Supporting students with dyslexia during school closures

6 tips for reducing feelings of distraction and isolation and ensuring that students with dyslexia don't lose ground in literacy progress

Students with dyslexia may already feel inadequate and incompetent because of their difficulty reading, but add to that the stress of having to learn remotely and these students may enter into a fight, flight, or freeze response.

“They want to retreat because they’re overwhelmed,” says Terrie L. Noland, vice president of educator initiatives at Learning Ally in Princeton, N.J. This is why it’s important to talk with them about how they’re doing and make sure they’re socially and emotionally ready to learn before starting a session with them on phonological awareness and other literacy skills.

Also recognize that remotely working on foundational skills is challenging, Noland says. Trying to distinguish if a teacher has said “mouse” or “mouth” when asked to rhyme three words with “mouse” may be difficult for a student using videoconferencing software.

“I try to put my mouth up close to the screen so they can see the shape of my mouth to see the sound I’m making, but it’s hard,” she says.

Encourage staff to follow these tips for promoting literacy skills without increasing stress in students with dyslexia at home during the outbreak.

1. Assign short spurts of reading. Ask the student to read for 20 minutes and identify all words in the text with a particular syllable type. For example, he can look for words with the syllable pattern “vowel-consonant-e,” such as, “like, make, and bake.” This helps the student hone his decoding skills, Noland says.

If the student doesn’t seem up to reading for a set period of time, you may want to ask him to read a paragraph or two instead, Noland suggests.

Just remember that what you ask him to read should be at his literacy level if he doesn’t read at grade level but still have appropriate content for his grade level. For example, you can find websites to change a text with seventh-grade level content to a second-grade reading level.

2. Use voice-over and audiobooks. Ask the student to read text online that you have made sure is accessible with text-to-speech or ask her to read some text while listening to the corresponding audiobook, Noland said. You can also record your own voice over text if you know or think the student will respond well to hearing your voice.

3. Reduce distractions. Let the student know that there are programs, such as the Google Chrome extension Just Read, that he can use to remove all distractions on a webpage beside the text if he is having trouble focusing on what he is reading, Noland says.

4. Address isolation. Help the student feel less like she is the only one struggling with dyslexia at home by assigning books she can read about others with dyslexia, Noland says. For example, a middle school student may like Fish in a Tree.

Also read: 5 reasons to boost listening literacy in schools

5. Draw on student creativity. Students with dyslexia may be able to show you their understanding of what they’re reading by doing something creative. For example, consider asking students to show you the sounds in a word using Legos. They can use shapes to spell out C-a-tch to show the three sounds in the word “catch.”

6. Check student progress. If you want to check if the student is comprehending what he is reading during a live class, ask all students to hold up a fist or a number of fingers to show their grasp of the material, Noland says.

If they don’t understand, hold up a fist and if they have complete understanding of the text you’re discussing, they can hold up five fingers. Also consider engaging students in polls or chats to see if they have any questions, but recognize that students with dyslexia may struggle to participate in an ongoing chat and may prefer to verbally ask a question.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

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