Dyslexia in the Classroom

May 2008

Dyslexia is a condition where people have difficulty reading. It is not a visual impairment, but rather one of mentally processing anything written. I became aware of this condition while teaching at a technical school where one or two students had difficulty with their lessons. One thing they had in common was they were formerly "Handwerkers", which gives a clue to potential dyslexia. Things were becoming very difficult for one student after atrocious examination results. I will call this student Ulla, a very bright girl and talented welder, who was now becoming deeply upset by her situation in the school. Ulla confided in me she was dyslexic (Dt. Legestenie). She also said another student was dyslexic.

Being in a foreign country was a problem getting information. I asked a highly qualified English teacher colleague if she knew anything of this illness, without success. A Herr Doktor colleague said he too was exasperated with Ulla, and was unaware of dyslexia. Ulla told me no one seemed to understand her.

During a holiday in England I noticed several books on dyslexia and realised it was not a trivial thing. Coincidentally, a local radio station phone-in was discussing dyslexia. Callers described the symptoms that I was noticing, which stimulated me to research this subject further.

I returned to the bookshop and chose a small book(1) which contained basic details on dyslexia, to whose authors I am deeply grateful. My enthusiasm intensified after studying this book, and I felt sympathy for these unfortuate students. On returning to school, Ulla's eyes lit up as I told her of what I had learned and that I had taken the trouble during my holiday to help her.

In the past dyslexia was classified as a "learning difficulty", whereas now the more positive sentiment of learning differences is preferred. Many people have attempted to define dyslexia, some medically, referring to left and right brain functions, others descriptively in what can be observed. Dyslexia affects a person's ability to "see" words, and thus comprehend the subject. The dyslexic person may grasp the topic more easily if the information is given in a different way, therefore teachers should use varied media for presenting information such has audio tapes, videos and pictures.

Dyslexics may be neglected in class and the playground or be victims of bullying. They may also be clumsy. Other symptoms are reluctantance to write anything down, difficulty recognising the difference between the letters b and d, or word endings like "re", "er" and "or." Dyslexics may see only a blurr instead of a word. When reading aloud, lines of text might be missed out. Short term memory is often lacking, for instance, returning to where they were while copying from the blackboard. They may also have great difficulty organising their work. If this is noticed, they should be guided and a structure set up for them to follow, particularly when revising for exams, when they should be given short duration tasks instead of endless reading.

On the positive side, dyslexics have a flair for non-word learning activities such as people management, dealing with complex situations, craft skills and the arts. Many of the world's famous and great are dyslexic. People are attracted to them, who in turn compensate them for their shortcomings. I believe that we may all to some extent be dyslexic, or its partner illnesses of dyscalculia (numeracy) and dyspraxia (motor skills).

Dyslexia is often hereditary, bringing difficulty if a parent is unable to help and guide their child through its early education with such simple things as reading nursery stories with them. As the child grows up it may feel overlooked for brighter pupils, but usually adapts, becoming smart or manipulative, but also sometimes getting into bad ways. A dyslexic should sit at the front of the classroom where the teacher can check they have understood what is written on the board. It will help if the teacher prepares specially written notes, in bigger print, perhaps on coloured paper which may be easier to read than white paper. Work with the student and try to find which way is best. The dyslexic student will see you are wanting to help, and will repay you with their enthusiasm.

One might imagine how stressful an examination is for the dyslexic person therefore allowances should be made which offer them equality with their peers. A little extra time may be given, and also ensure they understand the questions. The examiner should make allowances for spelling and grammar mistakes, concentrating more on whether the student has understood the question. If writing skills are not so essential for a chosen career an alternative form of testing should be given.

EU legislation(2) states every teaching institution must now have a dyslexia specialist, with schools acting early if a child is thought to be dyslexic. Understanding is replacing negative attitudes in the new dyslexia-friendly schools(3). This does not mean that a dyslexic is to be given a soft life. They must be encouraged to strive and seek new ways to learn. Dyslexics have gone on to achieve high academic qualifications and be amongst the best.

The British Dyslexia Association website(4) has all the resources one could wish for. Computer games and aids are numerous, as are tests for checking for dyslexia(5). The Textic system(6) is computer software which can alter the size of text, and the background/foreground colours of a document.

Already, I am applying the recommended techniques with the above students. My new approach of simplicity, with spaced out, short lesson blocks has benefitted us all. Clear and simple explanations have brought an air of confidence to the students, and already what seemed to be an impossible course-end target is now a clear reality.

About Lawrence: Lawrence specialises in teaching technical English and had the above experiences while teaching on a very demanding four-semester staatliche annerkannte Techniker course. He regarded this subject as very important and went on to make a detailed study of dyslexia. He has since encountered more students with this problem and was able to provide positive contributions to their studies. This is a condensed version of his recent essay on dyslexia .


1 Introduction to Dyslexia, Lindsay Peer and Gavin Reid, 2003, The British Dyslexia Association. David Fulton Publishers, ISBN l 85346 964 5 , www.fultonpublishers.co.uk .

2 Disability Discrimination Acts, 1994, 2004 and 2005.

3 Link in (1) above: Dyslexia friendly schools pack 39pp.

4 www.bdadyslexia.org.uk

5 See reference section of the book in (1) above.

6 The Textic system: www.AchieveAbility.org.uk

© Lawrence Harris/TELS 2008.

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