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Teaching Students with Dyslexia in the Regular Classroom
By: Elizabeth Waddington, Shirley Jacob and Sandra Bailey
From: Childhood Education, Fall, 1996
J. Geffen
Dyslexia is “a disorder of constitutional origin manifested by difficulty in
learning to read, write or spell, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence,
and socio-cultural opportunity” (Orton Dyslexia Society, 1988, p. 2). Kamhi (1992)
further defines dyslexia as a lifelong problem with processing phonological
information, which involves encoding, retrieving and using phonological codes, and
deficiencies in speech production and phonological awareness. Simply put, dyslexia is
a difficulty with language, not intelligence (Wilkins, Garside & Enfield, 1993).
Experts make a distinction between developmental dyslexia (whose origin is
suspected to be congenital or hereditary) and acquired dyslexia (a disability that
occurs as the result of brain injury after learning to read) (Frith, 1986). Most students
with dyslexia in regular classrooms have developmental dyslexia, which is thought to
be connected to brain and chromosome differences (Lyon, 1995). While dyslexia
persists in spite of age and maturity, its effects may be lessened by remediation and
compensatory techniques (Clark, 1988).
Individuals with dyslexia frequently display outstanding strengths; many
dyslexics are creative, visual thinkers. Their unique abilities often make them
successful in art, science and technical fields. Some famous and talented people who
are suspected to have had dyslexia include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Leonardo
da Vinci, Winston Churchill, George Patton and William Butler Yeats (West, 1991).
Dyslexia affects each person in different ways (Wilkins, Garside & Enfield,
1993). Early signs of dyslexia may include difficulty in: learning to speak,
remembering, pronouncing words clearly, expressing ideas meaningfully, listening or
following directions. Lower elementary children may exhibit difficulty with the
following (singly or in combination): learning the alphabet, sequencing, rhyming,
word memory, reading, writing and spelling. Other signs that may or may not
accompany dyslexia include a poor sense of time or space, an inability to finish work
on time, extremely messy handwriting (dysgraphia), inadequate organizational skills,
an inability to pay attention or complete tasks, a weak understanding of concepts such
as “before”, “after”, “right” and “left”, poor study habits, problems keeping up with
possessions, and, sometimes, difficulty with mathematics. Individuals with dyslexia
may also be literal-minded or inflexible. It should be emphasized that a person with
dyslexia may have only a few of these characteristics or may have many of them.
Students with Dyslexia / 2
Educators frequently find it difficult to differentiate between students with
learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, and slow learners. Students with learning
disabilities often do significantly well in some areas but very poorly in others; slow
learners, on the other hand, consistently perform at below-average levels in most
areas. Students with dyslexia also exhibit specific learning deficits in information
processing (i.e., organization of thinking skills, memory, learning efficacy), but slow
learners usually exhibit general limited ability (Brinckerhoff, Shaw & McGuire,
Dyslexia may be accompanied by social, emotional and psychological problems
(Ryan, 1994). Parents and teachers often mistakenly view children with dyslexia as
bright students who just need to try harder. This attitude puts undue pressure on these
students, because they are likely already trying their hardest. Also, individuals with
dyslexia often perform erratically. They may be able to accomplish a task easily one
day but be unable to do it the next. Furthermore, they may be able to do a very
complex task yet flounder when attempting something very simple. Or they may make
the same mistake in several different ways (e.g., misspelling a word five different
ways in an assignment.
This fluctuation in dyslexia’s intensity makes it difficult for students to compensate. In addition, individuals with dyslexia often misread social cues, have a poor
self image, are socially immature and have trouble communicating orally. When they
fail to meet others’ expectations or are unable to achieve their own goals, they may
feel frustrated, anxious, inadequate, depressed and angry.
Meeting the Needs of Students with Dyslexia
Federal law protects students with dyslexia under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) (1975), the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA) (1990), which amends P.L. 94-142, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 (Brinckerhoff, Shaw & McGuire, 1993). In order to meet federal
guidelines, public schools must meet these students’ needs in appropriate ways.
