the areas of rapid automatized naming (RAN), working memory, phonological processing, or auditory processing. Some people think dyslexia is a purely visual problem, such as students seeing letters backward or in reverse order. While this may be part of some levels of dyslexia, it also has to do with reading fluency, reading accuracy, reading comprehension, spelling, and more. Students with dyslexia often struggle with other forms of developmental and processing disorders, such as problems with writing, math, and general coordination.

It is very important to note that students with dyslexia should not be considered less intelligent than their peers. In fact, studies have shown that there is no distinguishable gap in intelligence levels between students with or without dyslexia. Some incredibly successful and well-known people have been very public about their struggles with dyslexia, including Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Albert Einstein. Unfortunately, many students with dyslexia read at a level much lower than their academic capabilities, so they are often considered slow learners or even intellectually challenged. It’s incredibly important that students with dyslexia know that they are more than capable of achieving academic success as well as success later in life. While they will not simply grow out of their dyslexia, teachers and parents can utilize some evidence-based approaches and strategies to increase reading accuracy, improve reading fluency, and increase reading comprehension.

Most Effective Teaching Techniques for Students with Dyslexia

The sooner a student is diagnosed with dyslexia, the sooner educators and parents can intervene and start working on improving literacy. It’s important to note that students with dyslexia are not having material modified for them. Nothing is being made easier in an unfair way. Dyslexia is considered a reading disability, so students with dyslexia should be accommodated to ensure they are on equal footing and have the same chance of success on an assignment or test as students who do not have dyslexia. In order to best help students with dyslexia in your classroom, here are the top five strategies to accommodate their unique learning challenges and help them achieve academic success.

#1. Provide One-Step Directions

Students of all ages can struggle with multi-step instructions or a long list of to-dos. They get distracted, they forget what they’re doing, or they don’t prioritize tasks well, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed or simple things being forgotten. Since students with dyslexia struggle with processing, they can often get flustered quickly with long lists of directions. When they aren’t flustered with trying to follow instructions, they will perform better and have a better attitude about whatever it is they’re working on. It will benefit all students, but especially those students with dyslexia if you provide one-step directions to your classes. This can take more time, but it help your students take more personal responsibility for themselves and their schoolwork. As all of your students improve their listening skills and their ability to follow instructions, you may eventually be able to move on to two-step instructions and with a little assistance from you, even students with dyslexia will master this and increase their self-confidence.

#2. Offer Various Forms of Presentation

When you’re presenting new information or reviewing old concepts, you know it’s important to mix up how you present it. Students can get bored or become distracted, and with various learning styles in the classroom, it’s best to spice it up and offer various forms of presentation to your classes. When you are working to accommodate students with dyslexia, this becomes even more important. If possible, when you provide written instructions, speak them aloud as well. You can use larger print or put fewer items on a particular page or screen, allowing students to focus on one thing at a time and to minimize distractions. You can also use visual cues within text, such as bolded words or highlighted sections, which can help students focus on the most important aspects of the text. If possible, you can teach students certain facts or lists of items to memorize in poem or song form, which will help them to practice and memorize more easily and with more success. Remember that for all students but especially those with dyslexia, varying forms of presentation will elicit responses from more areas of the brain and lead to better retention and more thorough understanding.

#3. Allow Students to Respond in a Variety of Ways

It may not always be possible to offer multiple response options to students, but when you can, definitely embrace it. Giving alternative options for completion of assignments and activities will help students be more creative and prove their knowledge and understanding of a concept. This may be as simple as having students mark answers directly on a worksheet instead of a separate piece of paper, or respond orally to questions being read aloud to them. It may involve letting students with dyslexia turn in a typed response to an assignment or use an audio recorder to submit their answers to homework. It’s important to note that students with dyslexia do need to be encouraged to read and write as much as possible, but it’s also important to understand that a standard homework assignment may take them 3 to 5 times longer than other students to complete, so they should be given some other opportunities to respond and demonstrate their understanding.

#4. Make Changes in Setting, if Necessary

This is more related to test-taking than normal classwork, but it’s an important accommodation to think about. Most people understand that dyslexia is a struggle with reading and processing, but they tend to overlook the fact that distractions and the physical setting can contribute to processing struggles. If a student seems to be flustered or distracted by too much noise, the people around them, or their physical space, they will struggle more with reading and writing. Most students with dyslexia prefer to work individually, but some may prefer to work in a small group where others can make up for the areas where they struggle. When teaching or having students work on classwork, it’s usually best to have students with dyslexia at the front of the classroom closest to the teacher. This removes visual disturbances from other students, and the teacher is more likely to hear other students’ noises when they are closer to him or her. During tests, if possible, allow the student to go to a private office or corner desk to minimize distractions.

#5. Think Outside the Box

Sometimes, the things you think will work for a struggling student just don’t seem to make a difference. If you have students with dyslexia and you just can’t seem to figure out how to help them, get creative and think innovatively and come up with a unique solution. Literacy experts and professionals who focus on dyslexia likely have some great ideas on how to help struggling students with dyslexia, and so may some of your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to talk to the students or their parents and see if they have any ideas or suggestions that may help the student succeed in your classroom. Additionally, take advantage of some resource recommendations listed below that have been proven to help students with dyslexia.

Resource Recommendations for Teachers to Help Students with Dyslexia

Helping your students with dyslexia succeed may begin with a great deal of accommodation. That is okay—every student deserves a fair chance at academic success, so get creative in the ways you help them work through and respond to assignments and classwork. Here are some things you can encourage them to use to help them to succeed:

  • Audiobooks
  • Audio recorders for lectures
  • Speech-to-text websites
  • Reading pens
  • Note-taking organizers
  • Note-taking apps
  • Schedules and timers to stay on task