Working with Students with Dyslexia

Characteristics of the Condition

  • Dyslexia is not the result of a visual problems; it does not involve the reversing of letters or words.
  • Research has shown that it results from a genetically based difficulty in establishing awareness of elements of linguistic structure.
  • Children with this problem have difficulty recognizing the individual sounds of words.
  • This interferes with the development of decoding skills and ultimately, with visual word recognition.
  • Reading is typically slow and halting, with marked difficulty identifying relatively unfamiliar words
  • At the college level, students may have developed compensatory skills in decoding, but visual word recognition remains effortful, inefficient and inaccurate.
  • Comprehension may be compromised by the fact that attention and higher level cognitive resources may be needed for recognizing individual words.

Impact on Classroom Performance and Writing

  • Poor handwriting is common (though not invariably present).
  • Writing may be slow and effortful, either because of the demands of spelling or because of concurrent dysgraphia.
  • Punctuation and capitalization may be flawed.
  • Spelling is almost always compromised.
    • Some students may rely primarily on phonological strategies (spelling words as they sound).
    • Others may seem to base their spelling more on word appearance.
    • Syllables may be omitted due to processing load imposed by spelling (or to a concurrent attention difficulty).
    • “Learned-isms” are common: misapplying particular spelling phenomena (e.g., drum spelled as drumb on analogy with the spellings, dumb, thumb, numb).
  • Vocabulary knowledge is often restricted due to limited exposure to literature.
  • Vocabulary used in writing may be simplified to avoid words that represent spelling challenges
  • Knowledge of phrasal and sentence structure may be very limited
  • Note-taking in class or from reading may be impeded by these difficulties

Interaction with Students

  • Accurate spelling isn’t achieved through memorization. It requires abstract linguistic (“orthographic”) representations that these students have difficulty developing. Sheer memorization of spellings is a very unproductive use of learning energy. Be judicious in penalizing students for misspellings unless they have had a reasonable opportunity to use human or technological spelling check.
  • Interventions for spelling difficulty:
    • Help student learn to use spell-check effectively.
    • Mark misspelled words, but let student make corrections.
    • Draw student’s attention to important spelling contrasts (e.g., common heterographic homophones (e.g., there/their; here/hear)
    • Punctuation and capitalization conventions can also be very resistant to explicit instruction. These are not the result of carelessness or “lack of effort” in previous learning.
  • Recommended responses:
    • Mark errors and explain principles, but don’t expect a memorization approach to work wonders.
    • Suggest strategies for deciding where punctuation should be used, but don’t expect quick resolution
    • Proof written work with student, allowing her/him to find errors with guidance and decide on fixes
    • Coach use of more varied vocabulary
      • Encourage student to choose interesting words first and worry about spelling later.
      • Draw attention to word structure and morphological relationships to build linguistic awareness
    • Coach syntactic awareness, with an emphasis on practical understanding of language structure (without technical terminology or formalisms).