To help schools meet students’ needs, the National Teacher Education Initiative
Task Force examined the delivery and content of programs designed to teach students
with dyslexia. The task force concluded that effective programs directly teach
systematic language concepts / skills (both sequential and cumulative) by using
simultaneous, multisensory methods (Greene, 1993; Wilkins, Garside & Enfield,
1993). Individuals with dyslexia need to have learning tasks broken down into their
simplest components, after which they can learn them step by step. They also need a
predictable, structured, consistent learning environment (Wilkins, Garside & Enfield,
10. Does this mean that teachers must throw out the textbook or abandon proven
theories and approaches to teach these special children? That would be impractical,
costly and even impossible in many situations. It is possible, however, for regular
Students with Dyslexia / 3
classroom teachers to accommodate students and modify the environment and tasks to
help dyslexics learn.
11. When teaching students with dyslexia, teachers must often keep in mind the
terms “accommodation” and “modification”. In general, “accommodation” refers to a
strategy that changes the academic environment and, therefore, enables students to
demonstrate what they know. An accommodation usually does not alter the
information or amount of information that the student must learn. Examples of
common accommodations may include untimed tests or extra time on assignments.
On the other hand, a “modification” strategy changes the work itself, making it
different from other students’ and encouraging success. Asking a child with dyslexia
to give an oral report when other students are required to do a written report is an
example of a modification. Accommodations and modifications often overlap, and
many people use the terms interchangeably (Louisiana State Department of
Education, 1992). Rather than distinguishing between the two terms, the authors will
refer to both as interventions.
12. Keeping these facts about dyslexia and appropriate teaching strategies in mind,
the authors experimented with various interventions in the areas of general
instruction, study and organizational skills, language arts and test-taking. Teachers
should try these strategies and alter them as needed to meet their own students’ needs.
Many of these interventions also work very well with children who are not dyslexic.
General Instruction
13. Teachers need to be aware of the dyslexic students’ needs during instruction
time. Teachers should clearly state each lesson’s objective and present it visually on
the board or overhead projector. Directions should be explicit, explained orally and
visually posted. Information should be paraphrased with numerous concrete examples.
An organized, structured presentation using a variety of teaching methods (e.g.,
direction instruction, cooperative groups, discussion) is appropriate. Since students
with dyslexia have trouble with sequencing, it is imperative that the alphabet,
numerals, a calendar, classroom procedures and other sequencing aids be posted in the
classroom. Step-by-step instructional sheets for projects and other assignments are
also very helpful.
14. Students with dyslexia should sit close to the instructional focal point. They
may need increased response time to formulate answers. They should be informed
about oral reading assignments and questions ahead of time so they have time to
practice their reading and responses. Because coping with dyslexia is very tiring,
students with dyslexia may require more rest time than other students. Above all,
students should not be embarrassed or made to feel stupid by their teachers or peers.
Instead, they should be praised for their strengths.
15. These students may need fewer and shorter assignments, especially reading and
writing assignments. Oral and visual presentations can be used to document learning
if writing is particularly troublesome. Photocopying a peer’s or the teacher’s notes and
Students with Dyslexia / 4
transparencies allows these students to devote their energies to listening, rather than to
laborious notetaking or copying.
16. Lessons should incorporate multisensory techniques. Multisensory instruction
(i.e., involving some or all of the senses, and movement) sends information along
multiple pathways in the brain and accommodates a variety of learning styles. As
examples, students with dyslexia can write words in a sand tray or on a carpet square
with two fingers while saying them out loud, clap syllables as they hear them during
reading instruction, or act out action verbs and prepositions with body movements and
props. All students find such multisensory instruction fun and motivating.
Organizational and Study Skills
17. Individuals with dyslexia need help with organization. Parents and teachers
should help them keep a daily and long-range calendar marked with due dates and
events. Projects should be broken down into elements with steps and due dates for
each part. Students should ask the teacher for feedback when each component is
completed, rather than waiting until the end of a project.
