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Selecting, Adapting And Designing Materials For Learners With Dyslexia

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letters scattered to spell dyslexia

ELT publishers are, more and more, producing material appropriate for learners with dyslexia. This mainly consists of ‘dyslexic-friendly’ reading texts and tests, which are available from teachers’ resource sites. However, to gain maximum benefit from such material, it is important for us as teachers to have an awareness of what dyslexia actually is, how it can impact learning, and the implications of this for material design.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is primarily a result of issues with working memory which, put simply, is the ability to hold and recall information long enough to perform an operation using this information. There may also be issues with other related functions such as focus (avoiding attention displacement and distraction) and effort (remembering to remember). As a result, the fundamental issue for most learners with dyslexia is difficulty processing and remembering information. Other typical characteristics include difficulties with maintaining concentration and remaining on task. As well as affecting many everyday activities, dyslexia affects general learning and in particular the acquisition of literacy skills.

Issues with literacy

Literacy issues tend to manifest mainly at word level, initially, in terms of word recognition and spelling. However, in most cases, a typical learner with dyslexia will over time ‘catch up’ with his or her non-dyslexic peers in terms of word recognition and spelling. Literacy issues may remain, but are more likely to be with sentence (and then paragraph and essay) level processing, planning, and organisation. Reading can also be hindered in a number of other ways. A dyslexic learner may find his or her eye drawn to other letters or words, or other distracting elements on the page, and he or she may easily lose their place in a text. Long multi-clause sentences may be problematic in terms of maintaining focus and remembering and processing the content. And the actual design, layout and font may be distracting and make the text difficult to follow and process.

Material selection, design, and adaptation

Modifying and adapting page design and the layout and format of texts and other language exercises can be a real help for a learner with dyslexia. However, while the majority of dyslexic learners are likely to have broadly similar issues, an adaptation of the material that may work for one learner may not work for another (and indeed may even have a negative effect). For example, for every dyslexic learner who finds images or other graphics on the page helpful in providing context, there may be another for whom they are a distraction. But however we adapt the material, one key principle that will benefit almost all dyslexic learners is to reduce the processing load. This can be done in a number of ways such as providing the learner with shorter and simplified reading texts and reducing the word count for their written work. For language activities and exercises, we can reduce the number of items in an exercise and/or the number of exercises or activities the student needs to do. We can also simplify the items by removing any extraneous content and focusing more just on key language or by modifying the item in other ways. Changing the exercise or activity type or its format can also help.

In my ELTOC webinar, we considered in more detail approaches to the design of materials such as texts, exercises and tests suitable for dyslexic learners of English. We looked at examples of available dyslexia-friendly ELT materials (such as those below) and also considered how we as teachers can identify potential difficulties with the material and if necessary adapt existing materials and produce our own.

 

Click here to watch a recording of my webinar!

 

High Spirits, Oxford University Press.

High Spirits, Oxford University Press.

High Spirits, Oxford University Press.

High Spirits, Oxford University Press.

Grammar and Vocabulary for the Real World, Oxford University Press.

Grammar and Vocabulary for the Real World, Oxford University Press.

English Grammar for Italian Students with Dyslexia, Oxford University Press.

English Grammar for Italian Students with Dyslexia, Oxford University Press.


Jon Hird teaches English at the University of Oxford and is a teacher-trainer and ELT materials writer, with a particular interest in grammar, EAP and dyslexia, and learning English. As well as adapting material for learners with dyslexia, his recent books include Oxford Learner’s Pocket Verbs and Tenses, Oxford EAP, Grammar and Vocabulary for the Real World and English Grammar for Italian Students with Dyslexia. Jon has a dyslexic son.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

4 thoughts on “Selecting, Adapting And Designing Materials For Learners With Dyslexia

  1. Very useful for the teachers to identify their learners and adopt their lessons according to them.

  2. Can you point me to methods or resources for students who are visually impaired , without sight altogether?

    • Hi Michelle, we have many blogs addressing different aspects of teaching students with special educational needs here: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/tag/sen/ However, these are not specific to students who are visually impaired.
      If you require additional resources and are using one of our Oxford courses, you can request a version of your course in a more accessible format through your institution. You can do this by making a request using our ELT Accessibility and Permissions Requests System: https://requestbox.net/eltrights/login Hope this helps, and please do get in touch if you require further support. ^Chesca

  3. Thank you. I suggested to the student–who has already dropped the class–that she reply to this blog using the reply link in your email or going to the Request link. I teach at VarsityTutors.com, which is not a typical education setting, so I am unsure of how the institution navigates disability.

    >> Please consider having the Request link in additional languages

    https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2019/03/21/materials-dyslexia-learners/

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