Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


1 Comment

Dyslexia – A Problem or a Gift? Part 2: Teaching Strategies

Teacher helping dyslexic studentMarie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist, and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). Following her first article on dyslexia, where she looked at what dyslexia really is, she now returns with strategies for teaching dyslexic learners.

In my previous article I looked at the problems learners with dyslexia might face in the English classroom. In this blog, I will share some teaching strategies which can help these learners in the key areas of sound/letter recognition, working memory and confidence.

Problems with recognition of sounds and letters

1. Think in colour

Learners with dyslexia have problems matching the sounds of English to the written word. Use different colours to show the patterns of words, to break down the sounds into manageable chunks. For example, boat, coat, moat.

Some learners will benefit from writing or reading in certain colours, or using certain colours of paper, or certain types of colour transparent overlays which can be put over the reading page. Encourage the learner to experiment to find a colour that works for them.

2. Hear it, see it, feel it

Multi-sensory teaching helps learners to consolidate sound and letter recognition. For example: 3D letter shapes can be used to practise keywords; letters can be traced in sand or clay; words can be made physical by making letters from the body.

Understanding time is a problem. It can help to get learners to stand in different places on a timeline to illustrate tenses and aspect.

3. Visualise

Teach learners how to visualise words. Learners with dyslexia need to develop their own internal visual dictionary. Encourage the learner to imagine the word up high, visualising it rather than sounding it out. They hold the word as a photo in their mind. Write new words on the learner’s right of your board, up high. This encourages learners to access their visual memory.

Problems with working memory

Working memory is the part of the brain which allows us to hold information recently given to us and to act upon it. Learners with dyslexia have problems with their working memory, they often say that words quite literally fall out of their heads.

1. Instructions, instructions, instructions

Remembering instructions is very difficult for some learners. We need to work on giving instructions in all senses, using visual cues and gestures. Check understanding of instructions by giving an example and getting an example back from learners.

2. Teach reading strategies

Learners with dyslexia find reading comprehension difficult because they quickly forget the paragraph they just read. Show them how to recognise topic sentences, how to use colour to highlight keywords, encourage them to stop regularly and ask themselves “What have I just read?”.

3. It can be fun

Use memory games to develop working memory. For example, put words on the board, rub one word out, ask learners what word has been rubbed out.

4. Draw it

Use mind maps – they give learners with dyslexia the big picture and help them to condense information in a meaningful way.

Problems with confidence and self-esteem

Despite our best teaching efforts, learners with dyslexia often lose confidence about learning. They can feel stupid and frustrated when their progress is slow.

We can work on this in class in different ways:

  • Teach learners how to access positive states for learning, e.g. remembering a time when they felt confident, keeping the confident feeling as they try their reading
  • Let the learners explain to the rest of the class what it is like to have dyslexia
  • Work with their strengths, for example, use activities where learners have to create new solutions to problems
  • Use audio recordings, encourage learners to record their answers
  • Mark work for content, not always for spelling
  • Don’t label their slow progress as being lazy
  • Praise skills other than literacy, for example, give a reward for the most creative learner
  • Use drama activities to help learners express their thoughts and show their creative ability

Above all, encourage your learners to view their dyslexia as a learning style rather than a learning handicap. Celebrate difference!


14 Comments

Dyslexia – A Problem or a Gift?

Student being helped by teacherMarie 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.

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 labeled them lazy and stupid. You may have students with dyslexia in your classes and not even know it. Often these learners are labeled 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, even worse if they are asked to read it aloud. Reading comprehensions are 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 their 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. They 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!

For more on dyslexia and teaching strategies, join my upcoming webinar entitled “Dyslexia – A Problem or a Gift?” on 9th and 18th October, and read my follow-up blog, which will be posted in a few weeks’ time.


7 Comments

Critical Thinking – Teaching Tips from Around the World

Adults sharing ideasFollowing his webinar on Teaching Critical Thinking in EAP, Louis Rogers looks back at the participants’ tips and ideas on the subject.

In my recent webinars on critical thinking in EAP I asked participants to write in the chat box any definitions of critical thinking and any teaching tips they had. The aim was to then analyse the definitions and to try and pick out any commonalities. I also asked everyone to share teaching tips for encouraging students to think critically.

With around three hundred participants across the two sessions I did wonder what I had let myself in for, but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss with such a diverse range of cultures involved. One of the great things about these sessions is that they bring together people from all over the world in one forum to discuss issues relevant to all of us in our teaching contexts. Whether it was six in the morning for some people or midnight for others it certainly did not stop the ideas flowing. In all, there were just under one hundred definitions and a whole host of ideas. So what ideas stood out?

Before moving on I should probably point out that this was not the most scientific collection method or analysis and I certainly won’t be awarded a PhD on the basis of it; however, hopefully it will prove of interest.

One of the first things I decided to do was to look at the frequency of individual words in the definitions. I was about to cut out function words and look at the content words when fortunately the alphabet intervened. The first word I noticed in the alphabetical list was the final word: ‘you’. When I highlighted this along with other pronouns and words related to the concept of ‘self’, one thing that stood out strongly was the interaction of the person with many other things. As we might expect there were a lot related to the interaction of the reader with the ideas in the text, but also the interaction of the individual with concepts such as society, culture and our own past influences. Other words that had a particularly high frequency were; think, inform, critic, analyse, evaluate, culture, difference.

One other thing that stood out quite strongly as a feature of the definitions was that I felt many could be categorised in two ways. One set could be perhaps defined as ‘interpretation of information’. These tended to focus on analysis, evaluation, interpretation and challenging ideas. The second set could perhaps be defined as ‘using information’. These tended to contain more concepts along the lines of synthesising, organising, using and applying.

