How to teach someone with Dyslexia:Thoughts by a Dyslexic Author

June 22, 2016

 

By day I am an English teacher and I often get students in my class with dyslexia and I'm shocked by the teaching methods used on dyslexic children. Usually because they assume dyslexic people are dumb and have a learning disability. They aren't and they don't. So, here are some things that helped me to learn so if you have someone you know who has Dyslexia you can help them out. Disclaimer: There are new techniques for teaching Dyslexia so look them up.

 

Spelling: Mostly we spell things wrong because they don't make sense to us to spell it a certain way. The brain is an interesting thing. I'm sure you have seen that post where all the letters are jumbled around but you can still read it. Dyslexics probably find that really easy. Mainly sequencing of letters seem arbitrary. So, you need to associate the spelling which is nonsensical to us with something else. You know how you used to learn things using acronyms like soc a toa or bedmas. You did that because those maths concepts didn't make sense to you so you had to put it in a way that did make sense. Do the same with spelling. An example is breakfast. It is pronounced brick fist so if you spell it how it sounds you don't even get close but if you explain how breakfast is actually breaking your fast after not eating all night then the spelling makes more sense as you can see where the spelling actually came from. Don't skip steps when it comes to learning a word. Learn its meanings how it fits in with other words and the different spellings depending on tense. Write it, say it out loud, use it. Once someone is familiar with a word they are more likely to know how to spell it because it is the newest, shiniest thing in their world. 

 

Checklist: As I said in a previous post I see grammar as nonsensical so I mostly work from a checklist like what pilots use before they fly. Most of this checklist over time has become subconscious like full-stops and capital letters but I still have a list in my head which I go over at the end of each sentence. This works most of the time except for the exceptions to the rule. These drive me up the wall. I will look at a sentence and it makes complete sense to me but when someone else does they complain about grammar and word order and verb choice. Funny enough when they try to explain how it should be even they can't say why. Mostly because it is subconscious but to me it never made sense in the first place so I can't internalize it. So, everything to do with writing needs to make sense. Start from the beginning and break down what is needed in a sentence to make it a sentence. Why things are there and how words can modify the meaning of other words around them. I loved learning things like diphthongs and dental consonants. The more rules I understand the better my grammar gets. It isn't just knowing it is understanding.

 

Draw it: My mother is an artist so I learnt to draw and I found that when I swapped to writing cursive that my spelling improved because I could draw the word instead of spelling it. Most people argue that you have two sides of the brain. Dyslexia usually only effects half, the analytical side, so if you can teach the artistic side of your brain to spell; it can improve your spelling. You could do graffiti or block letters as an alternative to cursive. Ironically this means I can read stuff in my dreams even though apparently you aren't supposed to be able to do that. Slowing down like this is good because usually the reason I spell things wrong when I hand write is because I am not focusing on the writing and miss-spell things as my mind wanders. I studied Hieroglyphs at University because it appealed to that part of me which draws my words.

 

Don't be afraid to make a game out of it: I'm terrible at times tables but I know a few of them like the nines as I can do it on my hands. I know the alphabet because I literally sing it every time I need it. Use acronyms, they are fun. Fun makes our brain engaged and even the most complicated game becomes easy over time, so teaching using something that amuses us is a good way to learn. I once set my class the challenge to come up with an mnemonic for the letters DCLFL which stands for dominant image, colour, layout, font, language (all the elements of a static image) their answer was dyslexic cowboys like fat ladies. That was years ago but I can still remember it. Just like you would know what I'm talking about if I said, "Never eat soggy weetbix." or "Never eat silk worms." there are regional versions of these which become quite hilarious.  

 

Mind Palace: There are these geniuses who can remember a lot of things and when they explain their technique they often use what is called a mind palace. A mind palace is like a house in your head where you store your life. To remember things you attached what you have to remember with something in your mind palace. So, if you had a list like this: Paper clip, ocean, chocolate, frying pan, bicycle. The way you would remember it would be something like this: Paperclip (that annoying paperclip that used to show up to help you with windows), Ocean (putting my feet into the Indian and Atlantic ocean at the same time at the family holiday when I was five), Chocolate (chocolate Easter eggs on my birthday cake because my birthday is just after Easter when Easter eggs are the cheapest chocolate), Frying pan (weapon used on Tangled by the horse. Awesome!), Bicycle (the blue bike I had as a kid with a banana seat). I go over those memories all the time. By associating the list with those memories they are actually easier to access. Certainly much more fun to remember all that than a silly list. That is the trick, there should be emotion attached to memory and then it becomes easy. That one about breakfast. I remember being five years old sitting on my parents bed which was super large because it was made from two foam mattresses glued together on a platform my dad made himself. It was a Saturday morning and mom liked us to sit on the bed because it let her 'sleep in' I was struggling to pronounce the word breakfast. So, my mother spent a good while explaining the word and the origin and making a fist to show the way it was pronounced. I can even tell you the colour of the blanket, where everyone was sitting. Okay they probably weren't because memory is funny like that but because the more I bring out the memory to spell the word breakfast the more the memory evolved in my head. It is now part of my mind palace.

 

I didn't want to do don'ts but they are important. Don't expect someone with dyslexia to learn by rote or purely from repetition. This can be done but it is better to use association instead. Don't force people to spell out loud. Allow them to write their thoughts down. Allow them to use calculators. I can do most maths equations with a calculator but I can't tell you what 8x3 is. And lastly: Don't assume that because they see logic differently to you that their logic is wrong.

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