18. It often helps students to tape classes. They should also have access to taped
textbooks. Parents and volunteers can tape passages from the books, and students
should be encouraged to join an organization called Recording for the Blind and
Dyslexic, which loans out taped books.
19. Schools should adopt well-organized textbooks with bold main headings and
clear illustrations. Students with dyslexia should be able to write in textbooks and
highlight passages. When this is not possible, they may use Post-it™ notes to organize
and emphasize information within texts. Using book covers to color-code textbooks
and notebooks helps students quickly select the appropriate books for classes and
20. Teachers may find that students benefit from receiving outlines of lectures and
activities before class begins. Frequent reviews, especially before tests, are a
necessity. Review sheets and study guides are very helpful. Students with dyslexia do
need, however, to be taught note-taking skills. It is sometimes necessary to pair a
student with dyslexia with another student for note taking and review.
21. These students need special help learning how to study in a multisensory
manner. Study techniques can be similar to the teaching techniques used in class.
When studying a content area passage, for example, students may read the selection
aloud and highlight important parts. They then might tape-record the highlighted parts
to listen to as they continue to study. They could also tape-record vocabulary words /
definitions or formulas / explanations and finger write them on a rough surface as they
listen to the tape. In addition, students with dyslexia benefit from using mnemonic
devices, integrating learning with music and rhymes, and being part of study groups.
Language Arts
22. Teachers should remember that many individuals with dyslexia expend a great
deal of energy decoding information. Consequently, they have little strength left for
Students with Dyslexia / 5
comprehension. Or the reverse may be true: students may comprehend very well
through the use of context and prior experiences, yet may be unable to pronounce the
words. As with all students, these students should be encouraged to build upon their
strengths and learn to improve or compensate for their weaknesses.
23. Direct, sequential, multisensory instruction for language arts should be used.
The Bowman Gray Program Project sponsored by the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development (Lyon, 1995) indicates that dyslexic readers need
highly structured, explicit and intensive instruction in phonics rules and their
application to print. They profit from building a base of phonetically regular words
before learning nonphonetic sight words (Greene, 1993). This does not mean,
however, that these students will not benefit as well from holistic methods based on a
whole language philosophy – balance is the key (Vail, 1993).
24. Students with dyslexia often read very slowly; therefore, they need advance
notice of outside reading assignments and more time for in-class ones. As mentioned
earlier, the assignment lengths might have to be adjusted. Taped texts and peer
reading that allow students to follow along as others read are helpful. Pre-reading
questions help students organize information and discern what is important. Readalouds from interesting, language-rich literature help students build vocabulary and
concepts that are far beyond their own reading levels.
25. Because many of these students also write very slowly, they require advance
notice of tasks and more time in class. Some students find that a word processor helps
them compose more quickly and more meaningfully. Others find it beneficial if they
first compose into a tape player and later transcribe and edit. Teachers and peers may
be needed to help with editing.
26. Spelling is especially difficult for most individuals with dyslexia. Students
should not be penalized for misspellings in content area subjects. The use of spellcheckers and personal spelling “demon charts” should be allowed when writing.
Students with dyslexia may have to be tested on fewer spelling words each week, with
only the most important words included for memorization. Because spelling is so
perplexing for most of these students, they need special encouragement.
27. Teachers should lower their expectations for students’ handwriting if dysgraphia
is a problem. Handwriting that is legible, if not perfect, should be accepted and
praised. Using a typewriter or word processor can circumvent this problem. In some
cases, students may have to read their work aloud to the teacher if their handwriting is
28. Students with dyslexia may require assistance with test instructions and
procedures. Teachers can read directions to students and have them highlight
important words, such as “underline” and “choose two examples”. Students should be
given the option of taping oral directions to replay as needed.
Students with Dyslexia / 6
29. Tests should have large-print text and be easy to read. Items should be grouped
according to type (e.g., multiple choice, alternate response, essay). A variety of item
types should be utilized and lengthy test sections should be avoided. It is beneficial,
for example, to group 10 short answer items into two sections of only five items each.