In terms of teaching ideas many people seemed to feel that the ideas of self-reflection, peer evaluation and the use of video work well in encouraging critical reflection. For recording and sharing presentations for peer review one participant suggested the use of www.mybrainshark.com

Another suggestion was that The CRAAP test would help many students as a useful set of transferable questions. These focus students with questions related to issues of:

Currency: the timeliness of the information

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

Authority: the source of the information

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

Purpose: the reason the information exists

Many examples of the test can be found online.

Other ideas included using definitions as a discussion tool as they are often open to debate. For low language levels, ideas that were suggested were the analysis of images and the different meanings of a word.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the chat room transcript afterwards. As a presenter you try to follow and join in with the lively discussions but you’re often too preoccupied remembering the points you want to make so it’s really beneficial to be able to take time to analyse the contributions after the event.

Bookmark and Share


4 Comments

Classroom Management and Organisation: making it work.

Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about managing your classroom at the start of the new school year.

Every start to the new school year creates stress to any teacher worth their salt. Each year entails preparation of teaching material, the new curriculum and consideration of the students’ needs. There is one thing that can make a teacher’s life a bit easier and that is Classroom Management and Organization (CMaO). For some, these words could prove to be quite intimidating, the sheer thought on trying to manage children fresh from summer vacation could be quite frightening, nonetheless it would help in the long run.

As challenging a task as it might be, CMaO can be interesting and fun for teachers and students. The key ingredients are effective teacher preparation and student involvement.

When a teacher sets up their classroom, it helps to view it as an environment where language learners are supported and can feel comfortable and content. As an educator looks around their classroom from this perspective, they should think about:

  • The written language (posters, word walls, charts)
  • A reading area-are there books that would help develop students’ reading skills?
  • The spaces for learning-are desks and other areas set up in a way that children could collaborate?

Establishing the appropriate layout for the language classroom can be a demanding task; however, it can determine the style of the lesson and subconsciously prepares the students for a logical and organised setting. Moving desks around in a circle, U-shape or group formation can open up communication and create a welcoming environment, as opposed to desks in rows. Imagine how your students would feel after enjoying a fun summer to walk into a classroom where the desks are in rows facing the teacher, without any encouragement of interaction. Desks formed in a way that insinuates teacher-student and student-student interaction can motivate language learners and even improve the teacher’s rapport with the students since children can immediately be aware that the teacher supports their need to cooperate with their peers and feel safe in the environment created for them.

After the teacher has decided on the layout of the room, the location of materials and displays the children need to be involved in the CMaO process, meaning that the teacher must introduce students to the resources and explain their use, draw their attention to the displays on the wall and the seating. This will help the language learners understand and appreciate the purpose of the specific setting and the importance of the CMaO plans. The threat of misbehaviour can be dealt with by instituting rules from the very start. Rules establish the behavioural context of the classroom by specifying what is expected, what behaviours will be reinforced and the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.

In my experience, what helped ensure positive behaviour and avoid misunderstandings was to draw up ‘Behaviour Contracts’. These contracts declared what the teacher expected of the students in the cooperative setting, the awards of positive behaviour and the consequences of negative behaviour. The award for positive behaviour would be left blank for the students to fill in which was fun and gave them a chance to be part of the CMaO planning. Once the contracts were completed, I would read what students would fill in out loud to the entire class which was anything from ‘the teacher would bring us cake’ to ‘the teacher would be very happy’. This helped lighten the mood, made children laugh and excitingly anticipate the lessons to come.

Young learners are highly aware of how their direct surroundings form their learning experience once its importance and benefits are brought to their attention. When a teacher adopts a consultative approach to the design of the classroom, it could lead to many desirable outcomes and increase. This could give the teacher the freedom to teach and the student’s the freedom to learn (Pollard, 2008). So don’t fret, manage and organise.

Pollard, A (2008) Reflective Teaching. Continuum International Publishing Group

Bookmark and Share


3 Comments

Once upon a time, in the language classroom…

Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about teaching through stories.

There are many techniques that language teachers can use to keep young language learners interested and motivated. Storytelling has been described as an ‘ideal method of influencing a child to associate listening with pleasure of increasing a child’s attention span and retention capacity’ (Cooper, 1989:3). In a fun way, young learners see themselves in a motivating and challenging environment which develops and enhances a positive attitude towards the foreign language.

Outcomes of my own research showed that students of a young age are especially interested and drawn to stories where they are given the opportunity to become personally involved and take responsibility for their own language learning. This imaginative experience helps them identify with the characters of the story and build up their own creative powers. One example of this is a lesson with a beginners’ class who were new to story-telling in a foreign language context. Before the story was told, I pre-taught some of the vocabulary which was done by writing the unknown lexical items on the board and eliciting their meaning by miming or placing the words in context. The children were involved and felt great delight when they correctly estimated the meaning of the word.

After the unknown vocabulary was clarified, the children were asked to sit in a circle whereas I was seated in the centre of the network. The students were comfortable and excited since this was new for them. Because of the fact that they were eager to hear the story, I had their undivided attention. The story was taken from Vanessa Reilly and Sheila M. Ward’s ‘Very Young Learners’, a resource book for teachers. The story was called ‘Why do Rabbits Have Long Ears?’ and the aim of the story was to enhance students’ listening, enrich vocabulary by introducing names of animals and the phrases I am a… You are a…before telling the story, I told students that rabbits did not always have long ears and that they were going to discover how rabbits changed. Students were involved in the story-telling process where they were encouraged to mime and pretend to be different animals and elicit names of animals, which made the plot interesting and challenging since their participation was carried out in English.
Continue reading