What do Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Muhammed Ali have in common? They all found school and teachers difficult. Thomas Edison’s teacher sent a note home when Thomas was 6, which said: “He is too stupid to learn”. These successful people had dyslexia. Their teachers didn’t know much about dyslexia. They labelled them lazy and stupid.
You may have students with dyslexia in your classes and not even know it. Often these learners are labelled slow, lazy, or daydreamers. It’s not true. In order to help these learners, we, as teachers, need to understand more about it.
What is dyslexia?
As you read this, are the letters clear to you, are any moving around, blurred or reversing? Bropaply not. (Probably not.)
For a learner with dyslexia, reading a simple paragraph of short words is slow and agonizing. It’s even worse if they are asked to read it aloud. Reading comprehension is difficult because the learner forgets what they have just read.
Dyslexia is an information processing difficulty, primarily affecting reading, spelling and writing. In English, students have problems with phonological processing (linking sounds to words), visual processing (seeing words and letters) and working memory (remembering what has just been said). The learner can also have problems with organization, sequencing and number skills.
Signs that a learner in your class might have dyslexia include:
- Written work is poor compared to speaking ability
- Reading slowly, hesitantly, and misreading words
- Difficulty matching sounds to letters
- Seeing and writing letters as flipped or reversed e.g. ‘b’ as ‘d’ or ‘p’
- They say that letters move around or are blurred on the page
- Forgetting what they have read or just been told
- Problems being punctual
- Daydreaming or seeming to ‘switch off’
- Easily getting tired when reading or writing
But what’s the real problem?
The main obstacle for many of these learners is not dyslexia. People with dyslexia can succeed in life. For many, the main problem is that difficulties in class can cause them to lose confidence. They label themselves slow and stupid. They become demotivated, misbehave, give up, or become stressed.
Typical learners’ comments are:
“I thought I was stupid; I couldn’t keep up; the teacher didn’t care.”
“I ask them to explain; they explain again using the same words; I don’t understand and they get angry.”
Teacher encouragement and support is vital for these learners at these times. It is very important not to jump to conclusions about the meaning of a particular behaviour and to try to understand why it’s happening.
The gift of dyslexia
Dyslexic thinking has strengths. Learners with dyslexia are holistic thinkers; they see the big picture, make new connections. Dyslexic learners are creative, with good 3D spatial reasoning. They succeed in the arts, become entrepreneurs or work in areas requiring innovative thinking. It’s important to work with these strengths in our learners, allowing opportunities for creative, big picture thinking. The English curriculum provides plenty of scope to do this with projects, problem-solving scenarios, drama and stories.
And a final note…
Remember that you have great influence over these learners’ lives. You don’t need to be a specialist teacher, but you do need to work with your learners to understand why they are having problems and give time, support, and encouragement.
A final example from history – “His teachers said he was mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift in his own foolish dreams.”
That foolish dreamer was dyslexic and… his name was Albert Einstein.
We need dyslexic thinkers. Let’s try to keep them turned on to learning!
Marie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist, and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). She will be hosting a webinar entitled “Dyslexia – A Problem or a Gift?” on 9th and 18th October.