30. Testing time for students with dyslexia may need to be lengthened and, in some
cases, the number of test items should be reduced. Students may need to write directly
on the test, rather than using an answer sheet. Students should not be penalized for
spelling or other mechanical errors. Oral tests or taping test answers should be
considered as options. Some students may require a reader (e.g., parent volunteer,
resource teacher, teaching assistant).
31. As with all students, the testing environment should be as stress-free as possible.
Knowing that extra time or more explicit instructions are available can greatly ease
anxiety. Occasionally, it may be necessary to allow a student to take the test in
another room or at another time. Knowing that the teacher is fair and compassionate
certainly helps alleviate apprehension.
32. An appropriate academic intervention program is necessary for students with
dyslexia (Richardson, 1994). As inclusive classrooms become increasingly prevalent,
more and more teachers will be called upon to meet the needs of students with
dyslexia. Teachers should remember that although dyslexia is “invisible”, it is a very
real disability. These interventions are meant to give the student with dyslexia an
equal chance, not an unfair advantage. They should serve only as a starting point. As
teachers struggle with balancing the needs of students with dyslexia with those of
other students, it is hoped that they will create strategies of their own that will be
practical and beneficial.
Brinckerhoff, L., Shaw, S., & McGuire, J. (1993). Promoting postsecondary
education for students with learning disabilities. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Clark, D. (1988). Dyslexia: Theory & practice of remedial instruction. Parkton, MD:
York Press.
Frith, U. (1986). Beneath the surface of developmental dyslexia. In K.E. Patterson,
J.C. Marshall, & M. Coltheart (Eds.), Surface dyslexia (pp. 301-30). Hillsdale,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Greene, J. (1993, Conference Edition), Programs that work: Perspectives. Baltimore,
MD: Orton Dyslexia Society.
Kamhi, A.G. (1992). Response to historical perspective: A developmental language
perspective. Journal of Learning disabilities, 25(1), 48-52.
Louisiana State Department of Education. (1992). Guidelines for the implementation
of the Louisiana Law for the Education of Dyslexic Students. Baton Rouge, LA:
Orton Dyslexia Society (1988). Definition. Perspectives. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Students with Dyslexia / 7
Richardson, S. (1994). Doctors ask questions about dyslexia. Baltimore, MD: Orton
Dyslexia Society.
Ryan, M. (1994). The other sixteen hours. Baltimore, MD: Orton Dyslexia Society.
Vail, P. (1993, Conference Edition). Watch out for the hole in whole language.
Perspectives. Baltimore, MD: Orton Dyslexia Society.
West, T. (1991). In the mind’s eye. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Wilkins, A., Garside, A., & Enfield, M. (1993). Basic facts about dyslexia. Baltimore,
MD: Orton Dyslexia Society.
Students with Dyslexia / 8
Answer in your own words in English, unless otherwise indicated.
What possible misconception are the writers hinting at in paragraph 1?
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Distinguish in Hebrew between developmental and acquired dyslexia.
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Answer the question below in English.
What hope does paragraph 2 offer to the dyslexics?
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Answer the question below in English.
In what important respect – paragraphs 4-5 – do slow learners differ from
students with learning disability?
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Answer the question below in English.
What are dyslexics – paragraph 6 – often suspected of?
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Answer the question below in English.
Explain the difference between accommodation and modification – paragraphs
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Answer the question below in English.
Why are visual and oral presentations of the lesson’s objective – paragraphs 1314 – so important for dyslexics?
Answer : ____________________________________________________________
Students with Dyslexia / 9
Complete the sentence below.
In the case of those students who comprehend very well through the use of
context and prior experiences – paragraph 22 – one may safely assume that they
will eventually _______________________________________________________
Answer the question below in Hebrew.
The various techniques suggested by the writers will serve by their own
admission – paragraph 32 – merely as a starting point; what can and should be
done beyond that point?
Discuss: ____________________________________________________________
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