At The Homework Club we worked with many students who can't ever learn to read by phonics. It might as well seem like rocket science. In fact with time and much effort they could learn about rockets long before they will ever develop an understanding for phonics. I know this because I've done it, learnt about rockets that is... In short due to the way dyslexics brain's work this is an impossible task.
However I like many other dyselxics manage to read, write and study successfully. We may be slower, make the odd mistake and be lousy at proof reading but we can read somewhat. How do we do this?
My most common question to students is " do you remember what the words look like?". The answer is always yes and then they guess them in context to what they are trying to read. They look at the pictures to tell them what the story is about and they memorize the patterns of the words.
Big words are easier to learn than small words - they have more parts. We learn the "odd" words easier, these stand out to us.
So here are a few tips to help students rely on their talents to read in a way that suits them.
If a student is struggling block out parts of the words and let them piece the words together like lego - this is reading by visualizing word patterns not letter sounds. It will also help with spelling. Pay special attention to word endings, tion, ed, ment, ness, ion, an, er, ing …. It is like applying a maths formula to read.
Pick out the small words, cat, ad, add, it, is, on, play, gest, gory, let, man, pic, gram, num,com, con, out, cont, tent, in, ark, as….
add/ it/ ion
as/ sort/ ment
Great games to use in word visualization are word searches, hang-man, picture dictionary, Boggle, Scrabble cards. We will go through more examples of these in later blogs and show how they can be developed for all language classes. We will also post up how to create a colour system for reading. This then forms the basis to link reading and expression tasks as sequences and structure are also challenging for dyslexics but as they have supper visual memories we just need them to learn the patterns.
When reading encourage them to trace the words with their fingers or better still use a ruler and go down through the text line by line. There are also reading tools available link x-mark that are simply a slit cut in card that allow us to travel down the text.
When the amount of text increases we still only see we have a line to read not a whole paragraph and it prevents jumping or skipping lines. This reduces the noise element to text and stops it becoming overwhelming for students. We often find students suddenly develop reading problems between the transition of senior infants (aged 5-6) and 1st class (aged 6-7). This is not just because the reading gets a little harder - the text shirks, the sentences suddenly double and it just looks worse than it really is!
Above all else we have to have a reason to read - many of the books in school are plain boring. Aliens, cars, volcanoes, dinosaurs and snakes are so much more interesting. Find a good topic always to base the exercises on. We need to be able to read for a reason - to absorb interesting facts and knowledge about the things we like in "our" world. Follow these topics on for the expression exercises, the word searches, hang-man and the exciting picture books. You need to create the links between reading and writing.
Our new experiment .. whats happens if you let the students write directly on the tables?
This idea steams from coffee time at the Southampton Oceanography Centre while I was studying for my PhD. Physics nerds from the research section would gather around for morning coffee break and invariably talk about the latest scientific dilemmas. One morning someone brought a white board marker and wrote directly on the table.. a brilliant idea had begun.
The great advantage of this practise is that everyone is involved. If left for 5 minutes on their own students will always gravitate towards the white boards and the coloured markers, “we never get to write on them in school”. This shows how little its takes to excite a student!
By writing on the tables we can all solve problems together, particularly in maths. A team effort. For the visual students they remember the exercise by the pattern created. We even encourage these students to use their phone cameras to take a snap of the “task image” that they have created. This works equally well for all subjects from biology to science or Accounting.
For other classes it allows us all to simply focus on an idea together. When we are incorporating students with hearing impairments into the classes this has a great advantage because it solves the problems of directional noise. Everyone is in a group together with no distance to the white board. No extra distraction or having to turn your back on the student while you write.
For dyslexic students it takes away the need to be neat. As dyslexics can’t visualise words or paragraphs of text they don’t know what fits or how much space they need. The page and paper become obstacles instead of tools. We have got around this problem in the past by using A2 sheets of paper. The table is a GIANT sheet of paper. Problem solved. Students will express them selves better and have less fear of making mistakes. They will also work at an increased pace.
But above all else it just makes the classes more fun.
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