Supporting students who have dyslexia

By Lynne Silcock on Feb 10, 2016 04:00 am

With new technologies we can provide immediate and tangible support for students who have dyslexia. The support can be provided at the same time as we work with them to overcome their specific difficulties and build literacy skills. By providing options using standard technologies, students can learn and show what they know, rather than being continually defined by their specific difficulties.

“Dyslexia is not a disease to have and to be cured of, but a way of thinking and learning. Often it’s a gifted mind waiting to be found and taught.” –Girard Sagmiller, “Dyslexia My Life

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Clarify your learning Intention

To provide options and support for any curriculum activity, teachers must first be clear to their students about the specific learning intention.

For example, if we ask a student to read material that is above their current reading ability, what do we discover? We may confuse the ability to learn with the ability to read.

For example, what do we find out if we ask a student with writing difficulties to show what they know by writing about it? We find out that the student is not very good at writing rather than discovering what they know or have learnt.

As students move up the school, more of the curriculum content and assessment material is in written format. This means that the impact of a reading or writing difficulty can limit access to content and the ability of a student to show what they know.

This is why it is important to identify the learning intention, and be sure that the MEANS of learning is not confused with the learning intention. Is reading and writing a critical part of the learning intention, or is it just a way of doing the task?

Example of a learning intention with reading and writing as part of the task: 
Students will read a book and write about the key techniques used to communicate ideas to readers.

Alternative example of learning intention without reading and writing as part of the task:
The students will:

  • identify the key ideas in the story
  • identify the techniques used to communicate key ideas to readers
  • use one of these formats (e.g., written/image/poster/video …) to demonstrate what they have learned.

Once the learning intention is clear, both teachers and students can understand what options are appropriate for a particular lesson. If the intention is not about reading and writing, then support using technology or other options is usually appropriate.

Technology support

Some key technologies to support students with dyslexia are outlined below:

1. Digitise content

Handouts, workbooks, and writing on whiteboards are some of the least accessible options for students who find reading a challenge. In contrast, when content is digitised, students can use their personal preferences to access material:

  • using dyslexia fonts
  • changing colours, size, style and spacing
  • having text read by the computer (text-to-speech).

If you are using Google Apps for Education or Microsoft it is very easy to digitise content. Simply take a photo or scan of the page (or PDF document) and upload it into your Google Drive or OneNote. Then right click and open it with Google Docs or Word. You can then make the page accessible (see the Blind foundation’s page here) and modernise your content for today’s lessons.

2. Text-to-Speech

I dream of a time when every device used by a student has text-to-speech enabled. This software reads text aloud, so gives students access to text above their current reading age, and supports comprehension. It is also a great option for editing, multitasking, or for when you just feel like listening rather than reading.

For more information about the free options available on all the main operating systems, see my VLN text-to-speech blog.

3. Voice typing (speech recognition)

Voice typing (also called speech recognition) allows you to speak aloud to your device and have words typed as you speak. The software has improved so significantly in the last few years that it is now a real option for text entry. For more information about the free options see my VLN Voice typing blog.

Voice typing gives students the opportunity to show what they know rather than repeatedly being defining by their writing difficulties.

4. Word Prediction

Word prediction provides more in-depth support for spelling, reading, and editing. The software predicts a required word as a student writes, producing a list of words beginning with the letter sequence typed.

Predicted words, and all writing, can be read aloud, and each programme has additional supports — e.g., example sentences, definitions, and custom dictionaries.

There are no free products in this range that predict as well (or even nearly as well) as the commercial products that I have tested. See VLN posts for iPadcomputerand Google.


Let us support students to be successful learners regardless of their specific profile of talents and challenges.

For more information about using technology to provide whole-school support for students with dyslexia, contact the Connected Learning Advisory.

For more information see:
Inclusive Education — dyslexia guide
Literacy Online dyslexia page (& Ministry of Education teacher resource)
Ministry website — how to support a child with dyslexia
Resource for teachers by the British Dyslexia Association
Movincog Report — Auckland University analysis of interventions for dyslexia

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